If you like tanks, you’ll like this anime. If you like diminutive highschool anime girls, you’ll like this anime. If you like diminutive highschool anime girls who drive tanks, you’ll really like this anime. If you’re not any of that, jump in your own tank and drive away from this show, and turn your turret to your six and weigh it down with lead if it chases you.

Girls und Panzer is that underwhelming. I came in knowing this show seems to have a dedicated set of fans, and I expected more based on that. The artwork and story and even the characters are fairly ordinary. The show seems to lack focus, instead just kind of throwing all kinds of things into the pot, as they say, and going with whatever comes out in the end. I wish it was better, because it’s such an unusual and intriguing concept. But it’s a mess, and I wouldn’t recommend spending lots of time on it.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 3

There’s a large array of highschool girls, all ranging in height from exactly the same to an inch or so different. Between that and the fact that most of them are wearing the same uniforms, if they weren’t arranged into teams for each tank you wouldn’t be able to remember any of them distinctly.

As unusual as this anime is in some ways, it’s fraught with a heavy dose of typical shoujo themes. Most of the main characters are all about friends and shared experiences and kawaii and everybody getting along. All of those things are fine and good, but no matter the set of themes, if a writer utilizes too many overused tropes, it’s going to be less interesting to an audience. This anime suffers a great deal from that. Even the differences in the characters are overshadowed heavily by these themes.

If it weren’t for this aspect, I would say all the characters are very unique. They certainly are set up that way. The show starts off introducing us to a wide variety of personalities and outward style differences in the girls, showing us the various teams in a brief moment in the girls’ first team battle. It gets your attention and highlights how different the girls are. All the teams seem very different right away. You learn that Miho’s team is fairly calm under her experienced control. You see the one group who seem obsessed with war and the history of war. Of course the self-confident student council team stands out too, as well as the (rather confusing) volleyball club team. The flighty and unstable six-girl team pilots the last tank. So you get the impression we’re going to have a wide cast of multiple personality types. And while that doesn’t particularly change, for one thing no individual character gets enough development, even among the main team. But second, the similarities between the girls ultimately overshadow their differences, and it all ends up being a muddled mess of partially indistinguishable characters.

Even their opponents end up like this. Ooari High’s first opponents are (supposedly) British girls, and Miho becomes friends with their commanders right away after that first battle. This pattern continues all the way to the end of the series, no matter how contrary or adversarial or hostile her opponents are. The British students even point this out near the end of the series. It’s a predictable pattern, adding further to the feeling of a lack of individuality in these characters.

So I think a lot is left undeveloped in these characters. They’re all designed to be different (example, Saori Takebe’s exuberance versus Mako Reizei’s listlessness) but they end up seeming very similar. Whether that was the intention of the writer or not, it leaves them individually less memorable. So the characters themselves seem rather diminished in importance to this anime.

Artwork

Rating: 5

Somebody among the artists for this show must love drawing tanks!

As far as I know the tanks seem normal enough. I’m not super knowledgeable in the armored cavalry field as it were, so I can hardly comment too much on accuracy in the outward designs. But I will say that someone probably had to do a lot of original research on the movements and mechanics of tanks in order to make the animation accurate. Not only that, they had to become familiar with a lot of different models of tanks. There’s a ton of different tanks used in this anime, and I think all of them are based on real models in our world. So for research and animation and the efforts it took to create all that, I must give the artists a lot of credit.

I can quibble about one part of this animation however. The tanks are moving way too fast. Even tanks made nowadays probably don’t go much more than 50 MPH (80 KPH). And that’s only in flat runs, not while turning or over uneven terrain. And certainly not while firing the main gun. I guess maybe all the speed explains why they fire and miss so often in this show! Although they miss even while stationary a few times. This all takes away from any idea of staying true to the actual designs of these tanks. But if nothing else it allows for a fast pace in the action. Though I’d probably rather see the tanks be a little more realistic. They are basing them on real tanks after all.

But everything else is blah. I mentioned the characters are all about the same height. And that’s almost universally true. You’ve got the Russian shrimp with a complex about her height, and the Ooari student council president is a little shorter than everybody else, but other than that almost everybody is the same dimensionally. It doesn’t do the characters any favors individually, something I noted already (above) about their designs. Hair is ample and ordinary, eyes are large and ordinary, bodies are slight and practically indistinguishable. They’re all stuck in this chibi twilight zone, neither chibi nor representative of reality as most typical anime figures are, but stuck unhappily between the two. And if there’s one thing about the artwork that bugs me from start to finish in this show, it’s the school uniforms, and more precisely, the skirts. Skirts and tanks don’t mix, for any number of reasons, none of which I’ll go into here. I’ll simply suggest that you, male or female, imagine sitting on a steel seat, in a steel box, all kinds of kinetic energy going on, moving at 40 MPH, wearing a skirt. No.

I’ll sum it up like this. If the tanks are prettier to me than the girls, either I have a problem or the artwork does. All I remember is the tanks.

Story

Rating: 3

The only thing saving this story from the pits is the originality of the fundamental idea behind this show: girls and tanks. Hey, that’s the name of the show isn’t it?

I get it. Highschools all around the world have decided that learning “tankery,” or “senshadou,” has practical educational value for young ladies. That familiar PA voice in the background of so many animes says something about what it’s supposed to teach girls, but I’ve blocked it out of my memory at this point. It’s so ridiculous! Hey I have no problems with girls liking tanks. Hell that’d get me excited about a girl if I knew she was into that. But as a tool for education? It’s kind of crazy. Super original! Super ridiculous! It’s great!

It’s the reason one even stops to watch this series. I know it’s why I decided to. Why did someone dream this up and how do they handle it? I even wondered originally if it would be a war anime, or something similar to Sound of the Sky, where the girls share a lot of difficult experiences in and around wartime. I wondered how the writers handled this.

It ends up just being round after round of team battles and tired, overly enthusiastic declarations. If you love hearing highschool girls cry “ganbatte!” you’ll be in heaven in this series. Otherwise you’ll be tired of it by the third episode. Yes the battles have some interest, and they do a decent job handling the ins and outs of them and leaving us hanging in expectation and wondering how they’ll turn out. But usually they turn out with some convenient turn of events in favor of our MCs, whereupon they take full advantage of it, intentionally or accidentally, and they win the battle.

I don’t get the thing with all the German language. Tanks are not just a German thing. They might have been popularized through Germany’s history with them. But I’m pretty sure they weren’t the first to create or use them. Either way it feels a little weird. The tanks in the show are from multiple different sources (American, British, Russian, I think one of them is a Czech model even, etc.) but many of them are German. I don’t quite get the centrality of all things German to this show at any rate.

And why are these girls living on ships?!? Why are the ships floating islands?? Why are the floating islands intended as havens for highschool environments while there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary happening onshore? I felt like I was in the middle of a shoujo version of Darling in the Franxx and I was waiting for the kaiju to show up. So much confusion!

So a unique idea gets covered over in fairly ordinary or predictable storylines, and the whole thing ends up feeling very empty. And I wish it wasn’t that way, because the uniqueness allows for so much initial interest. Then it gets overshadowed, and ends up being no more interesting than the interest the title itself elicits.

Overall: 3

The one thing that bugs me the most in this show, and speaks the most to how unbelievable everything feels in this series, is how everyone is completely safe during these battles. Miho worries about the safety of her teammates, supposedly in contrast to how all the other tank commanders behave, but it’s pretty clear no one is in any danger. One of Miho’s teammates points out that she shouldn’t be looking out the open hatch during the battle, and Miho calmly responds that it’s “rare” for someone to get hit in one of these battles. Yay, “rare.” I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer “impossible” when we’re talking about my head being out there with a blizzard of 50mm bullets and 80mm shells. The tanks get hit at pointblank range several times. They get their treads blown off. They flip over.

“Is everybody okay?!?”

“Yeah just my glasses are broken!”

That’s all really convenient for the show, but I needn’t tell you that’s not how this really works out. Any tank round at less than ten yards distance is probably going to be fatal. It’s not safe no matter how thick the armor is.

So while on one hand they make an effort to make the show realistic by using real-world tank models, on the other they make it completely unrealistic with this safety aspect. It makes for a frustrating contradictory feel in the show. And I’m happy they’re safe, don’t get me wrong. But the show can only be the way it is, highschool girls fighting in tanks for educational purposes, if it were completely safe. And it’s too convenient, and convenience in plot devices always detracts from the quality of a show overall.

So that’s basically it. A very unique concept beset with the ordinary or convenient in such quantities that the whole thing ends up very bland. Frustrating throughout, mildly interesting, and predictable at the end, it’s a disappointing experience. Now, I will note that I only watched the 12 episode TV series. I know there’s a handful of movies, as well as a lot of manga that might be more engaging. Perhaps this concept doesn’t lend itself well to the TV episode format. I haven’t seen the movies, and you know how I am about manga. So perhaps those presentations are better. I will qualify all of this and say that this is one of those shows that might be more engaging while watching it week to week near its initial simulcasts. Watching the episodes back-to-back might make the lack of distinctiveness feel more apparent.

I know lots of people know about this show. I know it’s probably popular among the young ladies as well. I think that’s a good thing. It’s definitely something different in the shoujo realm! I just wish it was better quality overall. This is a rather unique kind of show, and unique opportunities should not be wasted, even if the uniqueness is kind of ridiculous. I don’t mind ridiculous even, as long as it’s entertaining or has some artistic quality. Girls und Panzer misses on these counts and on a lot of other levels. I wish I didn’t have to say it was so, but it is. If there’s a second season I hope they can improve upon it.

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