I was a little skeptical of Infinite Stratos just from the short description on Cart Driver’s season chart. Mecha are neat and all, but the no-boys-allowed rule seemed like a flimsy attempt to force a harem situation. Plus, the description of the main character’s friend made her sound like a generic tsundere. On the other hand, the director (Yasuhito Kikuchi) also worked on Macross Frontier, a show which managed to take a pretty traditional love triangle and make it interesting (even if Sheryl is clearly better than Ranka). So, hey, it could be good, right?
Unfortunately no, it isn’t. At all. Virtually everything in this show is profoundly disappointing, and the only thing I liked barely got any screen time. I’ll break it all down for you after the jump.
What I Liked
The Art: Though the character designs are a little average and boring, they’re at least animated well. And I do think the mech designs are pretty neat. Sadly, we only get a couple minutes of time watching the characters fly around in their exoskeletons, and it’s not even relevant to the episode. It seems like the cold opening is just there to say, “Please, please, please stick with us through our crappy writing. We promise it’ll get interesting eventually!”
What I Hated
The Characters: Let’s start with the absolute worst part of this show, so I can release all the rage bubbling within me as quickly as possible. The problem with the characters is that they aren’t characters. They’re just archetypes, and not particularly clever ones at that. Ichika, the protagonist, is the typical idiot savant who wants nothing to do with the girls that are fawning over him. Except in this case, not all of them are obsessed with him; most just seem curious and want to talk to him, which just makes him seem paranoid and anti-social to the point of absurdity.
His childhood friend (prepare to have the phrase repeated to you more times than is necessary) named Houki is just as bad. The first time he talks to her, it seemed like she would simply be stern instead of the typical tsundere archetype that lazy writers love to fall back on when they can’t think of a realistic reason to keep the love interests from hooking up within the first few episodes. Sadly, that’s exactly what she turns out to be when she finds out Ichika will be sharing her room. Instead of running back into the bathroom and/or asking him to leave while she gets dressed (you know, how a real person would likely react), Houki instead flips out and starts attacking him with her sword, apparently with no concern with how much damage she does.
Cecila, the British blonde, is even worse. Instead of trying to write a a character who’s totally arrogant and self-centered yet fun to watch (like Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), they make her unbearably annoying so the audience will finally have a reason to root for the dull-as-brick protagonist. In fact, they write what I initially thought was a pretty sick burn for Ichika (“How much of a handicap do you want?”). Could it be that Ichika is actually pretty cool once he gets riled up? But no, he wasn’t coming up with a clever insult. He was actually just being sexist.
The Plot: Very little of what goes on in Infinite Stratos makes sense. The most important question–and the entire basis of this harem “comedy”–is “why can’t men pilot the exoskeletons?” The show, however, doesn’t care to explain it. I’m sure they probably will eventually (and I’m going to go out on a limb and predict it’ll be incredibly contrived), but usually you want to explain the most basic elements of your story in the introduction. Especially if the only thing remotely interesting about your show is the sci-fi setting. But that’s more of a problem of pointless omission, so I’ll let it slide for now. What’s a little more hard to swallow is that Ichika can somehow pilot an Infinite Stratos and get into a military academy without actually knowing how the thing works. I guess he uses intuition? Yeah, okay. Pick a random person off the street, tell them to pilot a helicopter–which is surely less advanced than a robotic, weaponized exoskeleton–and see how well they do just working off of intuition. Here’s a hint: they’ll probably crash.
Can I go back to the scene where Ichika and Houki meet in their shared room now? Because there’s more I want to complain about. First of all, how did that even happen? Surely the administrators of this academy knew who Ichika was. When you’re the only male who’s ever managed to pilot an IS, your name probably gets around. In fact, the reactions of the other students confirm this. So who the heck thought it was a good idea to stick a guy and a girl in their late teens (who aren’t related) in the same bedroom? And if they did have a good reason for it, why didn’t they let Ichika and Houki know beforehand? That seems like a precaution a normal person would take. But wait, I forgot. This is a harem show. Normal people don’t exist in this genre, because then the writers couldn’t use all the contrived and cliche situations that people have come to expect from harem comedies.
And then in the same scene, Ichika appears incredibly frightened by the possibility of having to speak to a bunch of curious girls. He’s so scared, in fact, that he begs Houki–the girl who just tried to MAIM HIM WITH A SWORD–to let him back in. Seriously? What heterosexual man in his right mind would rather be beaten to a pulp than interact with interested women? It’s not like he’d even have to deal with the stress of figuring out a good conversation-starter. They’re clearly going to do that for him. It’s not that hard to talk to girls!
Oh, wait, I forgot again.
There are so many more details I could pick apart, but I think I managed to touch on the most important ones in this 1000-word rant. In short, Infinite Stratos is bad. And not even the hilarious bad. Just the kind of bad that alternates between being boring, annoying and insulting to my intelligence. The only thing that caught my interest was the IS fight at the very beginning; but since no narrative context was provided, I had no idea why I was supposed to care about what was happening. It was all style, no substance.
And the rest of the episode didn’t even have style.