I have a lot of passion for Girls und Panzer. Getting to re-review the anime after watching it with a friend who visited me from distant Norway was nothing short of delightful. However, one point in my review was dishonest; I praised the show for being multicultural, even though it’s actually just as homogenous as Japan itself. Allow me to explain…
Girls und Panzer is a show wherein an underdog team of girls must start up a “tankery” team to compete in a tournament that will 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 Wiki while reading up trivia about the show is perhaps the most disappointed I have ever been with an anime. This is also why I deliberately avoided mentioning it in my review. 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. Anzio being founded by an Italian man who wanted to spread his culture to Japan is a good example. 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 multicultural.
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 new battlegrounds. The fact that the entire cast (excluding Klara) is actually just Japanese is a convoluted excuse that harms the believability of the entire franchise. It 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 change their entire identity to match a foreign culture, 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, serving only to detract from the enjoyment of an anime actually having a culturally diverse cast. 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. Movies where characters styled after European cultures 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 multicultural 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. Two voice actresses who both have a long-standing history with Russia and speak its language fluently. Nonna and Klara are the only characters who speak the language associated with their school’s identity, so 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 irks 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.