As what I hesitantly call the dark-horse anime of the season, Girls und Panzer has managed to remain surprisingly strong in the face of such intimidating competitors as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Psycho-Pass. There are definitely plenty of valid reasons why—the skirmishes themselves are well thought out and animated, the characters are likable (if not terribly memorable), and it has yet to bog itself down with glurgy melodrama; even the most somber of scenes are accompanied by hilariously outdated Nazi helicopters and spunky old women, two things guaranteed to improve any show simply with their combined presence.
But belligerent old women and Nazi aircraft are only two parts of a bigger variable in the “why the fuck is this show so good?” equation, a variable that encompasses that broad descriptor of “novelty”. To put it in other words, Girls und Panzer isn’t just the one gimmick of girls engaging in competitive interscholastic tank battles; it’s a slew of gimmicks thrown at the audience one after the other faster than you can say “Holy shit, it’s a giant aircraft carrier!” It’s only when looking back and examining each of these events with the utmost scrutiny that a startling realization begins to emerge: This is why it’s really fucking good, and Episode 8 perfectly illustrates why with the the inclusion of Katyusha, Pravda’s adorable sensha-do president/reference to old war songs.
Pravda in general is a school that runs on one very specific device, even more distinctive than the others that’ve been shown so far. While a few of the other schools can be slightly difficult to parse in regards to what nationality they’re supposed to represent, Pravda is the most hilariously Soviet school outside of the Eastern Bloc. The interior of the sensha-do clubroom is about what you’d expect to find in the Kremlin at the height of Soviet power; Soviet flags draped tastefully, with the people in charge calmly sipping tea while Tchaikovsky drifts inoffensively in the background. It’s hilariously blatant, but in a more playful sense than lazy. Even better, Katyusha completely belies this dignified and most Russian of auras with how fucking tiny she is.
Characters that do their best to make up for the fact that they’re short aren’t anything new, but what makes Katyusha so great in spite of having a personality that only serves as compensation for her rather dainty form is the way that the show does its best to counter every one of her statements of superiority with an outside contradiction.
The most obvious, and the episode’s highlight, is an impromptu rendition of an old Soviet song bearing her namesake, about standing on the tallest banks and flying high like silver eagles, sung by the 15 tank crews on Pravda’s team (the largest team shown so far). It would’ve been an inspirational moment… were Katyusha’s head not almost swallowed by her helmet, an intentional contrast that added even more to the scene. While that may be what most people remember this episode for, it’s only a part in the whole that is Katyusha’s height complex. Probably the most delicious, yet easy to miss jab in her direction is the use of Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy as her leitmotif, a song that does not conjure up imagery of a deadly, efficient military machine, the intimidation factor lessened even more when she’s forced to meet the opposing team on the shoulders of a taller teammate. It’s small details like this that make Girls und Panzer what it is.
Katyusha’s impact on the show itself is rather minimal when compared to the main cast; if she wasn’t in it at all, it wouldn’t detract from the surprising quality of the overall package. But what she does is add to the experience in a way that only solidifies my prior assessment that Girls und Panzer is made evermore distinct and flavorful by its gimmicks, but is strong enough not to be completely dependent on them. Compare that to Jormungand, which still hasn’t quite figured itself out, and many other shows of the season that fluctuate in quality, and it’s easy to see why I love this show so damn much for delivering such consistency week to week, and all without feeling stale. This week, it’s all thanks to Katyusha in all her pint-sized glory.