Somehow harem anime series never get old for me. As long as these shows stay light
and stray from unnecessarily complicating the story, these shows are usually time
well spent. For those who don't know, harem anime series feature a swarm of hot
girls with crazy hair that inexplicably battle for the affection of a dorky lead
character. It's an anime hallmark; many view this subgenre as oversaturated with
titles such as Tenchi, El Hazard,
Love Hina, and their countless imitators. Infinite Stratos
does not bring anything innovative to anime. However, it mixes portions of harem
and sports anime in with bits of Hetalia, Evangelion, Vandread to concoct a highly entertaining brew.
Infinite Stratos (IS) are female-operated exoskeletons that exist in limited
quantities throughout the world. IS units are not allowed in military combat. Instead,
students use IS units in a UFC-like combat sport where the winner takes down her
opponent's shields. In theory, nobody gets seriously hurt in these battles. Ichika,
a 15-year-old boy, discovers that he is the only male in the world who can pilot
IS units. He enrolls in the all-female Infinite Stratos Academy to learn how to
control an IS. Being the only guy attending a teenage academy has its benefits:
every girl in the academy wants poor Ichika. Badly.
Infinite Stratos episodes are largely self-contained and formulaic. In a
typical episode, the ladies fawn over Ichika. A new student challenges him to a
battle, Ichika stumbles into an unlikely victory, and his former opponent falls
madly in love with him. By then end of the series, Ichika has an absurdly massive
throng of girls chasing after him. No grand storyline exists through most of the
series. The episodes encompass a typical day in the life of a teenage boy who is
surrounded by over-hormonal, hyperactive girls with jiggly parts. And when Infinite
Stratos sticks to this simple formula, it excels.
While Infinite Stratos tends to be formulaic and predictable, that doesn't
detract from its entertainment value. This show is simply fun to watch. The episodes
move along at a quick pace. I was often surprised when the credits rolled and eagerly
skipped to the next episode. The only moments where Infinite Stratos slipped
were when it took itself too seriously. Some eyeroll inducing Evangelion-like,
introspective scenes sneak into later episodes. These scenes feel tacked on and
try to introduce unnecessary and misplaced complexity into a storyline that didn't
require it. Thankfully, these moments are short-lived and Infinite Stratos
quickly regains its form.
This series shines when it focuses on its large cast of females one-upping each
other for Ichika's attention. Early on, Ichika rooms with his childhood friend and
kendo champion, Houki. This creates hilarious rage-fits among the other girls. These
spats typically end with Ichika caught in the middle and Houki bashing him in the
snot-locker with a kendo stick.
Later, Ichika rooms with another supposedly male character. It's not a spoiler that
"Charles", a French transfer student, is actually a girl. In fact, it's blatantly
obvious. I was disappointed that the producers did not stretch out Charles' ruse
for a few more episodes--she makes her big reveal in the next episode. It felt like
a treasure chest of good gags and subplots were left on the table with this angle.
But Charles turns out to be perhaps the most likeable female in the cast, so all
The cast includes a French, German, English, and Chinese students. Similar to Hetalia,
each of these characters are highly stereotyped caricatures of their nationalities.
The stereotypes are good natured and harmless. While Hetalia obviously influenced
these characterizations, it's not nearly as overt. Cecilia is a snobby British girl,
who cooks bland food. Charles, or Charlotte, is a fun French student, who has no
qualms with nudity. Laura is serious and militant--essentially a female version
of Germany's portrayal in Hetalia. Unfortunately, this series leaves Americans and
Russians out of the fun.
The fighting scenes in Infinite Stratos are outstanding. As is characteristic
of this series, these scenes are not innovative, but they expertly recreate successful
techniques of earlier series. The action sequences play like a mix between a big
robot battle and a boxing match from Fighting Spirit . Ichika is more powerful than he can
possibly fathom; his enormous potential is hindered only by his rookie idiocy. With
each battle, Ichika acquires new techniques and grows stronger as an IS jock. He
has to learn how to exploit his opponents' weaknesses while mitigating their strengths.
The action scenes are exciting and add some surprisingly interesting strategy and
depth to the battles.
Infinite Stratos, when it's focused on its cast's gigantic lust triangle
(hexagon, rather) and combat scenes, is one of the most watchable anime series that
I have seen in the past year. For the most part, it doesn't muck around and attempt
to slather on layers of unneeded complexity. Its goal is to provide simple entertainment
to those of us who sometimes just want to chill on the couch after a hard day's
work, turn off our brains, and enjoy some silly fun with a likeable cast.
Sound: Audio is the one area where Infinite Stratos fails. It's not
bad quality, but in a modern series that relies heavily on big robot brawling goodness,
it is feasible to expect a full 5.1 cacophony of robotic death and destruction.
Nope, this Infinite Stratos DVD set has a barebones 2.0 stereo mix.
Video: The video is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. The video is
average quality. Some instances of compression artifacts exist, but rarely detract
from the overall look of the series. The colors are bright, clear and vivid as can
be expected from this style of show.
Extras: ZOMG! Now this is what I'm talking about! Infinite Stratos
treats its fans to a king's ransom of extras with this release. Included are multiple
voice actress commentaries, a full extras disc, and a soundtrack CD. Bravo, Sentai
Of all the features, I enjoyed the 41-minute Radio IS episode the best. This feature
goes into the studios of a podcast hosted by Yoko Hikasa (Houki's voice actress)
and Asami Shimoda (Lingyin's voice actress). In this episode they bring in Yukana,
the voice actress for Cecilia Alcott--the uppity British student. She seems slightly
uncomfortable through most of the episode while facing Yoko and Asami's hyperactive,
giggly questions and games. It's a little bizarre and awkward at times, but a lot
of fun to watch.
The commentaries with the Japanese voice actresses are as goofy as the IS Radio
podcast. Each one features the actresses giggling through futile attempts to be
serious talk about the plot of the episode or characters.
In the 10-minute behind the scenes feature Kana Hanazawa, the voice actress for
Charles Dunois, interviews Director Yasuhito Kikuchi. They discuss the art, setting
and plot and show artists producing animation frames.
The bonus soundtrack is a full CD that includes an insert with both Japanese and
English lyrics. While, Infinite Stratos' theme music isn't among my favorites,
the inclusion of this CD is pure awesomeness.
Also included are Clean opening and closing scenes as well as coming soon trailers.
Bottom Line: Look, Infinite Stratos is not a high-brow, multilayered
story. When it dips its foot in those waters, it feels out of place and the scenes
falls flat. At its core this series is pure, simple fun. Its humor is similar in
spirit to other popular harem series. If you can imagine an amalgamation of Tenchi,
Hetalia, Fighting Spirit, Evangelion, and Vandread then you might
conjur something close to this series. It takes successful elements of many popular
shows and mashes them into a highly watchable series. The extra OVA episode is not
enough. I demand more Infinite Stratos! Highly Recommended.