IS: Infinite Stratos Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 304 minutes approx.
In the near future Japanese scientist have created a compact but highly engineered combat weapon called Infinite Stratos (IS), an exoskeleton with the power of flight and devastating firepower. The only significant drawback is that IS can only be piloted by young females – this is until the anomaly that is 15 year-old Ichika Orimura, younger brother of the famed and revered IS pilot Chifuyu Orimura, is discovered to have the ability to pilot an IS. As is the procedure, Ichika is sent to train at the world renowned IS Academy, finding it hard to fit in as the only male there.
Every once in a while an anime comes along which engenders rather uncharitable thoughts towards those who made it, questioning how such a derivative and uninspired mess of clichés and hackneyed concepts got the green light and that someone actually got paid for producing it. IS: Infinite Stratos is one of those shows.
Based on the light novels of Izuru Yumizuru, who also deserves to be viewed askance for getting away with rehashing the old ideas for profit, this mecha harem comedy show should have been renamed Déjà vu by virtue of playing out every single convention, plot line and character trope of the genre we’ve seen ad infinitum in every other series of this nature.
We are teased with a brief glimpse of the sadly infrequent mecha action at the very beginning before the true direction of this series begins in earnest. If being male wasn’t bad enough, being the ineffective younger brother to the globally worshipped Chifuyu Orimura puts our hapless protagonist firmly behind the eight ball from the get go.
Even the presence of his childhood friend, kendo champion Houki Shinonono is of no consolation, angry that they’ve not been in touch for six years and – naturally – because they are forced to share a room! If you are now thinking “Oh don’t tell me, Ichika is going to walk in on Houki whilst half naked and get beaten up for his supposed pervy behaviour” then stop reading now and go find something else to do because you are clearly way ahead of the script writers.
Among the other bevy of international beauties and teasing tsunderes who inexplicably find themselves going gaga over their newest classmate are haughty Brit Cecilia Alcott (who challenges him to a fight on his first day); Huang Lingyin, another old school friend from China with whom Ichika made a promise that he can’t remember (!); Laura Bodewig the eyepatch wearing ice maiden from Germany who slaps Ichika on their first meeting for apparently making his sister soft – then announces she is his wife (!) and finally from France Charles Dunois a fellow male student who is in fact a female, Charlotte, who ends up as Ichika’s roommate and well, you can guess the rest.
To go into the story is easy – there isn’t one. The episodes are largely made up of the female students all falling over themselves in the usual comedic set-ups and contrived situations as the girls vie for Ichika’s affections, be it while at the shops buying swimsuits (why do girls in anime always leave it to the last minute?), going to the beach, making competitive lunches for Ichika, attending the summer festival (in the OVA on the second disc) and soon.
Occasionally the action takes place on the training ground where every gets suited up – think Strike Witches but with Gundman wings – in friendly but heated combat. Perhaps the original novels and possibly the manga adaptation are more story driven but this series seems to eschew this factor.
In a case of little too late, in episode eleven, pretty much out of nowhere, we experience a huge tonal shift to a more serious mood when a renegade unnamed IS called Silver Gospel attacks the students harming Ichika and forcing the girls to avenge their fallen comrade.
For one and half episodes all the silliness and superfluous fan service hijinks are supplanted by some decent fast paced, well animated battle scenes that not only show us what the IS are capable of but also just what little potential there may have been for this series was sprayed up the wall for some cheap laughs.
Unfortunately this last ditch attempt at creating drama and tension, with some Evangelion-esque existentialism thrown in for good measure to complete the cliché check list, is barely sufficient to salvage what is already a lame duck show.
While the action scenes are adequately impressive and the artwork of a high standard, the character designs are you average cookie cutter models to suit the parade of typical personalities. Even Laura’s eye-patch doesn’t make her stand out any more than she should while the idea that anyone would think Charlotte was a boy is painfully embarrassing.
Similarly, with an international cast the pitfall of having a range of accents and languages is avoided by having everyone speak fluent Japanese in the original dialogue track, while the English dub cast sort of makes a weak effort but falls spectacularly short as usual. At least the opening them song is catchy!
Amazingly there is a second series of IS: Infinite Stratos which we can only hope is more story based now the cast has been established but that might just be wishful thinking. With such a paucity of originality in the content, following every harem convention to the letter without a hint of deviation, there is sadly little to recommend here. This show is the perfect example of gilding the lily although the paint came off much quicker than expected and the results are far more disappointing.
“IS” may stand for “Infinite Stratos” in this show but for this writer the “I” would stand for “Insipid” and the “S”… well I shouldn’t need to spell that out for you!
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0
Episode 4 Commentary (w/ Yoko Hisaki (Houki) & Asami Shimoda (Rinin) )
Episode 7 Commentary (w/ Yoko Hisaki & Kana Hanazawa (Charles) )
Disc 2 only:
Episode 12 Commentary (w/ Yoko Hisaki & Yukana (Cecilia) )
Infinite Stratos Behind The Scenes – Interview With Director Yasuhito Kikuchi
Rating – **
Man In Black