Of course, the safest bet for any manga licensor is to pick up a series that's tied to an animated series. We've seen time and again that sales of a manga can skyrocket when it's turned into a popular animated show. Sadly, it doesn't work so well in reverse, like the series I'm looking at today.
STRIKE WITCHES: MAIDENS IN THE SKY (Sutoraiku Witchizu: Tenku no Otome-tachi), based on the television series by Projekt Kagonish, with original character designs by Humikane Shimada & art by Yuuki Tanaka. First published in 2008, and first published in North America in 2014.
The world is at war with an alien mechanical force known as the Neuroi. The only forces that can take them on are the Strike Witches, young women who use a combination of magic powers, heavy firepower, and mechanical jet legs to fight back. Most girls would want nothing more than to be accepted to the Strike Witches...well, everyone but naïve farm girl Miyafuji Yoshika. While she's blessed with magic, her only goal is to improve her healing skills so she can take over her grandmother's clinic someday. When she saves a stray Strike Witch, she discovers a power she never knew she had, a power which makes her an ideal recruit. While she's not eager to fight, Miyafuji soon discovers that becoming a Strike Witch means new friends for her to meet and new powers for her to discover.
As a series, Strike Witches is notorious for its shameless levels of fanservice, to the point where its marketing mostly centers on the fact that its main cast doesn't wear pants, as if the promise of crotch shots is enough to bring in the leering hordes. While its manga adaptation mercifully backs away from such naked perversion, it is a shameless dull thing to read.
Miyafuji is meant to be charming and child-like in her simplicity and pacifism, but she feels more like the creators only got halfway through developing her before getting distracted by a shiny thing. Her innocence and obliviousness to the outside world verges upon the ridiculous, especially since she never shows so much as a flash of a negative emotion. She comes off less as a complete character and more like someone's idealization of a five year old.
Even after joining the Strike Witches, it never seems to sink in for Miyafuji that's she's meant to be a soldier. Mind you, I can hardly blame her since the story spends so much time watching her make friends with other girls and a panty-stealing spirit puppy. It's only near the end that the volume recalls "Oh wait, there's a war going on isn't there?" and the fight is over and done so fast that I had to flip back through the pages to make sure that I didn't skip a page or two. Nope, all it takes is Miyafuji getting over her pacifism in record time, pulling some new reserve of power out of her ass to magically improve her sniper rifle, and thus demonstrate herself to be the bestest, most special Strike Witch of them all in a manner that is in no way contrived!
It figures that if they couldn't be bothered to make Miyafuji interesting, then the rest of the cast doesn't fare much better on the personality front. All of her friends are built around a single quirk, and their superior officer is little more than a substitute mother. The spirit puppy, which serves as Miyafuji's familiar, is there for an unwanted dose of pervert humor. Apparently it's the height of humor to have this cute little creature talk and think like a pervy old man when Miyafuji isn't looking. As you can imagine, this turns a large proportion of the volume into an utter slog, because plot or character development might get in the way of showing off a bunch of precious, cardboard-thin waifus. Even the whole 'alternate world war' angle is subsumed by the story's need to turn everything into pure preciousness.
While the story itself is mostly content to avoid fanservice, the same cannot be said for the art. It certainly does like to look at Miyafuji's panties as often as possible, and the art is more than content to shove her crotch into the frame to achieve that. What's really weird is that Miyafuji is the only character who gets this treatment, and I'm not sure I want to ponder why that is. The character designs were nothing special to begin with on the show, but Tanaka has transformed them here into the most generic little moeblobs possible. They all have the exact same face, with flat round eyes, flappy mouth, and a dot that's meant to suggest a nose, and if it weren't for their hairstyles the girls would be indistinguishable. The only time those designs change is when the girls fuse with their familiars. Then they can add cute little animal ears and tails so that they can achieve the greatest amount of naked otaku pandering possible.
The rest of the art isn't any more distinguished. Most of the panels are done in the same mid-level shots, save for when it decides to sink down low for a panty shot. Most of the backgrounds are vaguely drawn, when they're not just completely replaced with screen tones. As generic as the character designs may be, they're probably the closest this series comes to some visual flair, and I get the sense that the artist was just as bored while drawing this as I was reading it.
I was expecting Strike Witches: Maidens In the Sky to be offensively bad. Instead it was just really, really dull. The characters are drips, the story is tedious, and everything in the art is clearly calculated to appeal to both an otaku's baser instincts and their wallet.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is complete in 2 volumes. Both have been published, and both are currently in print.
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