Girls und Panzer is a difficult series to categorise - it's part comedy, part drama, part Strike Witches (minus most of the fan service) and part sports anime. But perhaps we should not be trying to categorise it, as to do so does the series a grave disservice. Before seeing Girls und Panzer, various people had tried to explain to me why the series is worth watching, usually by categorising it with terms like 'sports anime with cute girls and tanks'. Invariably, they failed to rouse my interest enough to give the series a chance. That's largely because Girls und Panzer is a series that sounds like it shouldn't work - in fact it sounds like total nonsense. To be honest that's because it is largely nonsense! However, it is beautifully executed, fresh and witty nonsense that will defy all of your expectations.
Girls und Panzer is set in a world where students go to school at establishments situated in a decidedly unusual location (be warned, however, that this is never properly explained). This isn't even close to being the strangest thing in the world of Girls und Panzer however. The story follows the exploits of a group of students who attend Ōarai Girls High School. Other than the obvious location shift, these are your typical Japanese school students attending a fairly typical anime depiction of a high school - Though instead of the usual school sports like kendo, baseball or football (soccer to our American friends), the students in the world of Girls und Panzer participate in "Sensha-do" (literally "The Way of the Tank, otherwise known as "Tankery". This is (apparently) a traditional martial art, and there’s an upcoming national tournament in which Ōarai wishes to compete. Enter our protagonist Miho Nishizumi, who comes from a long line of prestigious practitioners in this art and has transferred to Ōarai specifically in order to avoid it. Unfortunately for Miho she transferred just as the school is restarting it's Tankery programme and naturally, coming as she does from a renowned family, she is the prime recruitment target of the School Council. You can probably tell from that little snippet that the plot itself is pretty predictable, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for this series.
In the Girls und Panzer universe, Sensha-do represents the height of femininity! That’s right, according to this series you can forget flower arranging or calligraphy - riding around in tanks and shooting things is the most feminine activity that a high-school girl can participate in. This is borne out within the first few episodes as we see multicoloured tanks, including one in bright pink, adorned with such finery as cushions and plushies. As you can probably gather, Girls und Panzer isn’t afraid to have fun with and subvert Japanese gender stereotypes, to oft-hilarious effect. Though there is the occasional misfire, these are few and far between and this is by no means the end to the subversion: tanks noisily and dangerously thunder through the streets and nobody raises an eyebrow - in fact, the locals seem almost universally happy to see the tanks roll past. The series also plays fast and loose with national stereotypes, for example the English team from St. Gloriana Girls Academy sip tea from china cups while engaging in fierce battles, never spilling a single drop. This sort of comedy could so easily fall flat or even offend, but Girls und Panzer delivers it with such innocent charm that you can’t help but find it endearing.
Given the comedic nature of much of what goes on in the series, the attention to detail in this series is astonishing, with characters often reeling off tank statistics and historic battle references in casual conversation. I'm no tank expert (well I am male, so it would be ridiculous if I were), but the tanks themselves seem very detailed and they very much look the part - at least to my untrained eyes. But don't let the tank nerdery put you off - the series is lightning paced, meaning there's never a dull moment as each episode is packed to the rafters with content.
Girls und Panzer has had something of a long and interesting ride on it's way to these shores. The series remained unlicensed over here for quite some time, despite having some fairly vocal and prominent fans in the UK anime scene, including our very own Editor-in-chief. It was MVM Entertainment that ultimately managed to snag the series and first announced the license back in October 2013 at MCM London Comic Con. The story, however, does not end there. The series looked almost certain to be DVD only and MVM remained tight-lipped on the prospect of a Blu-Ray release, despite almost constant haranguing on social media by fans of the series demanding a HD release. The series hit the US on Blu-Ray back in December courtesy of Sentai Filmworks, it was cheap and worked on UK Blu-ray players - therefore a number fans (at least anecdotally) imported it. MVM did offer one or two glimmers of hope that a UK Blu-Ray release was possible via their social media channels, though these often came with caveats stating how poor Blu-Ray sales had been for some of their other titles. Then at the beginning of March MVM confirmed that the series would in-fact be coming to the format, thanks to an improved deal with their suppliers. Excellent news for Blu-Ray fans, but now we will see if the fans of the series put their money where their mouth is and lay down some cash for the series in HD, or if MVM simply left it too late and missed the boat to importers. Let us know in the forum or comments below if you're looking to buy the MVM Blu-Rays, whether you succumbed to temptation and imported the series or if you’re sticking to good old fashioned DVDs.
Speaking of the DVDs, there are a couple of imperfections in this release that may or may not bother you: Firstly, there doesn’t appear to be any English dub for the show's two recap episodes, and there’s a slight annoyance in that there are two long sets of credits after each episode (the original Japanese followed by the Sentai Filmworks additions), the second of which is just white text on a black background, though these are easily skipped. By far the biggest issue here is that (due to licensing issues) Sentai Filmworks replaced the Russian World War II era folk song "Katyusha", sung by the Pravda High School team in episode eight, with a reworking of the Tetris theme which feels completely out of place. It's a shame, but you can at least look up the song online if you're interested.
To summarise then: Girls und Panzer is fresh and funny, and at only twelve fast paced episodes long it feels small but perfectly formed. The series doesn't rely on lowbrow fan service like many similar anime - It doesn't have to, this charming series will have you hooked from start to finish.