Why do we like a show like this? If I had to do a one line description of Girls und Panzer, I might sum it up as K-On! with a plot. K-On! was notable for the accurate details of the musical instruments the girls used. The director had the girls not only playing actual instruments but made sure that they were accurate drawn. Even details such as how a music store repair tech replaced strings were not overlooked. The other thing that GuP does that K-On! doesn’t have is a creation of a unique and fantastical world where schools are on giant aircraft carriers and women compete in a martial art based on heavy military equipment. There it resonates somewhat with Strike Witches, but without the magical abilities. Of course GuP doesn’t have the same level of fanservice but I can forgive them that. The girls are cute enough as it is. And they’re damn tough to be running around in snow in miniskirts.
GuP takes the same approach, abet with tanks. Designs, movement and operation are all reflective of the actual RL tanks they’re based on. Yes, they don’t always adhere to real world physics but not so outrageously that it takes away from the story. Even when there is something outrageously unreal like the size of the school ships,the ships designs are drawn from actually carriers. As someone who has an interest in WWII, I found myself looking forward each episode to see what other piece of history the director will add. GuP adds to this loving attention to detail with the plot of saving Oarari by winning the Nationals and the story of Miho’s journey back to her love of Panzerfarhen.
Miho’s the Anglerfish team is a fun group of characters to watch, each with a distinct personality: the tank otaku, Yukari overjoyed at being able to compete beside her idol, Miho, the boy crazy Saori, the flower arranging gunner Hana, and their crack (but tired) driver, Mako. Each gets a chance in the spotlight and watching them combine together to form a crack team reminds me of old WWII movies using the trope of the ragtag group of GI’s that overcome odds partly because of their diversity.
Usually, in SOL anime you mostly have just the core group of a few main characters. GuP manages to take the story out of a small group of girls and expand their universe to encompass not only the fascinating crews of the other Oarari tanks, but the other schools as well. Giving each school an identifiable style based on a WWII country that had developed their own tanks and their members distinct personalities that reflected those countries were masterstrokes in my opinion. Thinkng about Noona and Katyusha riding into battle singing “Katyuska” still brings a smile to my face and I still find it horrible that Crunchyroll cut that out because of copyright issues.
While many of the girls’ personalities might be broadly drawn, each of them is a character that I’d like to see more of. I can’t think of as large a cast of characters in another anime that I liked as much as I do these girls. Imagine if we had three or four cours to cover the story which could have included backstories on the other girls (yes! More Darjeeling and Noona!) and seen the other schools battle each other.
Lastly, the quality of the battles, even if we might critique the realism, is awesomely exciting to watch. That goes to the loving care the the animators took to get it to “look right”. To get me to be on the edge of my seat in battle after battle is quite a feat. Just like comedy, in action sequences, timing is everything. Which is sort of overstating it, but without timing things that should be exciting can fall absolutely flat. GuP gets it right.
First and foremost, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the WWII theme was a big hook. Certainly it was the primary thing that drew me to the show initially. Had they used modern tanks, my interest wouldn’t be as keen. Still, that’s just part of why I like the show so much. For me, Girls und Panzer (“GuP”) is a quintessential example of doing so many things “just right”. The anime isn’t perfect (what is?), but the sum total is greater than the parts – and the parts are very good on their own. GuP is by no means a one-dimensional show.
From a production standpoint the show is amazing. The tanks were illustrated with incredible detail AND historic accuracy. That’s a big plus for someone like me, but even tank novices can appreciate that high level of execution. There were a lot of “WWII Easter Egg” references not to mention all the little extra details such as dirt remaining on a tank after a miss. I loved the use of motion-picture style shots and the “tank/gunner-eye view” shots. Attention to detail goes beyond the hardware. Facial expressions were, well, “just right” and conveyed quite a bit of unspoken thought not to mention at times downright funny. One good example is the look on Miho, Momo, Yuzu, Anzu and Yukari’s faces after the Tiger(P) catches on fire during testing in EP 10. I really liked Miho’s “hahaha – you must be joking” expression (Ex. EP 10 at 6:42 (BD) when they find the Type 3). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the hilarious way Mako reacted to Sodoko deleting her absentee records near the end of EP 12.
The sound track – especially the use of WWII period songs (Katyusha being the quintessential example), fit the show perfectly and really helped to set the mood for each match and almost every scene. The voice acting is consistently good to great. At times you can almost feel the emotion displayed by the characters. I became a Karina fan in part because of the cute way she would excitedly exclaim “Yossha!” or “Aye, aye, aye!”
All these little details brought the GuP world to life in a big way, making it very easy for a viewer (at least for me) to get sucked into the story more and more with each episode. For example, Team Turtle’s heroic charge against 4 Pravda tanks wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting without the “gunner’s-eye view”. It made me feel like I was actually in the battle. You don’t care/think about “Hey it’s a small HS girl manning a 38(t)’s 37mm gun”. Instead you’re on the edge of you seat shouting “UTTE!” (FIRE!).
IMO the show does a great job with the characters. Despite watching it several times, I’m still amazed at how much depth most of the characters seem to have given the short amount of screen time available in 12 episodes. Even with side characters like Mako’s grandmother, the show gave you just enough to have a decent understanding of her personality and relationship with Mako. Darjeeling is a fan favorite (one of mine as well), yet think about the relatively little screen time she had. The show managed to squeeze in a surprising amount of character development as well. It was heartwarming to see the Freshman team overcome their fears – from running away in EP 03 to bravely taking on the most powerful produced TD/Tank of WWII (the Jadgtiger with its 128mm gun – same gun found on the Maus). I loved the Oarai teams’ quirky traits, especially the volleyball and history clubs. Spiking smoke flares is just awesome, and “Apologize to the Finnish!” is simply classic. For me, Miho was the perfect “heroine” for the story. She had “just the right” mix of ability, vulnerability, shyness, latent inner strength and kindness without being too “sappy”. Hearing her tell Maho that “she found her own Sensha-do” always brings a smile to my face no matter how many times I hear it. It’s one of my very favorite moments in the show.
One of the biggest reasons I like the show is that even if you knew Oarai would win a match, HOW they would win wasn’t easy to predict. The quintessential example is how they defeated the Maus. Plausibility issues aside (and there are quite a few), it’s an incredibly original and creative idea. Even more “mundane” things like towing the Tiger(P) up the hill in EP 11 and having the Type 89 (it is useful! LOL) tow logs in EP 06 to simulate several tanks moving out as part of trap are smart, plausible tactics rarely seen these days. The liberal use of strategy/tactics for battles made the show much more fun to watch than some generic slugfest which relies upon fancy graphics and over-the-top hax powers. It also provided for a lot of thought-provoking post episode analysis and discussion which for me was tremendously fun – almost as much as watching the show itself. Again I think it goes back to attention to detail. Each episode felt finely hand-crafted rather than mass produced. Clearly a lot of time was spent planning and choreographing the battles and that effort IMO paid off handsomely.
Story-telling was exemplary, and given a one-cour season, pacing almost perfect. Sure it’s based upon a tried and true under-dog theme, but GuP certainly has its unique elements and charm. The tank combat might be the primary initial draw, but there’s a surprising amount of great comedy and even a few emotional moments which are well blended with the exciting tank action. IMO it’s a very complete show, and had it solely been tank combat, I wouldn’t like the show nearly as much. The comedy and emotional scenes added a lot of depth, realism and charm to the characters and the overall story. You could tell that the director, producer(s) and staff truly cared about show and put forth their best effort each week. The show was good from the start, yet somehow managed to improve each week. They treated the show as something special which, along with all the above, caused me to view it in that same light.
Girls und Panzer does have a few minor flaws – primarily in terms of pushing the limits of in-universe credibility too far during the battles (e.g. Maus in EP 12). Nonetheless, as I mentioned in the beginning of my comment, the show did so many things right that in the end, whatever flaws it had were rendered meaningless for me by comparison.