Tank girls

A review of the Girls und Panzer anime

In a world where tanks are a part of everyday life, and pre-UN countries send teenage girls out in war machines to fight not to the death, but to the white flag, one rag-tag team will face their toughest opponent yet. Can they overcome all the odds, work as a team and deal with all of their various family issues and rise to the top?

Of course they can. Girls Und Panzer is an underdog story with just about every trope from the genre ticked off. Think Cool Runnings as an anime, except tanks instead of bobsleds. The knowledge that the girls of Oorai High School can't lose - at least not always in conventional terms - should make this a by the numbers affair. That it manages to be not only supremely entertaining but equally tense and heartfelt speaks volumes for a familiar idea well implemented.

A large part of that implementation is world building and integrating the absurdist idea of schoolgirls in tanks into the fabric of the world - foods, photos, television shows, even "ancient" painted screens all speak of a society with deep affinity for tanks. This isn't however a feminist commentary that some would have it be, but a rather transparent ploy to merge fan passions: cute girls and tanks.

Surprising then that fan-service exploits the tanks rather than the girls: a solitary bikini scene (no beach episode here despite the first episode rug-pull of a town on a ship) and two brief and mostly innocent bath scenes are all the flesh that's on display. By comparison the fanatical reverence shown to the tanks is, even for the unfamiliar, astonishing. Not only is there an attention to detail rarely seen outside of truly passionate fans, but that it is made accessible by never overtaking the thrill of the skirmish. This isn't Upotte's pace breaking Wikipedia regurgitations and one can be safe in the knowledge that even if the aquatic capabilities of a certain tank aren't to hand, they are for the cast.

The cast dynamic makes up the other half of the show, when smart use of computer graphics aren't thrillingly smashing military armour together. With such a large number of girls needed to crew the menagerie of tanks, it would be easy to get lost, Claymore style, in a swathe of similarly sounding bobbleheads. Thankfully, outside the core group of eight or nine, recognition is aided by the tanks' callsigns (turtle, duck, hippo, rabbit etc.). That so many lead personalities can be differentiated though is an immense achievement, helped along by the genial antagonists who have the good grace to smile and shake hands after a battle. No hard feelings about the 128mm high speed shells ay?

Whether a "friendly" or a league battle, underhanded tricks are thwarted and overwhelming numbers are outmanoeuvred until the series' inevitable conclusion. Smiles and ice-creams all round. But it's not until you let out a sigh of relief when a cunning plan is pulled off, that you realise you were holding your breath through it all. That you willed on the stern parents to accept their child's preternatural gift with tanks. That you suspect team Mallard's sacrifice might just be the match's turning point.

It doesn't make sense that a series so transparently aimed at the supposedly niche tank-and-cute-girl-loving-uberfan would have so much appeal well beyond that thin end of the wedge. If there is any grievance to be head with the series, the rather blatant World War 1 and 2 imagery would be it - not helped by certain fansub groups enthusiastically embracing it - but it is perhaps indicative of the passage of time and the lack of political motive that even that it can be treated with and almost professional curatorship that is the spirit of Girls Und Panzer. News of an upcoming movie was certainly unexpected but is unsurprising when a series is this good, even after a three month break prior to the climax. Wonderfully silly and exhilarating, GaruPan is well worth anyone's time, regardless of their affections towards tanks and post-series inclination to join World of Tanks.

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