Strike Witches 2 Review

Following the disappearance of the Neuroi hive that threatened Galia the Strike Witches are disbanded and the girls are sent to different battlefronts. However, soon after the war against the Neuroi escalates. As the Neuroi try to negotiate with the humans to achieve peace a new species of giant Neuroi appears, wipes out the old Neuroi hive and begins to attack the humans anew. The Neuroi set their eyes on the defenseless Romagne. A distress call from the region manages to bring all the Strike Witches back together for one more campaign against humanities biggest threat. However, the Strike Witches are far from their optimal condition. The last campaign drained almost all of Major Sakamoto’s magical powers and Yoshika finds she is slowly losing her ability to use her Striker Unit. Support from the army is also limited this time around, meaning the Strike Witches must operate swiftly before the funds run dry and Romagne is abandoned forever. Can the Strike Witches fend off the huge Neuroi and save Romagne despite all these constraints?

The first season of Strike Witches was a strange beast – an enjoyable mix of action and fan service set in a convincing military environment with moe elements. Strike Witches 2 follows its predecessor faithfully, providing more of the same for better and worse. Once again the series is split between fierce aerial battles and the latent daily life of the girls. The episodes mainly focus on the group dynamic between the girls and the prevailing theme this time around is “the need to prove ones prowess”. The Neuroi battles usuallyStrike Witches 2 Box Art take only a small portion of each episode and initially it’s hard to take the Neuroi as a serious threat. The Strike Witches team is full of ace pilots, like Barkhorn and Hartmann, which can wipe out regular Neuroi in a heartbeat. The real challenge starts when battle-apt Neuroi begin to appear. A Neuroi protected by a tortoise-like shell, a Neuroi that minimized its core to bug-like proportions for maximum defense and covert operations, a Neuroi so tall its main body is located in the utmost heights of the atmosphere. These are genuinely challenging Neuroi which require unconventional battle strategies, making the aerial battles even more entertaining than they used to. This is offset by the daily lives of the Strike Witches, which aren’t as entertaining as they used to be. Arguably the first season already featured introductory episodes for all the best character in this series, so the second season gets to introduce the not-so-charming “leftovers”. There are episodes that center on Barkhord, Perinne, Eila and Lucchini. These can feel a little bit on the annoying side, especially in the cases of Barkhorn who’s lines sound like a broken record and Eila, who is generally just a huge douchbag. Luckily stronger characters like Yoshika, Hearman and Shirley manages to shine through and keep the series as cheery and energetic as usual. The only real character that changed from the first to the second season is Major Sakamoto. The Major used to be a key member of the team, both in practice and in battle. But her diminished magical powers have left her somewhat of a cripple in comparison to the rest of the Witches. As the series progresses she is tormented again and again by her inability to contribute to the group. She doesn’t take center stage in this season, but her predicament provides a refreshing twist to all the happy-go-round attitude of the rest of the Strike Witches.
The Neuroi are not the only thing that was augmented for the second season. The fan service elements are also flashier than before. There are way more “butt-shots”. It’s almost ridiculous to see how many times the camera positions itself between the characters’ legs when they speak instead of rightfully showing their faces. Expect to see all the girls naked (even a guest that shows up for one episode manages to get herself naked on screen). The girls’ breasts are never censored but when shown completely in the nude their genitals are always hidden with unnatural rays of lights. Episode 7 (Creeping About) is this seasons answer to Nice and Breezy from the first season. It features a hilarious notion in which the girls must strip one another because of a panty-loving bug. Strike Witches was fan service heavy to begin with and the second season doesn’t fail to deliver. It still stands on the fine line between fan service and pure obscenity, but at least the sterile all-women surrounding removes any suggestive sexual themes it might have featured otherwise. That is unless you consider Yoshika’s lenient lesbian tendencies to be sexually suggestive.

For this review I watched the Blu-ray version of Strike Witches 2. The second season of Strike Witches makes the jump to full HD and is pure eye candy. The fight scenes are among the best animated sequences I have ever seen and relentlessly push modern animation standards to the limits. The daily events are more conservative in the animation department but still gain a boost in sharpness and color due to the HD format. The backgrounds are beautiful, the Striker Units and guns are detailed and the characters pop out. The only way Strike Witches 2 could have looked better would be if it was made into a full-motion movie. The Blu-ray discs come with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for the English dub and 2.0 for the Japanese dub. Both audio tracks sound crisp. The orchestral background music is a treat to the ears and will remind you again and again how high the production standards for this series really were. Just like the first season I wholeheartedly recommend you stick to the Japanese dub with English subtitles as the English dub is amateurish and does not capture the essence of the characters at all. This season comes with a sturdy cardboard box for hosting the first and second seasons of Strike Witches. Inside the box you will find a Blu-ray case which hosts both the DVDs and the Blu-rays for the second season. The Blu-rays don’t have much to offer in terms of extras. There are the mandatory FUNimation trailers, a couple of episode commentaries by the English voice actresses (not a real extra considering they don’t add any value), a creditless opening theme and 11 different textless ending themes (these are the same theme sung by different Japanese voice actresses each time). There’s also a creditless version of the ending to the final episode. This one is simply titles Strike Witches so be careful not to view it before finishing the actual series.

I only have one issue regarding the way FUNimation handled this release. Just like the first season the second season suffers from obscene credits that completely fill the screen and prevent you from enjoying the opening and ending themes. For those of you who haven’t read my review of the first season this issue boils down to this: FUNimation received a clear version of the OP and ED themes and created the credits themselves for their release. The relatively small and slender Japanese credits were replaced by bold big letters for the English release, which appear on every episode. Of course FUNimation also added their own personnel to the credit role, so the English version has double the credits and totally ruins the opening and endings themes. I expect my DVD and Blu-ray discs to have the best versions of the opening and ending themes for their respective anime series. FUNimation definitely screwed up here in giving us an inferior version of those themes. Would it hurt so much to put the credits on a separate reel after the ending theme?

As much as I liked the Strike Witches franchise the second season was a little too repetitive for my taste. The aerial battles are amazing and Yoshika and Major Sakamoto’s stories are great; but the majority of the time is spent showing the characters’ daily lives and these portions lose steam fast. The funny thing is Strike Witches does have it all: both the settings and the characters are top-notch. But the series puts too much focus on the characters and too little focus on the overall war against the Neuroi. If only the progress of the global Neuroi invasion would have been explored a bit more this could have proven to be a winning formula. Instead we are left with dazzling beginning and ending episodes, with little more than character padding in the middle. Strike Witches doesn’t show you everything you want to see. Of course it still does a fabulous job in portraying what it does show, and is definitely above the norm for both action series and moe series. Whether you are interested in this series for the pant-less ladies or the mouthwatering action Strike Witches 2 has a lot to offer. It may still need some tuning in the plot department but this doesn’t stop it from being a blast to watch.

 


Pros:

- Aerial battles are fantastic.

- A visually stunning series.

- The characters you love and care about are back.

 

Cons:

- Opening and ending themes are still huge credit dumps.

- Not enough emphasis is given to the overarching war against the Neuroi.

 

Final Score: 8/10 (Very Good)

 

 

Product Information: Strike Witches 2 DVD/Blu-ray Combo. Published by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date: October 2, 2012.

Review Equipment: A Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PS3 using a ver. 1.4 HDMI cable.


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