This is my second viewing of Brave Witches. I liked it first time, but I didn't remember much about it afterwards. This time, I still liked it and I think it's the most dramatic take on the Strike Witches franchise, although I also have a few comments.
Firstly, it's short of standout characters. Strike Witches has a more memorable cast. Only three-and-a-half of the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing are worth mentioning, really. 1. Hikari is the protagonist and enormously likeable. 2. Kanno goes out of her way to be abrasive, yelling like a thug and being downright nasty to Hikari in the early episodes, but she'll also become Hikari's best friend underneath all that attitude. 3. Nipa has big breasts, bad luck and a thoroughly nice personality. (The "half" is Hikari's big sister, who's in a coma for most of the show but returns to be an idiot for the last few episodes.)
I've overlooked Krupinski, aka. "Countess", but that's because she's annoying. She calls everyone her "kittens" and goes around trying to chat them up like an old, smug roue. I approved when Kanno in ep.8 was saying, "Let's throw her in the sea."
After that, though, I'd struggle to list the other Brave Witches without looking them up online... and I've just rewatched the whole series! In contrast, the memorable Strike Witches include Miyafuji, Sakamoto, Perrine, Lucchini, Shirley, Hartmann, Barkhorn and (although I'm mildly hostile towards her) Hattori. And even Strike Witches doesn't have a particularly standout cast either. It's perfectly okay, but no more. In practice, though, none of that's a problem. It's an ensemble show. They're soldiers on the front line. If the show were just silly eccentrics and slice-of-life antics, it would be implausible. It's completely fine for most of the girls to be straightforwardly doing their jobs and for the narrative to focus on a few of them.
The show's also a bit darker and more serious. No witch gets killed, obviously. That's a line the show's never crossed. It's a war story with no casualties... but that doesn't mean it's bloodless. There's an episode here in which three of the 502nd have been independently hospitalised. Furthermore, they're fighting on the Russian front with ferociously cold weather and supply problems when the Neuroi start targeting their ports and storehouses. They don't always have enough food and at times we're told that failure to break the Neuroi line could result in starving to death.
There's a certain amount of stupidity.
(a) Gundura Rall orders Hikari never to use her Contact Eye magic, but there are holes in her orders. Both of Hikari's previous contacts had been accidents. If Hikari had had another accidental collision, what should she have done? Should she shut her eyes and refuse to give her comrades all-important information during battle? Sit on her hands? Go and polish her nails? (Naturally, this is so that the order can be rescinded dramatically at the finale.)
(b) More glaringly still, Hikari's sister, Takami, gets all protective for the last few episodes in a way that endangers the mission. She's ordering Hikari to step down (which no one wants) and hence reducing the 502nd's combat effectiveness by depriving them of a witch with a battle-winning talent. Takami has a similar and usually more useful power, yes, but they aren't identical. Inevitably, this nearly costs the battle. Hikari has to return at the last minute and save Takami's arse and (let's not forget) the Russian war effort... and yet Takami never apologises. The sisters obviously love each other and neither of them ever thinks for a moment about blame or payback, but don't include me in that. The word "sorry" doesn't pass Takami's lips. She never admits to having made a mistake that nearly cost mankind a major turning point in the war. I wanted fate to punish her for her hubris and I was irritated when our heroines managed to save Takami's life.
Had this been a realistic show, Takami's decision would have been understandable. She's keeping her little sister off the front line. People die in war... but not in Strike Witches. It's just not that kind of show. Takami's lovely and nice. I hate her.
That said, though, I still enjoyed the show and it's a mega-improvement on the fluff of Strike Witches season 2. The Neuroi encounters are more threatening. Hikari isn't good enough to join the Brave Witches, who are hard-nosed (and worse) in telling her so. She's a klutz who can't fly straight. She has zero combat capability in ep.3 and is a dead weight who has to be saved by her teammates. She has to work far harder for her victories than Miyafuji did in the parent show. She's determined and we're cheering for her, but there's an expulsion order hanging over her in half the episodes.
Oddly for a Strike Witches series, there's almost no fanservice. It's family-friendly! There's a bit of nipple in ep.1, but the rest of the TV episodes are completely clean. Even in the sauna (which they use occasionally), they're demurely wrapped in towels. (The OVA episode ignores all that, though, and ditches the towels for a nipple-fest.)
Sometimes, the show made me laugh. "I can't use my healing magic unless someone's injured!" BANG. "Will this do?" There's also comedy with the nickname "Break Witches" of girls with a habit of breaking military equipment. The show can be annoying when Krupinski's around (e.g. ep.8) and when we're being expected to forgive Takami, but it also has impressive episodes (e.g. Hikari's refusal to give up in ep.4). I enjoyed it. I'd happily watch it a third time. Mind you, it's surprising that witches in this fictional universe don't wear trousers even in terrifying Russian winters...
Previous review: 8 May 2017
I quite liked it. It's well done. It's fairly disposable and I don't know if I'd necessarily keep the episodes, but it's quite good at what it does. The characters are likeable and the fluffy wartime drama is enough to carry twelve episodes, at least.
It's the latest in the Strike Witches franchise. The anime started with a 2008 season by Gonzo, so I won't be watching that. It then continued with a 2010 sequel by a different studio... and that was that, mostly, until this 2016 spin-off came along. It's set between the 2008 and 2010 seasons and it stars a different team of witches. I hadn't seen the original and I was fine.
The premise is that aliens invaded Earth in 1939! They're called the Neuroi and they appear to have unintentionally brought harmony to mankind. Instead of fighting among ourselves, the world has united to repel the Neuroi. (Is Hitler is in charge of this universe's Germany, or did the parallel universes split earlier than that? Well, I don't think we're meant to be asking such questions.) What's more, our best anti-Neuroi weapon is magic! The world's front-line warriors are schoolgirls wearing fighter planes on their legs and nothing but underwear from the waist down. There are one or two characters who own a skirt, but basically this is an entire universe of girls going around half-dressed, even into battle. Apparently the original Strike Witches was quite into fanservice.
Oh, and they also grow animal tails and ears when they're flying. Don't ask me why. Magic. This is of no significance and never means anything.
So it looks silly. It's also a dubious reinterpretation of history, letting the anime industry tell another a World War Two story where Japan is heroic. It's represented by schoolgirls! Cute can't be wrong. However it's better than Kantai Collection, which turns Japan into the heroes and America into the invading alien villains. At least here it's international. I was worried after ep.1, but I think technically all sides and most of the major nations are represented. Admittedly as it happens the Brave Witches main cast all come from countries that at some point had either signed treaties with Germany or helped fight alongside it (France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Finland), but that's a very one-eyed view of Russia's contribution in particular and we also see a significant British involvement. (Strike Witches also had an American witch, while apparently all the main cast are named after real WW2 aces of all nationalities.)
Leaving all that aside, though, this particular show is being fairly sensible about the silliness it's inherited.
It's not the kind of war story where you expect heroes to die, but the Neuroi are powerful enemies who have the entire human race on the back foot. Our heroines have to take their battles seriously and will get shot a lot. (They have magical shields, but those have limits and they can still get injured.) The characterisation is lively and I liked the way Hikari Karibuchi has to work to earn her place in the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing. Not everyone accepts her. Kanno is particularly unforgiving. Hikari's a lesser replacement for her sister, who has much more experience and talent. Even her magical ability, Contact Eye, is powerful but dangerous to use, in a way that feels natural and real.
The story's pretty decent. It's a war story with camaraderie and charm, while the last few episodes give Hikari a meaningful brick wall to run into. (It's a familiar kind of plot development, but it's liable to be done more tokenistically than this.) That worked well, although I could understand some viewers being annoyed by the business between Hikari and another character. Even I felt the latter got away undeservedly scot free for what had been a bad decision made for bad reasons. The whole operation nearly fails and, frankly, that's what it deserved. We don't even get an apology from her for unnecessarily weakening the 502nd.
I even ended up almost approving of the skirtless outfits. They seemed sensible, not sexualised. They're wearing swimsuits underneath, I think, which seems practical since if you're fighting out at sea. If nothing else, it's less counter-intuitive than flying in a skirt (e.g. Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue).
The CGI modelling can be a bit unfortunate, though. There are some obvious CGI witches that show up occasionally in aerial battle scenes and take you out of the moment.
This isn't a great show. It's a decent one, at most, which at first I wasn't even sure if I could be bothered continuing with. I soon decided that I liked it, but I don't know if I'll necessarily keep the episodes. The Neuroi are faceless enemies. The plot is ostensibly just "fight the enemy", although of course the real story is Hikari working to make herself a place in the 502nd and winning the acceptance from all these witches who are faster, stronger and more experienced than her. I admire the way they take "Break Witches" as a badge of pride. I like Hikari. I like the friends she eventually makes. This is a understated, surprisingly watchable show.