Just as Strike Witches before it justified its insane premise with some very flimsy justifications about why the Witches had to be female and not wear pants, GIRLS und PANZER has us believe that the art of operating a tank - "tankery" in the phrasing of the Crunchyroll subtitle track - is somehow accepted in its alternate universe as being the ultimate way for young women to unlock their full maidenly potential. It makes very little sense, and every detail makes the package even harder to swallow (why are they using WWII-era tanks, for instance?), but watching the show it's very hard to care about the fact that everything in it is totally buggered insane. After all, if the results are tank battles between high school girls, I'm perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief because that's what entertainment is all about.
Shifting the focus to Miho Nishizumi (voice acting done by relative newcomer Mai Fuchigami, previously best known as the cosplaying Maekawa in Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko), reluctant leader of the group and latest in a long line of tank commanders, the anime adaptation makes an interesting departure from its source material. The manga's protagonist was tank otaku Yukari Akiyama (voice by newbie Ikumi Nakagami), constantly going ga-ga over details of the tanks in a manner that is, undoubtedly, completely unlike any Japanese high school girl who has ever lived. In changing the protagonist to a more reluctant heroine, the show heightens the drama as well as lessening the chance of Yukari's gearhead rambling getting overplayed. It's a smart move on the producers' part, although possibly not one that will please all the manga's fans - it's more than likely that the otaku protagonist was a draw for some, but the adaptation is still high enough quality to win over any cynics.
Although it takes until the end of the show to get the girls into a tank, GIRLS und PANZER's first episode nevertheless works quite well in introducing us to its world. Modeled after real military training exercises, the "tankery" course that the girls are enrolled in has them fighting against their classmates to see which team of tank operators at their high school can make it to the tankery world championships - because, as action shows since the dawn of time have proven, tournaments are the easiest plots in the world to write. You can pretty much see where the show is going from the second it begins, but it's one of those lovely cases where knowing where it ends doesn't make the process of getting there it any less entertaining.
Is it Strike Witches with tanks, though? Not exactly. Regardless of how light-hearted the show generally was, Strike Witches did portray serious combat - albeit combat involving flying, panty-flashing jailbait with animal ears and parts of WWII fighter jets strapped to them. GIRLS und PANZER, by contrast, is about a tournament - stakes are a fair bit lower, and thus the show is not nearly as dramatic. If anything, GIRLS und PANZER would seem to be more of a high school slice-of-life show with tank battling; and seeing as it's thus far proven to be a good one, there's nothing wrong with that. New and unique? Not sure I'd go that far, tournament shows set in Japanese high schools are a dime a dozen, but it provides a cheerful and entertaining take on the subject, and personality can carry a show far.