First Impressions – IS Infinite Stratos

The New Years doldrums are officially over, as the winter season gets into full swing with a couple of heavy hitters – Shinbo’s new Mahou Shoujo series and, first out of the gate, 8-Bit’s Infinite Stratos.

It was obvious before this even started that the series would be a mass of cliches, and in that respect it doesn’t disappoint. The premise is straightforward – 15 year-old Ichika Orimura is the only male in the world who can pilot the legendary IS, which transformed warfare and is now used for international competition. Orimura starts his high school life as the only male student at IS Academy, and hi-jinks ensue. His older sister is the world’s most famous IS pilot and now an instructor (and Orimura’s homeroom teacher and dorm proctor). His childhood friend is Shinonono(yes?) Houki, who appears to be the perfect example the trope double-whammy, the tsundere osananajimi. There’s a stuck-up super-pilot foreign student, a glasses girl… And a student body full of teenage girls that, not surprisingly, takes a more than passing interest in the new boy on campus.

In spite of all that, I rather liked the first episode. 8-Bit is not an industry heavyweight as a lead production studio, by any means, but the production values here are terrific – the show looks and sounds great. The biggest name behind the camera is scripter Fumihiko Shimo, a veteran of KEY who wrote for Clannad, Kanon and AIR, among other shows. It’s nice to see the Sci-Fi and mecha genres represented no matter how cliche the premise – they’ve been going through rather a dry period lately. The writing is pretty snappy, with some solid humor – “How many times has your country won the “Worst Cuisine” award?” springs to mind. Orimura seems to have potential as a lead – he’s rather cliched, naturally, as a shiftless teen male underachiever. But he shows an appealing belligerent streak in the first episode – his dander rising when the stuck-up British girl Cecilia Olcott challenged him for the role of Class President. As for the girls, Nee-san Chifuyu was pretty much a meanie, but it looks as if the osananajimi (and now roommate) Houki is going to be the main foil. She was mostly tsun in the premiere and we still don’t know exactly why she’s so cold to Ichika, but I suspect romance is a foregone conclusion here.

In sum – no ground was broken here. No tropes were harmed in the production of this episode. But there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned, classic sci-fi/harem/mecha show – as long as it’s well-done. And so far so good on that score – I enjoyed this. The opener may have been a little slow for some tastes, but that’s often the case – I suspect the pace will ramp up considerably next week.

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