Well… this didn’t turn out the way I’d expected. There are a number of things in this episode that fit a standard Strike Witches approach to their series introductions. And then there is one significant event that does not. Rather than just go straight into that, however, let me try to take this episode step by step, otherwise this review will just descend into a fit of rambling and I won’t have a clue how to handle it.
At the beginning of this episode the news breaks that the Neuroi hive over the nation of Gallia (basically France, to those unfamiliar with the Strike Witches world) has been destroyed. This gives us a clear timeline, setting this series right after the end of season 1 of Strike Witches. The destruction of that hive by the 501st was the first time a Neuroi hive had ever been destroyed, and as Hikari says in the narration, this gives the world hope: the Neuroi actually can be defeated. Until now the Neuroi had basically been able to spawn endlessly from their hives and nests, a limitless force of drones that never tired, never rested, and never truly died. Eventually they would overwhelm any resistance, and conquer everything… or so it seemed. The proof that they could be defeated at the source, that their hives could be destroyed and the lands they conquered set free, this is huge. And it adds to the smiles as everyone sends Hikari and her sister, Takami, off to Europe. These girls aren’t just going off into a hopeless battle. Now this is a war they can win. I have to say I was happy to see Misumi enthusiastically waving farewell. What can I say? I love a story where a former antagonist turns into a friend.
So, off to sea, where Hikari enthusiastically maintains her exercise regimen by running along the deck of the carrier. The navy crew seems eager to try to get along with the new witch, although they definitely can’t keep up with her. In their conversation we get a picture of the plans for the two sisters. Takami is being sent to the 502nd Brave Witches on the front lines in Orussia, while Hikari is being sent to Kauhava base in Suomus (basically Finland), and those who have some familiarity with the setting outside of the animated works will know that that’s the location of the 507th Joint Fighter Wing, the Silent Witches. Sometimes less flatteringly called the Suomus Misfits Squad, due to the peculiarities of their members, but it was the efforts of this group that stalled the Neuroi’s advances across Orussia in 1939, and resulted in the concept of the joint fighter wings in the first place, so even if they aren’t currently on the front lines, an assignment to them is by no means a bad post.
Takami does a bit of flying practice, and we get a look at her striker unit, the Shiden type-4. Again, for those who care to remember, in season 2 Major Sakamoto Mio started using the Shiden type 53, a later iteration of that model, which was apparently built on the principle of minimizing the drain of its user’s magic. Assuming this one is built with the same goal in mind, it may actually be ideal for Hikari to use, although it would definitely feel different from what she’s used to.
Let’s move to the battle against the Neuroi. Even if the preview last time hadn’t told us there would be one, we could pretty much have taken it for granted that it would happen. It always happens. Any time anyone goes anywhere by ship in this series, Neuroi show up to wipe out most of the fleet. Presumably some form of shipping must get through unhindered, otherwise they wouldn’t keep trying, but we certainly don’t see it. Anyway, this attack is notable, because rather than the one large-class Neuroi that we’re used to seeing, it’s a whole fleet of 30+ medium-sized ones, accompanied by some smaller drones. This swarm is perhaps the perfect counter to Takami: as a sniper, who also possesses the magic eye ability to see Neuroi cores, she could eliminate a single Neuroi in one shot. But trying to deal with an entire fleet of them while dodging counter-fire and attempting to protect the ships below her, this battle is far more than any one person could be expected to handle.
So she pushes herself beyond her limits. It’s hard to say exactly what her “Absolute Eye” does, although some guesses can be made. It looks as though time seems to freeze, as if it’s speeding up her perceptions, but she still gets hit while in that mode, so maybe not? Whatever it is, it apparently allowed her to see, target, and shoot all the cores in the remaining Neuroi simultaneously, at least from the perspective of the outside viewers. So, the good news is she wiped out the attackers. The bad news is she’s injured, and has exhausted her magic. When more Neuroi appear from the newly formed hive, the only one left to oppose them is Hikari.
And credit where it’s due, Hikari does about as well as could be expected in her first battle. That is is to say she doesn’t die. She really accomplishes nothing else of note, although maybe she succeeds in distracting the Neuroi from their attack on the ships just long enough for real help to arrive. But really, living through that fight is the best anyone could expect out of a trainee in that situation. She doesn’t have “protagonist powers” to suddenly give her skill at flying when she wasn’t good at it before. She’s right where she’s always been: a not-particularly-skilled flier with weak magic and no knowledge of her unique power, which appears to be the same or similar magic eye that her sister has.
Fortunately, the 502nd arrives right on time to save the day, and set up the new problem. They were expecting to meet Takami: she was being transferred to reinforce their wing. Learning that she’s been injured and is in a coma does not go over well, particularly with Kanno Naoe, who was apparently a close friend of Takami’s, and whose personality can best be described as “belligerent.” She is not at all pleased to find Hikari wearing Takami’s striker unit, no matter what the circumstances may have been, and things go downhill between them from there. Hikari, to her credit, is not intimidated by the little bulldog, and basically demands to be allowed to join the 502nd in her sister’s place. Tactically it could be argued to be a net loss for the 502nd: instead of an ace reinforcement, they have a bottom-of-the-class trainee who has nothing but determination going for her. She will have to be trained up to minimum standards in order to be useful to the wing, which will take time and resources they could be spending on more important things. However, Hikari is very determined, and Squadron Leader Rall is impressed enough with that, and with her ability to survive her first battle, to accept her into the 502nd.
So. I had not expected Takami to be taken out in this episode. While it’s a valid dramatic tool, it isn’t something I expected this series to do, at least not right now. Later, near the ramp up to the finale, yes I could have expected it. That would have increased the drama around that point, and it would be something that would have precedent based on previous Strike Witches series. But putting Takami out of commission now pretty much guarantees that she’ll be out of it for most of the season, at least. It’s the way the situation has been balanced: Hikari is there with the 502nd because Takami is not. I had hoped for them both to be there: I wanted to see the story that would develop with a pair of sisters that close working together in a unit like this. But instead, if Takami were to recover before Hikari has learned enough and has been accepted on an emotional level by the members of the 502nd, then Hikari will simply be sent away, on to her original post in Suomus most likely, and Takami will take over her position. The rules have basically been defined in this episode: Takami cannot recover enough to return to duty until Hikari has been accepted as a member of the 502nd in her own right. And that almost certainly means that Takami is going to be out of action for nearly the entire season. This makes for a sad Wanderer. 🙁
I am not yet committing to blogging this entire series. However, I felt that this episode had too much that was unexpected for me to let it go by without talking about it, so here we go. I’ll see what there is to see for future episodes.
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