#1 IT HAS TANKS!!!
Girls und Panzer is a show set in a bizarre world where warfare has turned into a sport, and a safe one at that. Tank battles are a hugely popular sports event considered to be exclusively played by girls, and though the explosions are real, getting hit with shells, gunfire, or even flipping over only results in a few scratches. As such, contestants get to go absolutely wild and it is fantastic to watch how absurd this gets.
Everything in this show revolves around tanks and as a fan of military hardware I found that absolutely amazing. People make movies about tanks, they have posters about them all over the place, there are even restaurants serving tank-inspired dishes. Everything and everybody in this world is completely absorbed in a hype for militarism, the characters included. Everybody talks about various tank designs, their quirks, and they make tank related jokes. There is even a group of side-characters that constantly compare whatever challenges they face to historical battles. If you’re into this kind of stuff, it’s really amazing, not just because you get to see tanks roll around being awesome, but also because everybody in the show is sharing in your excitement for it.
#2 Characters growing as a team
Girls und Panzer has a really large cast of characters and doesn’t really make an effort to give all of them a lot of depth. They are a bunch of fun girls from various clubs around the school the story centers on, whose personalities are simplistic but entertaining enough to grow on the viewer. The real focus lies on them together as a team. The Ooarai High School is facing closure and the only way for them to stay open is to raise a tank team and win in the upcoming Tankery tournament against all other schools. Except Ooarai hasn’t had a team in years, the tanks are rusty and outdated, and none of the girls have any combat experience… except for Miho.
A recent transfer student, Miho hails from a prestigious family of tank commanders, but fell out of favor with her mother after breaking away from a plan to save a teammate’s life. Now at Ooarai, she is coerced into becoming a tank commander once again, and what little individual character development the show does feature involves her learning to lead people, become confident in her ability again, and getting all her schoolmates into shape to battle the experienced teams.
You may sometimes struggle with trying to keep up with the huge ensemble of characters, but Girls und Panzer handles their growth as a team really well, and over time almost every team gets their own memorable heroics that may lead you to finding a favorite.
#3 The action is crazy and explosive
So tanks are these huge, lumbering, powerful machines of war, right? Well, yes, you’d be correct, except the creators of Girls und Panzer opted to take that “lumbering” part out of it. Yes, the tanks are huge, though you of course have your smaller Stuarts and such, and in combat their cannons roar and explosion tear up the ground, it’s a symphony of gunfire that is absolutely cathartic. It’s just that they aren’t slow.
The really, super-heavy stuff is the exception here, but most of the tanks drive as fluently as cars. Their drivers drift them around corners with sparks flying off the tracks and many times a tank will get some serious air time. It’s ridiculous and many battles go completely overboard with it, resulting in some really great action scenes. Fights aren’t all about the brawn and explosions, though, a lot of it zooms out to show you the movements of different units and many of the actual take-downs are done through clever tactics and tricks, which is nice. You get both the thrill of watching tanks fire their cannons and perform charges, as well as the joy of watching plans and strategies unfold.
Just don’t be too attached to physics.
While I enjoy the character of Katyusha, the Russian team commander, what really sells me on the show is the performance of the song of the same name. The entire soundtrack to this series is great, Shiro Hamaguchi really went all out and delivered an ace soundtrack that perfectly resonates with the militaristic themes of the story. Katyusha is a different matter entirely, as not many anime are inclined to have their characters sing, and when they do it’s usually pop music and not folk songs.
The scene in which Katyusha is sung is absolutely stunning and seeing it out of context is what drove me to watch the show back in 2013. It’s brilliantly directed and really helped make Tsutomu Mizushima, the man behind Shirobako and Witchcraft Works later in his career, one of my favorite anime directors. A beautiful folk song set to a scene of tanks riding into battle, and it’s sung by the actual characters, not just some recording they added in. It’s a fantastic scene, that sadly faced copyright issues in English releases and was thus removed entirely. I bought the show on DVD back in the day, but pirated the one episodes Katyusha features in.
On an extra note: a similarly great scene is found in Girls und Panzer der Film, this time by way of a kantele piece performed by the Finnish commander Mika during a raging battle. I still prefer Katyusha, but it was great to see this idea repeated.
#5 Teams from around the world
All the teams Ooarai must face off against represent different nations from around the world, which lends itself to a lot of comedy. The British team all drink tea and are obsessed with being proper, the Americans are loud, obnoxious, and attempt to win with the superior firepower of their Shermans, and then there are teams for Russia, Italy, Finland, China, a lot of fun nations show up to compete, all with their own quirks based on common stereotypes.
If you enjoy a show like Hetalia then this should be right up your alley. And like with Hetalia, you shouldn’t see it as an insult. Sure, it pokes a little fun at national stereotypes, but in a lighthearted and positive way. Each of the teams is portrayed as a group of friends with actual characters and ideals. Sportsmanship is central and especially in the movie you get to see how it’s all in good fun, as all the schools band together for a big battle.