Thursday, October 4, 2007

Review: Sōkō no Strain

Sōkō no Strain (奏光のストレイン), also written out in English as Soukou no Strain, is a 12 episode anime series that ran from November 1, 2006 until February 14, 2007. This is a scifi/mecha/seinen show, which means it's basically the same thing as a prime-time drama here in the States. This is one of those cartoons that I'm talking about when I say that not everything animated is for children. Interestingly enough, this particular anime plays with some of the standards for its genres/demographics. For example, most mecha series are populated by a predominately male cast, while here it's predominately female, and most of those men are killed off. Especially if they're romantically interested in the lead character.Anyways, has this as a synopsis:

Ralph Werec becomes a highly respected pilot and the best "Reasoner" of the military. The one now following his footsteps is Sarah Werec (his sister). Hoping that they once again will meet, Sarah trains to become a respectable Reasoner. During schooling, the area she resides in goes (sic) under attack, and she loses important colleagues. She becomes reunited again with her beloved brother; however, she discovers that he is instead the enemy.
Frankly, that describes the first episode nearly perfectly, which of course sets up the series, and the main conflict of Sara needing to find out why Ralph has done what he did. That overarching storyline of conflict between siblings is the basis of a number of the episode's plots, and frankly is incredibly emotionally damaging for the lead character.

Who of course is Sarah Werec (and goes by the name Sarah Cruz after her brother attacks Grabera). She starts out the anime as a fairly well adjusted young woman, who seriously wants to see her brother again, which means going to the front lines of the war as a Reasoner. She was pretty much the best of her class at Grabera, with a close circle of friends/squad-mates, including a romantic interest. But after the massacre at Grabera she develops into something of a moody, introvert, and loses her status as a Reasoner. It is from this state that she must once again climb from the ranks of the lesser pilots to a Reasoner. Yet despite everything she suffers, she is completely focused on learning the truth. She wants to know what happened to her brother, and once she starts to learn, that translates exactly into a desire to stop her brother at all costs. Of particular interest is Sarah's love life here. She seems to be oblivious to the males who are interested in her romantically, and then they die. Frankly, it's emotionally draining, and even during a re-watch session of this anime, I felt bad for the girl.

Opposite of Sarah is her brother Ralph. I complained the other day in my review of The Stonehenge Gate that that novel was in dire need of a antagonist. Well, Ralph here fits the bill perfectly for an antagonist. While his motives start out mysterious, they are defined by the end of the series, additionally, he propels Sarah on the course of the anime. He is the reason she fights so hard to get to the front lines-at first just to see him again, then to ask him why and finally to stop him no matter the cost. Frankly, he's one of the better villains that I've come across recently. Insane enough to be fun, but understandable enough to remain fully human.

The remaining characters all have well defined personalities, but we don't get to spend as much time with them (outside of Lottie and Emily) as we do with Sarah. Frankly, the wikipedia entry details these characters better than I would, so just go read about them there if you're interested.

Since this is a mecha series, we need to talk a bit about them. Basically, there are two types: Strains and Tumors. The Strains are used by the Union forces (the good guys of the series) and Ralph Werec. They're piloted and in general very powerful things. Tumors are used by the Deague (the bad guys here), they're fully robotic and display hints of a swarm intelligence. The final bit of robotic technology is also Union, and those are the Gambees, they're the "worker bees" for the Union, but much slower and less-advanced than the Strains.

The art is well done, but the battle scenes could have been better, they tended to be a series of lines and then explosions. One bit of realism found here that I liked was the fact that most of the mechas here were all the same, which is a far cry from traditional mecha series where everyone has a customized robot. Additionally, I love the character designs, especially for the lead and the rest of the "Space Squadron" that she joins up with after she becomes Sarah Cruz.

Of course, outside the pretty pictures, the character development, the fighting or even the mechas, the emotions and situations which the characters find themselves in are the diamonds for this show. The lead starts out happy, with her MIMIC (a couple of her brain cells removed in vitro , and raised to help a Reasoner control a Strain) and a wide circle of friends. Before this episode is done, that entire world of hers is shattered. Her MIMIC destroyed, her friends dead, and her name slandered all because of the actions of her brother. Then it is from this, emotionally devastated, point, that the character really starts to suffer.

I can admit that I like this show. A lot. It does have pretty pictures, but above and beyond that, it has a great plot, and wonderful characters. The only drawback to the series is the occasional ecchi-factors. They served no true purpose for the characters or plot, and are there merely as fan-service. I can understand the reasoning that it was put in, after all, this is a show that ran at night, aimed at men 18-30 years old. Yet understanding why something is there is a far cry from there being an actual need for it being there.

In the end, I'll give this a 3.7 out of 4, with that .3 drop being solely due to the unnecessary fan-service.

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