It seems you can’t go far wrong with sticking teams of schoolgirls in tanks and letting them do their thing. Girls und Panzer takes a heartening satisfaction in friendly friction between rival schools and comradeship among the students of Oorai Academy, recently saved from closure by a school championship win in sensha-do, the esteemed martial art of the “way of the tank”. Or, so they assumed.
As the film begins, it becomes clear the condition of winning was never concrete, Oorai’s governmental body making a swift turnabout on their promise. The academy is set to shut down again, and Oorai’s tanker ranks must find another way to appease bureaucracy, their hard work in the original anime series come to nought. True, it’s tough to go wrong with this franchise-established formula of young women going into battle to give their all and win the day. But this film leans into the formulaic by relying far too heavily on the show that sparked its popularity, plot points and all.
With samey conflict offering so little room to expand on character motivations or relationships, forced to run the save-our-school dramatic tracks long worn out in anime at large, nor does Girls und Panzer der Film work to provide a jumping on point for new viewers. Though simple yet unique character designs and good humour turn on the easy charm, the film is doubly reliant on its audience being familiar with friendships and allegiances already well-entrenched. Despite so much of the emotional impact being dependent on the anime series, however, the uncanny tank acrobatics are an effective tool for feeling in with the teams’ spirit, and their pure thrill in thrashing round townscapes, down escalators and through the local water park in their trusty Panzer.
Drifts and turns on a hairpin in such massive machines, in the middle of the street without pretence of consequence, is the universal aspect that clues all viewers in on the rousing spirit of Girls und Panzer, even newbies who feel thrown in at the deep end with so many characters. It’s easy to bond with them over even the slightest shared interest in tanks, tactics or tea. In-tank tea time is invaluable for snatches of feeling close to the girls, and it’s here you get the best glimpse of the written mastery of this massive cast, everyone uniquely capable and loveable.
Tank nuts will lap up the accurately depicted vehicles with their own characteristic rumbles and squeaks over an uplifting marching band score, and fellow Brits won over by the Dad’s Army-esque sense of bumbling humour. But besides that, the pace is slow to wring two hours out of drab and sparse storytelling. Random and unrelated occurrences, such as stumbling across Punchy the Bear’s abandoned museum and the campaign for its renovation, makes the feature feel like OVAs strung together. Its pointless meandering, taking an hour to figure out how Oorai will survive this time, saps energy from the final fight. A shame, as these girls deserved better from the start.
Extras: Girls und Panzer in (about) three minutes & clean opening/closing animation