I have always loved the world that Strike Witches was set in. The WWII meets alien invaders meets magical girls combination gives something for everyone. Added to the mix is a distinct lack of pants and cute animal ears and it is not surprising that the Strike Witches franchise has had such staying power. What was fascinating for me as I started delving into the series more was that the main characters are all based on real WWII fighter aces. Charlotte Yeager tipped me off as an homage to Chuck Yeager (the first man to break the sound barrier in flight) so I knew I would find out more about the other pilots if I did some digging. One pilot in particular stood out to me though above the rest and that was Sanya Litvyak.
Sanya Litvak’s persona is based on Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak who was a Jewish Soviet pilot in WWII. Lydia started her military career by joining the 586th Fighter Regiment of the Air Defense Force after lying about her pre-war flight hours. She was transitioned to the 437th Fighter Regiment where she scored her first two kills while piloting a Yak-1. Lydia and three other female pilots were assigned participate in future sorties using a tactic called okhotniki, which stands for free hunter. Okhotniki refers to pairs of pilots being allowed to search and engage targets on their own initiative.
On August 1, 1943, at only 21 year old, Lydia Litvyak was shot down over Ukraine and she never returned from her mission. She was rumored to be captured by the Germans and this was prevented from being awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Her comrade Yekaterina Vasylievna Budanova led a search for her body for over 30 years and in 1979, Soviet authorities confirmed that the remains of an unidentified grave in the village of Dmitrievka were indeed Lydia. In 1990 Lydia Litvyak was awarded the title of Her of the Soviet Union.
Who is Shimazu Toyohisa? Many people had that question when they tuned into Drifters, an anime put out this winter by NBC Universal Entertainment Japan that puts various characters throughout history into a fantasy world. Some of these characters are pretty well known such as Nobunaga, Hannibal, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. However Shimazu Toyohisa, the main protagonist, may not be a known name to many watchers in the West. He was born in 1570 and at 17 years old fought in the Kyūshū Campaign as Toyotomi Hideyoshi sought to unite Japan at the end of the Sengoku period. It was 13 years later, however, that we are introduced to Toyohisa in the anime.
The Battle of Sekigahara was the final battle in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s struggle to unite Japan. You may remember in the anime how Oda Nobunaga was very interested in what happened to Tokugawa Ieyasu and that is because he carried on Oda Nobunaga’s plan of Japanese unification after he was killed. The Battle of Sekigahara was the final clash the bring Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was during this battle that our main character dies. The Shimazu clan was actually fighting against Tokugawa Ieyasu. Toyohisa sacrificed himself to ensure Yoshihiro, the 19th head of the clan, survived. Yoshihiro and the Shimazu clan maintained their land and power during the Tokugawa Shogunate and actually grew it, becoming one of the most powerful clans in Japan.
So I came across this anime by accident and frankly, I couldn’t get more than one episode into it. Was it the character that turned me off? No. The plot? Not that ethier. Instead it was the 2 minute opening describing the start of the Russo-Japanese war. See, Lime-iro Senkitan takes place in 1904. A period when Japan was rapidly modernizing its military and society in what would be later known as the Meiji Restoration. At this same time Russia was facing its own difficulties modernizing. The sparks of revolution were already being lit in the Tsarist state and morale was at an all-time low. While this was occurring the Empires of Russia and Japan were vying for influence on mainland Asia. Russia, looking for a warm water port, had a long term lease of Port Arthur (Порт-Артур)(Jap. Ryojun (旅順)). However, Japan wanted control of Korea and her politics. Japan has had a long history of trying to conquer and control mainland Asia via Korea. However, Russia’s military presence in the region was preventing that. Negotiations began between the two Empires. Russia offered a buffer zone, with itself holding Manchuria and northern portions of Korea while Japan would hold the Southern part. Japan countered with a deal that would have Russia completely leave Korea. Needless to say both sides did not agree to anything. This would lead to Japan launching a surprise attack on Port Arthur on February 8th, 1904. The fighting was intense and even though the Japanese outnumbered the Russian three to one a siege of the port began. On January 2nd, 2905 the port fell to the Japanese. This was one of a series of defeats given to Russia by the Japanese. Although European diplomatic interference would limit Japan’s gains from the war. Also, Port Arthur was surrendered prematurely. While the Russians put up a significant fight, at the first sign of their defenses faltering they gave up, even though they had food and munitions to last them for months. Its commander, Anatoly Stoessel, was executed upon his return to St. Petersburg.
So now that you know what actually happened we can look at how this anime bridges from entertainment to propaganda. The first episode opens with a foreboding narration of the Russo-Japanese war. Explaining how “weak” a country Japan was and that “its existence was threatened by a fortress protected by the army of evil.” The narrator goes on to announce how it was inevitable that the two countries could clash. Clearly this is the case as one country rented a port from a third party and the other country wanted to conquer mainland Asia. I understand how artists would want to paint their nation in a favorable light but Japan clearly was the aggressor of this war. Also, while being painted as the underdog “weak” nation, Japan clearly had an advantage in the fight. The majority of Russia’s fleets were located in the Baltic Sea, on the other side of the world, and would have to travel for months to even reach the fight. Lastly, in the anime Port Arthur is not lead by Anatoly Stoessel, but rather Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin, while he did influence Russian politics, engage in drunken orgies with courtesans, and admonished trivial acts like bathing, did not have any influence over the siege of Port Arthur.
So love it or hate it Hetalia is still going strong in anime culture after all these years. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of it but I can appreciate what the creators have done in terms of presenting the nations in a historical light. I wanted to focus on America after hearing his American voice actor, Eric Vale, speak on him. To paraphrase, he said he wanted to embody America as cool, cocky, and arrogant and while this may have been how American soldier’s entered the European theater, this attitude was quickly put in place after fighting veteran German units on the march to Berlin. See, for the early years of World War II, America was supporting the Allied powers with both supplies and finances. During this time America was gearing itself up for total war manufacturing. The State Department worked with major manufacturers to retool their facilities to create everything from parachutes to ammunition. By the end of the war, American manufacturing was incredibly efficient. American industrialists applied assembly line production techniques to everything from planes to boats. It has been argued by many historians that it was American (and Russian) mass production that overwhelmed the German army. In short, Eric Vale’s cocky attitude is perfect for depicting America in Hetalia.
So for this post we are heading back to Kancolle! I promise to expand out to new shows soon (I am watching Hetalia this week!). Hibiki is one of my favorite characters in Kancolle and I absolutely loved learning more about her. Originally launched on June 16, 1932, she was one of the last Fubuki Class destroyers built. Now if that class name sounds familiar it is because the Fubuki Class was named after the destroyer Fubuki, the main protagonist in Kancolle. That is why Fubuki is referred to several times as a name ship. But anyways, back to Hibiki. I love Hibiki’s character design as I feel it truly reflects her history in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Hibiki served throughout the entirety of World War II and was one of the few ships involved with the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. These were the islands that stretch of the tip of Alaska and was one of the only times Japanese boots walked on American soil during WWII. I believe this is why Hibiki was given ice-blue hair. Another thing to note about Hibiki is that she often speaks Russian throughout the anime. This is because in 1947 the Hibiki was given to the Soviets as a spoil of war after WWII. She was ultimately renamed the Dekabrist (Декабрист) (Decembrist) and served several years in the Soviet navy. Sadly she would end up being sunk as a target dummy in 1953.
I absolutely loved watching Girls Und Panzer and cannot wait to explore this anime in more depth. So to start on this series I wanted to talk about the tank driven by our main protagonists. The Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf. D or Panzer IV for short is crewed by Miho Nishizumi, Saori Takebe, Hana Isuzu, Yukari Akiyama, and Mako Reizei. The Paner IV was the most widely produced tank by the Germans in WWII with over 8,000 built. So why was this tank left with the other “un-sellable” tanks at Ooarai? Well that is because the Panzer IV was never designed to fight other tanks but was originally planned as an infantry support vehicle. Its short KwK 37 L/24 gun did not have that penetrating power or the range that other tanks on the battlefield had and couldn’t penetrate the armor of tanks like the Churchill (as seen in the fight against St. Gloriana Girls High School. During WWII the Panzer III was designed to deal with tanks but failed at this task, resulting in changes to the Panzer IV to beef it up for anti-tank combat. But, the Panzer IV needed some more fire power if it was to penetrate the armor of the Russian’s T-34s so the KwK 40 was added. This was added in the Anime before the girls fought Pravda (which means truth in Russian and was also one of the state sponsored newspaper/propaganda tools of the Soviets). This brought the Panzer IV’s classification to Ausf. F2. Lastly before the final match against Kuromorimine Girls High School the Panzer IV gets its trademark Schürzen skirts which were basically metal sheets attached with brackets over the treads. This upgraded the girls’ Panzer IV to the Ausf. H which was basically the final form of the Panzer IV. While there was an Ausf. J produced it was a simplified model of the Panzer IV to cut down production time at the end of the war. Also during this time the Panzer IV’s armor was greatly increased which meant the tank would be much slower. However this was not demonstrated or explored in the anime which I think was a real shame. Despite showing its ability to drive at the same speed or faster than Maho Nishizumi’s Tiger I it was actually much slower. The Ausf. H version of the tank could reach speeds of 25 km/h (16 mph) max and only if it was on a nice even road while the Tiger I with its massive engine could reach 45.4 km/h (28.2 mph). But if the writer’s kept to that then we wouldn’t have gotten to see Ooarai’s victory in the tournament!
From the hit anime Kancolle produced by Diomedéa, based on the game Kantai Collection by Kadokowa Games, Akagi is the anthropomorphization of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi. So for those of you who do not know what Kancolle is its basic premise is that high school girls are the manifestation of WWII Japanese battleships that are fighting the mysteries “Deep See Fleet” that look like a cross hybrid human/monster/battleships. So Akagi is a representation of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, commissioned on 25 March 1927. The Akagi was originally meant to be a battle cruiser but after the Treaty of Washington (which limited the number and size of naval vessels to be built) she was stripped of her guns and made into an aircraft carrier. This is reflected in the anime Kancolle by Akagi acting with what I interpret as “the heart of a warrior.” She was originally built for the front line but forced to take a supporting role as a carrier. I appreciate how Akagi is depicted in the Anime as a leader seeing as she was the flagship of the first 1st Air Fleet (known as Kidō Butai). The Akagi fought from Pearl Harbor to Midway, where she was damaged beyond repair after a dive bomber hit her while reloading and refueling planes below decks. Thankfully in a divergence from historical accuracy, Akagi survives the battle of MI in the anime to return for season 2!