It’s back! The long winter is over, and Episode 11 of Girls und Panzer has finally arrived. And while this episode wasn’t a blockbuster in terms of twists, plot, or amazing thrills, what it did do is the heavy lifting to set the show up for the finale next week.
When we last left our heroes, before Christmas, they’d started the National finals battle with Black Forest Peak, and had already walked right into the first ambush. And the Arikui-san team of gamer tank drivers has already been taken out in their Type 3, but as I mentioned before, this is probably the best use of that crew, because they are such a late entry into the squad. This episode picks right up from that point, and is non-stop action throughout. Given the disadvantage that the Oarai girls have in numbers, they have to pull out every trick in the book, and some that aren’t in the book. Smoke-screens, towing, high ground positions, harassment attacks by Anzu and the student council in the Kame-san team, and hit-and-run tactics.
We get to see more of the inspired tactics used by Miho, the ones that Maho praised when they were used to defeat Pravda. Miho’s dedication to the rest of her squad shines through in her choices to handicap the rest of the tanks to make sure that the team stays as high strength as possible. Repeated use of tow wires, once to drag the heavy Leopon Porsche Tiger up the hill, rather than let it struggle up on its own and the other to rescue the Usagi-san team’s waterlogged M3 Lee from the middle of the river when they try to ford it, hammers home the fact that Miho’s not going to leave anyone behind, especially if there’s any danger. Additionally, the first thing that Miho wants to know whenever another tank is hit is if everyone’s safe inside. For her, Sensha-do at Oarai has transformed from a sport of “our tanks beating your tanks” to “working with people you care deeply about as a team.”
And I didn’t even get to how Miho puts it all on the line personally to get the Usagi team out of the river. In an exhilarating sequence, she jumps from tank to tank to get the tow wire over to the M3. I thought the sequence worked partly because it’s not overdone. Miho makes the jumps, and they show effort, but there’s not scrabbling to make it, there’s not grabbing just the edge. There isn’t anything *too* overdramatic. To me it was just dramatic enough, and just athletic enough.
And as is the hallmark of this series, this episode doesn’t disappoint with the varied and interesting visuals. Pans and zooms abound, as well as framing shots and establishing shots. The action never gets lost or uncoupled from the larger picture, even with a whole lot of Black Forest Peak’s sand-colored Panzers driving around looking almost all the same to the untrained eye.
The other hallmark of this series is what Darjeeling alluded to in episode 10: Miho’s ability to turn her former enemies into friends. Watching Darjeeling and Orange, Kei, and Katyusha and Nonna watching the battle added an extra dimension to it, helping ground the fact that this is a sport, and a staged match, not a battle. And all of them are rooting for Oarai and Miho, some more openly than others. Katyusha in particular loses her Russian reservedness and repeatedly gets excited at Miho’s tactics, drawing a laugh every time.
Not everything is hunky-dory for the Oarai girls, tho. Like it or not, they’re facing a huge numbers disadvantage throughout, and that disadvantage gets a lot more LARGE when the really big gun for Black Forest Peak arrives… or more like they run into it. The Panzer VIII Maus, the largest tank ever built, is waiting for them in the urban combat area that Oarai runs to. And it’s here where I thought the tactics of the Oarai girls broke down a little. Faced with this heavily armored behemoth, that not a single one of their guns can touch, instead of beating feet and getting out of there, they go toe-to-toe with it. This results in the loss of the Kamo-san team crewed by Sodoko and the Public Morals Committee as well as the untracking of the StuG III.
And what this showed is that the girls of Oarai, despite doing well throughout the tournament, are still a bit undisciplined. I personally thought Miho took a little too long to order a retreat, but even after she did, all the tanks slowly backed up, firing as they went, rather than getting out of the at full speed and behind cover around the corner. There’s a time to stand and fight, and a time to get the heck outta there.
Nothing ugly here. The final episode has been set up, the battle is joined, and we’ll see how it plays out. Since we’re in the finals, and the final episode, it could go either way. Will Maho’s numerically and experientially superior forces win as the odds say? Or will Miho and company pull out another stunning win?