Two things that go hand in hand: Firstly, worldbuilding matters. Perhaps this is an outlier opinion, but I would say the most memorable Girls und Panzer
OVA episode isn't the one where the girls prance around in swimsuits but the one in which they explore the weird and wonderful Ooarai school ship. Secondly, fun things are fun, and a fun series should have some fun things in it.
I brought up GuP for a reason because Yohko's basic setup is similar, albeit a lot more outlandish. In short, the titular Yamamoto Yohko and her three best friends are recruited by time travelers from the year 3000 to represent one of humanity's two power blocks in a team-based shoot-em-up sport fought with actual spaceships. Thanks to emergency teleporters, the game is totally safe, and it's used as an alternative to warfare for divvying up resource and land rights. And apparently it's a smart move to use schoolgirls from the past as your pilots because in the future humanity has declined so much they can no longer git gud at video games.
This is all big idea stuff that could easily make for a fantastically entertaining show. But it doesn't take long to realize that the fun is simply missing. When the girls are transported away a thousand years into the future and hundreds of light years away from Earth, they are so nonplussed about it that they might as well be playing handball back at home. In comparison, the OVA was mostly about Yohko being a smug Mary Sue, but at least it had some sense of fun in it, especially in the space billiards episode.
At no point do any of the 20th century girls get any naughty ideas about exploiting future information for their benefit by buying a sports almanac or even become curious about their own descendants or something. They don't have a shred of curiosity in them, even though their movements are not restricted in the least bit. They actually do the Futurama
thing a couple of times and visit a random planet simply to buy some snacks, but it's simply mentioned in passing and nothing fun comes out of it. They don't meet any interesting people unrelated to their actually pretty dreary sport, and they don't interact with any bizarre future tech. There's simply no culture shock aspect at play, which to me is pretty amazing because how can you have a time travel story without including some of that even accidentally? (Futurama I mentioned, but consider also a great anime example of this done right in Cowboy Bebop's
episode 15, when the recently unfrozen Faye struggles with future home appliances.) And most damningly of all, Yohko and her crew don't have any ego issues despite becoming insanely massive hyper-celebrities known throughout inhabited universe. You'd think a teenager might go a little crazy from all the wealth and glory, but no, this is not even hinted at. They just play their real-life video game and go home after their battles without thinking twice about it. It makes me think of a thread I saw on 4chan that touched on Japan's relentless salaryman culture, where a poster claiming to be Lord Gepelnich reminisced that he almost starved once after having "drained the spiritia of a Jap". It was a crudely funny anecdote, but surely it didn't need to become an anime.This doesn't happen.
The show is not worth watching for the space battles either, as it looks very cheap and utilizes every desperate limited animation trick in the book of 1990s sports anime. In terms of action, only the very final battle is anything to write home about, and that's mostly because the spaceships are largely ditched in favor of what I can only describe as a samurai schoolgirl kaiju battle. It doesn't last long, but it was so awesome that it did make me not regret watching this thing.
The visuals fare better in the trippy scenes; they are so numerous that they probably serve a slight filler purpose, but it's usually only during these that the show momentarily awakens from its dull stupor. I was somewhat shocked to find out that this was in fact an early directorial effort by Akiyuki Shinbo, A.K.A. Mr. Shaft's House Style. In retrospect, the abstract trippiness was a clear hint, but I didn't make the mental connection because there was practically no T&A and because there wasn't any of that creative dynamism I've come to associate with him. After all, just a few years later he directed another space outing, Tenamonya Voyagers
, which is just outright hyperactive. It crams into its four short episodes all the fun and worldbuilding that was missing from Yohko TV, and it gets a definite recommendation from me despite being a typical OVA that's cut short right in the middle. Or just watch any of the dozens upon dozens of sports shows that manage to turn some mundane activity (mahjong, go, decantering, driving a rice rocket) into an engaging competition sport with all the human drama that entails.