(This post is the fourth of my 12 essays for the 2016 edition of 12 Days of Anime, a joint project between many anibloggers. For more info about the project, check out appropriant’s introductory post here, and check out the full blog spreadsheet here if you’re interested in the work of everyone participating!)
Girls Und Panzer is one of those anime that’s difficult to describe to anyone who doesn’t watch anime – how do you effectively convey the awesomeness of girls competing in the glorious art of sensha-dō (literally, the way of the tank)? It’s a ridiculous concept, but the result is an incredibly entertaining and often hilarious show filled with exciting tank battles and fun character dynamics.
And yet those things are not at all what this essay is about.
And let’s be real here: Girls und Panzer isn’t really a show you watch for some deep emotional moment, or even the core tournament narrative; it’s a show you watch for the sensha-dō matches, for the tank combat and parodies of many national militaries. But hidden within all the cool, badass tank moments throughout Girls und Panzer and the incredible follow-up Girls und Panzer der Film is one of the all-time best executions of the “power of friendship” theme, formed in the first episode and sustained all the way through the end of Der Film.
To find our fantastic moment, we need to rewind the tape all the way back to that first episode. Aside from the episode opening showing a flash-forward to the St.Gloriana battle (or are the first set of episodes a flash back?), this episode features very little tank action compared to the rest of the series. Instead, we’re introduced to Miho, Saori, and Hana, students at Ōarai Girls High School. Miho might be the “main” character for most of the series, and indeed this episode she’s given plenty of solo screen time. But throughout the first episode, it’s Saori and Hana taking the lead in nearly every action.
As a newer student, Miho has issues fitting in and getting to know her classmates, but Saori and Hana decide to actively befriend her and invite her to lunch. Saori even openly states that she figured Miho was worth getting to know because of her nerves as a newer student. Over their lunch period, Saori and Hana do their best to get to know Miho, but also kindly pull away when Miho hesitates to answer questions about her family. Even though their reasons for befriending her may be arbitrary, the pair of Saori and Hana ask nothing in return but Miho’s time, and likely consider it more valuable to help Miho feel comfortable in her new school and social environment. It’s not something that goes unnoticed by Miho, as she comments on being grateful for them reaching out to her. To Miho, Saori and Hana represent a chance for her to forget about sensha-dō, and to form friendships that are about more than skill on the battlefield.
Their active pursuit of friendship with Miho isn’t something that ends with the lunch period, either – both Saori and Hana pull themselves out of class almost immediately after they notice Miho distraught over the return of sensha-dō to Ōarai. And once they’re with Miho in the medical office, they quickly offer her more help – offering to bring her bag home if need be, and listening to and offering her support when she explains more about her reasons for avoiding sensha-dō. Despite Saori and Hana’s desire to take part in Tankery and for Miho to join them as well, Hana is quickly willing to acknowledge that Miho doesn’t need to feel obligated to join them in sensha-dō if she’d prefer to stay away from it. Ultimately, Miho’s reluctance to take part in sensha-dō is too strong – but at that moment when she lets Saori and Hana know that she can’t bring herself to take part with them, Saori and Hana show no hesitation in matching Miho’s own elective choice.
This moment, this one moment where they immediately choose to stick with Miho in her decision is the single most badass, incredible moment in the entire Girls und Panzer series. Saori and Hana don’t hesitate for a moment to meet their friend where she’s at, even at the expense of their own desires, their own wants. Even as they want to take on a new challenge, or try something new, they realize the pressure they may be placing on Miho by signing up for sensha-dō without her. But Saori and Hana know that what they truly want is to lend a helping hand to their new friend, to someone who they consider as close as a lifelong friend. They stay with Miho despite the excitement for sensha-dō from the student body around them, and go with her to confront the student council and stand up for Miho’s right to choose her own path. Miho does eventually choose to take part in sensha-dō after noting how much Saori and Hana were sacrificing for her sake, but afterwords Miho once again acknowledges just how much it means for her to have two friends willing to think of her feelings and do so much for her from day one of their friendship.
The theme of putting your friends and your teammates first, exemplified by Saori and Hana doing whatever they could for Miho in her distress, is a constant undercurrent throughout Girls und Panzer. Even if that theme take a backseat for the tank battles for much of the series, they are the driving force for Miho’s brand of sensha-dō and for Ōarai’s tank squadron. Saori and Hana did whatever it took to reach out and be a good friend for Miho’s sake as the initial representation of that ideal, and their clear decision to stick with her stands as my pick for the most badass moment in all of Girls und Panzer.