“The Most Important Lessons of Life” — The Wisdom of Girls und Panzer
“The most important lessons in life are all condensed into Senshado. But most people don’t realize that”
— Mika, Girls und Panzer der Film
As the father of a wonderful 3 year-old girl, one of my primary concerns is the life lessons that I will need to teach to prepare my daughter for the world she will one day face as an adult. This is not a small concern, and media that teaches these life lessons thus becomes incredibly valuable.
And yet, there is a single franchise that puts on display every single life lesson I would have my daughter learn (and of which she is, happily, a fan): Girls und Panzer.
For those who have never heard of it, Girls und Panzer is the sort of insane concept that Japanese anime is so adept at pulling off — a world in which tank battles are a tournament sport, known as “Senshado,” for high school girls. And through its main series, movie (Girls und Panzer: Der Film), and current offering (Girls und Panzer: Das Finale), it offers my daughter everything I would have her learn to prepare her for what is to come.
(Spoilers for Girls und Panzer follow.)
Just because somebody is an opponent, it does not mean they are an enemy.
Throughout the main series, the protagonist, Miho Nishizumi fights a number of literal battles against a wide variety of opponents. The stakes are quite high — if her school, Ooarai Girl’s Academy, loses a single tournament battle, it will be shut down.
Because of the tournament setting, the opponents she is facing are only opponents. Once the battle is done, there is no animosity between them and her school. In fact, one of the running themes is that through Miho’s sportsmanship and general good nature, she makes friends of everybody she fights in the tournament. This pays off in Der Film, as when Ooarai is cornered and locked into an apparent no-win scenario all the schools she’s fought come to stand at Oorai’s side.
This is a life lesson that will serve my daughter well for as long as she is alive — she will have to fight many battles against people who are in opposition against her over the years, but most of these people will not be enemies, and should not be treated as such.
Enemies do exist.
The plot of Der Film revolves around a major betrayal. Upon Ooarai winning the tournament and apparently saving their school from closing, the administrator who made the deal to save the school not only shuts it down anyway, but does so sooner than originally planned out of apparent spite, under the excuse that a verbal agreement is no agreement at all.
The malice doesn’t end there, however. When the student council president manages to strong-arm him into agreeing to another battle to decide the fate of the school, he ensures that the match is a no-win scenario — not only is the opposing team equipped with better tanks just for that match, but a massive artillery piece that has no place in the sport is approved just so that it can be used against Ooarai. It is only the allies that Miho has made that ensure that team Ooarai is able to win and save their school.
And there is an important lesson here. There are people in this world who will have active malice against you, and nothing you can do will change that. The only thing left is to fight back as best you can.
Not every battle can be a victory, and that’s okay.
In both the main series and Der Film, Miho loses the first battle she fights against another school. Both instances are exhibition matches, and so do not affect the plot. But, there is still an important lesson there.
It is a near-impossibility to win every single battle you will ever fight in life. Sometimes, you’ll lose. Sometimes, you’ll lose badly. What’s important is that you get back up again and prepare yourself for the next one.
You will make mistakes, and they will have consequences.
With one exception, in every major battle Ooarai manages to win they make mistakes. Serious ones. Mistakes that almost cost them the battle, or put important tanks out of action, or both.
For example, in the battle against Pravda in the main series, the Ooarai team is overconfident and charges right into a trap. As a result, they find themselves surrounded, and have to break their way out of the encirclement just to keep fighting.
This is a vital life lesson to learn: in life you will make mistakes, you will suffer consequences as a result, and that’s okay. So long as you learn from the mistakes and improve, there is no shame in it.
There will be times when you need help, and that’s okay.
As mentioned above, the plot of Der Film revolves around a major betrayal, and the Ooarai team being placed into a no-win scenario. The only way they can win and save their school is with the help of the other high school teams Miho has fought and befriended, and in one of the best Avengers-style moments I’ve ever seen, they come to Miho’s aid.
This is the decisive moment — with the help of the other teams, Ooarai wins the match, and saves their school. But it isn’t the only moment in Der Film in which outside help allows Ooarai to do what is necessary: when the school is being closed down, the Ministry of Education is planning to take and dispose of their tanks. To prevent this from happening, the student council creates paperwork saying that they have been lost, and the Saunders team carries out an emergency airlift to get the tanks out of danger. It is one of the most heartwarming moments in the movie, followed closely by the moment in which Saunders returns the tanks once the Ooarai team is situated in their temporary lodgings.
And this is yet another major life lesson: we cannot do everything alone. There will be times when we need help, and there is no shame in asking for and/or receiving it.
Never lose sight of your goal.
While there are many characters contrasting Miho’s tactics with the victory-at-all-costs mantra of the Nishizumi school practiced by her family, Miho is an adherent of the Nishizumi school on the strategic level — when asked in Der Film if in light of the unfair and impossible to win battle ahead they should just take the loss and withdraw, she refuses, stating that they must not lose ground, but push ever forward. The goal leading to victory must never be forgotten.
We see the result of the failure to do this at the end of the Ooarai-Chihatan battle in Das Finale Part 3. Having become obsessed with taking out Miho’s tank (which is notably not the flag tank that needs to be knocked out to win the match), Chihatan’s leader, Commander Nishi, actually forgets to target the Ooarai flag tank. As Chihatan is celebrating finally chasing Miho’s tank down and disabling it, the Ooarai flag tank snipes Chihatan’s, ending the battle with an Ooarai victory.
It’s a nuanced, but still important life lesson. While victory at all costs is ultimately self-defeating, forgetting what you are attempting to accomplish is equally self-defeating. One must always remember the goal one is working towards.
Whenever possible, fight YOUR way.
As mentioned above, with one exception, in every tournament fight Miho and Ooarai make mistakes. That exception is the final battle in the main series against Kuromorimine, in which Miho fights her sister and comes up against the full force of the Nishizumi school.
And in this fight, despite being much stronger on paper, Kuromorimine doesn’t stand a chance. With the exception of an opening attack by her opponent, Miho controls every moment of the battle, wearing Kuromorimine down, isolating their flag tank, and destroying it. It is a near-perfect disruption battle, and Miho wins because she fights it on her terms, preventing her opponent from ever regaining the initiative once they’ve lost it.
This is, in fact, how Miho wins all of her battles — she fights on her terms. In fact, she is at her weakest when she is fighting in a more traditional sense.
And this is perhaps the most important lesson when it comes to winning a conflict: fight your way, and prevent your opponent from fighting in theirs. Ensure that they are the ones reacting to you, instead of the other way around. Sometimes, this will take the form of tactics, and sometimes this will take the form of a larger strategy. But, in the end, this is how you beat unfair systems and situations.
There are, of course, other life lessons that can be gleaned from the series. But what remains remarkable is just how it manages to encapsulate all of the important ones. As a certain character pontificated in Der Film, all of the important lessons in life can be found in Girls und Panzer. All that’s left is to draw them out.