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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Kanon: Ayu Tsukimiya

Kanon’s the second anime here that is derived initially from an Adult Dating Simulation. Unlike Ef, it is worth noting that this particular anime is completely clean. I honestly wouldn’t have known about the relationship if I didn’t look it up. Though, I suppose that harem anime do generally have a background in some game where you get to choose the girl you get to be with.

I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled into Kanon the first time, but I do know that I had to watch it with English dubs the first time around. This was actually an extremely fortunate way to experience this anime: it’s one of the few anime I’ve seen that actually gains something from using English. It’s only applicable to a small portion of the anime, though; the rest of the show felt much better in Japanese.

Note: Kanon has been produced as an anime twice. I am here reviewing the second of those anime, released in 2006 (hence the year in the main title). This is by and large considered the superior of the two productions, and is the only one I’ve concerned myself with to date.

Synopsis

Yuuichi Aizawa has returned to his cousin’s home, where he once spent his summers, after seven years away. Time has clouded his memory, yet many of the kids he once played with have grown up and still remember him. As Yuuichi remembers his past, he realizes that the tragedies of the past threaten to overwhelm his friends in the present.

Genre

A romance anime using the harem style (many girls, one guy), with comedy and drama recurring throughout.

Age Rating

Safely PG. There are of course some romantic elements, and a little bit of violence, but nothing beyond your average Disney movie. The only thing to keep in mind is that many of the defining moments in this anime are sad, which is not consistent with Disney movies.

Review

Plot Quality: 5

Kanon: Jun Kitigawa and Yuuichi Aizawa

As a general rule, the harem style of anime is really underwhelming to watch. It usually leads to one of two things. On the one hand, we have girls flinging themselves at an otherwise average guy – a bland fantasy story that doesn’t have any depth. On the other hand, some harem styles showcase a humorously weak protagonist and a bunch of empowering females: these are generally styled to be comedic, but I’m generally not amused by repeated misunderstandings and submissive, weak-willed male protagonists.

It is a great thing, therefore, that Kanon is so far outside of the general harem style. In a sense, it’s not really a harem at all: the story moves through a series of arcs, each of which places a single girl at the forefront of Yuuichi’s mind. There’s no awkward rapid-rotation dating. There’s no weak-willed protagonist getting beaten up by one girl after the next. There’s no sappy indecision of “which one will I choose?” Rather, the story and Yuuichi share their focus in an acceptable style, letting he and a single girl get to know each other better as the events of life carry on about them.

There is a flaw with this approach. Put simply, it’s not believable. Instead, the anime seems to try a bit too hard to work out the conclusions of every choice Yuuichi could make within a single anime, rather than as a series of disparate arcs (the story is continuous, and there are definite hints of girls he’s already interacted with showing up as he moves on). I found it awkward that, after doing so much and becoming so committed to one girl, Yuuichi was able to move on from her to another girl without so much as a backward glance. It’s hard to reconcile in a single story, and I feel Kanon may have been better served by running each arc as a separate “possible life” for Yuuichi.

Then again, Kanon does have a very nice overall story that builds from arc to arc. Slighted girls aside, the path set for the protagonist feels good. Each of the mysteries he unravels builds him as a character, and it’s good to see all of the windows of his life unlocked by the end of the show. Also, for their part, the girls seem exceptionally understanding of Yuuichi’s need to move on: they understand that he can help his other friends, and have the mature consideration to not monopolize his time. Realistic or not, it creates a nice segue from arc to arc.

The only remaining complaint, then, is the pacing of the story. Kanon has 24 episodes, and there honestly isn’t a lot going on in these episodes. Yuuichi is struggling to remember his past life while helping his friends in the present. This doesn’t actually consume a lot of effort, so everything feels slow. Maybe it’s just the wintry setting that makes me think it’s all iced down and slow. At the same time, unraveling the mysteries in Yuuichi’s head is actually quite fun, and completing each arc feels rewarding – the audience learns along with Yuuichi. Also, this slow pacing really gives the audience the opportunity to get a full sense of the characters – a welcome thing, given how compelling most of them are.

Character Quality: 5.5

Kanon actually has a fairly big cast. There’s Yuuichi, the girls he endeavors to help, and an additional set of secondary characters related to those girls. Much of the cast is introduced gradually, so they’re easy to track, but I can’t adequately discuss all of them here. Instead, I’ll focus on a few: Yuuichi, Ayu, and Sayuri. Most of the cast is up to the quality of these characters, but these three are perhaps the best that the show has to offer.

Yuuichi, as mentioned, is something of a mixed-bag protagonist. His emotions are definitely hard to track, as he is forced to chase after several girls in order to help each of them; He can care deeply about each girl, but can just as easily forget about them as a new goal enters his mind. This definitely makes him less than perfect, but he is quite a convincing character within each arc. He’s usually a jerk to the girls, but they (for some reason that I cannot fathom) generally respond positively to his teasing. Alongside the teasing, though, there is a genuine strength of character in Yuuichi: he goes through a lot of strife to help his friends. I think he hides his emotions behind his teasing: he’s got a big heart, but can’t accept showing it because he fears it will cost him his masculinity.

Ayu Tsukimiya, one of the many girls vying for Yuuichi’s attention, is an emotional firecracker amongst the otherwise more sedated cast (Makoto notwithstanding). This most likely leads to the audience either loving her or hating her. She’s small, energetic, and has the curious catch-phrase quirk that translates terribly into English. She’s silly and clumsy, but she has an endearing charm that is hard to deny. She’s also one of the more mysterious characters, despite her “don’t worry about the details” facade. Overall, she’s a very enjoyable companion throughout the show, bringing a sense of energy and brilliance to the Kanon’s otherwise dreary, snowy town. She comes across as more of a caricature than a character at first, but Ayu quickly develops into a truly enjoyable cast member.

Kanon: Mai Kawasumi and Sayuri Kurata

Curiously enough, my favorite member of the entire cast was one of the secondary characters: Sayuri Kurata. She doesn’t have a lot of time on screen, even during the arc relating to her best friend Mai. Nevertheless, every moment with her on the camera felt great. Sayuri is exceptionally mature, humble, and adorable in the way she worries about her close friends. She’s not without her demons, either, and the story of her past is harrowing. I suppose that I found Sayuri to be so impressive because she has coped with her past without Yuuichi’s rescue – she has the strength of character to persevere all on her own. I loved this quality about her; when joined with all of her talents and affections for those she cares about, I was genuinely surprised that she was only a support character. Sayuri easily has the makings of being a true, compelling love interest, without the savior, “knight in shining armor” cliché.

The rest of the cast falls somewhere along this continuum: some good, some great. Shiori and Mai both have rather compelling stories, while Makoto bounces between comic relief and sadness. Nayuki, Yuuichi’s cousin, is probably the most under-appreciated: she watches as Yuuichi goes from saving one girl to another, while leaving her alone time and again. The sadness of being left behind is easily visible in her character. In all, the girls do a good job of getting along despite the pains they suffer, but they all seem to need Yuuichi’s help to truly overcome their pasts. This dependency is a little odd, but not necessarily out of the ordinary. The other supporting cast, meanwhile, doesn’t leave much of an impression; Sayuri is the definite highlight, while most of the others are just fleeting images.

Visual Quality: 6

Kanon is a very pretty anime, with a style that ranges from an almost-sketched aesthetic to an almost-CG brilliance. Nothing showcases this better than the backgrounds of the show, which have surprising variation given that the show is generally taking place in a winter wonderland. The snowy outsides could become overwhelming with their bleak, continuous whiteness, but by changing the lighting and scenery regularly, the coldness is generally kept at bay. There are also some excellent visual scenes, especially those involving water. Watching a scene play out through a fountain brings a dramatic, shimmering overlay to a scene that would otherwise be relatively bland. By the end of the show, some of the scenery feels too recycled, but it is generally quite strong the first time around – seeing the beautiful architecture a second time isn’t a bad thing.

As for the character designs, Kanon suffers from the identical-face syndrome. I’m honestly never bothered by similar-looking faces, but I’ve known some people that can’t stand it. Either way, the variation in height, build, and hairstyle distinguishes all of the girls quite distinctly. Moreover, all of the girls are pretty, bringing another welcome contrast to the often-white background. Yuuichi is quite plain, but he does technically come from an unseen protagonist – his appearance as an everyman is understandable.

The animation in Kanon is quite subtle. Because there is so little in terms of action or high-adrenaline fear, there’s not a lot of opportunity to showcase elaborate animation scenes. Instead, we have the conversations between characters that come alive with slight tilts of the head, shrugged shoulders, brushes of hair, and various hand gestures. It’s never elaborate, but neither should it be – the style depends heavily on bringing the subtleties of human conversation to life in animation. While Kanon isn’t perfectly fluid throughout, the majority of the scenes – especially the most emotional, and therefore most relevant scenes – have a realism that is hard to find. The interactions of Kanon would feel very flat if they relied on dialogue alone: the incorporation of many subtle actions and reactions from every character makes them feel much more alive on the screen.

Audio Quality: 5.5

The opening track here is one of the slowest, softest intros I’ve ever heard. This isn’t a bad thing, either: the transcendent, lilting performance brings a focus to the mysterious air of recollection. I did admittedly skip it a few times, because it feels pretty long to hear with every episode, but the song itself is wonderful. The closer is more energetic and upbeat, and I found myself actively taking the break from the content of the show to listen to this song.

The insert music in Kanon is actually great. There are a few variations on the main theme, as well as many original pieces that sound great – they really help to bring the environment to life when the characters are relegated to the background. I never really remember these insert tracks, but watching they’re a definite treat to hear and remember when re-watching the series.

As for the voice acting, it’s quite solid throughout. Ayu’s seiyuu probably has the hardest job, as incorporating the verbal tic still seems improbably hard to do without being comedic. She does an admirable job, and also executes the necessary vocal range necessary for capturing the many moods and passions of her character. The other girls are likewise well-voiced; Shiori is probably the other girl to win highest marks, as listening to her conversations felt more genuine than just about everyone else (this may be more because of her character, rather than her seiyuu, but the two synchronized very well).

Note for the English dub: Overall, I think it’s a step down to watch the show in English. The English girls have a hard time capturing the delicacy in the voice of many of the characters: they sound too harsh. The primary exception to this rule, though, is Sayuri: her voice actress does an amazing job. Moreover, Sayuri’s character really benefits from being performed in English because her way of speaking (referring to herself in the third person) is only unusual in English. Many Japanese people refer to themselves by name, rather than a form of “I,” while doing so in English seems either conceited or silly. Sayuri’s character, meanwhile, benefits from this particular translation – her character becomes more distinct and dynamic as a result. If nothing else, viewing Mai’s arc in English may be worth the second-run.

Bottom Line: 5.5

Kanon is a warm anime for its wintry setting, offering lots of laughter and triumph with some mystery and sadness along the way. It doesn’t have much to offer outside of its genre, so action fans will probably be disappointed, but the show is still one of the finest showings within its genre. The characters are generally upbeat and endearing, the art style is often excellent, and the sounds and voices sound authentic. The plot could use a second pass to make the characters (namely Yuuichi) appear more consistent, but ignoring the feeble transitions can leave the audience with several, relatively separate stories about coming to terms with the past.

Kanon doesn’t fight to break the boundaries of its genre. Instead, it provides a compelling series of stories within the genre, with mysteries and challenges to overcome during the journey to recover Yuuichi’s memories and, with any luck, to find love with one of the girls from his past. A somewhat slow, yet enjoyable and emotional journey indeed.

Coming Soon

I’ll be returning to the military genre with Full Metal Panic next. Following that, I’m looking at Toradora!, Allison and Lillia, and probably Shakugan no Shana – check back soon!

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Here we are in February! Plenty more reviews on the way, though I’m going to start this month off with one series that isn’t exactly a blockbuster. Enjoyable, yes, but it’s not one of those anime in my classics list.

Soukou no Str.A.In. (short for Strategic Armored Infantry, hereafter referred to as Strain) was definitely one of those anime that I needed to re-watch. I first saw this series a few years ago, and haven’t touched it at all in the interim. I had pretty fond memories of it, though, so I knew it was going to need a second viewing to make sure I wasn’t suffering from Rose-Colored Glasses syndrome too much. Turns out it was partially true, but not entirely. The anime isn’t spectacular, but it’s still certainly better than abject garbage.

Synopsis

Strain: Sara Werec

Sara Werec, sister to the famous soldier Ralph Werec, enters military school in order to rejoin him. Just before her graduation, however, her school is hit by an attack – Sara’s life changes drastically in the aftermath of the sudden, devastating attack. Her journey continues to find her brother, knowing that only he can answer the questions she has.

Genre

A Science Fiction anime with some action and some drama, and lots of anthropomorphic robots.

Age Rating

This one’s probably R, too. There’s violence, which is occasionally graphic. There’s nudity and adult themes, too.

Review

Plot Quality: 4

The plot of Strain is pretty straight-forward, with 13 episodes in its one season. The story is surprisingly focused throughout the season, which in a sense is nice, but also makes the presentation feel somewhat flat. This will actually be a recurring theme for the show: its flatness.

What does that mean, exactly? In essence, the story of Strain is so linear and predictable that it feels as though the show never really tries to engage the audience with the story. It’s a very passive form of storytelling, and would have benefited greatly from some stronger, more motivated deviations from the main directive of the show. Unfortunately, the spacious time in between key action sequences or plot elements is squandered on ineffective character development.

There are a very few notable exceptions to this, and those moments in the plot are quite enjoyable. Lottie and Sara, in particular, develop a relationship over the course of the episode that sparks a few exceptional moments. Outside of these, though, there’s not a lot to look for on the plot front.

But then, if you’re watching an action, sci-fi anime to get an awesome plot out of it, I think you might be heading for a very rare crossroads. A proper audience is here to see aliens and explosions, after all, right? The action of Strain is generally quite engaging, and the battles don’t feel predictable. My one qualm with combat here is that the consequences feel lopsided: Sara’s comrades are all human, so any casualties to her side result in real losses, while her assailants operate with remote-controlled drones. I don’t understand why only one side has access to combat drones at this advanced date, but the end result is a lot of emotional stress for only one of the two armies.

All considered, the story is fun despite being flat. The action carries the show from moment to moment, and the story – however simple – serves the purpose of motivating the combat. It may not be a super-rich experience, but it is enjoyable.

Character Quality: 4

One of the tricks that Strain tries to invoke to solve the linear plot is to bind us emotionally to the characters. Time and again, we’re put alongside the soldiers of the front lines, watching the suffering of both those that are hurt or killed, and those that survive and must cope afterward. Strain’s success here is mixed. Sometimes, I felt sympathy for the characters; other times, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

Sara is the character that the show follows best, and so it is in her that we see the most emotional distress. She loses her friends and acquaintances through the war she must fight, and thus a fair bit of her development revolves around her learning to cope with the pain and guilt. I didn’t find her behavior to be particularly believable, in all, because I figured that she would have gone through most of these emotional stages before signing up to be a soldier. Not all of your comrades will come home: it’s a fact of war. Either the military was woefully understated in communicating this truth to Sara, or she completely ignored their instructors. She subsequently doesn’t become a particularly compelling protagonist until the end of the series, when she’s finally come to terms with the truth of war.

Strain: Lottie Gelh

Lottie Gelh is perhaps my favorite character on the cast, and that’s not simply a product of her being cuter than Sara. Lottie is more emotionally developed than most everyone else on her team (Jessie being the one exception), and this allows her to shine from the beginning as a character worth following. She cares deeply about everyone on her team. Despite the fact that she may lose them in a battle, she still spends as much of her time with them as she can. She’s also decisive and determined, never wallowing in doubt or guilt as our protagonist so often does. Her ability to overcome stress and keep her composure in the most dire of situations sets her apart. She’s definitely a hot-head, but she always has control of herself: as her captain states, “She, of everyone, won’t make a mistake.”

Both Lottie and Sara suffer from a tragically strong form of “brother complex.” Their brothers both joined the army, and their lives were driven entirely by the desire to join them again. I understand this to be a more common theme in Japanese culture, but it still feels awkward that their brothers wield such absolute command over their siblings when they aren’t even around. I felt this cheapened both of them a bit, especially Sara (who can hardly stop herself from talking about her brother for quite a while).

As for the rest of the cast, they are as flat as the plot. Each of Lottie’s team has a single trait associated with them (One’s a womanizer, one’s a tomboy that loves meat, one’s a diet-fashionista, and so on). The other members of the show are likewise plain characters with only a single real characteristic to define them. Given how much time these characters spend on camera, it’s a shame they are less like people and more like cardboard cut-outs for those people. Jessie warrants a mention here, as she does occasionally show just what potential she (and probably a lot of the rest of the cast) has as real, compelling characters: her ability to step up to command in Lottie’s absence is admirable. But, once Lottie returns, Jessie dutifully puts her submissive mask back on, and the audience is left wondering just how much grit the characters have.

Visual Quality: 5.5

The art for the show is broken up between hand-drawn art (or, at least, a computer approximation of such), and computer-generated graphics for the aerial robot combat. The two art styles feel different, and the bouncing back and forth between them can feel a little silly. However, there’s not a real lack of visual vibrancy on either side, so it’s never too jarring.

The CG in Strain is generally great. The motions of the robots are very fluid, from the generic Strains that Lottie and her company pilot to the elaborate beast of a Strain that Ralph Werec pilots. The colors are strong and persistent, bringing a profound sense of life to the otherwise bleak space settings. I don’t know that anything here is particularly realistic, as it’s all science fiction, but they definitely look cool. It’s just a shame that there are so few scenes that really showcase the robots well – most action is very quick, not leaving a lot of time for the pilots to really show off their skill.

When we revert from CG-style to the more common, hand-drawn style there isn’t a lot to say. The work is still pretty and bright wherever possible, keeping the engulfing darkness of space at bay, but it still feels a little flat and uninspired. The animation is smooth enough, but it’s not very detailed. THat is, most joints are not articulated, hair looks too inflexible, and blood spattered on combat victims looks like stripes of uniform-colored paint. There’s a lot of potential for detail here, but it’s left by the wayside.

Audio Quality: 5

If there is one saving grace of the audio in Strain, it is the opening song. I may just be a sucker for non-traditional drums, but I always looked forward to hearing that piece – somewhere between a lullaby, a folk song, and an action song – with every episode. It doesn’t necessarily fit the science fiction genre, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.

The ending track, as well as the insert tracks, are lame by comparison. I skipped the ending track after listening to it once through – it didn’t do anything for me (the monotonous background certainly didn’t help). The insert music is also average, repeated from episode to episode as the mood dictates, and forgotten as soon as the show ends. It isn’t a problem, but not an asset either.

The voice acting here isn’t worthy of many notes, either. Sara’s emotionally scarred a few times over the course of the show, but the pain and suffering seems to fade away soon enough. I would have appreciated more evolution of personality in her voice, as those kinds of losses should be affecting her for far longer than they do; one way to really bring Sara out of the flatness of the show would have been with a dynamic voice. This doesn’t happen, and I find it a shame. The other voice actors likewise don’t show much growth, staying as flat as the characters they are asked to depict.

Overall, the opening song gives the audio a lot of potential; it’s a shame that Strain doesn’t clinch the deal on the other fronts.

Bottom Line: 4.5

Strain is, as advertised, a science-fiction action series with lots of robots. There’s not a lot of depth here, and the characters don’t do much to break out of the rather planar environments in which they’re cast, but these are secondary elements. Even without amazing characters or superb audio, the story is fun and exciting. The action is great from the start: survival of the characters really rides on their performance in these battles, and we learn very early on that Strain isn’t pulling any punches with the consequences of poor performance in battle.

There is still that element of drama, too, that follows nearly all war stories. This isn’t played out as well as the action, but it’s hard to be completely unphased by the death of characters. The survivors suffer, and the audience feels a lot of that pain right alongside them. This helps to bring Strain to a level above generic action, with the repercussions of war leaving a real, lasting effect on the cast.

Overall, Strain can be a lot of fun. It’s also very genre-heavy, and therefore doesn’t generalize well. If you want some war-styled action, strife, and drama, check it out – otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere.

Coming Soon

I’m looking to tackle Kanon (2006) next. It will probably be kind of long, but fair. Full Metal Panic, Allison and Lillia, and Toradora! are all in the wings.

Strain 

Str.A.In. (short for Strategic Armored Infantry, hereafter referred to as Strain) was definitely one of those anime that I needed to re-watch. I first saw this series a few years ago, and haven’t touched it at all in the interim. I had pretty fond memories of it, though, so I knew it was going to need a second viewing to make sure I wasn’t suffering from Rose-Colored Glasses syndrome too much. Turns out it was partially true, but not entirely. The anime isn’t spectacular, but its still certainly better than abject garbage.

Synopsis

Sara Werec, sister to the famous soldier Ralph Werec, enters military school in order to rejoin him. Just before her graduation, however, her school is hit by an attack – Sara’s life changs drastically in the aftermath of the sudden, devastating attack.

Genre

A Science Fiction anime with some action and some drama, and lots of anthropomorphic robots.

Age Rating

This one’s probably R, too. There’s violence, which is occasionally graphic. There’s nudity and adult themes, too.

Review

Plot Quality:

The plot of Strain is pretty straight-forward, with 13 episodes in its one season. The story is surprisingly focused throughout the season, which in a sense is nice, but also makes the presentation feel somewhat flat. This will actually be a recurring theme for the show: its flatness.

What does that mean, exactly? In essence, the story of Strain is so linear and predictable that it feels as though the show never really tries to engage the audience with the story. It’s a very passive form of storytelling, and would have benefitted greatly from some stronger, more motivated deviations from the main directive of the show. Unfortunately, the spacious time in between key action sequences or plot elements is squandered on ineffective character development.

There are a very few notable exceptions to this, and those moments in the plot are quite enjoyable. Lottie and Sara, in particular, develop a relationship over the course of the episode that sparks a few exceptional moments. Outside of these, though, there’s not a lot to look for on the plot front.

But then, if you’re watching an action, sci-fi anime to get an awesome plot out of it, I think you might be heading for a very rare crossroads. A proper audience is here to see aliens and explosions, after all, right? The action of Strain is generally quite engaging, and the battles don’t feel predictable. My one qualm with combat here is that the consequences feel lopsided: Sara’s comrades are all human, so any casualties to her side result in real losses, while her assailants operate with remote-controlled drones. I don’t understand why only one side has access to combat drones at this advanced date, but the end result is a lot of emotional stress for only one of the two armies.

All considered, the story is fun despite being flat. The action carries the show from moment to moment, and the story – however simple – serves the purpose of motivating the combat. It may not be a super-rich experience, but it is enjoyable.

Character Quality:

One of the tricks that Strain tries to invoke to solve the linear plot is to bind us emotionally to the characters. Time and again, we’re put alongside the soldiers of the front lines, watching the suffering of both those that are hurt or killed, and those that survive and must cope afterwards. Strain’s success here is mixed. Sometimes, I felt sympathy for the characters; other times, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

Sara is the character that the show follows best, and so it is in her that we see the most emotional distress. She loses her friends and acquaintances through the war she must fight, and thus a fair bit of her development revolves around her learning to cope with the pain and guilt. I didn’t find her behavior to be particularly believable, in all, because I figured that she would have gone through most of these emotional stages before signing up to be a soldier. Not all of your comrades will come home: it’s a fact of war. Either the military was woefully understated in communicating this truth to Sara, or she completely ignored their instructions. She subsequently doesn’t become a particularly compelling protagonist until the end of the series, when she’s finally come to terms with the truth of war.

Lottie is perhaps my favorite character on the cast, and that’s not simply a product of her being cuter than Sara. Lottie is more emotionally developed than most everyone else on her team (Jessie being the one exception), and this allows her to shine from the beginning as a character worth following. She cares deeply about everyone on her team. Despite the fact that she may lose them in a battle, she still spends as much of her time with them as she can. She’s also decisive and determined, never wallowing in doubt or guilt as our protagonist so often does. Her ability to overcome stress and keep her composure in the most dire of situations sets her apart. She’s definitely a hot-head, but she always has control of herself: as her captain states, “She, of everyone, won’t make a mistake.”

Both Lottie and Sara suffer from a tragically strong form of “brother complex.” Their brothers both joined the army, and their lives were driven entirely by the desire to join them again. I understand this to be a more common theme in Japanese culture, but it still feels awkward that their brothers wield such absolute command over their siblings when they aren’t even around. I felt this cheapened both of them a bit, especially Sara (who can hardly stop herself from talking about her brother for quite a while).

As for the rest of the cast, they are as flat as the plot. Each of Lottie’s team has a single trait associated with them (One’s a womanizer, one’s a tomboy that loves meat, one’s a diet-fashionista, and so on). The other members of the show are likewise plain characters with only a single real characteristic to define them. Given how much time these characters spend on camera, it’s a shame they are less like people and more like cardboard cut-outs for those people. Jessie warrants a mention here, as she does occasionally show just what potential she (and probably a lot of the rest of the cast) has as real, compelling characters: her ability to step up to command in Lottie’s absence is admirable. But, once Lottie returns, Jessie dutifully puts her submissive mask back on, and the audience is left wondering just how much grit the characters have.

Visual Quality:

The art for the show is broken up between hand-drawn art (or, at least, a computer approximation of such), and computer-generated graphics for the aerial robot combat. The two art styles feel different, and the bouncing back and forth between them can feel a little silly. However, there’s not a real lack of visual vibrancy on either side, so it’s never too jarring.

The CG in Strain is generally great. The motions of the robots are very fluid, from the generic Strains that Lottie and her company pilot to the elaborate beast of a Strain that Ralph Werec pilots. The colors are strong and persistent, bringing a profound sense of life to the otherwise bleak space settings. I don’t know that anything here is particularly realistic, as it’s all science fiction, but they definitely look cool. It’s just a shame that there are so few scenes that really showcase the robots well – most action is very quick, not leaving a lot of time for the pilots to really show off their skill.

When we revert from CG-style to the more common, hand-drawn style there isn’t a lot to say. The work is still pretty and bright wherever possible, keeping the engulfing darkness of space at bay, but it still feels a little flat and uninspired. The animation is smooth enough, but it’s not very detailed. THat is, most joints are left unarticulated, hair looks too inflexible, and blood spattered on combat victims looks like stripes of uniform-colored paint. There’s a lot of potential for detail here, but it’s left by the wayside.

Audio Quality:

If there is one saving grace of the audio in Strain, it is the opening song. I may just be a sucker for non-traditional drums, but I always looked forward to hearing that piece – somewhere between a lullaby, a folk song, and an action song – with every episode. It doesn’t necessarily fit the science fiction genre, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.

The ending track, as well as the insert tracks, are lame by comparison. I skipped the ending track after listening to it once through – it didn’t do anything for me (the monotonous background certainly didn’t help). The insert music is also average, repeated from episode to episode as the mood dictates, and forgotten as soon as the show ends. It isn’t a problem, but not an asset either.

The voice acting here isn’t worthy of many notes, either. Sara’s emotionally scarred a few times over the course of the show, but the pain and suffering seems to fade away soon enough. I would have appreciated more evolution of personality in her voice, as those kinds of losses should be affecting her for far longer than they do; one way to really bring Sara out of the flatness of the show would have been with a dynamic voice. This doesn’t happen, and I find it a shame. The other voice actors likewise don’t show much growth, staying as flat as the characters they are asked to depict.

Overall, the opening song gives the audio a lot of potential; it’s a shame that Strain doesn’t clinch the deal on the other fronts.

Bottom Line:

Strain is, as advertised, a science-fiction action series with lots of robots. There’s not a lot of depth here, and the characters don’t do much to break out of the rather planar environments in which they’re cast, but these are secondary elements. Even without amazing characters or superb audio, the story is fun and exciting. The action is great from the start: survival of the characters really rides on their performance in these battles, and we learn very early on that Strain isn’t pulling any punches with the consequences of poor performance in battle.

There is still that element of drama, too, that follows nearly all war stories. This isn’t played out as well as the action, but it’s hard to be completely unphased by the death of characters. The survivors suffer, and the audience feels a lot of that pain right alongside them. This helps to bring Strain to a level above generic action, with the reprecussions of war leaving a real, lasting effect on the cast.

Overall, Strain can be a lot of fun. It’s also very genre-heavy, and therefore doesn’t generalize well. If you want some war-styled action, strife, and drama, check it out – otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere.

Coming Soon

I’m looking to tackle Kanon (2006) next. It will probably be kind of long, but fair. Full Metal Panic, Allison and Lillia, and Toradora! are all in the wings.

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