Review for Infinite Stratos: Complete Collection
In this day of ubiquitous online anime streaming, you’d think that it would be impossible to be surprised by a new anime show coming out on UK DVD or Blu-ray. The fact of the matter is though, that there is only so much time, and it’s a physical impossibility to watch every single new show that gets streamed to the world from the Japanese anime industry. You can still get moments where you can discover a new show for the first time on disc, without being prepared for it by Crunchyroll and the like, or having been spoiled by reviews and gossip about it on online forums (If there isn’t enough time to actually watch a show, there’s even less time to read opinions about it). February has turned out to be a month of surprises for me when it comes to anime releases, and it almost makes me nostalgic for when I started reviewing this stuff, back when I knew nothing about the shows, and even less about the community, and each new shiny disc from a distributor was all the contact I had with a new series. This month I got to review the first instalment of Hakuoki, and Dusk Maiden of Amnesia from MVM, and to round off their month of releases, I get to watch Infinite Stratos for the first time, another show that completely passed me by when it was streamed, as did its sequel that was broadcast last year. What animated wonders will I unwrap this time?
It’s the future, and scientists have developed a new form of revolutionary machine to help mankind; the Infinite Stratos, or IS for short. A remarkably adaptable and symbiotic technology, the powered suits would have revolutionised all manner of activities, they were initially developed for the space programme, but there turned out to be a couple of snags. For one thing, the creator holds on stubbornly to the technology, and keeps hold of the core control units with an iron grip, rationing them out sparely. There are only a few hundred IS machines in existence. The second thing is that for some reason only women can operate Infinite Stratos. While the technology might shift the odds in the battle of the sexes, the end result is Infinite Stratos is little more than entertainment, powered suits used in sporting tournaments and little more, pitting teenage girls against each other for national and personal prestige.
And then there’s Ichika Orimura, who for some unexplained reason is the only male who can operate an IS machine. Whether this has something to do with the fact that his sister Chifuya is a former world champion is unclear. What is clear is that Ichika gets to go to the Infinite Stratos Academy, where he can develop his skills, and become strong enough to represent his country in the tournaments. The Academy is a boarding school. I’ve already mentioned that only girls can pilot the IS machines. Ichika is the lone male in a school full of teenage girls. Forget all that sci-fi crap I just spieled out. Infinite Stratos is a harem comedy!
This release collects all 12 episodes of Infinite Stratos, the OVA episode, and a fair few extras across two discs from MVM.
1. All My Classmates are Female
2. Class Representative Selection Match!
3. The Transfer Student is the Second Childhood Friend
4. The Class League Match
5. Boy Meets Boy
6. My Roommate is a Young, Blonde Nobleman
7. Blue Days ~ Red Switch
8. Discover My Mind
9. Ocean’s Eleven
10. Thin Red Line
11. Get Ready
12. Your Name Is
OVA. The Sextet Yearns to Be In Love
Infinite Stratos gets a native PAL 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The image is of good quality, with clarity and sharpness throughout, and good colour reproduction. That’s impressive given the amount of video content on the discs, especially disc 2, which has the Radio IS segment, several textless credit sequences, and an interview on top of six episodes. There isn’t the excessive compression in the episodes that you might expect. In contrast, the US DVD release had a third disc for the extras alone. Infinite Stratos certainly needs a decent presentation, as it’s a detailed sci-fi setting, with a whole lot of action, and it effectively blends 2D animation and 3D CGI. It has a nice clean future setting with a whole lot of technology to play with, a lot of holographic displays and the like, and the screen can often get crowded with animated eye-candy. The DVD doesn’t do too badly at presenting all this. Of course Blu-ray would have been better, but the only English language release at this time is the Region A locked Sentai release. There’s no Australian release, and no UK Blu-ray either.
You have the choice between DD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. I went with the original language as always, and was happy enough with the experience. There are some enjoyable performances, even if the characters conform to the usual fan friendly stereotypes, and other than a few minor typos, Sentai’s subtitle translation is accurately timed, flows well, and is easy to read. There are a couple of errors though, the most glaring in episode 11, where ‘brother’ should actually be ‘sister’. I gave the dub a try, and while it certainly is livelier than most of the recent Sentai dubs I have encountered, the cosmopolitan nature of the characters results in some dubious foreign accents from the English voice actors. While this is a PAL presentation, and 4% speedup is applied, I didn’t detect any telltales of pitch correction, or indeed pitch alteration significantly distorting the audio.
We’ve had dozens of releases from Sentai Filmworks brought over to the UK, either by MVM or by Manga, and without exception, they’ve been just as barebones as their US releases, just the episodes plus the textless credits. This February, MVM bring us two releases originating from Sentai that redress that balance, and offer an embarrassment of riches in terms of extras, and just like Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Infinite Stratos still looks lavish without the soundtrack CD that was bundled with the US release.
Infinite Stratos comes to the UK via Madman Entertainment, and it gets static menus and jacket pictures to present its content on these two discs. Also, this is one of those titles where Madman have stripped the episodes of the translated English language credit scroll that Sentai usually add. You’ll have to adjourn to IMDB or ANN to find out who is who on this show.
Disc 1 has two audio commentaries to it, and in a change from the usual practice, they are from the Japanese voice cast.
On episode 4, the voice of Houki (Yoko Hikasa), gets together with Asami Shimoda (Rin Fan) for an inane and hi-octane chinwag about nothing in particular, with the odd nugget of interest about the show thrown in. You’ll have to be adept to get something worthwhile out of this commentary, or you could instead just bask in the triviality of it all.
Episode 7’s commentary sees Kana Hanazawa (Charles) with Yoko Hikasa talking about their characters for the duration. It’s a little more scene specific and informative than the first commentary, if still light-hearted and trivial at heart. The end of the track promises a commentary for episode 9, but that’s not one that we get on this set. I guess that remains a Japanese release exclusive.
You get the commentary on episode 12 here, with Yukana (Cecilia) with Yoko Hikasa, reflecting on the series as a whole, and their respective characters.
There are 2 textless openings, and 7 textless closings.
The Infinite Stratos Behind The Scenes: Interview with Director Yasuhito Kikuchi sees Kana Hanazawa sneaking into Studio 8-Bit to grab a chat with the series director about the show. This lasts 10½ minutes.
Finally Radio IS lasts 41 minutes. A lot of anime get cable radio shows to go with them, but in the West the few times we get to share the experience is on titles like Burst Angel and Desert Punk. They are usually late night affairs, little bits of inconsequence as the voice actors offer some trivial interviews and indulge in some word games or improvisational drama/comedy. For the Infinite Stratos home video release, the cameras were let into the radio studio to capture an episode on tape, and that is presented here, with hosts Yoko Hikasa and Asami Shimoda with guest Yukana. This is an enjoyable bit of silliness.
With 6 episodes, the Radio IS, the interview, and the textless credits all on one disc, there is more than 3 hours of video footage on one dual layer disc. Something has to give, and it is the video quality in the extras, although the compression is most noticeable on the textless credits. The anime episodes themselves look fine though.
I’m procrastinating, trying to summarise Infinite Stratos. Any distraction that will pull me away from trying to put my feelings about the show into words, trying to communicate my enthusiasm for this release, without letting that enthusiasm get bogged down by criticism and a general malaise about the whole thing. For the bottom line is that I enjoyed watching Infinite Stratos. It’s fun, it’s lively, it has some likeable characters, enthusiastically performed by the voice cast, and it’s buoyed up by some robust animation from Studio 8-Bit. I laughed at the funny bits, was thrilled by the action sequences, got invested in the character emotions, and at no point did I think negatively of the show. But I have seen it all before. Shows like this are a penny a dozen, harem comedies, high school set-ups, sci-fi trappings, mecha action, it’s like they roll them off a production line.
Writing about the show, explaining what I like about it will take a couple of sentences and I’m done, as it’s the same things that I like about all such similar shows, but when I write about its lack of originality, and all the weary and tired clichés that it wheels out yet again, I could go on for paragraphs, and there you would get the imbalance of enthusiasm and criticism which would fail to reflect the reality of what I feel about the show.
There’s something of an Angelic Layer setup to the show, that of a technology, which is initially developed for wider purposes, but for certain reasons only becomes confined to the entertainment sphere. But rather than controlling little robots by remote, the participants in the IS tournaments actually wear, semi-intelligent mechanical suits in tournament combat, relatively assured of their safety. As the series progresses, the premise expands beyond that, introducing a few mysteries and oddities outside the Academy and tournament arenas, but for the most part it remains true to its initial setup.
Of course at its heart it is a harem comedy, which means that we have the limp, wet, and utterly dense, non threatening male lead in Ichika. If ever a male lead in a harem should show interest in one female, that tends to kill off the premise pretty quick in modern shows. God knows how Love Hina and Ai Yori Aoshi got away with it! And we get all the clichés in the girls who wind up adoring him, the standoffish childhood friend, the stuck-up princess, the adoring peppy childhood friend, (this is a good one) the transfer student who pretends to be a boy so she can share a room with him, and the transfer student who initially wants to kill him, and then grows to want him to be her bride! Of course he remains mostly unaware of these adoring girls, even when the wardrobe malfunctions and almost kisses occur. There’s also a lot of humour in seeing the girls competing to see who can have their feelings misunderstood by him the most. It’s typical harem stuff, relatively inoffensive and as entertaining as most harem anime is.
If I would have a specific criticism, it’s the big sister. There’s nothing wrong with the character, a former IS champion turned hard-nosed instructor at the Academy, but the creators do include a moment where the little brother suddenly sees his sister as a woman instead of a relative, and has a blush that indicates the thought of a taboo about to be trodden on. Thereafter the other girls even comment once or twice on the siblings’ closeness. It’s only really one scene in this show, but if I had just one wish, it’s that the anime industry step away from this flirtation with the incest taboo. It’s just the one scene in this show, but this season there are two shows being broadcast in Japan specifically about sudden step-siblings getting closer than they should. It’s the rare show being made now that doesn’t toy with the idea for at least half an episode. Just... stop!
There’s also the inevitable couple of episodes towards the end, where they actually tone down the comedy a tad to remind the viewers that there is a serious sci-fi premise behind it all, and put together a bit of narrative, some character development, and a little jeopardy to bring some drama to proceedings. This isn’t the kind of show that really needs it, but it doesn’t look out of place, and the show pulls back the laughs for the OVA episode at the end.
Infinite Stratos is fun, and other than the odd misstep, it hits all the right notes, and manages to entertain for its runtime without outstaying its welcome. It obviously caught enough fan appreciation to warrant a second season last year, which you can still catch on Crunchyroll at this time. So if you were going to buy just one harem comedy this year, it would have to be Is This A Zombie? Of The Dead. But if you have space for one more, then Infinite Stratos Collection is a fair second choice.