To be the object of everyone’s desire, that, as most anime characters will attest, is the dream. But, like most dreams, when put through the filter of reality this comes across as a touch shallow and a whole heaping handful of stupid. However this isn’t reality, it’s an anime, so why don’t we just hang our disbelief up in the closet, right next to that shirt you never wear, and just enjoy ourselves. After all, what is fiction if not escapism? This is especially the case regarding those that deal in concepts of love, what with not having to explicitly rely on things like plausibility or any form of emotional awareness? Of course, this particular double edge sword often has a way of striking twice and those that do not find the balance between fiction and non often don’t get back up.
Welcome once more to the world of Infinite Stratos (IS), that one harem series that stopped and though, “You know what this genre needs? Mech-suits.” Naturally everyone thought this was a marvelous idea and a place of love and firepower was born. For those new to this particular dinner table, IS focuses on one Ichika Orimura, the only male in existence capable of piloting an IS (which is coincidentally the name of both the series itself and the mechanical exoskeletons found within). Thus, ol’ relatable goofball protagonist must attend an all girls school to hone his skills. Blah di blah blah, he winds up garnering the affections of five girls and thus his heavenly hell is born. Jumping off from the last season, we find that pretty much nothing has changed…like at all. As is this series downfall. Though in the final episode of season one Ichika showed some leanings towards choosing Houki as his love interest, the status quo beckoned and soon it was business as usual. Of course, this previous leaning is not at all a part of this season, with each girl receiving by and large the same amount of oblivious mixed signals from our protagonistic casanumbskull. Granted there is maybe the briefest of moments that showcase Ichika and Houki sharing a truer connection than that of the other prospective suitors, but they are greatly overwhelmed by more shallow comedic moments. Honestly, the amount of times he gets beaten up make same wonder why he hasn’t run away. Regardless, the comedic moments themselves are pretty fun to watch, though they are absolutely by the books when it comes to the harem genre. Accident causes unexpected physical contact? Check. Said contact causes female in question to turn an undiscovered shade of red? Checkity-two-da. Female then strikes male with enough force to bring down and African Bull Elephant? You better believe that’s a check. That isn’t even mentioning the obligatory showings of unmentionables, indirect kisses or acts of feeding each other. Seriously, I may be culturally oblivious here, but is feeding someone that big of a deal in Japan? Or in anime at least? These things treat it like it’s a bigger deal than the aforementioned accidental contact.
Though I am undoubtedly aware that IS intends to spend more time on its more light-hearted moments, I cannot shake the feeling that it is wasting oh so much potential as a series. The premise alone is severely underused, with most moments of combat being simple training exercises and even then most of those happen off-screen. It’s to the point that when Ichika’s IS is out of commission for an episode literally nothing changes. Despite the plot’s efforts to make this seem like a perilous time, which it should be, the episode spends most of its time focusing on Charlotte’s disappearing undergarments…it makes sense in context…if you’re really willing to suspend your disbelief, like really suspend it way up there in the clouds. The fact that this is so blatantly showcased ultimately makes it very difficult to care about much of the world building, as it really only exists to ferry the audience from one blushing (wannabee) bride to the next. This little factoid is also heavily supported by the presence of the mysterious, and self-proclaimed, evil organisation; Phantom Task. Though kicking off the series through a cryptic dream and an actual physical robbery, this group of miscreants just sorta hangs out, only jumping to the forefront of attention a few times. Sure, these few moments are particularly explosive and provide the series with its only real moments of action, but they never feel all that important. The switch to GG animation also certainly doesn’t help, as it actively slows down the speed of the characters and contrats the usual 2D style, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what people want from combat sequences. Anyway, for one reason or another one particular agent of Phantom Task wants the Orimura siblings dead, drama bomb I know, but after only the briefest of setbacks, she flees from one of her targets and does nothing for a few episodes. Biding your time is certainly a trope of villainy, but if a series neglects to show more than a few snippets of said biding, how is an audience supposed to notice? Even without direct contact between the good guys and bad, a few more defining shots would have been nice and it at least would have reminded everybody that a B-plot is running in the background. This is all compounded by the fact that Chifuyu (Ichika’s sister, Phantom Task’s target numero uno and the headmaster of IS Academy) is well aware of this mysterious organisation’s mysterious plan and does diddly squat. She just makes a few ominous statements and lets things roll on like everything is situation normal. Why? Why not enact a plan? Why not let anyone know what’s happening? What are you hiding? Alas, we may never know…bummer.
Unfortunately, what Infinite Stratos 2 leaves me with is a sense of frustration and a whole bouquet of freshly picked questions. What exactly are Phantom Task planning? Why the need to kill Ichika? Why did Autumn reveal so much of her organisation’s plan to Ichika? Who the heck is Squall? Where does Tabane fit into all of this? How did Ichika get the tar beaten out of him by all of the series’ females and yet somehow still be seen as their protector? How does a school let their one male student take the measurements of the girls for their physicals? Is there not a single girl (relatives excluded) who doesn’t want to jump Ichika’s bones? How is he so oblivious? Why does one teacher actively assist the students in trying to hook up with Ichika? Why did she dress up in that one episode? How do the girls get mad at each other despite often helping each other? What happened to that Phantom Task device that electrocuted Ichika? How is he so oblivious? Why is Tatenashi the only one capable of using nanobots to control an element? Is she? How is Ichika so oblivious? Questions, questions, questions. I’m all for a little mystery here and there, some deception, an old fashioned sleight of hand, but this is teeter tottering on the edge of too damn much. By the end of the season, it feels like nothing has happened. The first season at least had the benefit of introductions, but even the arrival of Tatanashi and Kanzashi this time around didn’t do all that much. Sure they added some new faces to the lineup, but they pretty soon just feel into step with the formula of the series. It’s just hard to push forward with a series thats default move seems to be spinning its wheels.
However, if you are the kind who just wants to kick off your Sunday shoes and relax, then I’m sure you’ll find something in this series. Of course I’m not too subtly referring to fanservice, of which there is a metric tonne, in just as many flavours. You’ve got the peppy girl just brimming with A-Cup angst, the fairly inept rich girl with only a tenuous grasp on social etiquette, the self-concious childhood friend, the aggressive soldier girl, the tease, the shy girl and the all around sweetheart. Infer from that what you will and decide if anything tickles your fancy. for those of you whose fancies remain decidedly un-tickled, there’s not much I can do for you. Personally, despite all of its short comings, I enjoyed watching this series. Sure the animation was far from stellar and there’s all those plot issues I mentioned, but whatever. Un-scientific I know, but this is a subjective medium my friends and foes. I think the crux of this all is your attitude. If you go into this expecting a complex narrative that perfectly weaves romance and science fiction together, you will be sorely disappointed. If, however, you pop in that DVD looking for a fun and simple harem experience, you’ll come out of it pretty sated. Either way, I was just happy to hear those accents again. I’m quite the sucker for dubs, especially when they’re so darn cute.
A Madman once said, “Frowning will give all you girls wrinkles.” He was then severely beaten…it was Ichika