IS: Infinite Stratos Series 2 (Cert 15)
3 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 349 minutes approx.
There are some cruel people out there, many beyond redemption, but jumping very near to the top of the list is the person who decided that there should be a second season of IS: Infinite Stratos.
Cast your mind back to early 2014 when we first encountered Ichika Orimura, the lone male student at the Infinite Stratos Mecha pilot academy, and his harem of tsunderes – Houki Shinonono, Cecilia Alcott, Huang Lingyin, Laura Bodewig and Charlotte Dunois. If you recall, there was little in the way of action (or indeed a storyline) but plenty of tired fan service clichés. Does season two offer anything in the way of an improvement?
Sadly not, although we are teased something that resembles a storyline with the arrival of group of IS pilots known as Phantom Task, whose plan is to steal Ichika’s IS called Byakushiki. The individual members – all busty and lustful young women, of course – show up every now and then, be it group leader Squall, flame haired Lady Autumn and the mysterious M, who has a significant impact for Ichika and his elder sister, the revered IS pilot and tutor Chifuyu.
Two other new additions are the Sarashiki sisters, Tatenashi the Student Council President and otaku computer geek Kanzashi. The former is seen as a teaser at the end of episode one (of which there is an extended version included in this release) then shows up out of the blue to immediately throw herself on Ichika. Kanzashi gets a subplot all to herself in which Ichika is used as a way to help her gain some confidence as an IS Pilot, and, wouldn’t you know it, ends up falling for him.
Following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor the main bones of this flimsy central plot is left to late to develop or have any real effect on the series. After being absent for most of the twelve episode run, Phantom Task resurface at the end of episode eleven to finally execute their mission and launch an attack against Ichika and his harem, in a series of multi-location, one on one battles being convening for the big group finale.
It all sounds great on paper but the execution is a different matter entirely based solely on the poor writing – in this instance doing nothing to present Phantom Task as a viable or dangerous threat. With hardly any screen time we nothing about them nor are we given a specific or valid motives for or understanding of their actions so with no reason to care about them, how are we supposed to root for the heroes against such an unknown quantity?
Ironically, the time spent on the prurient shenanigans of Ichika and his lovelorn ladies serves to strengthen the bonds of the group when it comes to working together on the battlefield, although this doesn’t prevent the rivalry for Ichika’s affections from still being a distracting factor. But again, being able to take them seriously after witnessing the prior bawdy events they partake in is a difficult hurdle to overcome for the audience, negating the emotional interest we should have in this situation.
Then again the women are all presented as cutesy eye candy and fan service conduits so emotional investment in them isn’t exactly encouraged. Their personalities as already established in the first season cover all the usual tropes of the harem genre, even the newcomers, don’t lend themselves to anything but decoration even if they do show some moxie when in combat.
Anyone returning for a sending helping of this show will have a firm idea of the demeaning and tawdry escapades the girls are involved in and will be treated to more of the same with a few little new twists. One episode sees each girl dress up in fetish cosplay to service Ichika on his birthday – including big sister Chifuyu (!), while in another Charlotte’s underwear vanishes form her body in line with Ichika losing his Byakushiki.
If the criticism of this show seems harsh or even snobbery, it isn’t – it is more a lack of confidence in the production team to deliver a show with substance and intelligent writing, usually a key ingredient in the mecha genre. Perhaps creator Izuru Yumizuru deserves a pat on the back for making a mecha harem but favouring the latter alienates the former, which is an own goal as the mecha battle scenes are the best thing about this show.
Of course the harem genre has always been one where the jokes and situations write themselves thus coming up with something original is the toughest part. Yumizuru may have stumbled upon that with the mecha angle but that in itself is hardly original either, but once again provides the show with its strongest material, making this so frustratingly disappointing.
There are better examples of both genres on the market, and arguably worse, but with no real effort to even attempt an overarching storyline or something to at least engage us on the most rudimentary of levels beyond the bare bones of the concept, this show smacks of laziness. One might be tempted to accuse it of cynically exploiting the base mentality of the easily pleased anime fan, but that would be giving it too much credit.
IS: Infinite Stratos 2 will hold some appeal for anyone who likes their anime light, the comedy simple and with a spattering of fairly decent action sequences; the more discerning viewer will find the lack of substance tiresome and the poor execution of the hackneyed harem conventions insulting to their intelligence and a source of frustration.
Despite the initially enticing prospect of the central concept this is one saga that needs to remain finite for all our sakes.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Episode 1 (Broadcast Version)
Clean Opening Animations
Clean Closing Animations
Disc 2 & 3:
Clean Closing Animations
Rating – **
Man In Black