The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 72 – Strike Witches

Strike Witches

The series being examined today is one that I am surprised hasn’t been given more coverage in the British press, due to what many people would see as the controversial nature of the show. For starters it is set as an alternative history retelling of World War II, and anything relating to Japan and the war is always an issue. But even bigger than this is the fan service in it – “fan service” being extra material design to please the audience, often sexual (hence the tagline – “War is Pants!”) It’s not so much the amount of fan service in it, but the fact that the youngest regular character is just 12.

Strike Witches has manifested itself in various forms since it was created by Humikane Shimada in 2005: manga, novels, many anime across TV, film and straight-to-DVD releases. So far two TV series have been made, first in 2008 and then in again in 2010. A film was released in 2012 and a third series is in production.

In this world setting there are two main differences: first, young girls have magical powers (the user sprouts animal ears and a tail while casting spells); and second, in 1939 an alien invasion by a race of beings called the “Neuroi” began. As a result, all of the human race make up the Allies, while the Neuroi are the Axis Powers. The geography of the world is also significantly different, including the names of countries. For example, Japan is the “Fuso Empire”, while the UK is “Britannia”.

The story starts with 14-year-old Yoshika Miyafuji of the Fuso Empire, who comes from a family of medics and uses her magic to heal people. She is against fighting in the war because her father was killed in the conflict, but she helps to defend the Fuso fleet and takes part. Yoshika’s late father was the inventor of the “Striker Unit”, a machine that uses the magic in the female wearer to allow them to fly. However, the units only work with direct contact with the legs. As a result, virtually all the girls using them don’t wear trousers or skirts. They go around in public wearing only the pants down below.

Yoshika joins the 501st Joint Fighter Wing; a group of 11 soldiers from around the world nicknamed the “Strike Witches”. Alongside Yoshika are eye-patch wearing mentor Mio Sakomoto, the oldest witch who is also from the Fuso Empire; commander Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke of Karsland (Germany); Britannian Lynette Bishop who becomes Yoshika’s best friend; posh heiress Perrine H. Clostermann of Gallia (France); Karsland’s slacker ace fighter pilot Erica Hartmann and straight-laced captain Gertrud Barkhorn; childish Francesca Lucchini of Romagna (South Italy); speed freak Charlotte E. Yeager of the United States of Liberion (USA); fortune telling Eila Ilmatar Juutilainen of Suomus (Finland); and night shift worker Sanya V. Litvyak of Orussia (Russia).

Strike Witches sees Yoshika slowly building up her abilities as they fight against the alien invasion. The stories tend to be based on the actual conflicts in WWII. The first series is based on the Battle of Britain, the second on the Adriatic Campaign, and the film is similar to the Battle of the Bulge.

The most notable thing about the series is the fan service and the amount of nudity in it. As stated, the youngest of the Strike Witches is 12 (Francesca), while the oldest is 19 (Mio), and all the time you see these characters wondering around fully dressed up top, but just in their underwear downstairs. This might be shocking for some people, but in other episodes you also see the characters topless. It is at times like this that as an anime critic that I’m glad anime gets such a low profile in the UK, because if the tabloids knew more about it you would know that they would go mad, drawing parallels to paedophilia and such. However, in Japan they are just more accepting of topless nudity, even with teenagers.

Perhaps it is most astonishing that this anime is actually available to buy in the UK, and the British Board of Film Classification released it uncut. I approve of this, because there is nothing wrong with nudity. If these girls were having sex that would be more of an issue, but I can think of anime that have been released where you see ruder parts of the body (in one series called Dragon Ball, the main character is a boy called Son Goku often gets undressed and you frequently see his penis). Some people were concerned about the first series being given a 12 rating however.

Another interesting aspect of Strike Witches is the surprising amount of things and it is based on. Strike Witches is arguably an example of “moe anthropomorphism”, in which the characters are cute personifications of various things. It is akin to that other WWII anime Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26), but whereas in that the characters personify countries, in Strike Witches they personify WWII aircraft. The Striker Units are models on real planes; Yoshika’s is based on the Zero, Lynette on the Spitfire, Charlotte on the P-51D Mustang etc. Plus the characters themselves are based on real people. Speed loving Charlotte E. Yeager is based on Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier.

Amongst all the sexy content, Strike Witches does have some depth to it if you watch it closely, and learn about the historical context. Some people will always complain about the content and the fact that Japan could be seen as trivialising the war, but this series does have its merits.

The first two series of Strike Witches are released on Region 2 DVD by Manga Entertainment.