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Infinite Stratos Complete Series Collection Anime DVD Review

13 min read

Who says girls and mech don’t mix?

What They Say:
Ten years ago, the development of the revolutionary Infinite Stratos powered exoskeleton changed the world’s balance of power overnight. Unfortunately, while the distribution of IS systems to every nation on Earth has ushered in a new era of peace, the fact that only women have thus far been able to pilot the Stratos systems has sent the relationship between the XX and XY-chromosomed halves of the human race into a spiraling tailspin!

When fifteen-year-old Ichika Orimura is suddenly discovered to be the first male with the ability to control an IS, whatever plans he might have had for his own future are tossed out the window even as he’s thrown to the wolves and enrolled at the otherwise entirely female Infinite Stratos Academy by order of the Japanese government!

The Review:
Audio:
The feature is presented with two audio tracks- Both an English and Japanese language dubs with both tracks being present in a 2.0 mix. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it really well done and is free from dropouts or other distortions and it gets its point across as dialogue is delivered clear while also doing a very good job of mixing in the background music. It also does a good job handling the various and sudden changes in sound level that can occur in a series that makes good use of dialogue to carry a story as well as complimenting it with a good deal of action to back it up while also giving the illusion of depth with its use of directionality and a pretty good balance level overall.

One minor note is that there were a pair of subtitle spelling mistakes that popped up during playback but they didn’t undercut the flow of the story at that point greatly.

Video:
The Television series portion of this release originally aired early in the 2011 Japanese TV season and both TV and OVA episodes are presented here in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, complete with an anamorphic encode. For the most part the encode used really presents well the visuals the series brings to the table as it shows off an explosion in action and strong colors to help catch the viewers eye. The production team clearly spent a good deal of time and attention on making the series a visual feast and the attention to detail is mostly rewarded on the DVD, though a few issues do pop up including noise, combing, color bleed, a bit of minor blocking, a bit of ghosting, minor occasional banding, a couple CGI moments that don’t blend in well, and little background bleed through on some foreground characters.

Overall most the issues are minor and not ones that will greatly distract, though it is odd at times how some simple movements seem to present more ghosting than some of the more frenetic action scenes including those involving some frantic mech action. The OVA episode also is rather solid in its appearance as well, though the appearance of a rather solid budget for the television show bridges a good deal of the gap that often exists between the different formats so it doesn’t stand out as being jarringly superior to the television aspects.

Packaging:
For the release of this title Sentai Filmworks split the 12 episodes and one OVA across two discs in a 6-7 manner and then included a third disc for the extras as well as included a CD soundtrack for the series. The discs are released in a standard sized DVD Amaray case that has a flipper insert which has hubs on either side that when added to the double DVD case hubs on the either side of the case means that none of the discs overlap.

The cover for the release feature the childhood friends Ichika Orimura and Houki Shinonono looking like they are standing almost back to back (though Ichika is clearly standing closer to the front of the image) against a white background that shifts to a light blue at the bottom with the series logo placed near the bottom of the cover. They are both in their Infinite Stratos Academy uniforms as Ichika has the arm part of his powered suit present on his right arm that he is holding in front of him and Houki has a blush on her face as her right hand drifts toward the hilt of her sword at her waist. The spine features an image of a somewhat angry Houki who has her arms crossed in front of her and is standing in a wide but powerful stance while the logo is written in white bellow her. The back of the cover uses a white, and alternating light and dark blue color for its background along with a six stills from the feature stacked on the right side as the copy is on the left with four larger stills below it. Additionally below that the cover includes the series credits as well as various copyright information and the technical specs for the release. *Also a note, one of the back images could constitute a spoiler for those who have yet to watch the series.

The first DVD label changes the background to light blue and sets the character to a bit left of center but otherwise replicates the main cover of the set while the second disc features the main cast in their Academy uniforms against a white background. * Again a note- a close look at the image may prove a minor spoiler for those who have yet to watch the series. The third disc which contains additional Special Features uses close up of Houki Shinonono from the spine of the cover in close up on the left while some light blue images inside hexagons are present on the right. The CD label features a white and blue hexagon background for the majority of the disc with the series logo present below the hub. Also included is a (larger than CD case sized slip) which includes both English translated and Romanji lyrics for the songs on the CD.

Menu:
The menu for the two episode centered discs in this release is a static one that uses a mostly blue and white background with widescreen like bars for the majority of the image with one of the characters on the center/right while selectable options are stacked on the left in a staggered formation that forms a point in the center with the upper and lower edges being further to the left and the middle more center placed while a snippet of one of the high energy songs from the series plays in the background.

On disc One the Main Menu and Language screen use image of Houki Shinonono with her arms crossed from spine while the Extras screen uses an image of Cecilia Alcott in her school uniform turned toward the right with her hand on chest. Similarly the second disc uses Frances representative Dunois for both the Main and Language screen while Laura Bodewig graces the Extras menu. The currently highlighted option is indicated by a red bar after the option which turns blue after selection and the menu is prompt to respond to changes in selection and implements the desired choice with minimal delay. Disc three uses the same image of Laura Bodewig from disc two’s Extras menu and otherwise keeps the same thematic and spatial pattern as the other two discs.

Extras:
If an abundance of extras can be considered embarrassing in its richness than IS manages to achieve it. Included on the release are three episodes with cast commentary and rather than it being the English cast they actually are done by the Japanese cast, which is something that is practically as rare as hen’s teeth in R1 given the extra licensing and translation cost these commentaries bring. Not satisfied with that, Sentai also brings a Behind The Scenes Interview with the Japanese directory of the series as well as a special presentation of Radio IS which was created exclusively for the Japanese home release where some of the voice actors of the series get together and occasionally add a bit of insight or interview but most just act kind of over the top and is a spinoff of the Radio IS program that was done to promote the series in Japan. On top of all this Sentai includes a special CD containing ten songs with each of the main girl’s voice actor getting her own character song as well as getting to perform the TV ending Super∞Stream. Wrapping up the harvest is the Clean Opening and Clean Closes which round out an incredible package.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
IS (Infinite Stratos) began its life in what has become a rather common way these days as an original light novel series from Media Factory which was then adapted to manga before adapted to anime form. The story takes place at an that is said to be 10 years in the future in the future where an ingenious and potentially world shaking invention has been made that has reshaped the world.

The invention is known as IS (Infinite Stratos) and it is a type of armored powered suit with tremendous weapon capabilities so advanced that the world’s governments have signed a treaty to try to keep a balance of power with them and limit their use. Of course, the fact that only women have been able to use the suits up to the start of the series may also play more than a little role in the very careful monitoring and closely watched development of the weapons.

The common knowledge of who can use the suits is turned on its head one day when it is discovered that 15 year old Ichika Orimura is the first male to be able to use the suits when he has an accidental encounter with one of the suits. This discovery makes him an internationally known figure but fame isn’t necessarily all it is cracked up to be and his life is about to be thrown into extreme chaos as he is enrolled in Infinite Stratos Academy, where naturally due to his unique abilities he is the only male on campus.

While Ichika will be the center of eyes of the campus girls at large he will find that he slowly accumulates a small core group of girls around him that are composed of some childhood friends as well as some rivals that he manages to impress along the way. While a sizeable portion of his time will be spent trying to balance the sudden requests for attention that he will try to accommodate in his somewhat dense way while trying to juggle his new class load not all will be romantic antics and mishaps.

While to the students the Academy is a place to train for the future, the business world of IS is a cutthroat one where companies jealously guard secrets and expend great resources trying to get a leg up on the competition. On top of this, while there may be a treaty in effect some of the world’s various militaries don’t always keep to the letter of the treaty which may lead to more dangers appearing and dropping on the Academy’s doorstep. But the most dangerous position may be held by a shadowy character who may be able to cause insane havoc with little effort or hesitation for reasons that are theirs alone to know. With so much going on, what is a poor overtaxed and seriously over his head boy supposed to do?

I walked into IS with pretty much a blank slate as I missed the simulcast of the show and hadn’t gone through and obtained any information about the show before viewing. The only information I had in advance came from seeing some of the character goods that have been made available, one of which was a character in her powered suit which gave me a bit of idea what I might expect though the number of figures of girls in swimsuits also worked as a bit of foreshadowing. In the end, it turned out the merchandise was kind of a split when it came to the information about the series and as to what I was going to get when I actually watched the show.

While the series kicks off in a mech explosion of action to whet the appetite (and also help confuse given that the scene doesn’t appear anytime soon in the chronology) the series quickly changes course and goes full harem with an amazing gusto. From practically the first moment he is on screen, Ichika has girls almost literally falling over him given his position of both international fame and only boy at an all girl’s school. Not satisfied with that the series then goes into bringing in some standard harem clichés- the childhood friend (x2), the former antagonist who falls for him (x2) and a sister of his best friend that are five of the six girls that ostensibly should be main-ish in their role along with the introduction of another character the viewer likely will see coming from the instant they appear on screen. Plus for just a bit of variety (or pandering to a certain fanbase, take your pick) there is also a bit of a hint of something just slightly less than innocent in regards to Ichika’s reaction to his older sister. This incredible cast size pretty much overloads the story and creates conflicts in trying to do much of anything other than a quick episode or two with much of the cast which kind of undercuts the impact that can be brought out from any given event.

This is actually where the story hits its biggest snag though as it becomes impossible to work on both the mech side of the story and keep all the girls involved even given the frenetic pace the series tries to move at. This creates a focus problem across the board as events a dashed to from one to the other with as much haste as possible which undercuts the ability to create much depth. If the series is watched in rapid succession the effect of this is somewhat minimized but breaking the episodes up and taking pauses in-between them can leave the series falling flat when one doesn’t have the momentum flowing to cover the flaws.

Still, it is an impressive assault on the senses and the story throws itself into events in such a wholehearted and enthusiastic way that it is hard not to just hold on and get a thrill from the ride at times. In many ways the series reminds me of how I felt when I first saw Love Hina and its similar bombastic and frenetic approach to storytelling. In fact it is this similar approach that both helped me assimilate to the pace well but also gave me the creeping sense that it is a series that won’t stand the test of time terribly well without something to build on top of it and help stabilize the somewhat unbalanced tower the series kind of creates.

While the show is a hell of a lot of fun while viewing, when thinking about what was watched after words I had some strong hesitations about certain aspect and flaws in the show that the pace just didn’t give me time to fully develop while watching. In some ways I guess I wish I could give the show two grades- the grade I felt it earned with the entertainment I felt while watching and the one I felt it had earned when I had time to think through certain aspects. In the end I chose to go for more the second approach as many people buy DVDs to watch more than once and the contact high of the first viewing may not be as intoxicating on repeated go rounds.

In Summary:
IS (Infinite Stratos) is a series that in many ways feels like a date at the carnival where one spends the night with their heart racing from the company, rides and sugar rush from hours of splurging on cotton candy and candied apples. Unfortunately the show finds that, much like such a night spent, eventually the sugar and adrenaline rush wear off and what seemed like an impressive setup at the time shows its rather modest and often pedestrian roots (equipment). Still, while the rush is there it is a bit of a thrilling experience though some may still find a hollowness of sorts to the endeavor. With luck the brisk sales of the series on home video in Japan will allow for a second series to be made which will be free of having to rush through this set up information and may be able to dig into some of the tantalizing aspects raised from the world that is created as a backdrop and some of the potentially fascinating aspects it teases. Likely though it will be more of the harem and fanservice route which could also work so long as the production team bothers to actually work with some of the cast rather than relegate a fair number of them to the back bench. Still, this series is likely to find no small amount of fans and those who can enjoy the sugar rush of the pace and ignore some of its shortcoming will discover a series that is a hell of a ride and tremendous fun at times.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary, Behind The Scenes, Interview, Radio IS, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade:
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 10th, 2012
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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