There is a spectrum of concept to execution in where on one extreme, we have shows like Robotics;Notes, where it is a very high concept story about robot, how we perceive reality, and how that connects us as a community. On the other end, there’s Girls und Panzer.
Girls und Panzer is not a high concept anime, at least per se. (I mentioned the meta before.) The whole story is about a future/parallel world where competitive tank battles are a varsity sport for high schoolers. It’s not the normal garden variety of tank battle that we witness in, say, WW2 films, but a modified, athletic sport closer to modern kendo than the bloody sword arts practiced by Japan’s dead swordsmen in its violent history. In the same way, the practice tankery (or whatever you prefer to call it) has limits to the age of the tanks, the technology deployed, the tactics allowed, and that whole nine yards to make it something of a competitive sport.
The narrative vehicle is about a lonely girl who makes friends while practicing this sport. Girls und Panzer takes on the shell of a “Go To Koshien” story when the first-time tank battle club members must find themselves to the top in a local tournament, fending off better equipped, better trained rivals, including our lead girl’s former school, lead by her older sister. Everything was on the line as Miho and her new-found friends triumph while championing heart-warming themes like friendship, self-sacrifice, steadfastness, keeping a cool nerve and other various leadership qualities.
With a line like that, when executed well, any story will get most people up on their feet for a standing ovation. And in the case of Girls und Panzer, well, that’s exactly what happened.
That’s actually not even half of the story to Girls und Panzer’s commercial success or strangely far-fetching popularity. It’s not the only reason why I enjoyed the hell out of that quirky anime. But it’s probably the one true reason behind its popularity, and how it’s so accessible even to people who are just curiously interested in either the late-night anime format, interested in competitive sports, or interested in WW2-era military hardware. I think it’s the same phenomenon behind Strike Witches and Saki–“otaku” is a very diverse group and most aren’t into any specific niche, be it the military or mahjong, but somehow they become compatible pack-ins, respectively. [I mean, there’s an engaging Karuta anime currently on the air, let’s set the bar here.]
Of course, good execution itself is a very broad tag. The music, the art direction, the direction, the choices in the pacing and writing, and of course, a lot of the details behind the production all had to line up. While the production is solid, if nothing outstandingly remarkable, on the flip side Girls und Panzer had a major broadcast delay due to the production slipping schedule for various reasons. But maybe that didn’t harm the series nearly as much.
The 2 delay-induced recap episodes might have helped–to stretch out the series without diffusing the tension that the plot as built. In the recaps we revisited Miho and her friends, and while the cast of character steadily ballooned, the repeat viewings and clips somewhat helped to mitigate our short attention spans. By putting the show on hold for its finale, the series also gave the fandom time to drum up interest and anticipation, giving cautions fans an opportunity to catch up and celebrate its finale with everyone. It’s a little Madoka-like, this positive feedback loop.
Still, credits is due where it is due. In the end, Girls und Panzer gave us exactly what was advertised in the OP:
踏み出した空に 走っていく光 一番先へ 目覚めるスピードで 破れそうな鼓動 連れていくんだ もっと強い 可能\性になれ Rise to my feet!!
I realized that the show worked when, at the finale, I was pulling for Usagi Team/Team Rabbit. It was a short 12 episodes but it sure did a whole lot.