So remember back in my season preview when I jokingly said that I would give this show a look if it had less Girls and more Panzer? Odds are you don’t, because that post has been viewed by literally four people as of today, but take my word for it, I said that. Well, I have since had to eat my words, as that is exactly what happened. And you know what? I’m actually liking it. Sure, it gets off to a slow start and the drama with the characters’ families and backgrounds is kinda boring and I still couldn’t name any of the girls if you asked me to (I think I vaguely remember that the main girl is Nishizumi, but that’s only because I just watched an episode yesterday), but once it gets its treads turning and starts focusing on the tank battles, it really hits a sweet spot.
The tank battles are well-thought-out, well-directed, and employ strategies that are both reasonable and easy to follow. They seem to strive for some degree of authenticity in representation of each type of tank, and play to each of their strengths and weaknesses. Not that I would really know, but it feels authentic and that’s really what matters here. At the very least, Wikipedia informs me that each school’s tanks are those used by its corresponding country in World War II – the American school uses M4 Sherman tanks, and the British school uses four Matildas and a Churchill. The battles also let the girls’ personalities shine, and we get to see them react to a lot of situations that no other anime can really exhibit. It is in their tank-operating roles that the girls cease to be vapid blobs of kawaii anime tropes and start to become their own characters. The battlefield brings out a different side of the characters to the extent that they are almost completely different people, but are still recognizable enough that it’s not unrealistic. For example: Nishizumi is shy and modest outside of battle but confidently assumes leadership when handed an army of tanks, and the normally cool-and-collected girl with the awesome monocle goes so absolutely bonkers when given control of a gun that she literally can’t hit a target at point-blank range. This is why, even though the characters aren’t particularly memorable, they’re still an absolute riot to watch in action.
As a side note, one thing I very much appreciate is the director’s steadfast insistence that no panties appear in the show. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with panties, their presence seems to incite a huge temptation in a show’s staff to place a heavier emphasis on fanservice – not only are “clever”-ly-placed panty shots constantly favored over a more contextually effective camera angle, but scenes begin to devolve into excuses to set up such shots, rather than vehicles for meaningful character interaction and world building. Considering how consistently good GaruPan’s cinematography is, it would have been a shame to see it mucked up with forced pantyshot angles. The decision to omit panty shots has led to GaruPan being a show about Panzer, not Pantsu, and this is a very Good Thing.
But anyway, that last part of the post title. The sound. The music and the sound effects are the two parts of Girls und Panzer that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. Remember what I said before about the apparent authenticity of the tanks? A significant portion of that comes from the sound effects. All the chugs, clanks, thunks, creaks, bangs, groans, rumbles, and purrs – all of it sounds incredibly realistic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sound team actually managed to get live audio recordings of each of the tanks in action. Not only does this realism add authenticity to the tanks, but it adds a new layer of immersion to the battles. You can feel each pull of a lever, you can feel the rumble of the treads. If this was a movie, theatergoers would literally feel the impact of each and every round as it fired, in a true IMAX experience. You don’t get lame stock sounds with GaruPan; this here is the grimy, powerful roar of cold, hard machinery.
And then there’s the music. There’s not much to be said about it that isn’t just another way of saying that it is freaking brilliant. The soundtrack is primarily made up of upbeat military-style marches, and it is a perfect match for the show. It strikes that same careful balance between the authentic military feel and lighthearted tone that the show so delicately preserves – it could almost be said that Girls und Panzer is a military march of a show. And the music is always a joy to hear in the background. If I’m feeling a little bored during the non-combat scenes, I can just zone out and tap my toes to the infectious marching beat. During combat, it’s even better – its steady tempo sets the pace for the battles and parades forward along with them, and it makes just as good a triumphant fight song as it does a builder of tension. Even better, a number of the marches are real military marches from the country a particular school represents. For example, a rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic plays at the end of episode 4 during the introduction to the American school’s tank club, and the climax of the battle against them in episode 6 is punctuated by The Army Goes Rolling Along (also known as The Cassion Song). In episode 3, The British Grenadiers march accompanies the rolling-out of the British school’s tanks. (thanks to Sonya in the comments for reminding me to mention this) There could not have been a more perfect musical score for this show.
In all honesty, between the sound effects and the music, I would probably enjoy GaruPan even with the video and subtitles turned off. I am currently testing this hypothesis by playing the show in the background as I type this post, and the results so far strongly support my theory.
EDIT: So of course, the week after I post all this praise of GaruPan’s music, this happens:
If I had just waited one more week…