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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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:
- Good character design
- Great animation and art direction
- Catchy ED
- Subpar pacing
- Horrible plot
- Lack of proper continuity
- Stereotypical characters
- Forgettable score