「天空（そら）より永遠（とわ）に」 (Sora yori Towa ni)
“To Eternity Beyond the Skies”
After the story picked up with the full-frontal assault on the Neuroi hive, the conclusion to the series was filled with so much good melodrama that I loved every minute of it. At times, it may have been a bit forced, but when Mio restarted the magical dynamo engine with everything she had and got the Yamato to fire its main cannons at the hive, the subsequent explosion and appearance of a gigantic Neuroi core made all the feelings of helplessness well warranted. Who says this series is only about mecha-girls without pants on? It was a desperate struggle with the future of the world on the line and the Strike Witches were completely tapped of their magical powers. To make matters worse, the Neuroi had assimilated the Yamato along with Mio to make use of her shield ability. Evidently, her inability to use shields doesn’t stop aliens from stealing that power from her and using it themselves, leading to a big, “Oh my god we’re all going to die” kind of situation. i.e. An excellent setup for a finale.
More so than the fate of the world and the rest of the fleet, all the witches had in mind was Mio first and foremost. The fate of a starring character in the balance makes for much better suspense than the nameless ones that have probably been dying left and right, so I really liked the inclusion of that last minute twist to the story. It also gave Yoshika an opportunity to shine again like she supposed to as the main character of the series by unleashing a Shin Reppuzan at the expense of all her magical powers. Talk about going out with a blast. While it doesn’t change the fact that Yoshika came in and stole Mio’s thunder by retrieving Reppumaru from the Yamato and just unleashing all of her powers in one fell swing, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t pretty damn cool to see it all play out the way it did. From Yoshika releasing her power to extract the Neuroi-tainted katana, to cleansing and infusing the blade with all her magic, and finally cutting through the red shield like butter, the remixed opening theme playing in the background as she was screamed “Reppuzan!” made the entire scene utterly awesome in my eyes. I’m admittedly a sucker for people diving in head first with no concern for themselves to try and save someone, and an even bigger one to backup showing up to help the crazy person who just did so. As much as I enjoyed seeing Yoshika take to the skies and take to the skies in her weakened state, the other witches following suit brought a bit of a tear to my eyes. What can I say? I have a soft spot for acts of chivalry.
Once the full cast version of “Over Sky” kicked in and the credits started to scroll, it was nothing short of a fulfilling ending from that point on. The alien threat over Venezia, Romagna is gone, Lucchini’s home country is safe again, and the 501st Joint Fighter Wing disbands again having completed their mission. In fact, I really liked all the individual focus that all the characters got in the epilogue, so I decided to include all eleven of them. It was also nice to see them touch upon some of the other characters, such as Hanna, Ursula, Amaki Suwa, and Takei Junko, while subtly introducing some new ones as well — Raisa Pöttgen (Kuzumi Aiko), Nakajima Nishiki (Sanpei Yuuko), Fernandia Malvezzi (Morinaga Rika), Luciana Mazzei (Hirohashi Ryou), and Martina Crespi (Mizuhashi Kaori), the last three of which are members of the 504th Joint Fighter Wing. Overall, a great ending to a very enjoyable series.
Despite being the second most talked about show this season among Japanese viewers (only behind K-ON), STRIKE WITCHES and its similarly cute characters never seemed to take off in popularity the same way among English-speaking ones. The whole pantless fan-service seems to be a touchy subject of sorts, even though something more excessive isn’t a problem to most people as soon as zombies are thrown into the mix. Aliens in a less gory variety? Not good enough apparently. For me, this series took the slice of life genre and combined it with action, magic, mecha, and military to produce something unique, and I’ve enjoyed it for that very reason. While the Neuroi aspect is always a prevalent theme of the series, it’s generally not the focus until the very end of the season. Leading up to that, it provided the same type of quirky fun that K-ON did on a weekly basis, just in a different setting and premise. The cast of characters and their various nuances are just as amiable as the ones over there, with the most notable difference being that STRIKE WITCHES rocks it out in the skies rather than on instruments.
Produced by AIC Spirits, this sequel’s jump to high definition instantly made it better than GONZO’s original adaptation. In addition, the use of CG to supplement a lot of the distant shots worked well, and were never too distracting because they would change back to hand-drawn ones as soon as the characters got close enough. One particular aspect that I really liked was the screenplay, which the music supplemented very well in a lot of scenes. This finale was a prime example of that, as I could get a good sense of the emotions the characters were exuding and the tensions they were feeling. At times, it was even adrenaline-pumping, like when Yoshika used all her might to pull Reppumaru out of the Yamato’s deck. Quite frankly, I find it’s the little things such as that which make the series much better than one would probably believe after seeing some promo artwork. The bonus of course is that if someone doesn’t mind the more moe side of things (such as myself), this series will deliver beautifully in that regard with its large cast of characters played by notable female seiyuu. In this particular instance, Seto Saori deserves special praise for filling in for Chiba Saeko as well as she did. I never once found Mio’s voice out of place from the very moment I heard her speak in STRIKE WITCHES 2, aside from the fact that she didn’t quite have the same “Saeko laugh” that she’s notorious for. Even without it, I don’t think I could have asked for a better performance from someone who was trying to mimic the original seiyuu’s portrayal of the character.
Coming into this sequel, I was already convinced that I’d be watching it before I even read anything about it. With one of my favorite studios taking over, there was really no reason I not to watch this when I did the original. Be that as it may, it actually turned out much better than even I was expecting. Part that was likely due to the semi-nostalgic effect from seeing the same cast of character back in action again two years later, but a lot of it was due to the aforementioned production and screenplay reasons. The fan-service actually wasn’t too excessive either, aside from the premiere episode where they went all out to give fans a good reminder that the 501st Joint Fighter Wing is back. As such, I’d easily recommend this series to anyone who’s a fan of shows like K-ON, as well as anyone who’s looking for a cute, lighthearted, yet action-filled series. Given how things ended with Yoshika’s powers in question, I’m curious as to whether or not we’ll see another sequel. However, it goes without saying that if they release one next year or two years from now, I’ll be watching it.