March 07, 2019

Her-tank-land

Girls und Panzer is a textbook example of how to launch a story in medias res without any title cards or opening crawls or expository dialogue to establish and explain the crazy backstory. You either suspend disbelief from the get-go or you don't.

Director Tsutomu Mizushima and veteran screenwriter and manga artist Reiko Yoshida throw so much insanity onto the screen in the first episode, while treating it all as "normal," that you find yourself scratching your head and nodding and saying to yourself, "Hmm, you know, I guess it kinda sorta makes sense."

NO, IT DOESN'T! IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE AT ALL!

The premise here is that high schools engage in war games as an extramural sport, with national championships and everything. Not in a virtual world (that'd be somewhat plausible), but with fully operational platoons of vintage WWII tanks, adding up to more rolling armor than most of the world's modern militaries.

All the caveats about "safety measures" notwithstanding, even if the shells were blanks (they're not), accidents alone would rack up a serious body count. The "sport" is not without some risks—Miho had previously quit after one such accident—but supposedly "risky" the same way that American football is "risky."

Yeah, no. I mean, there's suspending disbelief and then there's disbelieving the most rudimentary laws of physics.


Nor did I get a satisfactory explanation—aside from a single line of dialogue when a character poses the same question—of why entire towns are built atop gigantic aircraft carriers. Because, that's why.

Yet I couldn't stop watching. It absolutely shouldn't, but the whole thing simply works at every level.

At the story level, this shouldn't be all that surprising. The sports genre has been a reliable mainstay of manga and anime for half a century, and Girls und Panzer constitutes a solid entry in the canon. As such, the almost entirely plot-driven narrative makes it easier to look past the inherent craziness.


It's also a classic underdog story, as Miho has to figure out how to defeat larger and better equipped teams with her oddball tanks and crews. (Like "oddball," the series is peppered with references to Kelly's Heroes.)

You see, when Oarai Girls High School previously shut down the program for lack of interest and funds and sold off the equipment, the only tanks left were the ones nobody else wanted.

Although the focus of the series is on the tanks and the competitions, human drama is not absent. An interesting dynamic plays out between Miho, Maho (her older sister), and their mother. Naturally, the national championship will come down to a battle between the two tanks personally commanded by Miho and Maho.

I think we have a winner in the sibling rivalry metaphor department.

In fact, it is so easy to get caught up in the competitions and Miho's ingenious solutions to one impossible predicament after the next that you can easily overlook the the most unusual and compelling thing about Girls und Panzer. The girls.

These are all-girl teams in an all-girl competition in (as far as I can tell) an all-girl "sport."

They're teenagers, of course, so the subject of boys comes up. But not one speck of drama or plot development revolves around a teenage boy. I don't think a teenage boy even appears on screen. Men pop up here and there in peripheral supporting roles. But from beginning to end, every major character is female.

And yet we don't hear one speck of political or social commentary about this obvious fact either.

Miho's recruiting campaign (Oarai High is desperately short of tank crews) argues that tankery as a martial art is a great way to improve a girl's feminine attributes.

Historically, this argument is not that big of a reach. It was common practice in medieval Japan for the daughters of noblemen and samurai to study the naginata (halberd). Today, high school girls regularly participate in the traditional martial arts of judo, kendo (fencing), and kyudo (archery).

Hana Isuzu, Miho's gunner, comes from a family famous for its skill at kado (ikebana or flower arrangement). Hana's mother is initially opposed to her daughter's participation in tankery, but will later concede that it has improved Hana's artistic skill and expressiveness at flower arrangement.

Nobody at any point questions the ability of girls (as a sex) to operate tanks and command tank platoons. There's an important lesson here. The complete absence of "messaging" about the female composition of this heavily armored Themyscira or "Her-tank-land" makes the inherent message that much more appealing to boys.

The manga and light novels were serialized in seinen magazines (aimed at young adult males). And yet, aside from the standard short skirts and an obligatory hot springs scene, there's barely any fan service. Again, this is first and foremost a sports anime. It's all about winning the tank battles.

Tank battles fought by girls. In their Panzers.

Related videos

Girls und Panzer (CR) (HIDIVE)
Girls und Panzer OVA
Girls und Panzer der Film

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