The first time I heard about Girls und Panzer was in a local anime magazine and my response was to laugh at the concept and just say "oh Japan, they make the weirdest things". And that's it for at least half a year until I was trying to find interesting mods for World of Tanks and I found the Girls und Panzer mod collection thread.
I watched the first video in that thread of a StuG III in GuP skin and clicked on a related video shown at the end of that particular video. That "related video" is what made me decide that I must watch the show and I will definitely love it. For those who have seen GuP you should already know which legendary scene it was. If you answered the Katyusha scene, then you are correct.
This is not the exact video, the one I saw is no longer available on Youtube.
What exactly is Girls und Panzer? We know that it's an anime, we know it has cute girls and we also know that it has plenty of tanks but what is it exactly? Some have described it as a Slice of Life show with tanks or a cute girls doing cute things in tanks. While that is not entirely false I find that Girls und Panzer can be more aptly described as a sports underdog story involving tanks.
Sports with tanks, that's ridiculous! Yes, yes it is and that is exactly why I love it. The show has this really ridiculous premise that would make you think that it is nothing but a silly show but lo and behold, it has achieved in delivering something more than just "a silly show".
Plot-wise, Girls und Panzer doesn't really offer the greatest of stories, no surprising plot twists or a lot of character development. It is at its core a sports anime, featuring the fictional sports of Tankery or Sensha-do. It shows the struggle of a small team from Ooarai Girls Highschool with their pitiful collection of tanks and their fight to reach the top. Nothing really new but Girls und Panzer did it just right that it creates a very entertaining experience.
Girls und Panzer doesn't try to convince you that the whole premise isn't silly, in fact they embrace the fact and just decides to go with it. This results in an entertaining show where you see the struggles of an underdog team in a fictional sport tournament.
The tank combat would be the meat of the show that really impressed a lot of viewers. If you like World War 2 tanks then you're in for a treat as Girls und Panzer offers quite a variety of it in the show. Although there are some "plot armor" moments in the anime and sometimes the tanks moves a lot faster than their real life counterparts overall the show does show quite a realistic depiction of these tanks.
Aside from those few weaknesses, every tank scene is just fun to watch and a big plus for me is that the girls of Ooarai never won a match just because of "the power of friendship" or any bullshit power-up like you usually find in Shonen anime/mangas(I don't hate these kinds of anime/manga but you have to admit some of the power-up in these stories are quite ridiculous). Every time the girls won, it is because of clever use of tactics against the opponent's weaknesses.
The tanks uses CGI and are quite beautifully detailed and animated. The first episode had quite a low framerate that made the animation looks quite choppy but every tank scenes after that have very good quality and most didn't even look like it was 3D.
The show have a really smart way to introduce the different tanks of Ooarai to the viewers. They made the characters color the tanks in silly paintjobs for the first 4 episodes. These paintjobs will immediately catch the viewers attention and make it easier to identify which tank is which and which group of characters operates that tank. In episode 5 they change the colors of the tank to a more military colors and at this point the viewer can easily identify each tank.
The characters in GuP are not explored in-depth because they only have 12 episodes. The main character, Miho Nishizumi developed quite a bit during the whole show and some others have some minor development but overall most of the characters doesn't get any development at all. However I don't really mind the lack of character development.
A lot of the characters have their defining characteristics and are designed to be unique in their own way. They might not have the character depth you might expect from a literary masterpiece but Girls und Panzer was never that and it has never tried to offer you that kind of experience. Just like the whole anime itself, Girls und Panzer's characters are simple yet entertaining in their own way.
To be fair though, they need a lot of character to make this work because each tank need a certain number of crews and they chose to make each tank crew unique rather than just make them faceless peons(at least for the Ooarai Tank crews). Dividing them into groups also help make them more memorable. We might not remember which of the girl is Ayumi Yamago or Akebi Sasaki but we can easily remember which girls are members of Rabbit Team riding the M3 Lee or which girls are the members of Duck Team riding the Type 89 I-Go.
The enemy team are differentiated by their tank's origins, like the British-themed St.Gloriana Academy that uses Churchill and Matilda tanks or the Pravda Highschool that uses T-34 and KV-2. These characters, just like most of Ooarai's characters are not really explored in depth but they still have their own personality that the viewer can recognize instantly, whether it's Darjeeling spouting random sayings while drinking tea, Kay being really friendly or Katyusha being boastful in her own childlike way.
For those who are wary of the show objectifying the girls I'd say you need to pull that stick out of your ass because not every anime is a perverted show with fanservice. Aside from that the answer is no, they are not being objectified. In fact, the director have specifically said that he does not want any pantyshots in the anime and that is exactly what happened. While there is a bathing scene(with no full frontal nudity) and fanservice does appear in the short OVAs, the main show itself is 99% free of fanservice.
Another thing that made me really love the show is how it help promotes the small town of Ooarai, an actual town in Ibaraki Prefecture. The town was devastated in the 2011 tsunami and Girls und Panzer now helps it stand back on its feet. The increase in the town's popularity could be seen from their annual Anglerfish festival that have garnered a lot more attention after Girls und Panzer aired, reaching up to 100,000 visitors.
The town of Ooarai itself embraces Girls und Panzer and the townsfolk decorated the town in Girls und Panzer related stuff like character cardboard cutout in various stores, posters and they even sell Girls und Panzer-related products and food. I personally would love to try the Tank-katsu from Cook Fan restaurant in Ooarai(the restaurant was also shown in episode 10).
Girls und Panzer might not be as popular in other countries as it is in Japan but it does have a lot of fanbase in a certain group of people, most notably in two online game community: World of Tanks and War Thunder. It is quite easy to see why it would be popular within these communities as both games features tank warfare and are easily mod-able, enabling a lot of players to create Girls und Panzer themed mods. World of Tanks even have official collaboration with the anime with official tank skins, voice packs and garage mod provided for free for all Japanese World of Tanks players(players from outside of Japan can still download and use the mods too).
Several spinoffs have been released for the series that includes a prequel manga(Little Army), the Girls und Panzer manga that shows the same story as the series but from a different perspective, a Light Novel which also tells the same story through a different perspective from the manga and anime, a comedy series(Girls und Panzer: Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu!) and 2 mangas depicting different events and characters from the same setting(Girls und Panzer: Ribbon Warrior, Girls und Panzer: Gekitou! Maginot-sen Desu!!). There is also a Board Game and a PSVita game released which have received mixed reviews.
Aside from the spinoffs, there are also a few OVA episodes released. These OVAs are mostly fanservice and comedic scenes although they are still filled with historical and military references. Some of the OVAs also explained a bit about the setting and shows what happens in the background of some of the episodes of the main series.
There's also a series of videos titled Yukari's Tank Corner which features Akiyama Yukari the tank otaku of the series. In this series, Yukari talks about the various tanks that are shown in the show. If you have an interest in the history of the tanks then this short series is a must watch.
Out of all these OVAs however one OVA that was released in 2014 stood above the rest. The much awaited Anzio OVA or officially titled Kore ga Hontō no Anzio-sen desu!(This is the Real Anzio Battle!) features the battle between Ooarai against Anzio which was skipped in the main series. One year after the main series ended, fans was reminded once again why they loved the series in the first place. Anzio OVA just like the main series offers brilliant tank combat scenes and filled with a lot of references.
Girls und Panzer fans still have one more thing to look forward to, which is the Girls und Panzer Movie set for Summer this year(2015). Hopefully after that Girls und Panzer will be greenlit for a second season which is what a lot of fans have been asking.
If you're still on the fence about watching Girls und Panzer I'd say give it a try, especially if you like fun shows where you don't have to think too much and just enjoy the ride. The tank combat are tons of fun and doubly so if you like military vehicles especially from the World War 2 era. The characters, while not explored in depth are still adorable and cute. Girls und Panzer is a military moe show that does not resort to fanservice to capture the viewer's attention and instead shows us another kind of "fanservice" by featuring tons of armored warfare. The show might not be perfect, but it is one of my favorite anime of all time, and maybe it will be one of yours too.