People routinely ask me, “What’s the deal with you and panties?” That is a long story, a philosophy in fact. Someday I will write the “Panty Treatise” but not today. To be ‘brief’ about it (hehehe), there’s a certain appreciable aesthetic to the panty shot that I’ve come to enjoy. The thrill of catching a glimpse of a girl’s underwear, intended or otherwise, goes back to middle school, and a kind of behavior that all just-entering-adolescent boys have. There is no real word in English for it, but there is one in Japanese – ecchi. The word roughly translates to “sexy” or “naughty,” but not perverted, like hentai. Ecchi doesn’t refer to sex but rather has come to describe a kind of playful sexuality, a kind of immature kidding around (West 4). It’s a typically adolescent kind of humor, which is why it is so prevalent in anime targeted towards adolescent boys. My introduction to ecchi was this…
That’s one of the many different transformation scenes from Sailor Moon. They all have that leggy look to them, which is what interested me so much when I was introduced to the show at 13. Then, years later, I discovered that there was an entire style dedicated to panties: ecchi. Now then, allow me to discuss the first season of one my favorite ecchi shows, the anime Strike Witches.
You may notice, in the picture above, that none of the girls in this show are wearing pants. That is the appeal of the show. However, one cannot base an entire series on “these girls don’t wear pants.” One could just draw pictures of girls in panties, for a show one needs more substantial content to grab the viewers’ interest, beyond the panties.
Strike Witches takes place during the early part of the 1940’s, the time frame we would know as World War II. Being an animated piece of speculative fiction, however, Strike Witches takes place in an alternate version of Earth. In this reality, Earth was invaded by an alien force known as the Neuroi. Facing this greater threat, the inhabitants of Planet Earth set aside their differences in order to fight against this threat. Weaponry of the time was ineffective against the Neuroi, the military calls upon the resources of young women and girls that have the ability to use magic, the only weapon that has any chance of defeating the Neuroi. In this world, all young women (and only women) have the ability to use some form of magic – but its effectiveness starts to wane when they reach 21. In order to successfully combat the Neuroi, the best of these magic wielding young women are equipped with “Striker Units,” which are basically miniature airplanes strapped to their legs and powered by magic. With these they are able to soar through the skies and use their abilities (and arsenal) to defend the Earth from this alien threat.
That’s the story. The girls can’t wear pants because, apparently the striker units require the contact of skin… or something like that, it’s never explained in detail. The society of this world has basically been built around that – women do not wear pants because they possess this magical power that requires their bare legs at all times. One may quickly jump to the conclusion that this is exploitation of the female body – which isn’t too far from the truth. However, these women have the power. Every man absolutely respects these women and is in adoration of the
For the most part, Strike Witches follows the format follows the typical anime. There are the formative beginning episodes that establish the characters and who they are. This is important for the genre (and its marketability) as it establishes specific character types and tropes for those familiar with the genre. The majority of the series is the girls of the 501st Fighter Wing fighting against another Neuroi threatening their area each episode. There’s a two episode climax to end the series and that is pretty much it. It’s story and structure is nothing new; on that level, Strike Witches is the exact same as dozens of other anime shows. Ecchi doesn’t necessarily make it unique either – there are plenty of other shows just dedicated to ecchi. So what makes Strike Witches so special?
The answer is, nothing really, other than this is the first one I happened to see. That’s pretty much it. I like the panties, and the storyline is pleasant. Perhaps there is one episode that really resonates… and episode called “Nice and Breezy.” In this episode one girl can’t find her panties, so she decides to go without them which, in a world where women do not wear any pants, can be pretty risky. She finds it too breezy out there, so steals another girl’s panties. She steals someone else’s panties in turn, and so on. It’s the odd episode that has nothing to do with them battling the Neuroi; it’s just girls wearing each other’s panties. Not in a perverted way either – which is unique. There is humor in panties, and it doesn’t have to be sexual.
That, overall, is the appeal of ecchi for me. Oh, there is a LOT more I can say about panties. Strike Witches is not the reason I find such beauty in the things – just one of many expressions of how pantsu can be so interesting.
West, Mark D. Lovesick Japan: sex, marriage, romance, law. Cornell University Press, 2011.