An anime series about high school girls driving tanks has no right being as excellent as it ended up. Turns out that inspired creative decisions and masterful execution can take even the most trainwreck-sounding concepts far. A military march-inflected soundtrack certainly helps that out plenty.

Girls und Panzer
Lev Knipper (original composer), ShirĹŤ Hamaguchi (anime composer)
“Polyushko-polye”

When thinking about how to soundtrack a tank battle, something booming and/or intense—maybe World of Tanks’ heat-of-battle songs, or the constant tension offensive of the soundtrack for Dunkirk—might be the first thing to pop into someone’s head. Considering the subject matter and the sheer firepower of tanks, that would be a highly understandable way to proceed.

Girls und Panzer does not play that way, however! Instead, it draws much of its soundtrack from the military march playbook, i.e. the songs more likely to be associated with old-timey war propaganda newsreels and veterans’ day parades and other such displays of patriotism than with straight-up war footage, and makes that the sound of all the tank action. They even sprinkle renditions of actual WWII march songs into the mix!

That combination is gloriously campy. There’s something just innately hilarious yet entertaining about seeing war machines trudge along terrain and explosively lob hunks of high-speed metal at each other against a backdrop of such upbeat and downright pleasant music. It makes the tanks seem practically toy-like! And that all fits the show’s quirky alternate-present/future setting and sports anime framing brilliantly.

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The song from Girls und Panzer that everyone goes crazy about on this front—for excellent reason, mind you—is the Russian-themed team’s performance of “Katyusha”. However, I have a personal soft spot for “Polyushko-polye” as my favorite military march rendition from the show.

Sure, part of it is out of sheer bias, since winter is my favorite of the four seasons—oh also, hey look, December starts tomorrow—and this song may as well be Winter Personified. Them jingle bells and galloping-reindeer snare rolls, yo. However, this is also one of the few marches on display whose tone veers away from the solely upbeat into more suspenseful and emotional territory, while still keeping the lighter sonic approach of the other marches.

I also dig the persistent repetition of an eight-bar phrase throughout the whole thing. In a minimalist-esque touch, that becomes the base upon which additional instruments, harmonies, and counterpoint melodies get progressively layered, and it’s effective in building up to a rousing crescendo. Seriously potent stuff right here.

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RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime.