Another week behind us, and Girls und Panzer continues to do its magic. Episode eight has a fair share of poignant moments. The student council fold in their attempt to tell Miho the whole truth about the stakes of the tournament. Mako effortlessly sees through Sodoko’s haughty front. The girls agree that giving up is actually an option (!). But it seems I am not alone in singling out the Russian loli rendition of “Katyusha” as the one scene that blew away all others.
At first, I just realized the song was awesome. It took me some time (and pressing the repeat button many, many times) before I started wondering why exactly the impact of the insert song is so great. There is the obvious element of surprise – Russian in our anime, the war anthem coming completely out of left field – Girls und Panzer’s ability to combine silly and cool to make something completely fresh. But I think the scene would not have been half as powerful if not for its context, the place it takes in the episode as a whole.
First of all, we meet Katyusha, the Russian loli commander who is doing her best to raise all the overconfident-and-incompetent-villain flags in existence. She calls her opponents a nameless school, feels no need to keep in shape before the battle, fails to research the opposing team properly and does not listen when her own vice-commander offers advice. All of this in a one-minute scene. Later on in the episode, we will also learn that she has a superiority and height complex and motivates her schoolmates by throwing threats at them. As if that was not overkill, the official twitter account of the show mentions that the reason Katyusha became commander of her unit was that it was her tank that shot down Miho’s flag tank in last year’s competition… and viewers are left to imagine how much of that was to Katyusha’s credit.
Another thing clearly presented in this episode is how green the Ooarai girls still are, even after getting through two matches. You can see it every step of the way – the lukewarm motivation of the first-years, the way the girls fool around during practice and before the match. And to top it off, the final briefing shows how much the team lacks cohesion as the girls get carried away and pressure their experienced commander into changing her tactics.
It is no coincidence that the Katyusha scene comes immediately after that briefing. In a matter of seconds, the false sense of security bestowed by the Russian commander’s portrayal is blown away. The Pravda team reveals itself as a single, breathing organism, a beast of war united under that one name – Katyusha. That the commander’s name overlaps with the name of the song adds another layer to the message, leaving no doubt that the Pravda girls will obey Katyusha’s orders to the last tank standing, just like the song itself is a tale of loyalty to one’s homeland and loved ones. There is no comparison whatsoever to the lack of discipline and integrity displayed by Ooarai.
It is through those two contrasts that the rendition of Katyusha gains its significance as a scene, and that significance lends it power necessary to make as much of an impact as it does. Hats off to director Mizushima.