The kämpfer have no clue why they must fight, but by the will of an invisible power, they’re forcibly transformed and bound to the role by an oath bracelet toss-up between the warring red and blue troops. So it is for Natsuru Senou, the only boy chosen for a position that must be held by a girl. You can guess what happens next. Yet another shallow cipher for a straight teen lad’s desires, while he’s unable to control the human-to-kämpfer gender swap, he’s transferred to the girls’ half of the school by the student council president, who just so happens to be in on the secret too.
Though Natsuru’s high school is co-ed the buildings are split down the middle, segregating the sexes with the boys forbidden from crossing the line. It gives the façade of promoting students’ wellbeing by denying them freedom of movement or social life, and though this can be explained away as a reference to Nazi German fascism (but only just), there’s no forgiving the way the girls are written. They behave and speak like the simplest structure of a pubescent male imagination, throwing themselves at Senou the moment he walks through his new homeroom’s door and dragging him into Sapphic situations. And though his crush is smitten after stumbling across him in kämpfer guise, he persists in whining about her not being into him as a guy.
Kämpfer is a triple-whammy of male superiority and gender and sexuality typecasts, and for a narrative based on a battle of the fates complete with swords, sorcery and gunplay, it’s a dull one at that. What sparse combat there is comes off lacklustre at best, and at worst is used as an excuse for milking the girl-on-girl titillation, with every opportunity for character development and sympathy discarded. Natsuru’s cohort Akane Mishima is a timid spirit until her oath bracelet glows, when she becomes a strident and sexually confident contrast to her partner’s inexperience both as a kämpfer and a girl. But the wallflower’s fantasy of being given the means to conquer their inhibitions is hardly looked into. Instead, she’s placed as another variety of romantic interest for Natsuru to choose from.
Approaching the transgender aspect from the right angle, Kämpfer could have used Seitetsu Gakuin High’s gender binary rulebook as a base from which to subvert the perceived strengths, weaknesses, desires and principles of men and women. But in obeying the simple route of crowd-pleasing sexual comedy, it suffers from its entire story and cast being stuck in one rigid and tiresome perspective.
Extras: English and Japanese dubs; clean opening and closing animation; DVD credits; also available from Sentai Filmworks and ‘Amazing Bowel Familiars’