“I’m going to work even harder, so I can fly with you!”
I’ve been a fan of the Strike Witches franchise for around a year and a half now. I was first introduced to the franchise by a colleague on /r/anime and now a very good friend of mine, /u/jetmet. I was admittedly turned away early by the show’s heavy use of fanservice and it initially made me question how much I would end up enjoying it. However, beneath its fanservice cover, Strike Witches was a fun, entertaining romp with fleshed-out characters and an interesting take on the world during World War II times. So, when Brave Witches came around, I was unsurprisingly very excited for its premiere. Due to my personal life becoming much busier, I wasn’t able to pick Brave Witches up and finish it until just recently. This Strike Witches spin-off following the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing and young Hikari Karibuchi certainly did not disappoint, delivering exciting action and entertaining characters while building on the groundwork Strike Witches had initially laid.
Much like other entries in the Strike Witches franchise, Brave Witches takes place in an alternate version of World War II Europe. In this version of our world, instead of countries warring with one another, the world has been invaded by a mysterious alien race known as the Neuroi. Commonly showing themselves in the form of aircrafts, these Neuroi seem bent on total domination, establishing nests all across Europe and attacking the scattered European nations. In order to combat the newfound alien threat, several nations across the world come together to ally themselves against the Neuroi and with the help of the famous Dr. Miyafuji, father to the original Strike Witches protagonist, humanity develops the “Striker” unit, a combat accessory worn on the legs enabling young girls, who have the highest magical capability, to pilot the Strikers and fly through the sky in order to combat the Neuroi.
The story of Brave Witches centers around the 502nd Joint Fighter Unit, operating out of Petersburg, Orussia, as they combat the nearby Neuroi hive and attempt to drive back the attacking Neuroi. We follow Hikari Karibuchi, a young girl from the village of Sasebo in Fusou (Japan) who is training to become a witch. After a call is sent out to Fusou seeking more witches to fight on the frontlines against the Neuroi threat, Hikari and her sister, legendary Witch Takami Karibuchi, leave for Europe when Takami is unexpectedly shot out of commission after a surprise Neuroi attack. With Takami unable to fight, Hikari takes her place with the 502nd and trains under Flight Sergeant Edytha Rossmann in order to become stronger and be able to fight on the frontlines.
While the story of Brave Witches is at its core similar to that of the original Strike Witches, the growth of Hikari as a witch and her own character arc feel like they come into play more than that of Yoshika in the original series. Unlike Yoshika, who had a natural gift for magic and exceedingly high potential as a Witch, Hikari’s magic power is weak initially and grows throughout the course of the series. Throughout the series, Hikari also grows in her own right, becoming stronger and helping in various missions throughout the story. I personally appreciated Brave Witches’ take on the story, as, for me, Hikari’s story felt more driven and felt like it was always moving forward. There were still fun moments to detract from the serious, but Brave Witches showed more of an intent to build Hikari’s character throughout the series and it was an effort I appreciated.
Just like the original Strike Witches, Brave Witches features a wide cast of characters. There are far too many characters to cover in a concise manner, so let’s start with our protagonist, Hikari. Hikari is the “genki” MC, she’s excitable, always full of energy, and has a drive and ambition that can’t easily be slowed. This drive spreads to others around her and even in the darkest times, she looks at things positively and carries forward. Hikari is truly a dynamic character throughout the course of the series as she breaks free from her sister’s shadow and shines in her own light. When deciding my favorite character for the spin-off, it’s very hard to look away from Hikari as a serious option. She has an energy that lights up any scene she’s in and she steals the show on more than one occasion.
One of the other characters who gains one of the most spotlight and is another of my personal favorites from the show is Nipa (full name: Nikka Edvardine Katajainen). Nipa is a carryover from the original series, appearing in side roles during the Strike Witches Movie and Operation Victory Arrow. Nipa is shown to often be a klutz, breaking her Striker unit several times throughout the series in several different ways ranging from lightning strikes to a swarm of locusts getting inside the unit. These incidents have deemed her as unlucky to those around her. Despite her unlucky, klutz nature, Nipa is shown to have a heart of gold, as she is sweet and gentle to those around her. Her character is extremely endearing and she is always willing to go above and beyond for her friends.
While there are many, many other characters I could discuss, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the show’s references to the original Strike Witches. Taking place during the time period between the first and second seasons of the Strike Witches anime, the show is rife with references to the original series. Members of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing from Strike Witches can be seen in newspapers, referenced by members of the 502nd, and in some cases, appear in-person within the show, though I’ll leave out mentions of specifics. As I’m a very big fan of the Love Live! franchise, I couldn’t help but compare the references and callbacks to the references to µ’s within Love Live! Sunshine!! While I appreciated the callbacks during Sunshine, I personally appreciated the references to the original series more during Brave Witches. The references seemed to flow naturally especially given the difference in time frames between the series, with Brave Witches taking place during the Strike Witches time period and Sunshine occuring 5 years after the events of Love Live!
Animation and Sound
Animation production for Brave Witches was led by Silver Link., renowned for their work on Kokoro Connect, Non Non Biyori, Yuri Kuma Arashi, and several others. Silver Link. also led animation for Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow, featuring the highest animation quality of the original series’ animated portions. Brave Witches doesn’t miss a beat with its animation and overall design. The character designs are appealing and varied among the different characters, while maintaining grounds in a realistic approach to the designs. One point of particular note I wanted to discuss was the use of fanservice and the frequency of “panty shots” from the original series. Going into Brave Witches, this was one of my biggest concerns and I was pleasantly surprised by the scaling back of the fanservice moments in Brave Witches. They were far fewer and farther-between and the moments that were done flashed by quickly so as not to detract from the events of the show. It was an area I was personally very pleased with.
Sound Direction for Brave Witches was led by franchise regular Tomohiro Yoshida, who previously led sound direction for the previous Strike Witches anime entries. Just as with its predecessor, Brave Witches features a great mix of soothing, mellow tracks to accompany the base and slice-of-life portions of the show and bombastic brass pieces to lead the charge in the show’s various battles. Among the strongest of the OST, in my opinion, was the Brave Witches answer to Strike Witches “Striker no Hishou”, the grand Hikari Kagayaite. The track is loud, proud, and as grandiose as any piece from Strike Witches. In an unusual feat for the Strike Witches franchise, I found myself far preferring the show’s OP, Ashita no Tsubasa. The OP is fast-paced and energetic, like past OPs from the franchise, and Yoko Ishida delivers a fantastic vocal performance to accompany the guitar-driven instrumentals. That’s not to say any less of the show’s ED, LITTLE WING ~Spirit of LINDBERG~. Just as with previous seasons, there are several different versions of the OP with each different member performing the vocals. LITTLE WING presents a more laidback, but still guitar-driven melody, which still carries the fun and entertainment in force and serves as a great endmarker after each episode.
Like I mentioned before, I’ve been a fan of the Strike Witches franchise for a decent while now. It’s one that’s been passed around between different members of my online group of friends and it’s a show I greatly enjoy. Regardless of the overall quality of the show, it’s a franchise I can always indulge in if I’m looking to have a good time. While personally the characters may not have been as instantly charming as the members of the 501st, the individual girls of the 502nd grew on me as time went on and I can definitely say I appreciate each one. Brave Witches took the formula laid down for it by the original Strike Witches and built on that story in its own way. I, for one, greatly anticipate an announcement or information regarding a hopeful second season. I certainly wouldn’t mind another adventure with the 502nd.
Strike Witches can be a polarizing franchise within the anime fandom. Some fans are turned away from the show immediately due to the heavy fanservice and subject matter of young girls without pants flying around and fighting aliens. However, past the fanservice cover of Brave Witches lies an enjoyable romp of an adventure, filled with fun characters, entertaining and exciting battles, and a simple, easy-to-follow plotlline. Brave Witches may not have the deepest story or character development, but what it excels in is the pure enjoyment the Strike Witches franchise delivers so well.
Story: 7/10, The story is relatively standard for the Strike Witches franchise but does its own things to change up the format and keep it fresh.
Characters: 9/10, While the cast of Brave Witches may not be as instantly charming as the original, give them time and the cast is a great boon for the show
Animation: 9/10, Silver Link brings their A-game to Brave Witches, as the show features smooth, crisp animation and beautiful character designs and backdrops
Sound: 9/10, Very much sticks with the Strike Witches style and that is by no means a bad thing.
Enjoyment: 10/10, Brave Witches is so fun, so goddamn fun that once you get into it, you won’t want to stop watching.
Taku Recommends: Check it out. If you didn’t like the fanservice of the original series, things have gotten better and the show is such a fun ride.
(Brave Witches is available for viewing on Crunchyroll, with all episodes available for free streaming)