July 19, 2008

Strike Witches -- Embrace the stupid!

If you're an animation director and you're given a series concept which contains stupid things, you really only have three choices: change them, apologize for them, or embrace them and flaunt them.

Popotan is an example of the first. There was an H-game which was pretty successful, and some marketer's mental cogwheels went grind-click and they decided to create an anime out of it. Unfortunately, the game's story was decidedly pedestrian, and if you trimmed out all the porn there wasn't a lot left.

So the anime director jacked up the car body and replaced the entire frame and drive train. He kept the character designs for all the girls from the H-game, and the concept art for one building. He used the concept art for the space ship as inspiration for a magical effect. Everything else, including the player avatar in the game, got chucked and they wrote an entirely new story from scratch.

Since it was based on an H-game the director felt as if he at least owed the game's fans some ecchi, and Popotan is very ecchi especially in the DVD version, where they omitted all the strategic foam/steam/palm-fronds which were used in the broadcast version to obscure the naughty bits.

Nonetheless, the director created a story to tell, and it is a surprisingly good story. It has nothing whatever to do with the story in the original H-game, and that's just as well.

Anime adaptations of H-games have always had that kind of problem, and different series have handled it differently. Otoboku chose the "apologize for it" route. The basic character concept is of a guy in drag attending an all-girl boarding school. It's another H-game and this concept led to lots of sex scenes as horny girls discovered a guy in their midst.

As with Popotan, they decided to create a broadcast series which meant all the porn had to go. So what they ended up with was something silly: eventually, at graduation, an 18 year old guy who still passes for being a girl, and only a few of his classmates ever figure it out. (Based on the series art, he must have been using hormones, because he's got bigger boobs than most of the girls, and they ain't falsies.)

At least the director of Otoboku inherited some semblance of a story, even though he couldn't use a lot of it. The director of Strike Witches faced an even worse problem. All he had was character designs -- and those were ridiculous.

The conceptual feedstock for Strike Witches is a series of statuettes released a few years ago, based on a fetish, the mecha musume. It's a distortion of the -tan esthetic, applied specifically to military hardware, and each mecha musume in the Strike Witches line was a moe personification of a WWII-era fighter plane.

But that's not all! Each of them also had animal ears and a tail, because that's even more moe.

We've inherited the name "Witches" from the statuette line, so we may as well make all the girls majo and let them do other kinds of magic as well.

And if they're fighter aircraft, then presumably the anime would have to show them flying around and shooting at things, which presumably would be shooting back. If we don't want to see them dying, then they better have some sort of protection against enemy fire, so they all have the ability to create magical shields.

They can't be shown fighting against each other. That's just not politically correct. So they're all going to be part of the same squadron. So who are they fighting? Can't be anyone else from Earth, so it's got to be space invaders.

Now, about the pants, or lack thereof: that was another thing the director inherited from the concept art and statuette line. Remember our three choices?

He could change it. Or maybe not: would Toei permit such a change? (Aren't they the owner of the original rights? If not them, there's someone who licensed this to Gonzo.) Probably not. I would guess that part of the license agreement stipulates that the anime characters have to look like the statuettes did.

Would the fans accept it? As with Popotan, the conceptual feedstock is fundamentally fan service, and so your anime is pretty much also going to have to be fan service. If you dress all the girls in Marimite-style sack dresses, they'll be rioting outside your door with pitch forks and torches.

Changing it is out. He could apologize for it. He could toss in some sort of double-talk about how their legs must be bare when wearing the Striker Units. The feedstock character art showed the girls without pants even when not using the Striker Units, but you could double-talk around that, too, by saying that the girls are on constant alert, so their legs have to be bare all the time just in case they have to fly a mission. Maybe you could get away with that.

But why should you try? Why not embrace the stupid? They decided to flaunt it.

The reason the Strike Witches don't wear pants is because no girl or young woman ever wears pants! You're doing a fan-service show anyway, so why not? Yeah, it's stupid, but the entire mecha musume fetish is stupid. Trying to unstupidify this one aspect of it won't make the show any less stupid, it'll just make the show less attractive to your core audience: the kind of otaku who like fan service shows and are interested in military hardware.

The director knows it's silly, but instead of dipping his toe into the pool of stupid he did a cannonball into the deep end.

Having decided all that, just what kind of story can you tell? There really was only once choice, and it's to their credit that they realized it. Under deep disguise what they're telling is a classic sports story.

Ignoring all the mecha musume trappings, what you've really got here is a girl's baseball team. And that is the story they're going to tell. Miyafuji is the newest player to join the team. She's inexperienced, but it looks like she's got home-run power if only she can learn to use it. And she will, and that's the series story-line. Ep 3 was right out of canon: the benchwarmers (Miyafuji and Bishop) got put into the game in a desperate situation and made a game-saving play together. Miyafuji is going to hit her first home run in ep 4, and it will proceed from there.

Now myself, I like fan service. I like military hardware. And I like sports stories if they're told straight. (i.e. like Angelic Layer, not like Princess Nine.) I also like mahou shoujo when it's handled right. I even like doggie-girls (and I'll forgive Bishop for being a catgirl, because she's cool).

So I like Strike Witches. Like Gonzo's director, I will embrace the stupid and flaunt it. There's nothing wrong with stupid if it's fun, and Strike Witches is fun -- or it will be, as long as they keep telling the classic sports story.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in System at 09:48 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
Post contains 1196 words, total size 7 kb.

1 Hear, hear!  Pity Thursday only comes once a week.

Posted by: ubu at July 19, 2008 10:47 PM (UukMI)

2 I know what you mean. This is the first series in a very long time that I'm watching at a rate of one episode per week.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 20, 2008 07:47 AM (+rSRq)

3 But it's conductive to blogs. [Nearly] nobody wants discuss obscure and forgotten series.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at July 20, 2008 08:12 AM (/ppBw)

4 Funny that you mentioned Otoboku, was just watching that the other day. Yes I bought the DVD- am definitly broken. I refuse to believe there's a penis in the show. Just shoot me now

Posted by: Andrew Janes at July 20, 2008 11:37 AM (+aSSY)

5 That was nearly everyone's reaction. In the game Mizuho really was a guy, but no one believes it about the anime character.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 20, 2008 11:50 AM (+rSRq)

6 I think some shows work better if one only watches one episode a week. I watched the first part of One Piece that way, and the aspects that bothered Steven bothered me, but then things moved to a better place. Myself, if it was a faster pace, I doubt I'd be able to keep up.

Posted by: PatBuckman at July 20, 2008 04:58 PM (JR4YN)

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