Friday 7 October 2016

First Impressions: Brave Witches

Brave Witches

Before Japan was invaded by moe girls wearing boat parts, there was a series doing a similar thing with school girls, aeroplane parts, magical powers, animals ear/tails and a lack of trousers. This series goes by the name of Strike Witches, and after two seasons, a movie, multiple OVAs, novels, manga and more it has evolved into a fully fledged franchise. After some time out of the spotlight it’s back for a brand new spin-off series, this time going by the name Brave Witches. Featuring the same production staff as the previous Strike Witches animated entries, Brave Witches is animated by studio Silver Link – who previously worked on the Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow OVAs as well as Watamote!, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya and more.

Brave Witches will follow the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing (also known as the titular ‘Brave Witches’) in their fight against the threat of the mysterious alien race known as the Neuroi. This first episode introduces the audience to lead character Hikari Karibuchi, a witch in training who wishes to follow in the footsteps of her sister – Takumi of the Third Aerial Squadron. After learning that her sister is soon to be deployed to Europe, Hikari decides to take part in a selection exam to be sent to Europe alongside her.

Despite its status as a spin-off Brave Witches is rather welcoming to newcomers, keeping references to the original series down to the very minimum. Other than the off-hand narration at the very beginning of the episode, the original cast is only very briefly mentioned when Takumi pulls out a picture of 501st member Mio Sakamoto. It’s at this point Hikari also notices original protagonist Yoshika in the background, instantly inspired that someone her age can also take part in the war effort. Other than that, this could be regarded as a suitable entry point for any newcomers looking to give the world of Strike Witches a try.

Brave Witches gets off to a decent start establishing its setting and characters, it lacks that certain energy that made the original series so watchable. Maybe it’s the fact that the threat of the Neuroi is largely absent from the episode, instead focusing on presenting Hikari as an underdog character that still has a long way to go in regards to her powers. It’s the usual “hero butts head with uppity classmate” story, which works well for an introductory piece but doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of originality. The flying sequences are watchable, but nothing that makes it seem like the show has advanced visually in eight years it’s been around. The episode itself is passable, but doesn’t really offer much to entice newcomers into watching any further.

Then of course there’s also Strike Witches’ trademark brand of fanservice, which if you aren’t familiar with the franchise is the unwritten rule that all witches are banned from wearing leg wear at any point – whether they’re currently strapped into Striker Units or not. This results in a show that tries to tell a decent action/character-driven story, all while displaying a legion of panty shots, bathhouse scenes and various other moments of titillation. It wouldn’t be a Strike Witches spin-off without it, and Brave Witches is quick to make that fact very clear. That said, with this episode largely focusing on introductions and not fast-paced aerial combat it doesn’t push this element as hard as one might think. Here it’s more of a background presence, so while you watch Hikari valiantly attempt to pass her exam you’ll suddenly have the realisation that nothing can be taken all that seriously because the main character looks like she forgot to get dressed properly.

For many fans Strike Witches would definitely be considered a “guilty pleasure” series – its fun storyline and likeable characters isn’t necessarily enough to look over the fact that it’s primary an outlet for lolicon fanservice. However the fact is those characters were instantly likeable, and for those wary of the fanservice element its first episode did enough to make you want to keep watching. Brave Witches hasn’t gotten off to quite a good start, coming off like it’s a spin-off about a far less interesting protagonist. World and lore expansion usually isn’t a bad thing, but the jury’s definitely still out on whether or not this franchise needed it.

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