#1 Tanks are amazing
The very premise of Girls und Panzer makes it feel like it was tailor-made for me. The world the show takes place in is obsessed with militarism; entire communities of people live on these massive battleships and schoolgirls are encouraged to learn how to drive and operate tanks. In the absence of actual warfare, “tankery” is now a sport that is safe to practice, even though the ammunition is still very much real.
Girls und Panzer focuses on the girls studying at Ooarai Girls Academy who start up a new tankery team using the abandoned and decrepit tanks left behind by their predecessors. They sign up for a big tournament and begin training in the hopes of defeating the more experienced, well-funded teams they’ll be up against.
If you share my love for tanks, then this show is a must-watch. A lot of effort was put into making the show’s tanks animate and sound as exciting as possible. The action is explosive and heavy, and there is a diverse roster of tanks to see here, ranging from the light stuff like CV.33s all the way to superheavy machines like the Maus and several surprise inclusions.
And adding to the enjoyment of seeing all these tanks in action is just how excited the entire cast is about them as well. Everybody talks about tanks and discusses trivia and specs with each other. There is even an entire team within Ooarai consisting of girls who talk about old battles and wars, comparing them to whatever situation their team faces now. It’s fan-service for people with a hard-on for military history, and I am completely okay with that.
#2 It’s the true multi-cultural anime
Hetalia has long been the best anime to watch if you were interested in seeing anime depictions of various other cultures, but Girls und Panzer manages to one-up it, in my opinion.
Each team represented in Girls und Panzer is themed after a different nation. Not only do they use that country’s tanks and base their tactics around them, but they also adopt their unique culture. The Italian girls at Anzio are spirited and eager to share their unique cuisine with everybody they do battle with, the Russians of Pravda can be seen dancing the Hopak when making merry in their camps, and the tactics of the Japanese Chi-Ha Tan Academy are a little… suicidal, just to name a few examples.
The show manages to create a large cast of characters that all play with such national stereotypes, yet none of it feels insulting or discriminatory. It’s not the show’s intent to mock these countries and their people. On the contrary, the depictions we see here are always given a positive twist, making it feel more like an homage. The show does this so well, that I hope we’ll continue to see new spin-offs expand on the series’ world and introduce even more new teams.
#3 Surprising character moments
The cast for Girls und Panzer is massive. The Ooarai team alone counts well over 30 members that are all at least semi-relevant and get screen-time and development dedicated to them. Every individual team on top of that has around 3 to 5 main characters in it and there is a host of adults that act as supporting cast.
For a 12-episode TV show with some OVA episodes and a movie… that is densely packed. Instead of focusing on individual characters, the show is more about team spirit and sportsmanship. It becomes a story about this underdog team of misfits having to band together and win the tournament. The characters are still fun and benefit from the international themes mentioned above, but you’re not really expected to remember the likes of Karina Sakaguchi or Satoko Nakajima, even though they are supposed to be a big part of the Ooarai Team.
However, the show doesn’t completely forget its cast either. Many of the more important characters still undergo interesting development and every team gets its moments to shine, especially in the movie. Karina might be a forgettable character with 3 lines of dialogue throughout the show, but she and her team become memorable as they begin taking tankery seriously and specialize in taking out the heavy tanks with unorthodox tactics. I wouldn’t even be able to name any of the characters in Ooarai’s “Duck Team”, but I sure as hell remember their fantastic contribution to taking out the biggest enemy in the series.
#4 Pacing crafted around battles
The main TV series has a bit of a slow boil to it as the Ooarai girls start up their team, have to learn the basics of tank combat with training missions, and we get the initial introductions for the main protagonists out of the way. However, by around episode 4, the show starts hitting its stride and doesn’t let up anymore.
Once we know about Miho and her predicament and every girl in the Ooarai Team knows how to move their tanks, they dive headfirst into a major tournament that they absolutely have to win, no matter how unlikely the odds. Every episode begins to revolve around combat or the preparation for it, with character development and the overarching plot taking a backseat.
And the battles are all really cool. It’s explosive tank-on-tank action with objectives for the teams to complete. Every battle is filled with tactics that need to be adapted on the fly as new developments arise and it’s full of heroic moments and incredible streaks of luck. The Ooarai Team doesn’t always win and, when they do, it often feels like they just barely managed to scrape together a pyrrhic victory. It’s exciting, even though I have rewatched the show like 5 or 6 times by now.
#5 Military soundtrack
The show’s soundtrack was provided by veteran composer Shiro Hamaguchi and, while perhaps a bit controversial, I have to say that it’s his finest work yet.
The Girls und Panzer OST is like a compilation of army music, with drums and trumpets being the most prevalent instruments. It’s cheesy and lighthearted, which fits the show’s description as a military-themed comedy, while also making for proper accompaniment during the exciting battles. The soundtrack also includes some funny, cutesy songs for the interludes between battles, as well as some nice piano tracks for the scenes that focus on character development.
Two highlights of the OST come in the form of the Russian folk song Katyusha sung by the Pravda team as they charge into battle and Säkkijärven Polkka, which is played over a battle by the Finnish commander Mika on her kantele. I am a big fan of anime in which the characters themselves sing or perform music, and the use of famous folk songs is a perfect fit for the show.
These two scenes stand out as some of the most memorable moments in the series, which makes it an astonishing shame that copyright laws forced Katyusha to be removed in the English and German releases, even on the otherwise unaltered Japanese audio track. Other famous songs like “The British Grenadiers” and “Johnny Comes Marching Home” were included as background music and themes for the various schools, and fortunately escaped a similar fate.