Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 325 minutes
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now
Some guys are just born lucky, I guess.
For some young men it would be a dream come true to attend a school where you’re the only boy and even more so if all the girls are all interested in you but, then again, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing as we can see from the complicated and stressful life of one Ichika Orimura. This is just part of the entertaining albeit familiar story that makes up the Complete Collection of Infinite Stratos.
Told in 12 episodes plus an OVA episode, the series introduces us to a future where Japan created a new armored exoskeleton designed for modern warfare but the catch is that – somehow – the technology could only be operated by women. Yet somehow, for reasons the series doesn’t really explain, a boy named Ichika Orimura is able to use this technology knows as Infinite Stratos (or simply IS). Not only has he become world famous because of it but he was encouraged to take an entrance exam to attend the famous Infinite Stratos Academy.
To his great fortune and misfortunate, IS Academy is filled with young girls his age who immediately know who he is thanks to all the attention he received from the media. On top of that, Ichika also finds out that his attractive childhood friend, Houki Shinonono, who he hasn’t seen for several years, is in the same classroom as him. Yes, all the attention he gets from all the girls is nice and even the busty homeroom teacher’s assistant is cute but it’s hard to enjoy a moment’s peace when your no-nonsense big sister is the homeroom teacher. Unlike her brother, Chifuyu Orimura, is a serious person who also happens to be something of a celebrity seeing as she dominated the IS world tournament.
Then there’s Cecilia Alcott, England’s representative in the academy and a top contender when it comes to piloting an IS who suddenly sets her sights on Ichika in a negative way. Challenging the boy to an IS duel for the right to be Class President, it becomes clear that Ichika might not understand the fundamentals of what and IS is capable of but he has a natural talent for piloting one. Aside from that, his own personal IS – called the Byakushiki – is a powerful piece of hardware that shows its true setting during the duel with Cecilia.
As a result of taking down Cecilia, however, Ichika gains yet another girl who takes an interest in him much to Houki’s annoyance since she’s clearly never stopped thinking about him. Then a new transfer student from China arrives, she is Rin Fan who also happens to be a childhood friend since their junior high days. Rin also happens to be in love with Ichika and that fact is obvious from the minute she greets him. However, Rin is rather upset that a totally oblivious Ichika didn’t get the meaning behind a promise he made her a long time ago. As a result, they battle it out using there is when an unidentified rogue IS appears and both Rin and Ichika must work together to stop it.
With the threat out of the way, we are introduced to yet another transfer student who creates quite a buzz because this new student is introduced as a French boy named Charles Dunois who – like Cecilia – comes from an aristocratic family. Ichika is happy that he’s not the only male student in the academy but there’s something funny about the attractive young Charles but the arrival of a German transfer student by the name of Laura Bodewig who hates Ichika for reasons that involve Chifuyu. Houki – realizing that she now has way too many rivals for Ichika’s affections, declares that if she wins the upcoming tournament that she alone has the right to date him.
The series doesn’t really play up the tournament in a rather unexpected way and the fact that all the girls are paired up with Houki and Laura forced to team up and face off against Ichika and his partner Charles. I won’t go into details on what happens during the tournament but afterwards Charles’ secret is exposed and even though we know said secret it’s revelation is still wildly entertaining.
Oh but the ladies in Ichika’s life have a tendency to start off as aggressive towards him and end up his admirers and Laura is no different as she comically announces that Ichika is her “bride” and pursues the young man. We’ve seen this all before in other harem themed anime series and there’s nothing really new here as well. Add a trip to the beach and we have ourselves an excuse to see all the girls in hot bikinis while trying hard to catch Ichika’s attention.
My biggest complaint are the battle scenes using the IS and that’s mainly because the armored exoskeletons are rendered in rather poorly animated CG. They look so clunky in action that it reminds me of those pre-PlayStation role-playing games of yesteryear. Otherwise, the rest of the animation works and for a series with attractive girls – a few of them busty beauties – the fan service is kept at a minimum although there are a few nude scenes.
Despite all the familiar trappings that make up this genre and the visually unimpressive CG, Infinite Stratos still manages to be genuinely funny and likeable to the point that you will certainly appreciate its humor, fun characters and decent storytelling. The series has an excellent voice cast, particularly when it comes to the English dub cast that does a great job with all the accents (especially when it comes to Charles and Laura) and Monica Rial who does a brilliant job conveying Houki’s frustration with Ichika and her inability to confess her feeling for him.
Also included is the OVA episode that acts as the perfect epilogue to the final episode and although it doesn’t really add to the story it is fun to see Ichika and the girls together again. Even better, however, we finally get to see Ichika and Houki alone at last. Well, sort of but it makes for a great ending scene. On top of that, this Complete Collection set includes a number of awesome extras as well.
The Complete Collection of Infinite Stratos will not revolutionize the genre nor does it take the harem theme to newer heights but what it does do is tell a very charming and downright likeable story that very easily grabs a hold of you long enough to show you a very good time. Yes, we’ve seen this kind of series before but Infinite Stratos manages to win you over with its comedy and a completely oblivious male lead who doesn’t know what to make of his situation. Consider this one a guaranteed good time worth checking out.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
For years the only gender able to pilot the revolutionary exoskeleton-like armor knows as the IS were women but somehow a boy named Ichika Orimura has become the only male able to pilot one. Now enrolled in the Infinite Stratos Academy filled with an all-girl faculty and student body, Ichika finds himself not only attempting to survive the training but also all the girls who have taken a very keen interest in him such as his childhood friends, two aristocrats and a hard-as-nails German student.
VIDEO QUALITY: B-
The animation is actually decent enough and the series is actually surprisingly light on the fan service, although there are a few panty shots, a bathing scene and the obligatory beach bikini episode. Unfortunately, the action, especially when the IS are involved, makes use of CG that makes the armored battles look awkward rather than cool.
AUDIO QUALITY: A+
The voice acting in the series is actually handled brilliantly by both casts whether it’s the great performances from the original Japanese cast or the over-the-top work that the impressive English dub cast pulls off. I love Yoko Hikase but Monica Rial injects even more emotion into Houki’s personality. Then there’s Josh Grelle, Luci Christian, Tiffany Grant and Shannon Emerick who are just as amazing. Then there’s the music in the series that is excellent and you have to love both the opening theme song and the two closing theme songs (sung by Yoko Hikase).
The DVD Complete Collection set comes packed with plenty of extras that include a bonus CD with various members of the Japanese cast performing songs like the opening theme song “SUPER STREAM” as well as some great originals. The two main DVDs also include audio commentary tracks for Episode 4, 7 and 12. The first commentary has Yoko Hikase (voice of Houki) chatting with Asami Shimoda (voice of Rin Fan) while the commentary for Episode 7 has Hikase and Kana Hanazawa (voice of Charles) engaging in a fun chat about the characters. Finally, the Episode 12 commentary has Hikase and the talented Yukana (voice of Cecilia) talking about the final episode.
Also included are the clean opening and closing animation as well as a few Sentai Filmworks trailers but the collection also includes an OVA episode that has the girls visiting Ichika in his home. There’s also a bonus DVD with extras like the Infinite Stratos Behind the Scenes feature that has Kana Hanazawa give us a tour of the studio plus interview Director Yashuhito Kikuchi. Finally, the “Radio IS” feature is video of Hikase and Shimoda doing their temporary internet radio show for the series as they chat with Yukana.
An engaging and genuinely funny series from start to finish, Infinite Stratos doesn’t even try to be a different kind of harem series with cool armored suits but, in the end, it still manages to be a fun series that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a result, Infinite Stratos ends up being a series with nothing new to offer but still has enough good things going for it anyway.
Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks