Saturday, November 10, 2012

Strain: Strategic Armored Infantry - Review

o, I have been planning on doing another anime review for quite some time now, but I never expected it to be this one. Even so, this is one of them "unknown" animes that most people over look, and it really is a shame. So anyway, figured I'd help get the word out about it, especially since I know quite a few of you will be interested in it. So anyway, let's get started!


Strain is a short "Mecha, Military, Psychological" anime series which originally ran from 1 November 2006 – 14 February 2007, and was then brought to the US back in 2009. Unlike other mecha series though, it had a much stronger focus on the emotions of the main character. Although it was short lived, and not as popular as other mecha series, it is still one of them series that will leave a lasting impression on you, and it will most likely keep you coming back for more.

The Story:

When Strain opens up we get to see two character's talking, one is an older man in a military suit, while the other is a little girl. It turns out the two are brother and sister, and that this is the last time they will most likely ever see each other. The older man is a man named Ralph Werec, and he is the best "Strain" pilot the "Galactic Union" has, and because of that he is being sent away to war. Before leaving however, Ralph decides to dance once more with his little sister Sara, and he then gives her a necklace to always remember him by.  After this, Sara happily accepts, and then tells her brother that she will follow him to space one day.
Years later Sara is now a Strain pilot at a military school, and she is finally about to graduate. Basically a "Strain" is a very unique mech which can only be controlled by people called "reasoners." Reasoners are people who had their brain cells harvested before birth, and then put into devices known as a "mimic." By using the mimic these special pilots are able to take complete control over the strongest mechs to ever be created, but there's also a catch. If a mimic is damaged, it's dead forever. Since it is made up of brain cells from the pilot, there is just no way to fix a damaged one.

After showing off her pilot skills, Sara decides to hang out with her friends the night before they graduate and most likely never see each other again. Although all of them are excited to finally be moving on, they are also sad to know that they were finally ready to move on. At least, that was the plan.

While dancing with her best friend, Sara looks up into the sky and sees what she thought was a battle test; however, it turns out that wasn't the case. Her brother, the world famous Ralph Werec, had finally returned, but with only one goal in mind. To kill everyone.

Sara watches in horror with her friends as she sees the entire school go up in flames, with everyone being killed within just seconds. With no other option, she decides to run off with her friends, get in her Strain, and stop the "unknown" Strain. Not too long after Sara once again is forced to watch in horror as her friends die in front of her face, and she is left as the last one to be alive. Sara then decides to confront the Strain's pilot on foot, when she finally sees who it is. Her brother.

After seeing her brother, Sara just about loses it. She once again gets in her Strain to take him down, but in the end she fails. After her Strain gets stabbed through the cockpit, Sara's mimic is damaged, and she is forced to crash land. Now having lost everything, including her ability to pilot a strain, Sara cries out knowing that her life was basically over.

Jump ahead and Sara is now a completely changed woman. She changed her last name to hide her identity as being Ralph Werec's sister, she cut her long hair, and she also moved onto a new training school in space, but this time as a "Gambee Unit" pilot. (A Gambee Unit is a lower class mech which anyone can pilot, but it doesn't have that great of combat skills.) Also due to everything she had to go through, Sara also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. She keeps to herself, and avoids becoming close to everyone, but also because of that everyone hates her.

She is always told how she sucks as a pilot, other students love to hit her or rip up her cloths, and she is basically just treated as the unfit trash of their group of students. Even so, Sara tries her hardest to fly through her training so she can finally be one step closer to her brother, who she now knows she must stop at all costs. But then, everything changes.

One day after coming back to her locker to put her cloths on, Sara finds that her cloths have been ripped up (again), but also the very important necklace her brother gave her was gone as well. This is when Sara finally hits her breaking point and snaps. She searches everywhere for her necklace, and just about goes mad looking for it, but then she comes across something else instead. A life size human doll named "Emily." Although Emily is a doll, she is also someone's mimic. In short, it is a doll, with someone's brain cells in her. Apparently Emily was going to be a test subject for a brand new strain two young mechanics were working on, but up until that point it still wasn't finished. Even so, Sara feels a strange connection to this doll, and slowly over time, she starts to revert to her old self as she spends time with it. That is when Sara's life once again changes forever.

Not too long after finding Emily, their ship goes under attack, and Sara tries a very risky move. She takes Emily, puts her in the unfinished Strain, links up with her, and takes to the battle field. Normally it is 100% impossible to link up with someone elses' mimic, but Sara somehow pulls it off, and she once again finds herself face to face with her brother.

After that battle Sara is then switched over from her Gambee Unit to the Strain, but that still doesn't help her out with the rest of the students. Although her new teammates treat her nicely, the rest of the students still hate her guts; even more so now since they blame her for the deaths of their friends in the last battle. Even so, Sara continues to push on despite what everyone else thinks of her, and she still continues to fight for them no matter how many times they beat her up. Still, what is with that mimic? Why can Sara link up with it? Why did Sara's brother attack them? Still Sara ever come to terms with what happened to her? Will the students ever respect her? Will she win her fight? The opening of the show leaves so many unanswered questions that you can't help but to continue watching.

Sara Werec:

Normally I would dedicate this section to the main characters, but when it comes to Strain, Sara is really the only character that you will care about. Sure there are other characters, most of which you will hate due to how they treat Sara, but as for the others, they are mostly there just to support Sara. Sure they are important characters, but they take the back seat most of the time, and their character development is spread out throughout the series. To avoid spoilers, I'm not even going to mention them here.

Anyway, Sara really is an interesting character, and one you will care about. Now the first time you see her, I'm not going to lie, you might actually hate her. In the first episode she is that standard stupid anime girl who is full of herself, thinks she's the best, runs around completely oblivious to the world around her, and well, just acts like a little girl. She's a lot like a 13-14 year old who basically just got into high school, and thinks she's the best. Really, Sara is the reason I thought I was going to hate the anime, and almost shut it off; still I decided to give the show a shot, and keep watching. Man I'm glad I did.

After Sara watches her friends die (whom she really cared about), and after she loses her mimic and finds out her brother was behind the attack, she really changes. From the second episode onward she goes from being that stupid standard anime girl, to one who is more realistic and down to earth. She's focused on her goal, she understands she isn't the best, but even so she decides to never give up. She comes off a bit cold since she tries to distance herself from others, but she also has a very good reason to. On top of that she is willing to do anything to help others, no matter what they do to her in return. For example there's one girl who is always running her down, and always doing anything she can to hurt Sara, but Sara still saves her life... Even though her "thank you" was basically another slap to the face.

Really the show does a very good job telling Sara's story, and you can really understand where she is coming from. She watched her brother kill everyone she knew, she lost her ability to pilot a strain (which is what she lived for), everyone seems to hate her, and the few people who are nice to her just feel sorry for her and seem to not truly care. It really is no wonder Sara is the way she is, but you also can't help but like her because of it. While the viewers get to see the real her, the rest of the characters just see her as trash/the one who should have died in their first battle.

Even so, I never expected the girl I hated in the first episode, would be the main reason I kept coming back episode after episode. Her character development is really great, and you can't help but want to follow her story.

The Setting:

For the most part, Strain takes place on their ship in space. You're going to be seeing a lot of the same places (the warehouse where Sara's strain is kept, the training area, the lunch room, the hall ways, the shower, etc), but it never really gets old. Sure there are changes from time to time to keep things interesting, but basically they couldn't have picked a more fitting setting than their ship.

The entire story has a more "at home" type of feel to it, and that really helps show off the main character's daily life. She's not running around thousands of planets exploring ruins and shooting aliens, she's working as hard as she can at her academy ship so she can go take down her brother. Unlike other shows which have a "mother ship" as the main setting, this one never gets old.

There are some changes for the second half of the series, but like I said at the beginning, I'm going to avoid talking about it to avoid spoilers.

The TV MA Rating:

This is something else I thought I should share as more of a warning/explanation. Strains is in fact another TV MA rated show (as in 18 years or older), but there's only one reason for it. Basically the entire show switches back and for from being rated PG and TV14, but there's a single episode which bumped up the rating... Episode 7.

While the show does contain some light nudity (naked backs, naked necks/top of breasts), there really isn't much that would offend anyone or turn them off from watching. You'll basically see the same amount of fan service (if not MORE) in this that you would see in other PG rated shows, or movies. There's also a few scenes where it's implied that the two main villain have sex, but even that doesn't show anything. It simply shows them kiss, then fall off screen as the scene changes. Once again, you'll see worse/hear worse from many of them "family shows" you'll see on TV now days. Heck, just turn on TV land and you'll see what I'm talking about. HOWEVER, there is one case where the show truly deserves a TV MA rating.

Like I said, episode 7 of the series is basically the whole reason for it's higher age rating. It's a completely random episode, with a completely random scene which goes against the rest of the series, and I'm actually shocked it was in there. Basically in episode 7 one of the minor characters, who just happens to be gay, decides to try and make the main character love her. How is she going to do this? Well, I wont spoil the episode, but at one part of the episode Sara is taking a shower, and this girl decides to go in with her. The girl pulls her cloths off (which shows just about full nudity, except for the lower half which no "detail" is drawn for), and she rushes in. Well, it turns out Sara isn't in the shower, and after seeing someone else inside, she runs out screaming. The scenes that follow feature the naked girl running down the hall ways trying to find her cloths, as everyone else watches with a stunned look on their face.

That 2-3 minute long scene was FILLED with fan service and nudity, and I really have NO idea why the heck they even bothered to include that. It was completely pointless, and I actually found myself looking away from the screen because I was tired of seeing her breasts bouncing allover the screen as she ran. It was just flat out SCREWED UP, and I personally feel that they should have just left that crap out.

The GOOD news is, that's basically the only time you will ever see something like this in the show. If it offends you, I recommend just looking away for a few minutes, and then go on watching it like it had never happened.
(Yep, that about sums up the look on your face after you see that scene.)

Also the intro shows Sara topless for about a second, but it isn't in a sexual way. If you have ever watched other mecha series such as Gundam, Full Metal Panic, or Eureka Seven, it's basically the same thing. It's used for a dramatic opening effect (it's a transparent image of her floating in space), and it really isn't bad enough to give it more than a TV 14 rating. Heck, just open up a history book and look at the renaissance era. you'll see more graphic content in them paintings than you will in this show's opening.

In Conclusion:

Although not everyone is a mecha fan, and although many mecha series do the whole "mecha" thing better, that really isn't the main focus of Strain, and it really shouldn't turn you off from the show. This is a show about a young woman who lost everything she had, and is now doing everything possible to get her life back. The show is filled with mystery, it has great character development, the fight scenes are actually pretty cool, and the overall story telling is just great.

Sadly the show is only 13 episodes, but you know what they say about short animes:"The short ones, are normally the best ones," and that remains true here. Also because its so short there really aren't any filler episodes either. All of the episodes are jam packed with story development, and everything flows together nicely.

The only downsides this show really has is that the first episode might turn many people away, but the fact is that it's 100% different from the rest of the series. It's a really great intro, and I love the back story it creates, but it even almost turned me away when I first started watching it. It's just that the characters seemed kind of stupid, and the show just didn't seem like it was going anywhere... Until it did go somewhere and it became a non stop roller coaster ride to the finish!

Another thing you may notice is that the animation is just a little bit dated. I mean the show came back in 2006 so it's understandable, but if you're watching it post 2012, you may expect a little bit more. Now I'm not saying that it isn't good, it actually is, but if you're used to the more detailed animes it might take a bit of time getting used to. For the most part though, everything is drawn well, the animations are nice and fluid, and like some series (such as Ghost in the Shell), they try to keep the "anime faces" to a minimal. So yeah, don't go expecting to see funny X shaped eyes, or tear drops floating in the sky. Not saying it isn't there, but it isn't plastered allover the episodes like in a lot of shows. Now that may be a minus for some of you, but that's a plus in my book.

Other than the random fan service episode, I really don't have anything truly bad to say about this one. Sure I do wish it could have been longer, but if it was it might have lost some of it's solid story telling, so really, I'm glad it is what it is.

As of right now Strain can be watched both in English and in Japanese, so really it is up to you to decide which version you think is best. While the English dub really isn't bad, the voice actors do a good job showing emotion, if you just don't care for them, you should just stick with the original Japanese version.
As of 11/10/12 you can OFFICIALLY watch Strains at one of the following places:

Funimaiton (both sub and dub) -
Hulu (both sub and dub) -
Netflix (dub, requires paid membership) -

Although as of right now Funimation has the series uploaded at the above websites, please keep in mind that this may not always be the case. If you read this review years down the road, there is no guarantee that it will still be there.

Recommended Age Group: 14 + (18 + for Episode 7)
Number of Episodes: 13
Gender it Most Appeals to: Both Male and Female
NettoSaito's Rating: