ANIME REVIEW: “Girls und Panzer” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Girls und Panzer”

The parvenu father in Thomas Mann’s short story “The Blood of the Walsungs” tells his future son-in-law that the secret to enjoying life is never to get used to anything, to be constantly surprised.

He would have loved anime.

No matter how many series or features you watch, there’s always something new and unexpected. And only in Japanese animation could you find a film about cute girls battling in WW II-vintage tanks to save their high school from being shut down.

The TV series Girls und Panzer aired in 2012 and was later adapted to a manga, a light novel and a video game. “Der Film” was released in 2015 as a sequel to the broadcast series. This trailer will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

At the end of that series Miho Nishizumi (voice by Margaret McDonald) and her friends had beaten the team led by her older sister in a tank battle, thereby ensuring the future of their beloved Oarai High School. But they return from an exhibition match on a golf course to discover the Board of Education’s promise wasn’t binding. They’re reneging and closing the school. The only way the girls can save Oarai is by beating a college/pro team of older, more experienced girls.

So it’s girls in 30 tanks Vs. girls in 30 tanks in the main battle. The filmmakers include some curious bits of business for the characters amid the charging and shelling. Miho pursues the “Nishi Style” of battle, suggesting mechanized warfare has schools of martial arts, like the dojos that train swordsmen. (Imagine someone invoking Kenshin Himura’s Hiten Mitsurugi style of attack from a cockpit.) One girl plays the koto, a traditional stringed instrument inside her tank; another serves tea.

Both Miho and her rival captain share an affection for a bandaged teddy bear character, “Punchy Punch.” There’s something oddly touching about the battered little plush toy. The big battle takes place in a Punchy theme park that includes some funny spoofs of Disneyland rides, as well as such incongruous images as tanks riding roller coaster rails. Miho’s team breaks up their enemy’s tight formation by knocking the Ferris wheel off its mountings, sending it careening into the fray.

In one of the extras, Miho explains that Shensha-do (literally, “The way of the tank”) is an art that aims to make young ladies “more polite, graceful, modest and gallant.” The bizarre admixture of armored battles and feminine propriety recalls the martial arts tea ceremony in Ranma ½ or the fighting young women of the Imperial Floral Assault Unit who defend Tokyo from demons in Sakura Wars.

The film has some problems. It’s difficult to follow the progress of the battles: The maps shown during the girls’ strategy sessions don’t really correspond to the backgrounds and layouts in the film. It’s hard to tell who’s going where in their CG tanks—a problem in many recent films with much bigger budgets, including some of the Transformers movies.

The first battle—which takes up the opening 25 minutes of the film—is little more than filler, and the outcome of the final battle is a foregone conclusion. Neither Tsutomu Mizushima’s direction nor Reiko Yoshida’s script build any real suspense. Nor do the characters grow or change. They’re all-hard working, devoted to their school and eager to do their very best in battle. But fans of the series will be delighted to see the characters they remember and love reunited.

Despite these caveats, Girls und Panzer is an extremely popular property in both Japan and the US. The two-disc set has been on Amazon’s best-seller list since it was released. Never underestimate the appeal of cute girls piloting multi-ton vehicles, firing cannons, and colliding vintage armored behemoths, especially while sipping tea, playing the koto and encouraging each other to do their best.

Girls und Panzer der Film
Sentai: $49.98 2 discs, Blu-ray and DVD

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation.
Charles Solomon
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