Some of the opening words of this graphic novel are “Studying the art of tankery will help you to gain the essential skills of becoming an elegant woman! …We challenge you to start down the path of tankery and strive to become a vibrant and beautiful woman today!” The premise of this series is totally ridiculous but it works. In the world of this series, high school girls are encouraged to take up ‘tankery’ as an after-school sport which involves actual combat in actual military tanks. The story focuses on characters who are types, which could get dull easily but, again, it works here. The main characters are a set of 5 friends who all join and compete in their high school’s (Ooarai Girls’ Academy) tank club. There is Miho the leader, Saori the boy crazy one, Hana the ladylike one, Maho the eccentric genius, and Yukari the tank obsessed. The focus on the relationship between the girls works not because of their individual characters but the perspective from which much of the story is told. The characters themselves could be as uninteresting and stereotypical as the ‘let’s all be friends!’ mentality, but using Yukari’s perspective instead of Miho’s is what makes the main character set more interesting than your standard manga school story. The expectation of a standard school life story point of view would be that of the hero (Miho), but using another view gives the storytelling a little more dimension by allowing Yukari’s perspective to guide the reader through the story and to learn things about the characters and events as a participant and not the main actor. None of the girls have done tankery before expect Miho who comes from a family known for their tankery, and this sets up some likely backstory which does get some attention in the first volume but will likely further explored later..
The sheer silliness of the premise of the story helps make things entertaining, and because the story does not seem to take itself seriously, does not become totally absurd. Some details get buried and are not explained (as of yet), such as the fact that the school is apparently located on a carrier ship. The suspension of disbelief required is considerable but at the same time makes the story as entertaining as it is. Many of the teams have themes which contributes to the general goofiness. The Ooarai tanks are manned by a group of history students, the volleyball team, the student council, and first-years (Yukari, Miho, etc). One of their first opponents has three named characters: Darjeeling, Assam, and Orange Pekeo. The next match that is presented in detail is against a team headed by Anchovie and Carpaccio. I personally find this kind of thing borderline annoying, but the characters themselves have just enough individual personality and complexity that it’s tolerable.
One element of this book that keeps the silliness in check appears after the story of the volume is done in the form of statistics, history, and illustrations of the actual tanks introduced in the volume. This research is alluded to in the story but in the reference material shows a grounding in reality and history.
Overall, this series (as it currently stands) is not serious reading, but more light entertainment which I personally enjoy from time to time. I understand that the story has been animated and based on the first book, I’ll bet the battle scenes are great. The scenes in the book are not always clear about what’s going on and who hit whom, although in the end the winner is usually clear. This one problem is not enough to keep me from continuing with this series though. I’ll bet it’s going to be a lot of fun, as long as it doesn’t start getting too serious about the characters or the premise.