Most high school girls spend their time studying, making friends, or carousing with cute boys. The girls of Ooarai Academy, however, have chosen to enlist in the school’s revitalized tankery club to practice World War II-style tank combat with reverence and enthusiasm. Like any other school sports club, Ooarai engages in friendly competitions with other schools through skirmishes set within radically diverse combat zones. In this story, the concept of tankery has nothing to do with wartime combat training—instead, it is considered a treasured martial art, one that will turn a young girl into a sophisticated, cultured, and desirable woman.

This manga was adapted from the original anime series that aired in 2013. With no prior experience with the property, I had only one preconceived notion: fanservice. I mean, an all-female cast of characters piloting tanks? Come on. I’m reminded of my experience with Highschool of the Dead: I expected something akin to The Walking Dead and instead found pages and pages of gun fetishization, perverted teachers, and girls with perpetually torn clothing. Were those elements bad? Not necessarily, but I wasn’t prepared to see them given the story’s premise. With Girls und Panzer, I half expected to see girls wearing tight, revealing military uniforms as they straddle gun barrels and splay out over tank treads. But the truth is, as far as volumes one and two are concerned, Girls und Panzer is clean and friendly to all readers. In fact, fanservice would get in the way of the glorious tank porn. Operating as a visual history of mobile warfare, the featured tanks are painstakingly drawn from their real-world counterparts and treated to the same close-up camera angles you’d find in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

Lengthy combat sequences are bookended by scenes in which the girls interact with one another, cementing their friendships through shared experiences. Enriched by their unique personalities and zeal for tanks, the girls learn important lessons as tank commanders and teammates who must communicate with and rely on each other. Girls und Panzer features the most meaningful friendship development that I’ve seen in any high school situational story. There is historical precedence for tank crews forming fierce bonds of brotherhood because of the close quarters and their reliance on one another to keep the machine maintained and running. While other high school stories feature girls who are united by their interests, activities, and school adventures, the friendships forged through tank warfare are far stronger and more intimate.

The moments shared by the girls are endearing and sweet, but the real stars are the tanks. Battle scenes are presented in rich detail as the machines tear through the terrain, chasing after one another in feints, flanks, and ambushes. Chief among the cast is Yukari, an excitable girl who has been obsessed with tanks all her life and boasts an encyclopedic knowledge of war machines; count on her to deliver specs, armor strength, and maneuverability statistics for every vehicle the group encounters. Yukari’s extensive knowledge of military tactics also makes her the narrator of each engagement as she spells out every movement, plan, target, and hazard.

For a school-sanctioned activity, tankery looks as dangerous as it sounds. To win an engagement, the tank teams must incapacitate a flag tank and take out support tanks along the way; the only frightening element is the use of live ammunition. Miraculously, the girls escape serious injury from shrapnel, internal fires, and proximity explosions. The really weird part? No one seems especially concerned about injury or death. Who is responsible for the girls if they are killed? How is it possible for first-time tank drivers to successfully drive a World War II antique without any visible means of training? With the exception of Yukari and tankery veteran Nishizumi, no other girl on the team is given much backstory for her skills.

Girls und Panzer seems like the sort of material army bases would keep on hand to introduce new recruits to tank warfare. While it depicts the friendships that form between the members of the Ooarai tankery team, these two books read like a beginner’s study in tactical tank combat. Little time is spent outside the tanks and thus far we haven’t seen the girls participate in any academics, cultural festivals, or summer trips. Without experiencing the anime, I can’t say if the focus on tanks is exclusive to the manga, but the unconditional love of the machines is a great twist on the high school genre. The fanatical recreation of tank designs, vocalized combat logs, allusions to major tank battles, and precision military tactics are awesome and intelligently presented, making Girls und Panzer an exciting read.

Girls Und Panzer, vols. 1 & 2
by Girls Und Panzer Projekt
Art by Ryichi Saitaniya
ISBN, vol 1: 9781626920569
ISBN, vol 2: 9781626920644
Seven Seas Entertainment, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

  • Allen

    | He/Him Past Reviewer

    Allen Kesinger is a Reference Librarian at the Newport Beach Public Library in California. He maintains the graphic novel collections at the library, having established an Adult collection to compliment the YA materials. When not reading graphic novels, he fills his time with other nerdy pursuits including video games, Legos and steampunk.

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