Lots of Brain with a Bit of Heart: Combat in Girls und Panzer das Finale

After years of waiting, I finally got the chance to watch Girls und Panzer das Finale: Part 2 thanks to a sweet sale from Sentai Filmworks. The second in a planned six-part film series to wrap up the “girls in tanks for sport” franchise, Part 2 is definitely not a standalone movie. It introduces no new characters, doesn’t have any real major revelations, and is probably better thought of as an extra-long TV episode. Even so, I don’t mind one bit. What I’ve come to remember just from sitting down with this second movie is that there is something inherently joyful to Girls und Panzer, and I think it comes down to how it handles the portrayal of combat.

Whether by fists or by vehicles, I find that fights in action-oriented anime largely fall under two categories: brain-oriented and heart-oriented. “Brain-oriented” means ones where characters win or lose because of strategic or tactical circumstances. They don’t necessarily have to be “realistic;” there just has to be an internal logic. Stand battles in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which focus on overcoming an enemy’s specific strengths and weaknesses, are a prime example. “Heart-oriented,” on the other hand,” comes down to essentially “they won because they wanted it more.” Most battles in Fist of the North Star are this way, even though the series ostensibly is a clash of different martial arts—ultimately, it’s about Kenshiro’s righteous anger. It’s also not uncommon to see hybrids that aim to achieve satisfaction in both. Gaogaigar is a notable example of a hybrid, especially because it involves taking a heart-based skill (“bravery”) as a power source for brain-based decisions while fighting (“the G-Stone is powered by bravery.”)

Girls und Panzer revels in its battle scenes. But while Girls und Panzer has a good deal of heart to it, that’s really not what side its bread is buttered on. Its tank battles are brain-oriented through and through, and what I find interesting is just how much the series avoids expository dialogue to convey that focus. Whether it’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or Legend of the Galactic Heroes, brain-oriented fare often revels in that verbosity, and while I don’t worship at the altar of “show, don’t tell,” Girls und Panzer does make for a very compelling experience. In das Finale: Part 2, concepts like positioning are conveyed mostly visually without the need for diagrammatic maps. While I most definitely don’t have any sort of practical combat experience (in tanks or otherwise), the film makes you feel like you’re both an outside observer and in the thick of it. 

Of course, brain-oriented battles assume brains, and that it’s not just a bunch of empty tanks on autopilot. In this respect, characters in Girls und Panzer serve an important function. Aside from being cute girls whose personalities satirize cultures around the world (including Japan), their behaviors provide windows into how they think and approach both competition and life in general. For example, the first fight in das Finale: Part 2 comes down to exploiting underlying intrateam rifts by utilizing commonalities in certain tank designs, and it is incredibly silly while also making total sense.

A part of me can’t believe that Girls und Panzer is coming up on its 10-year anniversary. But every time it shows back up, I know that it’s going to deliver. The love and effort poured into the franchise is hard to deny, and the sheer amount of earnest fun is virtually palpable. Its breed of brain-oriented combat is still rare in this day, and as it gradually rolls to the finish line, I hope others take up the mantle.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights January 2022

This month’s tweet highlights for Kio Shimoku are a little different: I’m doing them in chronological order rather than grouping them by subject. Tell me what you think!

January is also the month that Hashikko Ensemble ended. Check out my review!

Kio decides to drink and bathe at the same time, then watch some DVDs. He can’t drink the next day, so he hopes he can indulge in the moment.

Various model kits he built.

Kio talks about what a big personal step it was for him to start a Twitter, and that he’s gradually learning how to use it. He thought he had to do it at some point, and thinks it was good timing in more than one sense.

A compilation thread of all the various drawings he posted on Twitter over the past year.

Kio compliments a follower’s Kurotaki Mai fanart.

Kio wishes everyone a Happy New Year.

The man loves Dennou Coil, (like everyone of great taste).

Kio draws Kousei as a tiger man to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. B, the “I love Jin” superfan  for the Hashikko Ensemble character asks if Kousei’s always been that buff (while also stating how Kousei’s cat-like qualities make the image work), to which Kio says he added a bit of fantasy to the drawing.

(Just as a warning, that Jin fan’s Twitter account is very NSFW. Their love of the character is serious business—as the Ogiue Maniax, I should know.)

Kio mentions finishing the manuscript for the final chapter of Hashikko Ensemble. When the Jin fan asks if the series got canceled, Kio says “more or less.” Elaborating a bit, he says he got the call to start wrapping it up in summer of 2020, but was given the opportunity to go past the School Festival arc and end on eight volumes total. For reference, the original Genshiken was nine.

Unbuilt model kits, including Girls und Panzer.

And Five Star Stories kits, of course. He actually got the first one as a gift from a reader!

Feeling some nostalgia from when he got this at Wonder Festival. A fan shows a similar arm from a model kit of theirs, and Kio replies that he was never able to get that one (the Mighty Beta).

Kio found an old L-Gaim Mk.II model kit he built 25 years ago. He loves the look of the mecha, and finds that it has a real “Showa” feel to it.

Kio got a new scarf, and decided to draw what it looks like with Madarame as the model. He saw it being called an ascot scarf, but found that it didn’t match his Google searches. “New York scarf” seems to fit the bill better.

In light of the death of famed baseball manga artist Mizushima Shinji (Dokaben), Kio reminisces about growing up with Mizushima’s manga. In his home, there would always be assorted volumes of Dokaben around, and he would read them voraciously. In his estimation, a lot of baseball know-how for kids his generation came from reading Mizushima manga, and he especially enjoyed the series Dai Koshien. Kio offers a prayer at the end.

Also, at some point, the Dai Koshien character Kyuudou looks like a Scope Dog from VOTOMS (I don’t understand the context to this).

Kio wanted to reference an old chapter of Spotted Flower for his manuscript, and opened his old file, only to remember that he did it in the program Comic Studio. He’s switched over to Clip Studio Paint now, and seeing Comic Studio start up took him by surprise. He also notes that Asaka-sensei had a different hairstyle in this earlier chapter.

B the Jin fan has a question for Kio, asking how Kio managed to get a music note generator version of Sukima Switch’s “Kanade” because it doesn’t seem to be for sale. Kio responds that he uses a program called Score Maker Zero by KAWAI, which can also sing using a synthesized voice. Kio can’t read sheet music, so it’s very helpful for him.

Kio says that he generated these notes for “Kanade” himself, and asks if B lives nearby. B thanks him and doesn’t say anything about location, but he does mention going to the high school that Hashimoto Technical High School is based on. Kio is impressed.

As Kio was rearranging his desk in his room, his pet tortoise awoke (after barely moving during these winter months), and then stepped out of its box, ate some food, went outside, and then peed and pooped.

Kio made a Hashikko Ensemble Youtube channel, and uploaded a video of his tone generator version of “Kanade” by Sukima Switch for two male voices. It’s supposed to evoke the image of Akira and Jin singing together.

Kio made a Hashikko Ensemble Youtube channel, and uploaded a video of his tone generator version of “Kanade” by Sukima Switch for two male voices. It’s supposed to evoke the image of Akira and Jin singing together.


Some old NEO-GEO games from his college days that he found in a cardboard box. They include a bunch of Fatal Fury games, Samurai Sho-down, and even Far East of Eden.

Play the Anime in Your Living Room: Discovering Anime Board Games and Card Games

When I think of anime and traditional games, e.g. card games and board games, the things that come to mind are Yu-Gi-Oh! or maybe something Pokemon-related. On the more hardcore end are games such as Weiss Schwarz, which allows you to build and cross over multiple series in a competitive TCG, or the digital card game Shadowverse, which carries an anime aesthetic.

What I never knew until very recently is the amount of anime and manga-themed games out there, as well as the degree to which they try to either faithfully capture the spirit of their source material or whatever idea it is they’re trying to convey.

The resource I found that gave me a bit of insight into how deep this rabbit hole goes is Hoobby.net’s Boardgamer section, which you can filter by “anime” or “manga.” Due to issues of accessibility and time, I haven’t had the chance to play any of them (and thus cannot actually give a real assessment), but I can appreciate their existence.

Some of the games focus on a broader theme from anime and manga. “Book Makers,” for instance, puts you in the role of readers of a shounen manga’s tournament arc, and you’re basically sending in reader surveys to determine which characters progress in the competition. Sadly, it seems like the game is out of print, or at least no longer has a functioning website. Perhaps the idea was too niche. Another game, “Light Novel Label,” has the player as a light novel editor fostering your authors.

Others are based on established properties, and it’s in that realm that the sheer variety of the games I found genuinely surprises me.

It’s one thing to have a simulated tactical board game based on Girls und Panzer. It’s a popular title and the competitive tank-battle motif plays perfectly into the format. Even the Love Live! board game isn’t terribly surprising, even if its concept of “make a sub-unit and gather more fans” is more of a stretch than GuP. Where it gets really wild is in examples like the Pop Team Epic card game and the Mayoiga: The Lost Village card game.

The Pop Team Epic card game, or more specifically the “Pop Team Epic KUSO [SHITTY] Card Game,” is actively designed to be hilarious but also kind of anti-fun–appropriate for such a trollish manga and anime series. In the instructions, it says, “Whoever remains is the winner. If all players are out, then Bandai Corporation is declared the winner.” The Lost Village’s card game seems to be a mystery/horror game where you play as five of the characters from the anime and try to survive your trauma, but anyone who’s seen that TV series knows that it does not lend itself well to a board game, and perhaps not even to an anime. The most important thing is that you can indeed play as the breakout “star” of the series, Hyouketsu no Judgeness.

Perhaps the most shocking game I found in terms of just existing is the board game for Genma Taisen, aka Harmageddon, from 1983. It’s not entirely out of left field, but I just never expected that anyone would have tried to distill that series into some kind of playable format, though the fact that it predates the Famicom might be a contributing factor.

A lot of the games don’t seem to have much longevity, which is tragic in its own way. Maybe someone will see one of the less beloved games and give it a second chance, and sparking some kind of second wind. Until then, they seem more like curios and conversation pieces.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Ogiue Maniax Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Girls und Panzer and the Potential for Propaganda

What I’m about to say might sound like I made up the whole thing, but I swear it’s true.

It was at a screening of the Love Live! Sunshine!! film that I struck up a conversation with a young mother. Although she was there in part to accompany her daughter, she was clearly an anime fan herself. At some point, the series Girls und Panzer came up, and she expressed skepticism over the tank-battling anime. From the tone of her voice, I could sense her concern over glorification of the military, and the potential role of the series as propaganda for something more sinister.

I tried to assuage her fears and present the anime as more of a sports series with a plot close to that of Love Live (save the high school from shutting down by winning a big competition). I don’t know whether or not she ultimately believed me, but I understand her hesitation, especially given today’s political climate. Although I consider myself a fan, in a world where guns are glorified and strongman politicians try to create cults of personality built around violence, I sometimes grapple with my fondness for Girls und Panzer.

I’ve argued before that Girls und Panzer separates a love of tanks and strategy from a love of warfare and nationalist loyalty, and I still believe this to be the case. In the anime’s setting, tanks are considered purely for friendly competition, and all ammunition is designed not to kill. There’s even a team of characters introduced in the first film who are basically a criticism of meaninglessly charging toward defeat out of a sense of “honor.” But it’s not as if the series is impossible to interpret as pro-military, especially if one takes only a surface glance at it. And in this world, sometimes a surface glance is all anyone has time for.

Girls und Panzer is not entirely devoid of concerning elements, as I think it’s hard to actually fully decouple tanks from their origins—especially because all the tanks in the series are from around World War II. As an individual viewer who tries to stay open yet critical, I feel that I’m able to stay open but at least somewhat skeptical. I can see what the series does well and the positive messages about keeping things in the realm of mock combat, and at the same time, my radar goes up for more alarming aspects. However, I’m aware that it’s possible someone more naive or predisposed to enjoying the glorification of military violence might take from Girls und Panzer what they want, and in the process twist the friendliness of the series into a “cute girls tell me war is good” message. It’s the old Gundam problem, where toy sales of cool giant robots obfuscate the anti-war message. As to whether or not Girls und Panzer is anti-war, it at least portrays a world where true war no longer exists.

Having the heroines use the minds and tools available to them to overcome opposition and achieve their goal is simple and effective storytelling. Couching it in historic military hardware makes it a near-endless pool for nerds to deep-dive into. But while I truly think that the series is not made to push people towards a militaristic patriotism, I can’t deny that some of the ingredients are there. It sounds odd to say that supervision is necessary to watch Girls und Panzer, but I think there’s a certain truth to it. If someone can’t provide their own voice of reason and caution, it can be treacherous territory.

Over Half the Movie is Tank Battles: Girls und Panzer der Film

girlsundpanzerderfilm-anglerfish

Girls und Panzer is quite upfront about what’s in it: you have the cute girls, and you have the tanks. In spite of its seemingly vapid approach, however, the TV anime is actually quite robust, and I rate it very highly. But a television anime is different from a film, and a major question about the film sequel, Girls und Panzer der Film, is whether it can succeed similarly in spite of the new format. In this respect, I find Girls und Panzer der Film to be a very strong work, but one which is not as adept at drawing in skeptical or uninitiated viewers as its TV prequel.

Synopsis

Taking place right after the original TV series, Girls und Panzer der Film follows tactician Nishizumi Miho after she has led the ragtag rookies of Ooarai Academy to become the champions of competitive tank sports. Having defeating her former school in the grand finals, their efforts were supposed to save the school from being shut down, but because of a legal loophole their work isn’t done yet. With the help of old friends and foes alike, Miho and Ooarai Academy continue to fight for their school.

Television vs. Film

When it comes to the TV anime, I don’t believe it is absolutely necessary to be a fan of both cute girls and tanks. The show sports strong narrative and characterization as well as celebration of military hardware (as well as war simulation as competitive sport), such that a lukewarm reception of one aspect could be saved by the other. Because the series was more structured and more adept at its dramatic progression, it ends up being more enjoyable than other shows of its ilk.  It’s only when either one or both elements together create wariness in a viewer (dislike of moe designs, fear of the show’s potential role as military propaganda) that the anime doesn’t really work.

Girls und Panzer der Film makes no concessions. The film immediately starts with a tank battle and ends with a tank battle. In contrast to many anime, films, etc. where we see either multiple small battles without any real sense of connection between them, or the focus is on a single duel, the last fight is a continuous 50-minute campaign. It showcases elaborate strategies on both sides, lovingly introduces new tanks to the story, and brings together characters in battle that had previously never joined forces. This film is made for people who love Girls und Panzer, and while it happens to have a solid and enjoyable story overall, newcomers are clearly not its target audience.

Slim but Effective Character Narratives

girlsundpanzerderfilm-nishizumis

The battles themselves are fantastic. It’s rare in even the most action-packed shows and movies that a single battle will go for nearly an hour, especially one where you have a strong sense of where all the pieces are positioned and how they influence each other. Girls und Panzer der Film accomplishes just that. However, I have to re-emphasize that the concluding battle is so long that you have to enjoy tank combat at least a little bit. Either that, or you have to be so invested in the characters that seeing them develop and grow gives you great joy, even if it’s amidst the explosion of tank shells.

That’s not to say the film meanders needlessly, or that it doesn’t know how to tell a story. Girls und Panzer der Film, despite its enormous cast of fan favorites, keeps its narrative nice and focused. Perhaps nothing is more surprising than the fact that fan favorite Akiyama Yukari does not take over the film, but that’s because it isn’t really about her. While considered a possible weakness of the original TV series, the light characterization of Girls und Panzer (where characters are defined either in groups or from a few simple and easy-to-grasp qualities) works in the movie’s favor because one can easily grasp many of the girls’ motivations in only a few minutes. Seeing Miho reunite on good terms with her sister Maho (the commander of the team she defeated in the championships) was a joy. Even my favorite character, Anzio’s squad captain Anchovy, makes an appearance, and shines in her own special way.

Girls und Militarism

The elephant in the room (though not really because I already mentioned it), is to what extent Girls und Panzer der Film promotes militarism. While it’s easy to write Girls und Panzer off, either as a series that is clearly designed to get Japanese men to enlist in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces or as simple fluff that shouldn’t be overthought, I don’t think it’s so simple.

When it comes to the question of whether Girls und Panzer glorifies war and militarism, the answer is yes and no. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but let me explain. On a surface level, the appeal in this respect is obvious. Get people to fall in love with the girls, associate them with tanks, and you might see some otaku driving them once they hit enlistment age, and while the anime isn’t quite that simple, that initial impression carries a lot of power. That being said, if you watch the series, tank combat is presented as a sport akin to archery or soccer, and it presents a world where tanks are no longer weapons that take millions of lives but rather tools for friendly competition. Is this whitewashing history, or is it presenting a kind of utopian alternative? I think cases can be made for both, which is why it’s more complicated than what is evident at first glance.

So where does Girls und Panzer der Film fit into all of this? I argue that, even as it celebrates tanks and tank combat, the film makes a rather prominent criticism of patriotism. In the movie, a new school is introduced call Chi-Ha-Tan, where the girls try to make up for their lack of skill with sheer fiery gusto. However, they’re also constantly sabotaging themselves because of the members’ desire to preserve their “honor.” When comrades are taken out, they believe that the best solution is to charge the enemy and fall in glorious combat. They despise turning their backs to the enemy, because they need to make up for everything. Unlike Saunders Academy (the American school), who believe in overwhelming force as a strategy, they have no actual strategy, and are instead merely victims of their own zealousness.

In other words, the science of senshadou (way of the tank) reigns, and foolhardy aggression (the kind of thing encouraged in Japanese citizens during World War II) is a mistake.

Conclusion

Girls und Panzer der Film deftly balances its two extreme components through efficient storytelling, compelling action, and overall cleverness. It’s not as newbie-friendly as the TV series, both in the sense that it’s a direct sequel and because the tank combat is much more important, but it also doesn’t let the desire for fanservice (both technological and girly) get too much in the way of a solid narrative. It even adds an interesting new angle on the image of itself as a work that promotes militarism. Girls und Panzer der Film does a lot in two hours, and leaves a lot to contemplate, even if the movie might seem pretty light on thoughtful content otherwise.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Save

Save

Save

Girls und Panzer is the Best Show of Its Kind

Girls und Panzer is one of the latest in a long line of anime and manga which mix a unique activity or concept with a cast of cute girls, in this case World War II-era tanks. I’ve enjoyed many such shows over the years, but I think Girls und Panzer is actually the strongest anime I’ve seen in this genre because it possesses qualities which give it the capacity to reach an audience beyond the fanbase one would normally expect. More than the spectacle and the juxtaposition of girls and tanks, Girls und Panzer delivers a good story.

In the world of Girls und Panzer, the act of piloting tanks is considered a traditional feminine martial art and widely revered sport, much like archery. Referred to as senshado, or “way of the tank,” in a fashion similar to how bushido is “way of the samurai” and judo “the gentle way,” and tankery in the official subtitles (invoking the similarity in reputation to archery), the main character Nishizumi Miho comes from a prestigious family and school of senshado. Because of an event in her past, Miho has deliberately transferred to a school without any tankery in order to escape it, but has the unfortunate timing of coming in right when the school decides to bring it back. As the only person in the entire school with experience in senshado, Miho gets roped into participating so that they can compete in a national tournament, and along the way rediscovers her passion for the art.

It’s a strange premise to be sure, though not that different from girls playing mahjong in a world where the game is enormously popular (Saki), or one where girls use magic to become half-human/half-airplane (Strike Witches). Also, while Girls und Panzer may not be as firm in establishing extremely distinct personalities and quirks for its characters as those other shows, it also goes beyond simply being a large cast of cute girls by doing three things especially well. First, it establishes a protagonist with a solid sense of purpose and desire in Miho, who becomes the moral, narrative, and strategic anchor for all of the other characters (of which there are many; it’s a cast of dozens). Second, it has well thought-out narrative arcs for its characters which give the story a clear sense of direction. Third, it knows how to create tension and anticipation to keep interest in both the characters and the premise of the show itself.

Compare Girls und Panzer to Saki, for instance. In both stories, the main heroines have the problem that, in spite of their talents in the specialty of their series, neither of them find it particularly enjoyable, and part of both Girls und Panzer and Saki is that they discover what it means to have fun doing either tankery or mahjong. What does it mean to have fun, though? What do they achieve by learning this? For Miyanaga Saki, it’s never really clear. She plays a lot of people who are as strong as she is, and learns that mahjong is fun, but the idea just seems to end there. For Nishizumi Miho, on the other hand, Girls und Panzer shows how moving to a different school, breaking from her family and their established methods of senshado, and discovering the fun of tanks all have a significant impact on her because Miho’s greatest strength as a commander—adaptability—is given room to grow in a way it wouldn’t be able to otherwise. In this way, Miho’s character becomes somewhat of a poster child for the philosophy of  Bruce Lee, particularly the following quote:

“In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess.” 

It was a criticism of traditional martial arts schools for being too caught up in perpetuating restrictive rules which could prevent people from reaching their true potentials. Girls und Panzer as Jeet Kune Do analogy.

Even before all that, though, the very first episode works to establish the idea that Miho is something special, building up that sense of anticipation which pays off when you see her in action. In this regard, Girls und Panzer reminds me a lot of Initial D and how it would hint at its main character Takumi’s skill at racing, so that when he finally gets behind the wheel you’re already invested in him. The show also follows the Initial D school of stopping an episode right in the middle of action and never giving a good point to walk away, which makes it hard to watch just one episode at a time, unless you were delayed for the week, or even months as the case may be, as Girls und Panzer‘s final episodes aired after a long break.

As for the tanks themselves, I am not a tank fanatic or particularly knowledgeable about them, so I can’t comment in that regard, but what I can say is that the series does an excellent job of portraying the tank battles in terms of thrill and excitement. Each of the tanks are shown to have particular strengths and limitations, and seeing the utilization of these qualities in terms of strategy and tactics, especially positioning, invokes the same feel one can get from the battles in Banner of the Stars or even Legend of the Galactic Heroes, where the unorthodox strategist Yang Wenli is in some ways similar to Miho. The actual animation of the tank battles is also very impressive, and is probably the best integration of 3D and 2D animation that I’ve ever seen. Very rarely does the show make its use of 3D appear awkward, which makes it easier to stay focused on what’s happening and not how strange everything looks.

Another thing I want to say is that with a show like Girls und Panzer which glorifies a well-known and still relevant weapon of war, it is easy to criticize it as promoting militarism in a very direct manner. However, I think it isn’t so simple, as the transformation of tanks into a “martial art” resembles the origins of many sports, including judo, which was specifically modified from its combative origins to be a way for self-improvement and healthy competition. It’s possible to criticize all competitive sports for promoting aggressive tendencies in people, but I think  Girls und Panzer has the potential to separate the beauty of machinery from its function of war.

For some, the premise of Girls und Panzer sells itself, but for the skeptical, or those who avoid this type of show like the plague, I would dare say that this is your best bet for finding something you’ll actually want to watch. Either way, it has the potential to become the standard by which all shows of its kind will be judged.