First released: July 2008
It's easier to think of Strike Witches more as unfulfilling pornography than a more traditional, coherent series; all the hallmarks are present: copious nudity, low camera angles, paper-thin plot, a cast reduced to caricatures, fake lesbianism and innumerable fetishes. It makes it more enjoyable to watch with this in mind as no longer can it be held to the same standards as other series - were that to happen one would likely not make it past the first five minutes of hackneyed, tedious plotting and be reduced to apoplectic cursing within ten. Instead, this is a brainless, fluffy, occasionally uncomfortable but mildly entertaining series that, like porn, walks the line between guilty pleasure and stupefying incredulity.
Yoshika is a witch in her native country of Japan (Fuso in the series parlance). Her powers make her a perfect candidate for the Strike Witches, a group of young girls who use magic-enhancing machinery to fight against the Neuroi - enigmatic alien aggressors who have razed most of mainland Europe. Initially adverse to the idea, Yoshika's quest to find her father inevitably leads her into the force which consists of girls of various ages from all over the world from the British Lynette - a sharpshooter in training, to the German Erica - a fantastically talented but slovenly combatant, to the ghostly and clairvoyant Sanya. Yoshika's battle against the Neuroi may have only just begun, but she may be the key to turning the tide against them for good.
It's difficult to know where the fetish worship ends and the actual series begins - so many different elements are completely unexplored that the only appropriate conclusion is that the characters and setting were cobbled together by a committee of deviant and lascivious old men. Individually the raunchy idiosyncrasies wouldn't be out of place for many series, a few would raise an eyebrow but beyond that: business as usual. The amount and voraciousness of them here though is quite staggering: young girls, with magic, from all over the world, in uniforms, flying with mechanical leg engines, sprouting animal ears and firing ridiculously oversized guns. It's refreshing insofar that the series has gone full bore to attract as many slavish reprobates as possible, but ultimately lamentable that it would go to such lengths and plumb such depths.
The series and director know its audience though and despite frequent trips to the palatial bath there is a keen eye for action with many of the minor skirmishes - rarely lasting longer than a few minutes - surprisingly competent. The rest of the production, abundant crotch-zooms and waist high shots included, is anything but with the narrative being three quarters character introduction and the rest a plot that is foreshadowed in the same way as a goat falling off a cliff. What signals there are with regards the story are entirely ignored, the expected twist never materialises and despite Yoshika's supposed talent for magic, she continues to underperform. It is childishly put together and obnoxiously dumb in places to the point that the audience is punished for having expectations beyond the characters being in a state of undress at least once per episode.
This is typical Gonzo however and as one of its last series before slipping into a financial purgatory, it echoes a studio desperate for a widespread hit - and what better way than firing as much ammunition as possible with the hope that some of it will hit? No elements of the animation or score are worth mentioning which encapsulates the company's offerings in its twilight years - this is far from the once great powerhouse that brought out Gankutsuou and Full Metal Panic!
Further proof then that regardless of aspirations, a series' credibility for cogent storytelling and its ability to craft even half decent characters is destroyed with such a laser-like focus on titillation. There is obvious passion behind some of the stories, but the promise shown in ones such as Yoshika's punishment for flaunting orders is rendered moot when it neatly segues into yet another sudsy bathing interlude. This is saying nothing of the uncomfortableness of being a voyeur to young girls who canonically range from twelve through to twenty and a teenage fascination with breasts and self-perpetuating envy thereof; episode seven is particularly deplorable with its focus on undergarments - or lack thereof - and the grotesque existence of a fan-altered "uncensored" version.
Playing fast and loose with history is of course part of the fun with series like these, its contemporaries Gunparade March and Lime-iro Senkitan both take very different paths but ultimately end up more successful, the former due to its focus on the ramifications of children in a military, life-and-death situation and the latter for being unpretentious as to its heritage and light hearted nature. Strike Witches regresses women's rights several millennia and tries to be both boundlessly cheerful and deadly serious, failing resolutely. It is neither sharp enough to foster empathy nor frivolous enough to achieve status as a junk food series. Even as pornography it falters with the same level of naughtiness as the mind of a pre-pubescent boy realising the "no girls" rule for his treehouse isn't such a good idea.
It's no surprise this has garnered enough of a following for a second season, with so many different sexual quirks exploited and broad character archetypes to choose from it was bound to lodge in at least a few pleasure centres. Regardless, it is a brutally mediocre offering and succeeds only in highlighting that such a perverse premise can find traction through quantity rather than quality.