Originally released in the latter part of 2006 Str.A.In, which stands for Strategic Armored Infantry, is a fascinating mecha series. Consisting of 13 episodes and produced by Studio Fantasia (Gunbuster, Aika R-16, and Saikano) the series is landing here in the States for the first time thanks to FUNimation. Rather than release it as a few individual volumes, FUNimation has decided to offer up the series in one lump sum as a complete boxed set. The question is though, with so many mecha series on the market is Str.A.In different enough to stand out?
For what it's worth Str.A.In has some very unique elements even though it's somewhat cliché in parts. Taking a cue from Gunbuster, Studio Fantasia has given Str.A.In's space travel an interesting twist. Rather than instantaneous jumping across the stars the show injects what it would be like to have loved ones gone for thousands of years due to the speed at which light travels. I thought this gave Gunbuster an interesting twist, and the same can be said for this show as well. Even so, it's just window dressing and the core story is where the actions at, and the strengths of this show come from its main characters. There's a defined sense of the human condition here and what happens to even the strongest of people when their world crumbles around them.
The series takes place thousands of years into the future where humanity has entered a war with an alien race known as the Deague. It's a lengthy struggle to be sure, and it's one that spans light years and lifetimes. Even though this is a galactic affair and there are nations involved, armies, and whatnot, the focus of the story is on a brother and sister who find themselves directly involved in some serious events.
Sara Werec is a young girl who wants to venture to the stars to join her brother, Ralph, who left some time ago to fight the Deague and protect humanity. Due to the nature of space travel if she doesn't go after him she'll never see him again because by the time he returns she'll be long gone. So, with that in mind, she goes to a special academy to become something known as a Reasoner, which is basically a pilot for a Strain mecha. All of her hopes and dreams are crushed when she sees something inexplicable.
Somehow her brother has returned, but he's disguised and scarred. He's not the man she once knew and he seems to be in league with the Deague, performing murderous acts, and bringing Sara's world down around her. She's devastated, hurt, angry, confused, and it all comes together in a form of some stress disorder. Naturally there's some guilt by association so she changes her name and heads out to the sea of stars in order to find out what the heck is up with Ralph. She may not like the answers, but throughout the course of the 13 episodes of Str.A.In we slowly get pieces of breadcrumbs along her journey.
Along the way Sara confronts Ralph on numerous occasions, and since he's traitorous public enemy number one there's naturally several people backing her. Some really nice battles ensue from their conflict and peppered in between are small revelations of what drove Ralph insane. It's not really enough to changes his position or the direction that the series takes, but that's part of what sets Str.A.In apart from other mecha shows. Just about everyone kicks the bucket somewhere along the way and with death and destruction raining down all around her Sara's character is made even stronger. It's something that works towards the benefit of the show, but I'm not entirely sure that it's for everyone.
I must admit that I didn't know what to expect from Str.A.In prior to picking up the boxed set. The mecha genre isn't my favorite because quite honestly there are so many shows that become redundant due to reused elements and a high level of familiarity. While it's not without its cliché elements, Str.A.In really tries to separate itself with its focus. The attention paid to Sara and her development is remarkably deep, the story is full of twists, and all around the action is a step above many other shows. If you're a mecha fan and you're looking for something new to sink your teeth into, you would do well to check this one out. It has enough depth that it will keep you guessing right up to the end and ultimately I'd consider it a solid recommendation.
Str.A.In is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. The show looks very good with an all around solid presentation which is marred by only a slight amount of grain, a dash of compression, and a smidge of interlacing here and there. It looks better than some other FUNimation shows compressed such as this one, and it's even more impressive considering the amount of shots that take place in outer space. There's some nice art direction here on the part of Studio Fantasia and several of the designs are quite cool. The show also utilizes a nice palette and the series remains very colorful.
Like you'd expect Str.A.In is presented with a 2.0 stereo Japanese track and a 5.1 English selection. Both dubs performed well, though I felt the Japanese language was a bit better overall simply because the English cast didn't quite hit some of the dramatic tones required for this show. Technically speaking the 5.1 English is definitely the louder of the two tracks and there's some slight diversity on the soundstage, but it's hardly enough to make a monumental difference. The rear channels get a little play, though not quite enough to craft a powerful sense of immersion.
Some art galleries, clean animations, and trailers are available via the extras menu. Oddly enough there is also an English audio commentary, but you have to kind of dig for it and unless you access the individual episode you'll never really know it's there. It's an entertaining commentary, but it doesn't provide much in terms of information on the background of the show or insight into the production.
I must admit that I wasn't expecting much from Str.A.In when I began watching the show. It simply wasn't a series that received much attention prior to its releases Stateside, and after experiencing all 13 episodes I can honestly say that's a shame. The level of depth in this show is quite impressive and memorable, the action is damn good, and the story has enough twists to keep you guessing right up until the end. If you're looking for a new mecha show to spend some time with this is one that should definitely be on your play list.
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