^↑↓/←→: Anabuki Tomoko, Katherine O’Hare, Elma Leivonen, Elizabeth Beurling
Sakomizu Haruka, Ursula Hartmann, Giuseppina Cenni
Spoilers will be blackened like so “this is a spoiler!” in the traditional format, so highlight to see the contents. I didn’t put many in anyway.
I don’t think I’m much of a reviewer, and this is a bit full with TL;DR portions, so only read what you’d like. I’m assuming a familiarity with the Strike Witches “franchise”.
If you’re going to read this, I recommend listening to:
“Egao no Mahou (Orchestral Version)”
“Egao no Mahou (Fast Instrumental Version)”
“Witch no Tatakai (Electric Guitar Version)”
^Depending on the context. “Mamoritai” is best for fighting scenes in general, “Egao no Mahou (Fast Instrumental Version)” integral for a turn in battle, “Jet Striker” and “Witch no Tatakai (Electric Guitar Version)” are perfect for tense moments.
I know – I had way, way too much fun imagining the twists and turns and such of the fighting scenes, which I’d say really make the series…
Strike Witches Suomus takes place five years before the events of the Strike Witches anime, and begins right after the Neuroi invasion of Ostmark in 1939 (which mirrors Hitler’s invasion of Poland). As it is much earlier in the war, technology on both sides is a lot more “realistic”, and different from the anime: Neuroi don’t have lasers or cores, but have specific engine locations, shoot bullets, and carry limited ammunition; a witch’s shield usually can’t take more than a machine gun burst at 100 meters; even a witch can’t fly stationary except with special conditions; striker units have very specific limitations based on their real counterparts. Witch units are much more varied as well. While the “Misfits Squadron” (officially known as the “Suomus Independent Volunteer Air Squadron”) specializes in air control and defense like the 501st, they also participate in bombing missions, air strikes, and ground troop suppression. In the Suomus series, you also come into contact with other specialized divisions, like the Rudel’s dive bombing Stuka squadron, and witch ground-mechanized troops. Because Suomus faces land invasion, the Neuroi’s mysterious “miasma” is much more of a problem, severely limiting non-witch interaction (as opposed to Navy interaction in the anime). Though dealt with a little inconsistently, the Suomus series witches have familiars, and striker units generally look a lot different from each other; in the first volume, Haruka has a navy striker that you straddle, rather than attach to each leg (apparently useful for water-landing). You can really feel the military-otaku a lot more from the light novel series, because specific strikers and magic engines and gun types and explosives are handled in a lot more detail, where small equipment changes literally make or break aerial combat situations. Specialized magical powers in witches are either muted or nondescript.
Suomus, facing the threat of a Neuroi invasion, requests reinforcement witches to help bolster its defense. Each of the current world powers agrees to send witches, but compared to their own country’s affairs and the Karlsland-Ostmark front line, Suomus is the least of their worries. So as follows, the reinforcements are used an excuse to get rid of unwanted misfits: one witch that clings to outdated fighting styles, one that can’t hit the broad side of the barn, one infamous for her number of her court marshals and detentions, another infamous for her destruction of military property, and finally a tiny witch overshadowed by her older sister, who hardly lifts her head from a book, all of whom are headed by timid and cowardly witch of Suomus, and apparently the only straight one in the entire country. The series is broken into three volumes: “Suomus Misfits Squadron Moving Up”, “Suomus Misfits Squadron in Love”, “Clash in the Suomus Misfits Squadron”. The first volume involves Tomoko learning how to adapt her war strategy to include team-based combat (code word for the value of friendship) and resorting her priorities in the face of a new Neuroi specialized bomber type. Haruka’s feelings for Tomoko turn from adoration to blazing passion. Beurling gradually opens up to Tomoko in a strong “friend in war” way, and softens her pessimism; Katherine learns how to fly properly; Elma becomes a little more cool headed; and Ursula evolves into her patent engineering/inventor role. In the second volume Suomus faces a land invasion and the group has to retreat from preoccupied territory. Tomoko has to adapt yet again to new Neuroi units and new tactics and deals with her sexual orientation, Haruka leaves the team for Ahonen’s squad, Hannah Rudel comes from Karlsland to assist, love blossoms and the rest of the team subtly develops. The third volume has more of Tomoko dealing with her sexuality (and final awakening to lesbianism) and Haruka’s now wildly aggressive advances; a new recruit from Romagna comes who seems to have lost her memory, and a brand new type of Neuroi threat (Neuroi Witches). Another novel was slated after that, but at this point it’s safe to say the project’s stalled, and I consider the series a trilogy.
Cast as of February 1940
507th Joint Fighter Wing
穴吹智子中尉 Anabuki Tomoko [Flying Officer] (17)
Fusou Army *507th JFW Commanding Officer*
迫水ハルカ一飛曹 Sakomizu Haruka [Flight Sergeant, 1st Class] (15)
エルマ・レイヴォネン中尉 Elma Leivonen [Flying Officer] (16)
Suomus Air Force
エリザベス・Ｆ・ビューリング少尉 Elizabeth F. Beurling [Pilot Officer] (19)
Britannia Air Force
キャサリン・オヘア少尉 Katherine O’ Hare [Pilot Officer] (17)
ウルスラ・ハルトマン曹長 Ursula Hartmann [Master Flight Sergeant] (10)
Karlsland Air Force
ジュゼッピーナ・チュインニ准尉 Giuseppina Cenni [Warrant Officer] (17)
Romagna Air Force *Recruited 1940*
ミカ・アホネン大尉 Mika Ahonen [Flight Lieutenant]
Suomus Air Force 1st Squadron
ハッキネン少佐 Häkkinen [Squadron Leader]
Suomus Air Force
ハンナ・ルーデル大尉 Hannah Rudel [Flight Lieutenant]
Karlsland Air Force
加藤武子少尉 Katou Takeko [Pilot Officer]
糸河衛 Itokawa Mamoru (Fusou Engineer)
Thoughts on characters:
First of all, the characters really are built a lot different from the characters in the anime, and I was glad, because it helped keep them fresh. Tomoko is built really well for a main character, because you definitely don’t love her. She can be really annoying and slow to realize the obvious, extremely frivolous and overly concerned about her perceived sexual orientation, but she also has several moments when she is like Sakamoto Mio (very briefly mentioned in the novels): proud, strong, and always going on about training. As time progresses and she becomes properly more leader-like she becomes a much more likable character. For voicing, I imagined a back and forth between high-pitched Perrine and slightly higher than Mio-ish voice when she was serious.
When I first met Haruka, I thought she was going to be a Miyafuji Yoshika clone, but – no. Perhaps if you took out every grain of innocence and flicked on an erotic switch in her brain, maybe, but she’s crazy. She’s one of the few whose skills stay relatively consistant (ly bad) over the course of the series (until near the end of the third volume), only her lesbianism seems to level up. Thus, she is the instigator of most of the fan-service in the novels. It felt a little “overwhelming and unnecessary” at times, but also added a lot of humor where it was due. I imagined a voice that mixed Francesca Lucchini and Yoshika when indignant. Apparently in another work Eila mentions that Haruka is “dangerous”, by which time she would be about twenty and by her uniform looks like she’s high ranking.
Katherine O’Hare gradually became one of my favorite characters, along with Elma, Rudel, and Beurling. She hails from a ranch in Texas, so … as a Texan, the stereotyping was extremely painful from the get go. But her way of speaking really grew on me over time, and as her personality slowly evolved, she started waxing insightful. She sort of became like Goofy (from Disney); she was silly and generally ignorant, but strangely insightful, knowledgeable, or observant at times. I’d put the tone of her voice with Yeager’s, but even less serious and even more happy-go-lucky. The fact that she’d say things like “youuuu guys” and end all her sentences with “ne-” really made her character stand out. Also, if I were to say any of the witches had a specialized power, it would be Katherine, who has a really strong shield and a miraculous ability to survive a crash unscathed.
I won’t bore you with an indepth look at everyone else, but Beurling needs to be mentioned, with her logical cool-headed-ness and disregard for the rules. There’s no one to really compare her too, but she and Rudel both have a very “veteran” aura to them that I’m not even sure Mio or even Barkhorn could hold a candle to. Elma is perhaps the opposite, with a very inexperienced air, but that and her general cowardly nature makes her the cutest character in the series. Disappointingly Ursula is almost too true to her stock character, with a very thin presence, she hardly ever speaks or is even present, but pops up a lot of plot purposes. Giuseppina is too much of a “plot device” for me to form a real impression on her.
I first looked to the series because in a sort of apologetic manner, people told me that “the anime isn’t really that great but the novels are awesome!” No. They had it entirely wrong. If you couldn’t handle the humorous fan-service in the anime, you probably wouldn’t be able to handle Haruka’s antics. Since visual fan-service is harder to do in writing I guess, most visual fan-service is just cut out of the novels. I think they spend a sentence or two explaining that and why the witches have no pants, and that’s it. Instead they add in sexual relationships. In the anime, love is implied, but not really forcefully. For example, Eila and Sanya definitely have a love relationship, and they sleep together in the same bed from time to time etc. It’s really up to the viewer to decide how far you want to think they go, because the anime’s just not going to go that far, furthermore it’s much more of a deep relationship. Most of the other’s inter-personnel love doesn’t go further than Perrine’s sexual-tension type adoration for Mio, Yoshika’s largely friendship-based love of Lynette, and the vague feelings of love between Minna and Mio. The novels aren’t explicit, but they are blatant. The Suomus First Squadron is a literal harem of Ahonen’s, and Tomoko’s slept with several characters and we know she’s a loud one. o.o; However, there are limits. Elma is just about as straight as one can get and practically homophobic (makes sense, she’s generally-phobic), Beurling finds the whole thing amusing, and the others just don’t care really.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, the dogfighting portions of the novel are, for the most part, fantastic. They’re really intricate with the air maneuvering techniques, so much that I feel that I’ve learned something. The second volume is one of my favorites, because the fighting/bombing scenes are very animated and have a lot of cool moments. I really liked learning about the planes, prototypes, fighting styles, different types of witches and so forth. It really went back to “concept” and the awesome concept behind Strike Witches was what drew me in in the first place. If they do another season of strike witches, I’d like to see them go back earlier in the war and cover something like this. It doesn’t have to be Suomus but witches and Neuroi, fighting but bound by lower technology would be great. Maybe some campaigns in Africa with tank-witches as well?
Overall the series is good, but not amazing, because while it has some amazing portions, it has some consistency problems and the fan-service relationships feel like they go a little far sometimes. There are a few other relatively slow sections, and especially in the first novel I was easily fed up by Tomoko’s behavior. Here are some arbitrary 10 point ratings: (1=awful, 10=amazing)
“Suomus Misfits Squadron Moving Up” 6.8
“Suomus Misfits Squadron in Love” 9.2
“Clash in the Suomus Misfits Squadron” 8.3
The first volume truly suffers from “undeveloped character syndrome” where you haven’t learned enough about the characters to love them yet, but it is no means bad, and you have to start somewhere. I’ll explain the second rating simply as, there were Stukas, and Stukas are cool. The third was interesting with its mystery aspect, and some of the fighting scenes in it were the best in the series, but it didn’t really have the tension that championed the second volume, and Haruka went a little out of control, so I knocked the points down a little.
That’s all! I think I’m going to go watch S2-Ep6 now, because it is a Sanya x Eila masterpiece, and I’m a Sanya-Eila fan.
^And there are many many more.