Operation Victory Arrow is set in the period between the end of Operation Mars in the second television series and the 2012 Strike Witches movie. The three 30-minute short stories depict the lives of the members who returned to their respective homes.
It would seem that Strike Witches is at its best when it's not a television series. Although the near-absence of Eila and Sanya was criticized by the fanbase, Operation Victory Arrow is still a terrific lead-in to the Strike Witches Movie!
Humor me while I play Captain Obvious: following the events of Operation Mars at the end of Strike Witches 2, Operation Victory Arrow follows the events of all eleven members of the Strike Witches as they returned home, or traveled to different countries in an effort to further resist the Neuroi. I'll be breaking down each episode, but if you want, you're more
than welcome to skip towards the bottom paragraph for my conclusion.
Volume I - "St. Trond's Thunder"
Stationed at the St. Trond Base in Belgica, Erica Hartmann, Gertrud Barkhorn, Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke, and Heidemarie W. Schnaufer get a visit from Erica's twin sister, Ursula Hartmann. Being the genius girl that she is, Ursula delivers some pretty funky gadgets - but the most impressive hardware is a 50mm cannon with a jet striker unit. Reluctant to accept jet strikers as a potential replacement in the future, Erica's stubborn behavior causes an accident during a test-flight with her sister. An argument ensues, and Erica is left out of battle during a Neuroi attack.
This episode was probably the most average. The sisters getting into a fight and making up is pretty standard for the "friendship and camaraderie" themes we see in Strike Witches. On the other hand, the action scenes were kicked up a notch as the aces of Karlsland were given all they could handle by a "splitting-type" Neuroi. The inherent danger for Minna was real enough, and something rare found in the anime (things get slightly more intense in the manga and novels). As far as references go, Erica's attitude towards the jet striker unit mirrors Erich Hartmann's similar feelings towards jets in the real world. On the fanservice front, the most you'll get out of this episode is seeing both Trudy and Heidi in maid outfits.
Volume II - "Goddess of the Aegean Sea"
Francesca Lucchini and Charlotte E. "Shirley" Yeager learn that the island of Delos is being inhabited by a massive snake-like Neuroi that dug itself deep inside a huge cave, making it impervious to conventional attacks. They are both subsequently called to action by Edytha Neumann, and are joined by Hanna-Justina Marseille and her wingman, Raisa Pöttgen. Captain Neumann appears to be reporting directly to Ernst "Erwin" Rommel himself, as he joins the Witches in the briefing room. His plan is to bombard Delos with warships, while receiving support from the Witches. This doesn't go down to well with Francesca, as Delos is near and dear to her heart. As Raisa tries to reason with Hanna, Shirley must come up with a plan to destroy the Neuroi while saving the island.
This episode took a step away from the traditional dog-fighting action scenes that we're used to, and focused on ingenuity to get the job done. The addition of Rommel was also a pleasant surprise, as his appearance and support near the end reinforces the idea that Strike Witches isn't quite the moé-blob series that some might make it out to be. Male characters doing anything at all in a moé series is a risky move, but Strike Witches makes it work, and is part of the reason it stands out so well. The one criticism I would have is Erwin landing a plane on so little runway, but then again, he's freaking Rommel, so if he's going to help save the day then bending the laws of physics is no big deal. Meanwhile, you're going to see the most fanservice out of the three episodes here: Raisa and Hanna have their bath scene conversation, with their tits on full display. It's pretty subtle though, and about as much as Strike Witches will show you.
Volume III - "Arnhem Bridge"
The adventures of Perrine-H. Clostermann, Lynette Bishop, and Amelie Planchard involve a boy named Julius and his younger sister, Rose. The two orphans are taken in by the girls, and are quickly treated for their respective conditions. Julius quickly takes a disliking to Perrine and further expresses his utter disdain towards all Witches after revealing that his father was lost at the battle at Arnhem Bridge four years prior, despite being promised that Witch reinforcements would arrive. Amelie tries to convince Julius that Perrine is a good person, but ends up using her powers to save him from an accident. Unaware that land-based Neuroi are still lurking near his destroyed home, Julius takes it upon himself to sneak away into a truck and fulfill his sister's wish of retrieving precious belongings.
This episode is my favorite of the three. I suppose part of that comes from Humikane Shimada's quote: "Not all Witches are Aces." Normally, we'd see the Witches blast Neuroi out of the sky. As cool as that is to watch, we don't often see the non-Aces have their time in the sun. In this instance, Perrine does everything she can for Julius' well-being, despite several pranks that he pulled on her during the middle of the episode. If there was a moment that set up Perrine to be so awesome in the movie, this is it. She's such an endearing character, and I think a lot of people don't realize that right away. Lynette and Amelie play supporting roles, but I would have liked to see Amelie get a little more involvement. I suppose my biggest criticism would be Perrine suddenly leaping over large Neuroi and gunning them down from above, which may or may not have been an excuse to show off some obligatory fanservice.
Strike Witches is definitely showing off its strengths in recent years. It can get away with moments of fanservice while still being an enjoyable, character-driven series. Creating a steady transition from the Witches' slice-of-life adventures to the drama of battle is an important balance to keep, and Operation Victory Arrow maintains that winning formula.
Those who watched all the way to the final frame of the Strike Witches movie will note the giant "TO BE CONTINUED" on the screen. The Operation Victory Arrow OVA (see what they did there? ... never mind) is the first stage in the continuation of the saga, but rather than tell the story after the Battle of the Bulge, this miniseries is positioned between season 2 and the movie, focusing primarily on the European members of the 501st (and Charlotte, the sole American, I mean, Liberion member).
Episode 1 features the German, I mean, Karlslandians Minna, Gertrud, and the Hartmann twins, with a couple of
scenes featuring a new face from the movie, Heidemarie. But Heidemarie is a minor character here-- the main drama features Ursula Hartmann and the Me-262. Sakura Nogawa got a workout here, and always the professional, she delivers a great performance for both Erica and Ursula. Those who watched season 2 would understand Erica's objections to using the jet, and yet those who understand the history of fighter aircraft would understand why the turbojet engine was so important to air combat. The copious amount of technological research done for this episode went right into Ursula's dialogue, which was hilarious.
"Are you saying I'm not a lady, Herr Field Marshal?" -- Edita Neumann
Episode 2 features Charlotte and Francesca, as well as Field Marshal Rommel and Hanna Marseille. There is a complex conflict here that I rather like, layering Francesca's objection to a mission that would destroy an island full of historical artifacts and memories upon Charlotte and Hanna's rivalry. The mission in this episode culminates in a jury-rigging reminiscent of A*Team and MacGyver. This episode is the only time thus far that bombs are dropped by any Witch in the animated canon, so that's cool. Sometimes I wish that the P-47 and F4U got some air time, but no, we can't have any American other than Chuck Yeager...
The 3rd and final episode of the OVA details how Perinne and Lynette started the orphanage/school seen in the film. This episode's combat scenes easily rival the drama of the film's battles, largely because of the disadvantages placed upon Perinne, and they show some of the very rare examples of land Neuroi in the animated canon. The sequence where the butler revealed a cache of weapons is a clear nod to the French resistance. Amelie only had about 2 lines in the film, so she gets a more prominent role in the OVA.
Each episode's epilogue following the closing credits (except episode 3) is a short scene featuring Yoshika and her best friend recapping each episode. Episode 3 differs by revealing that the events of the film have already started by the time of its epilogue. Following a brief scene with Lynette receiving a letter from Yoshika, while the last remaining European 501st Witches, Eila and Sanya, are seen with the 502nd. The OVA closes with Mio sans eyepatch aboard the Yamato discussing an upcoming mission with Minna and a black frame with another "to be continued".
By this time, the franchise has 2 TV series and a movie under their belts, and so the characters of Strike Witches are in their element. They have great backstories and distinct personalities, and even when divided up like this they have great chemistry. You can watch this as a prologue to the movie (even though the movie was released first), or you can watch the movie first and then the OVA to fill in some blanks. On its own, it's a decent historical wartime fantasy drama, as long as you remember that they've decided to completely ignore the Pacific war.
Though Operation Victory Arrow sounds like a brand new campaign against the Neuroi, it is actually a much more peaceful exposition on some of the Witches after the conflicts in the two main seasons. In essence, it is three standalone episodes about former squad members in different areas. You get Erica, Trud, and Minna in the first episode; Charlotte, Francesca, and Hanna-Justina in the second episode, and finally Perrine and Lynette. Each episode features a small narrative that eventually builds to a small skirmish against the Neuroi. It's a pretty easy watch with decent entertainment value for veterans of the series, though obviously many of
the Witches aren't featured in this OVA.
It sure has been a long time since I saw this franchise but the look and feel of the OVA is still consistent with what I remember. The show is drawn in a saturated palette with vibrant scenery and some really nice sky scenes. The background is a bit inconsistent though as not all scenes get the same treatment. There is also noticeable CGI usage, though it doesn't distract too heavily. The main characters are as they used to be though there are a few new additional supporting members.
As in the parent show, you can expect a fair amount of time in the air with the witches, and likewise a fair amount of long range weapon exchange. Effects are fair overall but nothing particularly memorable. There are also the expected levels of ecchi associated with the impractical nature of having propeller engines on your feet. There are some bath scenes with topless nudity, in case the skirt-less upskirt wasn't enough for you.
The show has a new OP, which is fair but nothing particularly special. Each of the episodes has their own ED with the featured characters singing. The BGM is orchestral and fitting with both the setting and previous seasons. Some tunes in the BGM are still familiarly borrowed from previous seasons.
The VA cast is as strong as ever with plenty of talented veterans. Chiwa Saitou still gives Francesca a particularly unique voice and Miyuki Sawashiro still excels as the proud Perrine. You even get Shizuka Itou voicing the Star of Africa too.
I give the show props for coming up with interesting scenarios in each episode, with allusions to WWII no less. The first episode features the Germans testing out jet engines with the Witches, fittingly named the ME-262; and fittingly with the ace in the room (Erica) strongly opposing its adoption. The second episode centers on a Neuroi that has captured an island around Tunis, which happens to be particularly important to Francesca. The last episode features a bratty orphan caught in something vaguely like Operation Market Garden.
Each episode was well executed and had occasional comedy, especially the last episode. It was surprisingly good overall compared to my experience with the main shows.
Though there isn't much to be developed here, you do get a bit more on each featured witch's personality. Most memorable were Perrine's leadership, which is something that wasn't featured in any of the main shows. The interactions are fairly good though, again, a large portion of the witches get cameo appearances at most.
This is much more bang for your hour than any other Strike Witches work out there so far (not the movie yet). If you have a fair amount of the franchise under your belt, this is a no-brainer. It's a fun but short escape back to a show I had almost forgotten.