In my opinion, the biggest reason why Girls und Panzer was such a hit is that because it’s fun. You can feel how much fun the staff had with making the show. I realize that this is quite difficult to back up. But look at how well the show was written, or how it respected its characters enough to make them believable and relatable, or the tankery matches. They did not certainly skimp on either side of the coin, girls or panzers. They love their girls and tanks a lot, and they made sure the audience could feel it, too.
A main part of making the show fun is the setting. With a name like Girls und Panzer, it’s pretty hard to be confused with what the show is about. But if you just read a series summary, it sounds all too absurd, that they couldn’t possibly pull this off, can they?
But they do. They couldn’t have made it work without coming up with a straight-faced setting to build the show on. In fact, the setting makes it even more absurd. Tankery as an all-girl sport, sought for its character-building virtues? Towns built on ships? Tanks on the road like it’s a normal thing? Tanks lying around virtually everywhere? And yet the show unloads its world-building without a blush or a snicker. Nobody bats an eyelash when the girls take their tank to a public road. The girls really believe that tankery will make them into an ideal woman, or at least get a lot of suitors. Katyusha is sang by the Russian-themed tankery team.
It’s this strange, not-so-real-life setting that makes the show incredibly fun to talk about to people. When it’s appropriate, I often talk about anime to people who aren’t necessarily anime fans, and Girls und Panzer is one of those shows I love to try and sell to them. Because my spiel is always met with incredulous faces or exasperated sighs about Japan and their approach to cartoons. Occasionally, they do check it out.
(Another show I like to talk about is Polar Bear Cafe, especially Panda and his part-time panda job.)
And yet, even if the setting is absurd, the show makes it work. Play it with a straight face and it becomes normal. When Hana told her mother that she wanted more vigor in her flower arrangement, and that was the reason why she took up tankery, I could not help but feel genuinely about it, that a daughter was standing up to her mother because she had found something on her own that she loved doing. Substitute tankery for any hobby or sport, or just plain anything that brings people together. I mean, Yukari’s that lonely geek who gains friends and accomplishes something of merit! I won’t lie, I was touched when her parents thanked her friends just for being with her.
It’s rare for an anime to have a good story, good action, and a good ending. It’s rarer to have something that’s fun.