Now that Hikari has been accepted into the 502nd, it’s time for her to work on her relationships with her teammates. Technically speaking she’s already been working on that, but the concern about her chance to actually be a member of the squadron has overshadowed that element of the last couple episodes. With that worry out of the way, the befriending can come to the fore. And through that process, we the viewers can come to know these girls.
This episode focuses on two characters: Shimohara Sadako, and Georgette Lemare. Up until now Sadako has just been the friendly girl who prepares the food, while Georgette has just been a quiet girl who’s been avoiding Hikari. Sadako, as it turns out, is fairly similar to Hikari in several ways. She likes trying to make friends with everyone, she comes from a part of Fuso that is similar to the area where Hikari grew up, and she also has questions about her usefulness as a witch and the value she’s bringing to the 502nd. Personally I would argue that there are many different sorts of “value” in the world, and the ability to raise morale by bringing cheer and serving food everyone can enjoy is not something that should be dismissed.
However, Sadako is concerned with her ability to defeat Neuroi, the primary duty of a witch in war time, and no amount of reassurance will convince her. This has left her with a powerful need to prove herself, which overrides her better judgement, and leads the three girls into trouble. Trying to attack a single large-type Neuroi that is clearly manipulating the weather with only three witches without calling for backup is extremely foolhardy. A smarter course of action would be to fall back to try to get clear of whatever interference is preventing them from communicating with the base. If none of them can get a signal through, head back to alert the base in person. Attacking on their own leaves too much of a risk of the only people who know what is going on being taken out and leaving HQ unaware of the danger. Which is, of course, exactly what happens.
With Hikari badly frozen and unconscious, their radios not working, and their striker units frozen, the three of them have no way to return home, no way to get help, and no way to affect the Neuroi. Fortunately, Georgette cuts off Sadako’s panicked burst of self-condemnation; reminding her that they need to focus on helping Hikari or she’ll die. Also fortunately, not only is Georgette the team’s healer, her healing increases her body temperature, and may even put out heat of its own given how she uses it later. So she can simultaneously heal Hikari and warm her up within the small shelter they dig out for themselves.
And here we get to see what we’ve been missing about Georgette. Her reasons for avoiding Hikari up until now have certainly seemed like they must have been because of more than just shyness. Now we discover that she’s been blaming herself for not having been able to completely heal Hikari’s sister, Takami, back in episode 2. As a result she couldn’t bring herself to look Hikari in the eyes because of how guilty she felt. Her guilt is misplaced, but it’s understandable. And as Hikari says, the only reason Takami survived at all was because Georgette and her healing magic were able to reach her only a few minutes after she was wounded. Maybe a massively overpowered healer like Yoshika eventually became (will become) in season 2 of Strike Witches could have done more for Takami, but Georgette should not blame herself for being unable to perform miracles.
Having dealt with these issues the three girls are able to work together without tension dividing them, and as soon as the blizzard blows over they get to work prepping their striker units and gathering supplies for an unorthodox second strike at the Neuroi. Now they they know that it’s manipulating extremely cold air, they work to take advantage of it by creating an improvised fuel-air explosive to ignite the surface of the Neuroi and cause it to shatter from thermal shock. Once they have their tools prepared they take off for round 2.
Their flight back brings out a point I didn’t touch on earlier. During the briefing before they went out on this mission, we were told that the Neuroi’s advance had stalled at the edge of Lake Ladoga, but they would probably continue across it as soon as it had frozen over, which would normally be in about a month. Firstly, I’m very unclear as to why an exclusively airborne enemy would care about the lake being frozen or not frozen: it shouldn’t present an obstacle to them either way. But assuming that they do care for some reason, the fact that even by the time of that briefing they had undoubtedly already sent out this gigantic electric fan to blast the countryside (and, eventually, the lake) with cold air and freeze the lake solid shows that this group of Neuroi have no intention of remaining stalled. They aren’t waiting for the lake to freeze naturally: they’ve done it themselves, and if the lake is expected to freeze over in only about a month anyway, then it probably isn’t going to get warm enough to melt through that ice any time soon.
I find this Neuroi behavior unsettling. Traditionally in Strike Witches series, outside of the beginning arc and the final climax arc, the Neuroi have functioned as little more than episodic plot devices: serving simply as a dramatic tool to help our girls make whatever character development they need to make. And while I can’t say that they aren’t doing that in Brave Witches, the fact that behind all of that they are still making steady progress, carrying out unexpected plans, and advancing inexorably on our girls’ base is making me… uneasy. It feels like I’ve let previous experience lull me into a false sense of security about them, convincing me that they’re mostly harmless at this point, and now they’re planning to take advantage of that.
The final battle goes basically according to plan, aside from a slight worrying moment when Sadako’s striker unit started to freeze. Fortunately Hikari is hardcore, and has no problems not only supporting her, but smashing her own head into the side of Sadako’s striker unit in order to give Georgette something to heal so she can generate heat to thaw it out. Their final arrow hits the core, the Neuroi shatters into light, and the entire storm system it had been generating immediately fades away. Just for the record, weather doesn’t work that way in real life, but I’ve long since learned not to argue realistic science against this series.
So I am basically expecting Hikari, and by extension us, to spend the next few episodes getting to know the members of the 502nd. Since she’s now recognized as being a real member of the unit it should hopefully be somewhat easier for her to get along with people than back when no one knew if she was going to be gone by tomorrow or not. Normally I would expect these middle episodes to be purely episodic with relatively little plot progression, but as I said above, I’m not entirely sure that the Neuroi are behaving the way I’d expect them to behave for these episodes. I’m going to have to see how this turns out. I may be worrying over nothing.
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