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I finally got to Girls Und Panzer Der Film on a whim last night[1], and it’s a wild ride.

This film is a huge amount of fun.

There are major spoilers ahead, with one final warning before I get to key points. 

The Opening

The movie begins straight after the TV series with an exhibition match between Ooarai and Chihatan Academy on one side, and St Gloriana and Pravda on the other. Alas Chihatan Academy are disciples of Leeroy Jenkins so that works about as well as you’d expect[2].

The opening of the film highlights both the strengths and the weaknesses of Der Film.

The Action Prologue really grabs your attention. The return of old opponents for a fun match trades strongly on the nostalgia that many viewers will have for Girls Und Panzer[3]. There are a number of incidents in the Der Film opening that are direct shout outs to previous events in Girls Und Panzer, and these are often hilarious[4].

The problem is that this is a freewheeling melee  almost twice the size of any previous match in the TV series, and the normally tight scripting that allows the viewer to clearly follow the action is beginning to falter. The other issue is that with twice as many tanks, there are twice as many characters, and fitting them in starts being a challenge. This will get worse later.

Despite this, the opening really does work on a dramatic level to get you into the film, and command your attention.

Major spoilers ahead so stop now if all you want to know is if Der Film is worth watching (it is, if you’re a fan of Girls Und Panzer)

The Bombshell

After the exhibition match, which Ooarai just loses, all of the girls are relaxing in the baths[5] when Anzu is called back to the school.

Then the bombshell is dropped: Anzu only had a verbal agreement to keep the school open if they won the tournament, and the Ministry is welching on the deal.

The school is being closed, the carrier will be sent for scrapping, and the girls sent to temporary accommodations whilst awaiting transfers to other schools.

This is, obviously, the emotional low point of the film. The girls are devastated and struggle to keep focussed whilst Anzu is trying to negotiate a way out. The way the hall monitors react is both hilarious and tragic (they get better).

Getting Back in the Game

However all is not lost. Saunders steps up to temporarily “liberate” the tanks until the Ooarai team have a place to stay, and there’s a sense that other teams are helping in the background.

It turns out that letting the Senshado team stay together was a major mistake on the part of the Ministry. If you’re going to do this sort of thing, finish it immediately otherwise Anzu will own you[6].

Eventually Anzu manages to negotiate another match to reinstate the school, this time with a written agreement to back it up. The ministry again tries to stack the match by having it against the University Strengthened Team (UST[7]) with 30 tanks, most of them much better than the Ooarai tanks (M26 Pershings for the most part).

Along the way, the need to get transfer papers signed sees a further reconciliation between Miho and Maho. This reconciliation, including a flashback to their childhood, is really nicely done and plays well into the finale.

This section of the film makes it clear that their mother Shiho is more forgiving of Miho’s success with Ooarai than her official, public position would indicate. Shiho joins with Anzu to negotiate for the reinstatement match. Officially this is to enable a later rematch between Kuromoromine and Ooarai, but I can’t help thinking that making Miho happy with her own Senshado is a part of her motivations.

Along the way the reason for Miho’s bandaged teddy bears is given an in-universe explanation as a franchise with its own decrepit museum. During the visit, Miho unknowingly meets the child prodigy commander of the UST Alice, and kindly lets her buy the last copy of a particular souvenir.

The Last Battle[8]

The reinstatement match is an elimination match with all tanks to be eliminated and Ooarai only having 8 against 30. Of course, at the last minute, Saunders, Pravda, Kuromoromine, St Gloriana, Anzio, Chihatan, and Keizoku[9] all show up to even the numbers with temporary transfers to Ooarai High School in hand. They’re even wearing the uniforms, although they revert to their regular kit once the match starts.

This last match is thrilling to watch and occupies a fair chunk of the film, I couldn’t tell you how much because I wasn’t watching time. The problem is that it’s much bigger than the opening match of the film, and correspondingly harder to keep track of. This is where the Loads and Loads of Characters really becomes a weight on Der Film in a way that it never was in Girls Und Panzer.

That said, it breaks down into three basic phases. In the opening Miho attempts to run the combined force in a fairly conventional way, and gets hammered for it by the UST. This isn’t helped by the film’s equivalent to the Maus from the TV series.

The second phase is, and to paraphrase The West Wing[10], letting Miho be Miho. This phase has Miho operating the various teams more or less independently but cooperatively to take advantage of their respective strengths. It’s also when some of the other Ooarai tanks show how much they’ve learned along the way[11].  Or how much they’re willing to bend the rules[12] or sanity[13].

The visuals in this sequence are astonishing, but again incredibly hard to keep track of. After a while I stopped trying and just started enjoying each individual moment in the amusement park section of the battle zone. I did appreciate Chihatan learning from their mistakes and becoming slightly less Leeroy Jenkins-ish.

The final phase is Miho and Maho vs Alice. Through various shenanigans, Miho fights Ooarai back into an advantageous position when Alice joins the fray in her Centurion A41. Alice trashes all of the remaining Ooarai tanks excepts Miho’s and Maho’s, and makes it look easy.

This sets up a final duel that is absolutely a shout out to the finale of Girls Und Panzer. This part of the action is relatively easy to follow, there are fewer actors involved, and it really highlights just how close Miho and Maho were as kids. They work together flawlessly, often with no more than hand signals, and you can feel the synchronicity.

Of course Underdogs Never Lose is one of the two ruling tropes for this franchise. But even when you know what the final outcome will be, it’s still a tense ride getting there, and satisfying when it does.

The Celebrations

Unlike Girls Und Panzer, the celebration/wrapup scenes in Der Film are quite short. That surpised me a little – I noted in my review of Shirobako that director Tsutomo Mizushima is particularly adept at emotionally resonating wrap-up scenes. I suspect that running time may have been an issue as Der Film runs a full two hours.

However, the other ruling trope of the franchise, Defeat Means Friendship, duly makes an appearance when Alice gives Miho the teddy bear that Miho let her buy earlier. AWWW.

Continuity Lock Out

It does have to be mentioned that Der Film is, or would be, totally unwatchable to anyone not familiar with Girls Und Panzer. If you don’t already have the characters and tanks set in your mind, you will get lost in this film. Even then I was struggling with the addition of several new tanks to the familiar teams, plus the additions of several new teams. I had to look up the Finnish themed Keizoku team, who were frankly just bizarre.

The Verdict

I watched a fan subtitle of Girls Und Panzer der Film online. However should anyone get around to licensing an English language version, then I will be ordering a blu-ray. I had high expectations of this movie, and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the issues mentioned above, Der Film is a fun, fast, wild ride. It’s easy to see why this was such a box-office hit in Japan with sustained positive word of mouth.

I enjoyed myself immensely, and will probably enjoy doing so again at some point soon.

The Snarky Bits That You Knew Were Coming

[1] I’m sick and I wasn’t up to facing Gravity. That instalment of Space Movies will probably happen today. Or maybe tomorrow.

[2] They also have crappy Japanese tanks, which doesn’t help.

[3] Including me. For clarity I’ll refer to the TV Series as Girls Und Panzer and the movie as Der Film.

[4] I do feel sorry for the Rabbits though. They really shouldn’t have tried that against Nonna. Still they learned from it…

[5] Yes, they went there. It’s only a brief sequence though.

[6] Girls Und Panzer is one franchise where the Absurdly Powerful Student Council is not only justified, but led by an absurdly capable politician. As a general rule, if Anzu is getting her game face on, be somewhere else.

[7] Noting that the alternative meaning of that acroynym is not applicable to the franchise (Saori’s delusions notwithstanding).

[8] Barring a second season it probably is the last battle in the franchise. Which I’m still not happy about.

[9] Finnish themed, and very little is explained about them.

[10] Bizarrely this is not even the first time I’ve referenced the West Wing when reviewing anime.

[11] I almost want a sequel story with the Rabbits as 3rd years leading a new team just to see how terrifying they would be.

[12] Team Leopon I’m looking at you.

[13] Sideeyes the Ducks. Including the adopted ducks of Chihatan.