Girls und Panzer.
Girls and Tanks.
It's a very simple concept, but in the culture of mecha musume and moe anthropomorphism, where practically anything can be turned into a cute girl (or boy), there are many ways to execute on it.
Girls und Panzer knows this, and spends much of the first two episodes showing just which path they're taking on the long, glorious (?) road of associating armored warfare with underage schoolgirls.
[Please note - It may be hard for me to talk about this without coming across as some kind of person with conservative views on gender politics. Not true at all!]
See, Girls und Panzer's path is not that of the gender reversal. And I'm not talking about the well-worn chestnut of this- boy-is-now-a-girl gender-swapping, or the equally well-worn trap/reverse-trap dichotomy. Instead, Girls und Panzer is a little less overt, and one might say profound about it. It's about gender roles, see.
And it's not in the Infinite Stratos-esque, everything-is-topsy-turvy-haha-girls-doing-boy-things kind of way - that's only there because most viewers will hold those prejudices. Rather, in the world of Girls und Panzer, this uber-boyish thing to do, namely mechanized warfare, was always a girly thing to do, or at least has been so long that it is inconceivable that boys would bother with it.
It's not even a tomboy thing. The girls all still act like girls (anime girls, at least), tittering and giggling at the thought of boys driving tanks in the same way they might titter and giggle (they're too young/innocent to swoon) at the thought of boys wearing frilly dresses. Rather than ignoring the seemingly inherent girlishness of an activity or aesthetic, as Busou Shinki does, Girls und Panzer boldly lumps the World of Tanks into the same class as tea parties, crochet, Lisa Frank binders, and My Little Pony (pre-Friendship is Magic). In this world, tank warfare is one of the keys to growing up as a proper lady.
There's even an argument to be made for Girls und Panzer having somewhat progressive views on certain gender roles. Rather than the typical otaku-bait of quiet, almost subservient Yamato Nadeshiko archetypes or the hysterics and and predictable contradiction of the tsundere, the propaganda films promoting Sensha-dou (literally "Way of the Tank") state proudly that tank-driving turns girls into women, and develops the qualities that all the boys go wild for. Qualities like strength, independence, and the ability to command a mothef*cking tank in a motherf*cking tank battle. Shit, man, I would go wild for that kind of woman.
Anyway, back to Girls und Panzer's chosen moe moe machinations. If it's not quite tapping the same vein as Infinite Stratos or Busou Shinki, is it drawing from the school of Strike Witches, Hetalia, or Upotte? Not quite, seeing as the girls themselves are for all intents and purposes, normal. "Anime" normal, but normal. They see das Panzerfahren as a pastime or hobby, like someone would see painting, sculpture, sports, flower-arranging, videogames, or any other Thing That You Have Fun Doing. In fact, to them armored warfare is a fairly traditional, old-fashioned subject, in a league with tea ceremonies and etiquette classes.
Of course, you might be wondering what the difference between this and any other "cute girls have a hobby club" anime, like Saki or a sports anime. Well, this has tanks, for one. Games like mahjong and sports (even, say, shooting) don't quite carry the same gender-role baggage as tank-driving. Weirdly, it seems that this world is familiar with these tanks actual history, referencing Rommel, the Blitz, and World War II in general. Unless the entire war was genderswapped in this alternate universe, the world still remembers a time when tanking was the sole province of men. Strange, that.
Further, this has real-life tanks, ones that existed in Real True History. That's the difference between this, and, say, if the girls all just drove fictional mecha. The tanks of World War II were monsters to operate. Being in one would be like working inside an oven rolling down a hill while being shot at. And these high-schoolers with strangely large heads are driving M3 Lees, Panzer IV's, Churchills, Mathildas, StuGs, Type-89s, and Panzer 38(t)s around as if they were horses in dressage.
The show cleverly plays up realism in the right ways. Because the tanks are real tanks with presumably accurate interiors and appearances (minus the pink paintjobs and flags and other girly accouterments), the girls are barely big enough to fit at their stations, the commanders' legs too short to deliver steering instructions in the traditional manner (by kicking the driver in the shoulders). It's especially hilarious watching six middle school-sized chicks running the Lee. It's like watching an armored clown car.
Ultimately, this is a fan service show, though catering more to military nerds than folks looking for boobs and upskirts. Girls und Panzer has been fairly tame thus far, barring a wet t-shirt and a swimsuit. Given the kids' proportions, I'm hoping it stays that way.
More general fans of cute-girls shows may find a few bones tossed their way as well, with a few feel-good friendship moments that border on touching. Plus, the seeds for future drama have been planted, mainly in Miho's traumatic tank-driving history. There's a good amount of potential in this one, if the show can keep with its own premise rather than devolve into yet another girls-club show.
Also, the girls' school and entire town rest on the deck of a city-sized Yorktown-class Shokaku-class aircraft carrier, making it basically the greatest anime ever made.
[Watch chicks in tanks on The Anime Network]
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