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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Strike Witches

Strike Witches is like taking the curious cultural concept of Kawaisa and magnifying it to obsessive, fetishistic  levels.  Ever see that amusing video of Japanese trains backed by K-On!'s first opening?  In case you haven't, here it is:


The idea of anthropomorphic trains adorned in school uniforms forming a music club is clearly ludicrous to all but the most hardcore of lustful mechanophiles, yet somehow melting down fighter jets into panty-girls with propellers for legs made it past the quality control committee?  It all leaves me wondering whether or not the idea was ingeniously pitched as a wry, social commentary on the fundamental tenets of public speaking in that conjuring the image of one's audience in their undergarments to cope with one's nerves should be child's play after one has slogged through a series where imagining all of the characters with a reasonable amount of under-clothing is necessary to avoid wholesale embarrassment.

Additionally, Strike Witches also proves that jumping the Uncanny Valley is a stupidly lucrative enterprise in Japan. I'm sure the series started with the idea of sentient fighter jets engaging in pitched dogfights and then some berk made the suggestion to scrawl some sickeningly saccharine Hello Kitty face on the wing to be "ironic."  Then suddenly the entire design committee finds themselves asking how voluminous their hypothetical pool of money could be if they crammed said macabre Hello Kitty aircraft into the frame of a teenage girl sporting furry ears and an equally furry tail.


Here's the story.  It's WWII and an evil race of beings known as the Neuroi are invading the planet.  They attack in a miasmic fog of sorts so just think of the situation as a mix between Kingdom Hearts and Resistance: Fall of Man.  The only ones who can stop these legions of Chimera Heartless whatevers are the titular Strike Witches, a bunch of prepubescent magical fairy girls with mechanical propeller leg armor instead of wings, high-powered sniper rifles instead of wands, and ostentatious pantslessness presumably to make up for the lack of an incessant, shrill reverberation that feels like a corkscrew is being driven through your ear courtesy of Navi.

The series is about one-third fingernail-gwaningly intense aerial show-stoppers, and by that I mean the fight scenes are genuinely breathtaking, exciting, and all of that good stuff, one-third mundane, adolescent hijinks which probably got old around the time of the actual WWII, especially considering all the characters oscillate sinusoidally between one and two dimensions as they meekly struggle to escape their juvenile stereotypical personality molds, and one-third trying to pass campy melodrama off as something more than bipedal flesh-colored airplanes rubbing their panties-covered exhaust pipes into each other's windshields.


You see, the main problem with the drama in the series is that while its competently executed, the fact that everyone's nether regions are on constant display makes it impossible to take anything seriously.  It's like watching a movie with its respective RiffTrax and expecting to make it through any dramatic climax without snickering so hard that chocolate bars come out of your nose.  There's one scene where a straitlaced officer (voiced by Rie Tanaka) pulls a gun on the beloved commander, Mio Sakamoto (basically a level-headed female Masamune Date with a trademark laugh replacing a bevy of trademark Engrish catchphrases), and I honestly didn't know whether I should have been laughing or getting antsy-in-my-pantsies.  The only thing that could have made the situation any more awkward was if the two of them had suddenly strapped on their leg-attachments and started a blind, caged breakdancing competition where the winner is the one whose head hasn't been hacked off by an errant propeller-blade.

Does the action make up for all of the series' rampant and glaringly obvious flaws?  Well, to its credit, each and every showdown between girl and Neuroi is about as adrenalizing as playing a balls-to-the-wall third-person over-the-shoulder shooter if you replace the words "over-the-shoulder" with "between-the-legs" and cellotape the right-analog stick to the "up" position.  In other words, just pretend that those shots were the result of the office intern having mistakenly left his valuable "art assets" in the animation folder and you should be good to go.

Conversely, remove the action sequences and all you're left with is what Gunslinger Girl would have turned out to be had you pulled the focus out from the compelling innerworkings of a young girl's maturing and delicate brain and shifted it about one meter vertically downwards.