3 Episode Taste Test: Strike Witches 2

Where have all the young men gone? Sure there are the military men, barely old enough to hold a meaningful rank, but the Strike Witches 2 universe is entirely bereft of any young boys. Perhaps ages six through sixteen are spent in secret training to reduce the number of assaults due to the girls' complete lack of clothing below the waist. Or perhaps the Neuroi, the opaque alien aggressors, are an analogy of male puberty. Regardless, the opening three episodes of this second season start out much as the first and it isn't until the cringeworthy third episode that the uncomfortableness of watching young girls with no lower clothing on suffering through compromising situations sets in. The change of studio from the beleaguered GONZO to AIC Spirits hasn't changed the aesthetics, but it has reduced the crotch shots and increased the piercing light of censorship. Otherwise, for better or worse, the premise and execution are left entirely in tact.

a zero-sum series, each shred of development evaporates as soon as the characters visit a bath

After the events of the first season, the Neuroi were pushed out of Britannia and into Romagna, however as a communication channel was about to be opened with the now humanoid enemy, another force descended to Earth, consuming the all in their path. City after city is razed in this new offensive and entire squadrons of Strike Witches are decimated with the ferocity and volume of attacks. Yoshika meanwhile has graduated from school and is considering what to do next when word of an attack involving her comrade Lynne comes over the radio. The desire to protect her friends is too great, so it is that the 501st reforms to combat this renewed threat.

The series starts as a rehash of the first, resetting the modicum of development that had previously occurred: Yoshika is reinducted into the titular Strike Witches, Mio's lack of barrier is mooted by her sojourn in the mountains which begs for a montage, and the previously receptive Neuroi are squashed by their larger and evidently angrier successors. In the process some stock is banked with the arrival of blueprints from Yoshika's supposedly deceased father - sure to resurface as the series wears on - and the demonstration of other squadrons giving some much needed context to the augmented world. Despite all this however, it's business as usual by the third episode which just underscores the most prevalent flaw: its lack of soul.

There is plenty of emotion, Yoshika's interminable happiness is shared in kind by her comrades, but behind the azure skies and verdant landscape the series is emotionally vacant. At no point does it try to convey a story of any worth or originality, whether individually or overall, instead it is a warped reflection of countless other series. This is not inherently to its detriment: slick combat, chirpy visuals and an unassuming soundtrack make certain it's not instantly repugnant. The endemic shallowness of it though eats away at any credibility - elusive at the best of times - it tries to build and the result is a zero-sum series, each shred of development evaporates as soon as the characters visit a bath. Even the lasciviousness, as perverse and deviant as anything in the first season, comes across as pathetic attention grabbing and fails in its primary function of titillation.

In three episodes then, Strike Witches 2 proves to be exactly the same as its forebear: creatively contemptible, aesthetically competent, anachronistically laughable and uncomfortably lecherous. Whether viewed as a deplorable sign of the times, all blushing faces and peppy attitudes, or simply as a trashy, mildly entertaining time sink, enjoyment will be based on the ability to overlook the series' true nature. Without doubt it is the embodiment of so many fetishes it is difficult not to take this as very poor satire, but the realisation this is in fact a straight faced cash-in is present in every scenario and character interaction. Occasionally fun, but ultimately worthless.