WARNING: The following post discusses SPOILERS from Girls und Panzer, Episode 1: “Tankery, Here It Comes.” If you do not wish to be spoiled, please stop reading now. You have been warned.

Girls und Panzer is a lighthearted high-school anime drama set on an alternate Earth where tank operation is a highly respected feminine art form called tankery (戦車道, sensha-do, “way of the tank”). According to the video Introduction to Tankery, tankery helps girls and women become “intense and strong like [a tank’s] iron, adorable like the clattering of its track, and passionate and precise like its main cannon.” The series focuses on Miho Nishizumi, a high-school student who just moved to the town of Oarai and its all-girls high school. Here, she becomes fast friends with schoolmates Saori Takebe and Hana Isuzu, who approach the modest Miho on her first day and go out of their way to make her feel welcome.

It turns out Miho moved to Oarai’s all-girls high school because it doesn’t have a tankery program. Although descended from a long line of tankery practitioners, she feels strongly averse to it due to a past disaster, fragments of which are shown in a flashback. Unfortunately for her, as soon as she arrives, she discovers the school does have a tankery program—an inactive one—that is promptly reactivated. The student council wastes no time pressuring Miho into choosing it for her mandatory elective—first with friendly overtures, then with a not-so-friendly threat of expulsion when Miho declines and chooses another elective. Miho is one of the few students with tankery experience, and, according to the council’s unnamed vice president, the school’s welfare hinges on the success of its tankery program.

Despite wanting to take tankery, both Saori and Hana switch to Miho’s elective, then defend her vigorously when the council confronts her. Touched by their solidarity but distressed by the trouble they’re taking on for her sake, Miho forces herself to give in and enroll in tankery.

I really like Saori and Hana, especially Hana. Both are very kind to Miho despite having only known her for a day or two—this says a lot about their characters. Saori seems like your typical outgoing, bubbly schoolgirl, while Hana is calm, mature, and sophisticated, acting as the big sister of the trio. While Miho and Saori fill out their electives forms with pencils, Hana gracefully completes hers with a calligraphy brush—excessive, but very refined!

And yet, part of me can’t help but feel their meeting and befriending Miho looked a little too convenient, too coincidental. They just happened to pick the shy, unassuming newcomer who just happened to be the descendant of a family of tankery practitioners to befriend? The way they ingratiate themselves to Miho so quickly and readily just screams “hidden agenda.” No two or three people grow that close in just two days—it takes time and effort to cultivate such closeness.

Although I believe their wonderful-looking displays of friendship are genuine, I can’t help but reserve some doubt, as contradictory as that sounds. Writers love tricking their audience with seemingly nice characters. Who’s to say the council didn’t recruit Saori and Hana to befriend Miho, then stage a little drama together to manipulate her into taking up tankery despite her misgivings?

Miho herself is a garden-variety wallflower, but she’s not stupid. She can memorize the names and birth dates of all her classmates and is the only one in her class to recognize the school’s derelict tank is still in good operational condition despite its dilapidated appearance. She may even have leadership potential—this episode actually begins much later in the story before flashing back to the real beginning. In this future timeframe, a more confident Miho coordinates several tanks, including the student council’s, and stays cool under enemy fire. It will be interesting to see how she grows.

The reason the welfare of Oarai’s all-girls high school depends on tankery is that the Japanese Ministry of Culture is putting pressure on every high school to prepare for an upcoming global tankery championship. When I think of tank battles, I think of devastation and death. Put simply, I don’t think it can end well. On the other hand, tankery is a well-established tradition, and the world’s societies don’t seem to have blown themselves or each other to bits yet because of it. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether there’s something sinister behind the promotion and continued popularity of tankery. Strip away the flowery talk about women’s virtues, and it’s still two or more sides trying to blast the stuffing out of each other.

This brings us back to Miho’s tragic tankery past. The glimpses we’re shown depict a sinking tank, three other tanks overlooking a cliff, and someone drowning. It looks like a battle that ended very, very badly. This really makes me wonder whether tankery is the virtuous pursuit everybody makes it out to be. The way the tanks on the cliff are depicted seem to suggest they shot down the sinking tank. Or maybe they’re just sitting there helplessly, unable to pull the sinking tank back up. It’s hard to say with so little footage to work with.

It must be a struggle for Miho to take up tankery once again after something this horrible. Yet, I can’t help but question her wisdom in moving to Oarai. As shown at the end of the episode, Oarai, a seemingly ordinary Japanese town with short buildings, grass, trees, and mountains, sits atop an aircraft carrier in the middle of the sea. Since she was trying to get away from tankery, why would she move to a town built on a massive military vessel?!

Girls und Panzer may be rather offbeat, but that’s proving to be part of its charm. Its likable characters (suspicions aside) further add to it. It’s hard to say whether it will turn out to be a war drama in high-school-drama clothing or just a high-school drama with tanks in it. Whichever way it goes, I look forward to seeing Miho, Saori, and Hana come of age and deepen their friendship.

Girls und Panzer is currently streaming on Crunchyroll for premium users. Free users will gain access October 17, 2012. New episodes air every Wednesday at 8 PM Pacific Daylight Time.

Oscar Tong
Oscar joined oprainfall late September 2012 in response to a recruitment drive. He quickly discovered his job was much harder than he had anticipated. Despite the constant challenge, he has come to enjoy his responsibilities. When he is not scrambling to meet a deadline, Oscar enjoys story-driven games with a strong narrative. He is especially fond of computer adventure games, role-playing games, and visual novels. He hopes the world will one day awaken to the power of video games as a storytelling medium.