I have a lot of passion for Girls und Panzer and it was a delight to re-review it after watching it with a friend who visited me from distant Norway. However, one point in my review was a bit dishonest; I praised the show for being multi-cultural, even though it’s actually just as homogenous as the country from which the series hails. Allow me to explain…
Girls und Panzer is a show wherein an underdog team of girls must start up a “tankery” team and compete in a tournament in order to prevent the closure of their school. The girls learn how to drive tanks and train hard in order to compete against teams from other schools, all of which are themed after different nations. And the word “themed” is deliberately chosen here. Unless Das Finale introduces new characters, the only person in the entire plot that is not Japanese is Klara, who transferred to Pravda Girls High School in time for Girls und Pander Der Film.
Finding this out on the wikia while reading up trivia about the show is perhaps the most disappointed I have ever been with an anime, which is also why I deliberately avoid mentioning it. So, how does this work?
Well, in the world of Girls und Panzer, every school has its own battleship with an entire city on it. Japan has dozens of these ships and many of them have some historical reason for being themed after a certain culture, such as Anzio being founded by an Italian man who wanted to spread his culture to Japan. The tournament that the TV series is all about is a national one, so even though Ooarai is up against teams that use the tanks, army music, uniforms, language, and mannerisms of other countries, they are actually all Japanese girls just pretending to be foreign.
And… can I just ask why?
The tournament could have easily been an international one, in which the teams go around the world in their battleships to reach various battlegrounds. The fact that the entire cast (excluding Klara) is actually just Japanese is an absurdly convoluted excuse that harms the believability of the entire franchise, and which only solves one minor plot point: that Ooarai’s Ceasar and Anzio’s Carpaccio went to middle school together and are happy to be reunited in the OVA.
Girls und Panzer would have you believe that the moment somebody leaves middle school they instantly devote themselves to a foreign culture and change their name to befit this new identity, only to revert back to a generic Japanese person the moment they start working or go to university. What Japanese parent would even want to have their children educated to be more Belgian or Bulgarian? It doesn’t add anything of value and only serves to detract from the enjoyment of the series for people who like to see a multi-cultural cast in their shows. And, I ask again, why even have this?
While searching around for answers, I came upon articles comparing it to yellow-washing in live-action adaptations of shows like Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist, where European characters are played by Japanese actors. Defenders pointed out that Japan is socially isolated and 98% of their population is Japanese; it’d be difficult for a Japanese production to cast white actors and the target audience prefers to see fellow Japanese people in their movies anyway.
While narrow-minded, I can see how this would fit within the context of a live-action production. However, this is an animated show about little girls drifting around in historical tanks. I am pretty sure that the target demographic is more open-minded than they are given credit for. On top of that, they went out of their way to cast Sumire Uesaka and Hisako Kanemoto for the roles of Nonna and Klara, both of which are voice actresses fluent in the Russian language and who have a long-running history with the country, just to play the two characters in the series that actually speak the language associated with their school. There was clear effort and consideration put into making these characters believably foreign.
I can still enjoy Girls und Panzer and do still like how every school is themed, but knowing that I am supposed to acknowledge these characters as secretly Japanese always annoys me. I literally can’t comprehend why series author Ryūichi Saitaniya insisted on this plot point or why Studio Actas and Reiko Yoshida decided to keep it in the anime adaptation. If a satisfying answer exists, then I would love to hear it.