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Matt Kamen straps on for Strike Witches

Setting a series in mid-1940s Japan can only mean one thing – war! Yet with magic, mecha, schoolgirls and aliens afoot, Strike Witches is unlike any other soldier’s story.

Wartime often leads to an acceleration in the development of new technology – necessity breeds innovation, after all. That innovation takes a somewhat bizarre turn in the world of Strike Witches, with the world’s nations augmenting magic-wielding young girls with advanced machinery, enabling them to combat the invading forces of the alien Neuroi. With these newly developed Striker Units attached to their legs, the girls gain strength and enhanced magical abilities, plus the ability to fly. Of course, using magic and flying around in short skirts means that panty shots are an unavoidable casualty of war….

The first series follows new recruit Yoshika Miyafuji as she joins the 501st Joint Fighter Wing. Talented in healing magic, Yoshika and her new friends Mio and Lynette defend Brittania from a wave of Neuroi assaults. The series-long arc is very loosely based on the Battle of Britain, with the Neuroi taking the place of the German Luftwaffe, and slice of life tales of the team’s young women peppered in between the action. However, while Yoshika fills the role of earnest heroine in Strike Witches, Japan’s part in the real conflict was not a noble one.

Outlandish fictional reimaginings of the WW2 period are par for the course in anime. But the jet propelled schoolgirls of Strike Witches are far from the first to tackle the idea – the likes of Kishin Heidan also paint the time period in a rosier light. Set in 1941, the retro-mecha series saw aliens partnering with the Germans, while a Japanese resistance effort – the Kishin Corps – fought back, using the alien’s stolen technology against them.

Virgin Fleet, a little-known video series from 1998, took a similar route to Strike Witches, focusing on a group of girls at a naval academy in the late 1930s. Using their questionably named ‘virgin energy’, they defended Japan from attacks by the Russians, staving off utter destruction for the small island nation.

SEGA’s Sakura Wars is perhaps the anime world’s best-known alternative take on history, pitting an assortment of young women (and a token male) against steam-powered mechanical enemies. Starting as an odd hybrid video game that blended role playing, strategy and dating sim, the popular franchise has since spawned dozens of books, anime series, movies and audio dramas, all set roughly during and between the two World Wars.

Thankfully, Strike Witches itself is light on jingoism, instead serving as an excuse for cute girls fighting deadly enemies in astounding aerial action. Find out how this very different battle for Britain pans out in the complete first season!

Strike Witches: The Complete Collection is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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