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Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

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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