What They Say
In a time of war, Sara Werec yearns to follow her brother Ralph into the stars and take up the Union cause in their endless fight against the Deague. Ralph is a legend among the ace pilots known as Reasoners – warriors who bravely steer their advanced mech units headfirst into combat.
Sara’s hopes are soon to be fulfilled, but the horrors of war spare no one. On the eve of Academy graduation, Sara loses everything when Ralph commands a Deague assault force in a surprise attack against the school. Amid the smoking rubble of her dreams, Sara Werec boldly undertakes a new mission: confront Ralph to reveal the motives behind his betrayal and put an end to his treasonous ways by any means necessary.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 192kbps while the English language dub is done in 5.1 at 448kbps. The show was has a decent forward soundstage design to it with some good directionality when it comes to the action but also some noticeable placement for dialogue. The English language mix is given a bump up to a 5.1 format and it makes out better simply by being a bit louder to start but also adding more clarity in the placement and more impact in the bigger scenes during the action. Both tracks serve the material well though when it comes to the action, the 5.1 mix stands out better. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is released on two discs for its thirteen episodes in a 7/6 format. With lots of bright colors and smooth visuals, the show actually comes across very well here with little in the way of serious or even noticeable problems. The colors are generally solid and vibrant and the lack of line noise during the bulk of it helps out a lot. Backgrounds maintain a solid feel throughout but there are moments where there’s a bit of noise there as well as some solid foreground colors. The CG scenes tend to look the best with the colors and level of solidity, but the overall presentation is quite solid and one that has very little to complain about.
Str.a.in is presented in the standard format FUNimation has been using for these kinds of releases as it has a thin slipcover to hold the two thinpak cases. The cover design is very dark as the front cover features a star-filled background with lots of black space as two Strain’s fight from opposite angles on it. While the pink mecha may be a little cringe-inducing, it does have a good mecha feel to it overall and it’s easy to tell what kind of series it is quickly. The back cover is done sideways which hasn’t happened often yet with these kinds of collections and it has a few pieces of character and mecha artwork with a darker feel to it as well as a few shots from the show. The summary covers the basics pretty well and has a decent enough tagline while the bottom provides a rundown of what’s on the disc for both episodes and extras. The technical details are along the bottom of the slipcover and are at least done with a readable white font on black.
Inside the slipcover is a pair of thinpak cases that have their artwork done in reverse so you can place them side by side to get a really nice image. The left side features Sara in her Reasoner outfit with her Strain behind her while the right side has that of Ralph in his Deague uniform with his Gloire behind him. It’s an appealing image as it presents the two main sides of the story and I can’t remember any other release that operated like this before in placing the covers together to form a larger picture. The back covers do the same, though not quite as cleanly, as they’re mostly black and each one has their respective mecha on it in the corner. The rest of the cover is made up of various shots from the show in hexagon form along with a listing of what episodes are on the discs and what extras there are. The reverse side covers provide a two panel spread that features a different Strain unit as well which comes across quite nicely, if a bit dark and murky in some spots.
The menu design for the series is predictably simple as it has a purple shaded faux letterbox feel to it where inside is the headshot for Sara along to the side. The rest of it is given over to a star-filled background over which we get the basic navigation selection. The first volume is even simpler since it doesn’t have the extras on it while the second feels a bit more fleshed out. Both have a very minimal feel to them which fits in a way, keeping it simple and effective, but it lacks that little bit of style that could give it a bit more. Submenus load quickly and access times are fast, but as is usual with FUNimation, it doesn’t read our players’ language presets and defaults to the English language.
The extras are all found on the third volume and they’ve done up a nice job on them for what little there is. The standards are welcome here in the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences but we also get some production artwork. The artwork is spread into two sections, a character section, and a ship art gallery. Each has a page for the various pieces showing full colors designs and providing some commentary about it. The box does indicate that there are staff commentaries, but unfortunately, these are again not listed in the extras section. So unless you go into the individual episode selection menu, you will never ever know it other than the listing on the box.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally known as Soko no Strain, Strain is an original thirteen episode series created by the people at Studio Fantasia. Their shows are pretty varied over the years and they usually have something interesting in most of them, as well as having a healthy male respect for the female boy. That means some upfront nudity in a few places that admittedly makes some sense and a number of obvious panty shots as well. While it’s nowhere near the level of Agent Aika to be certain, they don’t shy away from it when they can sneak it in without changing the mood of the scene.
Taking place sometime around the year 7,000, Str.a.in introduces us to the brother and sister pair of Ralph and Sara Werec. Ralph is just heading off to the front lines as a Reasoner, one of the most skilled of pilots using advanced mecha to fight the enemy. As part of the Union, Ralph will be tackling the onslaught of the Deague across the stars. His leaving is bitter for Sara as he’ll be engaged in a war that will take hundreds if not thousands of years to culminate because of the distances involved. When he lives, she’ll be dead when he returns because of the amount of time it’ll take while it’ll seem like little to him. Unless, of course, she becomes a Reasoner herself and joins him out on the front lines.
While Ralph is off becoming quite the hero of the Union, Sara is spending her time becoming a Reasoner and quite a good one as well. Her time spent training has earned her quite the reputation and she’s gained a good group of friends who are close to graduating. All that goes to hell pretty quickly when a Deague attack happens at the training facility and just about all of her friends are killed in front of her. Even worse, the thing that makes her a Reasoner, the mimic device that allows her to pilot the Strain, is destroyed which ruins her chances of properly joining her brother. The real tragedy though is that she learns that the Deague operative that came to the planet is none other than her brother and he’s stolen some young girl from a research lab before disappearing back into space.
With her ability to be a Reasoner gone and her brother now the infamous traitor to the Union, Sara intends to find him in the stars and confront him for what he’s done. To do so, she changes her name to Sara Cruz and takes on training as a Gambee pilot, the grunts of the space forces. With this identity change, she becomes very withdrawn and not herself, something that leads her to regular harassment from others. She’s relentless in her pursuit of getting to the front lines and that causes her even more problems since she’s seen as an overachiever and not one for teamwork. When she manages to snag a training mission during a sub-light flight, she becomes part of one of the first sub-light battles on record and discovers something incredibly important.
The mechanics on board the ship have been toying with some sort of custom Strain unit with a very old mimic that they found. As it turns out, the mimic actually bonds with anyone so Sara finds herself in an incredibly powerful machine that gives her the ability to fight properly but causes a lot of internal strife as well. With the tools she needs now in place and finding a group of people in the Reasoner’s that are on board the ship willing to help, Sara moves forward by leaps and bounds to confront her brother. Luckily for her, he keeps coming back to her ship because of the ties to the mimic that they have and this gives her plenty of chances to try and confront him along the way.
Str.a.in is a fairly straightforward action space opera kind of show but it has some really fun elements to it that harken back to older science fiction anime instead of what’s been released in the last few years. The action element is high with plenty of mecha action, but it’s tinged with some rather interesting things. The first that got me is that it really doesn’t have a love for any of the characters. When you have some of the girls harassing Sara during the training, you expect the lead one to either grudgingly accept her eventually or just continue to harass her. So I was surprised when she gets killed rather harshly. This was set up earlier in the show as Sara’s friends aren’t able to survive and others die pretty regularly throughout this, often being thrown into the vacuum of space or lost to the tides of sub-light travel. The other piece that really kept me interested was the whole war being fought across great distances and the time involved. It doesn’t get played up much, but the near time travel elements are always fun to watch and when we learn that events are taking place over hundreds of years it sort of raises my geek interest even higher.
What I didn’t care for was some of the lack of backstory to help tie things together. When the show starts, the Deague are simply a name and a series of various robots that attack. Other than Ralph, we don’t see any of them for awhile. And when we do, and they’re human, you’re left wondering what the real deal is. What’re the reasons for this ongoing war? Is it just a split of humanity or something very different? The lack of clarity about the big picture is something that could have been a simple throwaway line or two that would have helped to put more of this into context. There’s some interesting potential with the Deague as we see Ralph working with them (sexily I might add) but they’re not given enough meat to really come across as the bad guys. The entire war loses its grounding because the reasons simply aren’t there.
Str.a.in has a pretty solid look to it as it plays to the clean and mildly digital feel of a lot of newer shows that are done in this kind of setting. The CG mecha scenes in space and elsewhere look great and the blending of these elements into the backgrounds continues to improve year after year. The mecha themselves are well designed even if they don’t stand out much, though I was disappointed that they again went with a pink one for Sara. The character designs are quite good as well, though nothing really stands out all that much above any other show. Everything is kept pretty well on model throughout and no character is easily confused with another, though the transformation of Ralph is mildly amusing. It’s also a plus that Studio Fantasia had no issues in presenting above the waist nudity and reminded us that women often do have nipples.
While there are things about Str.a.in that I didn’t much care for, the core storyline that takes place within the larger setting is pretty fun. One of the things to keep in mind is that with science fiction shows, particularly in the anime world, a lot of the science can practically appear as magic. With the series taking place around the year 7,000, I’m more than willing to suspend disbelief on a lot of things when it comes to how we move between the stars and fight in space. Str.a.in gives me a fun space opera style show with a decent if predictable cast, a penchant for killing off characters and some solid mecha action. It’s certainly not a title for everyone, but it was a fun and short little series from Studio Fantasia which has kept me rather entertained over the years. Not likely to be well remembered in the long run, it’s an enjoyable romp that plays well for both old-school fans and new fans alike.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Mechanical Gallery, Character Gallery, Staff Commentary with Director Leah Clark & Actors Cherami Leigh and Alison Viktorin, Textless Songs
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: January 27th, 2009
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.