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Apr 04
2011

Infinite Stratos [Review]

Class is now in session

Expecting too much from a harem-based anime will usually end up being your undoing. There was a lot of hype surrounding IS at the start, but I’ve seen enough in the past few years to know that shows based around this genre never really pan out that well. The initial premise read like a tween otaku’s wet dream: a lone male student stuck in a female dominated school. Who hasn’t dreamt of this scenario as a kid? The hook is what sets harems apart and in this case, a mecha twist was added to spice things up.

It's about a childhood friendship.......that hits a snag along the way

Story

For the most part, the series does well in keeping a fair share of its focus on the IS machines themselves. Each episode revolves around a mecha battle or two, with the first half of the series using this medium as the basis for introducing new characters and their unique machines. The battles themselves are enjoyable enough to suffice and the designs of each individual IS plays a big part to their appeal. Unfortunately, the way in which they string all these elements into a coherent story is not great at all. There are a lot of questionable plot progressions, and the pacing at times suffer because of this. Most of these issues arise from the characters themselves as their awkward developments mean that one episode they can be really serious and in the next they can be unbearable (Cecilia and Laura, I’m looking at you).

Still, this is a harem at heart and this is to be expected. I came into IS with little to no expectations, and while I still cringed at times at how the plot played out (I’m not too keen on harem plot cliches), I can’t say that I really hate it. I don’t like how there’s no actual villain in the show, but looking back, it seems like the studio was trying to set up the characters and their relationships with each other. As the novel is still on-going and the show is actually decently popular in Japan, I can definitely see a sequel in the future (sequel = cash cow). Hopefully with all of these “character setups” finished already, we will finally get a more serious tone and an actual storyline. The last two eps hint at this, and while my reaction to its execution is lukewarm at best, it’s good to see that they have considered a more serious route. Whether they end up using it or not, we won’t know for quite a while. If a second season is greenlit, I really hope they focus solely on an actual story. This way we won’t suffer from the same pacing issues and inconsistencies found here (ie the last two episodes suddenly swapping genres from the rest of the show).

Let's play: Spot the stereotype!

Characters

Characters make the shows, and in some cases where plot isn’t the sole focus, they can sometimes elevate a series too. This isn’t one of them. In fact, there was only one character that I was able to really like, and she’s pretty much an afterthought haremite by the end of it all. Every character is a pretty shallow representation of their archetypes, and Charlotte is the only one that manages to break her mould. No one gives an actual reason for liking the male lead other than Houki and Charlotte, and this makes them unmemorable. The main character Ichika constantly infuriates me at times with how oblivious he is. He has great moral values and what not, but I just can’t find him a believable character (another case of expecting too much). He gets better towards the end, but, in my mind, he will always be a pretty limp lead.

The others are just cliched stereotypes that can be found in any other harem. Here we have the typical childhood friend/tsundere; a couple of lolis; an annoying, upbeat try-hard and…. you get the drift. Their introductions gave me some hope in that they are not just typical desperate girls, but usually by the end of their skirmish with Ichika, they fall helplessly in love, breaking their character. Charlotte is the only one to escape this monotonous curve. She’s a nice breath of fresh air and this is purely because she isn’t as grating and annoying as the others. As much as I harp on their defects though, it’s not exactly the worse cast out there and the seiyuus do a great job in creating their personalities. In a nutshell, it’s a pretty average cast with only one shining gem (the fact that they skipped out of an actual pairing doesn’t help, but they have to at least keep this hook for the next season I suppose).

Visually the show was really solid

Production Value

The studio does a great job with the art direction and animation in my opinion. Rarely is there an art still that looks blatantly off. The art is consistent for the most part, and I can’t really recall many moments where the characters just scream derp. The battle scenes themselves are very pretty to look at, and given the highspeed nature of an IS battle, I was pleasantly surprised that they were able to make it easy to follow. The mecha designs are really unique and while they aren’t exactly useable in a real world context, they provide a good enough balance between fanservice (the swim/plug suit) and actual mecha mechanics. I particularly like Houki’s Akatsubaki since the color scheme and general bulk of it reminds me a lot of my favorite Zoids mecha, the GenoBreaker. The only blemish in the visuals is that when they resort to using CG, it is very noticeable. In the finale, for instance, where everything else is perfect, the CG sticks out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t detract from the overall experience, but it’s noticeable enough. In summation, the studio does not let up with the visuals of the show, especially in the last two episodes. The characters themselves look good, as well as the mechas they use, so even though the story is subpar, I still get a visual treat.

But the music felt flat

Musical Score

While the OP and ED of the series are pretty catchy (I prefer the ED), the actual score used in the anime is generally lackluster. I honestly didn’t even notice any of the score until the last episode when I suddenly realized that they actually had one. That for me is a bad thing since the score usually sets the mood for how I judge and remember a series. If I can’t remember one single score from an intense scene or a huge battle, then I just chalk it up as bad. Maybe I just didn’t put in enough effort to noticing it–I don’t know–but for me, it’s forgettable.

Time for the final verdict. Wait for ittttttt~

Final Verdict

Infinite Stratos has the elements to be something much more. All it lacks is the time needed to develop it further. You can chalk this up as being a shortcoming of a twelve episode show, but I’ve seen plenty of successful one season shows to know that it’s possible to get a hit when done right (ie Madoka). The plot is bad and pacing is hit-or-miss at best, but I still found myself enjoying a bit of it. To sum it up as one sentence, it’s an average harem show dressed up as a sub-par mecha. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to anyone who asks, but if you like what you see, I won’t blame you for giving it a go.

Infinite Stratos gets a:

 

Pros:

  • Good character design
  • Great animation and art direction
  • Charlotte
  • Catchy ED

Cons:

  • Subpar pacing
  • Horrible plot
  • Lack of proper continuity
  • Stereotypical characters
  • Forgettable score

Poll

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About

Struggling architecture student by day, self-proclaimed world-leading Eyeshieldism expert by night. Founded Sekijitsu on a wing and a prayer.

/ One Commentleave a comment /

  • Noblesse says:

    This was one of those series that i couldn't stop watching, i enjoyed it each week despite being able to pick out a million faults with it. I agree with the art being consistent but the CG occasionally stood out when it shouldn't. Characters were full of cliches, 2 childhood friends, 2 tsunderes, an Ojou, tomboy..yeah. They were still fun but was there any point to them being from all over the world? It might go into it later in the novels but it seemed rather pointless here, like Char was sent to spy on Ichika but that was just dropped completely when she fell for him.

    Sure you all love this guy so so so much but when he's about to kiss Houki. DO NOT GET IN THE FUCKING WAY!

    7/10 for me but i have only ever rated two series less.
    My recent post Photo

    • I initially gave it a 7, but the way the last two episodes were executed dropped it down half a score. I really did not like the sudden drop in tone, especially since it was done in such a typical way.

      6.5 is still a good score for me though, it's just that to get a 7 or above for me, I need to be able to take more from the show other than Charlotte and flashy battles. In the end of it all, the last two episodes left a sour taste in my mouth, since I quite enjoyed the free spiritness of the first 10 eps.
      My recent post Dog Days 01- Hanasaku Iroha 01- Nichijou 01 First Impressions

  • Nice review, Bass. I agree with you on most of the points, but my score is a bit higher due to the high entertainment value I got from the show, which I prioritize the most when watching anime. Because one rule of thumb is to never expect any sort of concrete plot when going into a harem show. You watch a harem anime for the harem; and I thought the IS girls were pretty top tier in that regard. The story for anime like this is merely there to set up the relationships and give some character development every now and then. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the mecha “twist” as I thought it was fairly interesting and the action was actually fun to watch as well. Like you, I think the setting has potential and I'm looking forward to any both harem and non-harem future developments.

    Oh, one more I want to mention is that blending in CG is a hard thing to do from what I've seen. Even in high quality series such as the Break Blade movies, the CG is noticeable when done in large scale mecha assaults for example. I don't personally consider that as a negative ,and I thought the CG in IS was well done as much as it stood out.
    My recent post Hourou Musuko ep 4-5

    • Also, oh lawd, sorry for the tl;dr post. I sort of went on a roll as I kept typing and couldn't stop. Going to copy+paste some of this for my own closing comments actually.

      But yeah, I agreed on a your points about the story. Just wanted to share a different perspective on it.
      My recent post Hourou Musuko ep 4-5

      • Oh I enjoyed it, and trust me for me 6.5 is a good score. I'm basing my scoring judgment offMAL's, which rated a 6 as a “fine” anime. I think the last two episodes dropped it down a score for me, I just didn't like how it was done. It felt waaayyy too forced and I wish that they used the fanservice episodes to properly address the Gospel issue. It felt really crammed and the emotional value of Ichika's injury felt half-assed as a result.

        I enjoyed IS, but for me to give it a higher score, I need to be able to look back and say “Yea, I quite liked that show, you should give it a go”. I guess it wasn't memorable enough for me, since I can only take Charlotte out of this show and say that I really liked her character.

        I think the CG looked odd mostly cos they showed the actual characters. If it was full mecha, I wouldn't have been bothered as much but the characters looked totally off from their normal hand drawn self and that made it noticeable enough for me to nitpick.

        What would your score have been? Tbh, Charlotte boosted the score up from a 6 for me hehe…..
        My recent post Dog Days 01- Hanasaku Iroha 01- Nichijou 01 First Impressions

        • On a 20 pt scale, I'd probably go with 7.5/10 as my enjoyability was rather high (8/10). The story definitely gets a (5/10) though lol. And like you, Char probably boosted the score overall. =p

          Yeah, I know what you mean when you say it was forced. Then again, it's hinted that the whole event was orchestrated by Yukarin's character just as a mean for Houki's IS debut. There should be a bit more to the Gospel incident in terms of revelations, but I'm not sure if the anime decided to wait till next season to cover it or not cover it at all.

          While it was one of my personal highlights for Winter, I'm not quite sure if I want to say it's a “memorable” show. It's great at what it does, which is being a fun, shallow harem, but like you mention, it's a hard sell because that's all that it is.

          Oh, I know what you mean now. The contrast of the CG stands out much more than it should since it's somewhat of a partial body suit. Yeah, I can see why you would nitpick.
          My recent post Hourou Musuko ep 4-5

  • I totally agree with all of your points, especially this one : “Their introductions gave me some hope in that they are not just typical desperate girls, but usually by the end of their skirmish with Ichika, they fall helplessly in love, breaking their character. Charlotte is the only one to escape this monotonous curve. She’s a nice breath of fresh air and this is purely because she isn’t as grating and annoying as the others. ”
    The most severe case of this is definitely Laura, she got completely ruined because of that. I used to like her badass personality too…
    And Charlotte CHARLOTTE CHARLOTTE. CHARLOTTE CHARLOTTE CHARLOTTE
    One point I didn't quite agree with is the ED. I felt it was poorly sung. Sometimes it just didn't work… I actually remember the OP better than the ED, but i guess everyone's opinion's different.

    My recent post IS goes out with a bang 1112

    • Laura was such a waste, I wanted someone to hate Ichika and actually follow through with it. Granted, her reasoning was shallow but everything else about the girl's reasons were shallow. What was her and Cecilia's reason for liking Ichika? That he's the only guy in school? Surely they gotta have more reason than that.

      And you may have a thing about the OP/ED…I looked back and the OP was decent. I don't know, I think I remember the ED tune more subconsciously, leading to me saying that I preferred it. I'm trying my hardest but I can't even remember how the OP went “OTL
      My recent post Dog Days 01- Hanasaku Iroha 01- Nichijou 01 First Impressions

  • Renn says:

    I agree with most of this save a few minor points. For example, I liked the OP better than the ED (though that's probably because I preferred its visuals). But yeah… we both had the same score. :p

    I appreciate the Charlotte love, but yeah, she also fell into generic mode by the end of it. =/

  • I'm the only one at the moment who voted for 'Too low'… :D
    My recent post Star Driver 24

    • Haha you're not alone anymore.

      I would have loved this show a few years back but I think the years have done a number on my enthusiasm/naivety T___T
      My recent post SteinsGate 01

  • Saito Yui says:

    I XD'ed when you wrote down Charlotte as a pro. Really. For me that was the show's only saving grace.

  • ColdGoldLazarus says:

    Recently watched it. Seeing as I came in expecting a mecha due to false advertising by the friend who reccomended it, the harem aspect caught me thoroughly off-guard, but I usually finish what I start unless it\’s abysmally bad, so I kept watching.

    All in all I have to agree with your verdict, though I found the visuals not too impressive and the CGI stuck out like a sore thumb for me. (This may have been due to watching it at low quality, though, so I\’m not sure)

    Anyway, I guess one comment I wanted to make was that Charles didn\’t seem all that special to me, though everyone else seems to love him/her. The way he/she was introduced failed to give proper gravity to the fact that there was another supposed male who could pilot an IS. Though I agree the way he/she fell for the protagonist made the most sense, I guess overall I just wasn\’t terribly impressed. I\’m not an appreciator of Moe either. Call me coldhearted if you will.

    Probably the one that dissapointed me the most was Laura Bodewig, because though the backstory was a blatant bucket of Nazi stereotypes, she was the one I thought had the most potential as a character. The period after her defeat, Valkerie Trance thingy, and defeat, would have been a good chance to reflect on how her previous perceptions of the world were falling apart and that she really wasn\’t sure how to approach the world or do with herself. Instead we got a glossing-over conversation with the older sister lady and then she\’s suddenly in love with the main as well. And it only went downhill from there, as she was reduced to a minor comedy role and somehow the main is STILL oblivious, despite the fact that she kissed him, called him her wife, and slept with him. (I swear, he\’s not just oblivious, but downright mentally impaired.)

    Anyway, stuff.

  • Shader_ says:

    Late reply, but I found this pretty accurate.

    Harem, if done well, I can deal with, but this was just bleh. The girls are so obsessive and shallow they wind up being objects that get in the way (Although Charlotte wasn't that bad). The main character is an idiot and a complete pushover when it comes to being made to do things that he doesn't want to. They treat him like he's their property. The situations are cliche as all hell. And Laura joining the train wreck of a harem attempt pretty much sealed the deal.

    The fights themselves are pretty, fast paced and enjoyable, but that's about it's only saving grace for me.

    But the biggest problem and what really took me out of the 'suspension of disbelief' is the reckless disregard for anything concerning safety around this sport training center (which is what it is).
    Especially regarding that German chick. This is supposed to be a sport, yet she quite obviously was intending to do serious (or even lethal) damage to her opponents (and not just their IS's either), during a training fight, and nothing came of it. Not to mention her firing a weapon into the middle of a already started training fight without the knowledge of the participants.

  • Shader_ says:

    Late reply, but I found this pretty accurate.

    Harem, if done well, I can deal with, but this was just bleh. The girls are so obsessive and shallow they wind up being objects that get in the way (Although Charlotte wasn't that bad). The main character is an idiot and a complete pushover when it comes to being made to do things that he doesn't want to. They treat him like he's their property. The situations are cliche as all hell. And Laura joining the train wreck of a harem attempt pretty much sealed the deal.

    The fights themselves are pretty, fast paced and enjoyable, but that's about it's only saving grace for me.

    But the biggest problem and what really took me out of the 'suspension of disbelief' is the reckless disregard for anything concerning safety around this sport training center (which is what it is).
    Especially regarding that German chick. This is supposed to be a sport, yet she quite obviously was intending to do serious (or even lethal) damage to her opponents (and not just their IS's either), during a training fight, and nothing came of it. Not to mention her firing a weapon into the middle of a already started training fight without the knowledge of the participants.

  • Shader_ says:

    Late reply, but I found this pretty accurate.

    Harem, if done well, I can deal with, but this was just bleh. The girls are so obsessive and shallow they wind up being objects that get in the way (Although Charlotte wasn't that bad). The main character is an idiot and a complete pushover when it comes to being made to do things that he doesn't want to. They treat him like he's their property. The situations are cliche as all hell. And Laura joining the train wreck of a harem attempt pretty much sealed the deal.

    The fights themselves are pretty, fast paced and enjoyable, but that's about it's only saving grace for me.

    But the biggest problem and what really took me out of the 'suspension of disbelief' is the reckless disregard for anything concerning safety around this sport training center (which is what it is).
    Especially regarding that German chick. This is supposed to be a sport, yet she quite obviously was intending to do serious (or even lethal) damage to her opponents (and not just their IS's either), during a training fight, and nothing came of it. Not to mention her firing a weapon into the middle of a already started training fight without the knowledge of the participants.

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