STRAIN, The Complete Series – DVD Review

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Review by: Sophie Stevens
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 312 minutes
Genre: Sci-fi / Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

Oh brother, where art thou?

Leave it to war to tear loving young sisters away from their beloved big brothers and even more so when the young sister in question is alone in the world. However, young sisters like Sara Werec aren’t content with simply waiting for big brother Ralph to come home but rather she enrolls in a military academy to one day join her brother in the frontlines. STR.A.IN.: The Complete Series is an action sci-fi anime that might be far from perfect but it does tell an engaging yet tragic story with a lot to like.

You see, Sara adores her older brother, Ralph Werec, who has joined the military to become a pilot the sleek and sexy mech-like Strain. Of course, not just anyone can pilot a Strain (or STR.A.IN. which stands for Strategic Armored Infantry), you have to become a Reasoner, which is to say that is you wish to be a pilot you must first pair up with an artificial interface known as a Mimic. Pilots that lose their Mimics in battle can no longer pilot a Strain so you need to go to a training school to learn these things. This is exactly what Sara does in order to one day be by her brother’s side again.

Happily giving it her all in the Basion training center and enjoying the company of her close friends, Sara finds life as a cadet rather enjoyable. To top it all off, her brother is well praised in the training facility to the point that Ralph Werec has become the example all cadets must be like if they wish to become great Reasoners … especially in a time of war. You see, there’s a territorial war going down in the Clanial Region of the solar system between the Union (the friendly human side) and the Deague (the more sinister side). While the war has been waged in the frontlines of space, the Deague suddenly find it more suitable to attack cities and it does so with the training facility as a primary target.

During the attack, Sara and her friends hop into their Strains to defend the academy and its students but a lone Strain find itself destroying everything in its path including Sara’s friends. When the enemy Strain attacks Sara, she has no choice but to abandon ship and lose her Mimic. Running to kill the man responsible for killing her friends, she sees the lone pilot in the academy’s hanger taking what looks like a little girl for a chamber. To Sara’s horror, the lone pilot is none other than her own brother, Ralph! How can this be? Why has the hero of the academy become the one that is helping destroy it?

So begins Sara’s quest to find out why her brother had turned his back on the Union to fight for the enemy. She hopes aboard another training academy that just so happens to be onboard a ship that will get her closer to the frontlines. She even changes her name to Sara Cruz to train to use a Gambee, a tactical armor that isn’t as cool as a Strain but then again Sara did lose her Mimic in her confrontation with her brother. As the new girl onboard, however, Sara makes it clear that she doesn’t want anything to do with her fellow cadets. She becomes withdrawn, anti-social and thus even becomes the target of bullying from the other girls aboard the ship such as this one girl, Isabella.

She does meet one girl who doesn’t talk down to her, though, and that is Lotti Gelh from the Spatial Armor Division. Lotti makes an effort to befriend Sara mainly because she sees something Sara that reminds her a lot of herself. Sara does spend her days and nights training in hopes that she could become just as skilled as her brother. When the Deague send TUMORS (mechanized attack robots that attach themselves to hard surfaces and explodes without a moments notice), Sara shows that she’s more than capable of handling herself in an actual battle instead of a practice simulation. Even more interesting, Sara discovers a discarded doll that somehow calls to her and seems familiar in a way. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the doll she names Emily also happens to be the name of the little girl Ralph Werec took from the old Union academy.

Strangely enough, the doll acts as a Mimic that allows her to use an experimental Strain created by the two young Academy geniuses Melchi and Carmichael. She joins the Spatial Armor Division as a part of their team but still doesn’t become a team player even though her new teammates try to get close to her and even defend her. During an encounter with her brother, Lottie discovers Sara’s real name. Even though she is treated as a possible traitor, Sara’s teammates and the Academy heads consider her the only person talented enough to take down Ralph. In the end, Sara and Ralph clash in a brutal yet heartbreaking battle that’s actually quite epic.

If anything, STRAIN is filled with plenty of surprises, mainly the fact that certain characters you come to know as key players actually die. Yes, the drama is so thick you can cut it with a knife (such as the moment Sara discovers Ralph’s reasons for betraying the Union) but – thankfully – it also knows how to be fun (such as the female cadet that has a monster crush on Sara and is willing to do anything to win her over). The series also handles the action well enough, adding a healthy dose of CG to go along with the animation.

STRAIN, The Complete Series does a great job of telling a deeply moving story with a decent sci-fi action twist but it just doesn’t make quite the impact is should have made considering the solid storytelling. In fact, there are times when STRAIN feels a tad on the generic side. Looking past these things, though, you will find that this series is still good enough to offer sci-fi fans a great reason to check this one out.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B-
Sara Werec loves her brother and wishes to be like him so she pushes herself to join the Strategic Armored Infantry unit only to find that her brother has crossed over to the side of the enemy. As she attempts to unravel the mystery behind her brother’s traitorous turn, she becomes an important member of her squad and the only one that could bring her brother down.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
All 13 episodes look sharp and crisp on DVD but I bet this one would have looked amazing on Blu-ray. The animation is solid with characters that aren’t too original but you just have to love the CG Strains and visual effects that make battles look awesome.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The English dub has a number of talented voice actors onboard including Cherami Leigh and they do a great job that is certainly just as good as the Japanese voice talent. The original score by Ryo Sakai is excellent throughout the series and the opening and closing songs are simply just decent.

EXTRAS: C-
There’s a single audio commentary track for an episode in the first disc and the second disc contains two different art galleries (one for the ship art and the other contains character art). The rest is simply the usual extras such as textless songs and a few trailers.

OVERALL: B-
STRAIN is a deep and involving story that plays up the action nicely enough but also says a lot about war and the lives it affects on both sides of a conflict. Sure, it’s not as brilliant as other anime series much like this one but this one’s strength lies in its ability to tell really good story sci-fi fans will truly welcome.

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