It’s hard to imagine a show less original and with a thinner plot than Infinite Stratos. Given that, the series really should have been a waste – unworthy of your time at best, unwatchable at worst. So what happened to make it actually sort of pretty OK, kind of?
Well… As I mentioned in my review of the finale, I think you’re looking at a series where predictability is both a strength and a weakness. This is undeniably derivative – every episode is a compendium of bits of earlier shows. There’s nothing new here whatsoever. But for me, that sort of worked. First, because the show took itself anything but seriously (though the finale pushed the envelope on that). While never reaching the level of parody, there was a bit of a sense of self-satire here – almost as if the writing was winking at the audience and saying, “Yes – we know it’s silly. But that’s sort of the point.” As well, it was nice to know exactly what you were getting every week.
This show got some major things right. Taking the harem bit to an extreme – one boy at an entire school of girls – was clever in the way the girls reacted. This wasn’t just another transfer student – they went a bit nuts and totally obsessed over Ichika, as they surely would in that situation. It also took the osananajimi trope to another level by not only having two of them, but actually having the hero *call* them “Number One” and “Number Two”. That’s the sort of knowing wink that led me to feel that some of this cliche stuff was quite intentional and played for effect.
Of course the show itself was very silly. Who in the world would have beloved for a minute that “Charles” was a boy? Least convincing trap ever. Nothing of the plot outside the harem aspect every generated the slightest interest. When they did try, it was with rogue IS that seemed there mainly to give the main characters something to show their strength against. It was weak and thin, as if the staff itself didn’t really have their heart in it – though I can’t speak for the source material. I think they would have rather just wrote scenes with the girls chasing Ichika and he acting like the classic clueless male lead – but the book says in a mecha series that you have to have fights and someone has to threaten the school. So there.
Ichika certainty fit the mold of clueless dude perfectly. Hell, he shared a room with Charlotte for a week and didn’t realize what was going on. He wasn’t especially interesting – other than when he was hinting at siscon tendencies – but he served his function. What the series really was about was seeing the girls try and get into his pants – which they did with varying degrees of entertainment value – while he stumbled along oblivious and tried to get stronger like a good male lead.
My favorite girl was definitely Charlotte. She was genuinely sweet, and not a bad looker either. She wasn’t especially tsundere, which made her a nice break from the other girls. Houki was about as big a walking dictionary of tropes as possible – classic “Type A Tsun”, osanananajimi, swordswoman… After a nice introduction Rin pretty much disappeared, Laura never really made much of an impression at all, and Cecilia may have made the fastest transition from tsuntsun to deredere ever, though she eventually settled back into a comfortable tsundere groove. If the other girls who were always hanging about acting as a kind of Greek chorus had names, I certainly don’t remember them.
One thing I wish is that the sibling relationship between the Okimuras had been explored a bit more. It felt unfinished – there were hints of affection from Chifuyu that never went deeper. Hints of siscon interest from Ichika that never got past hints. Not much about their childhood beyond what we were told in the opener. Why not go a little deeper there and show why this whole IS escapade was so important to Ichika? I know this show doesn’t really do deeper, but this is one instance where I would have liked to have seen it make an exception.
I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a few hours than watching Infinite Stratos. It wasn’t remotely offensive in any way and required almost no effort to watch – everything was as you saw it on screen, almost no subtext, and you didn’t have to think much to follow what was happening. Ambitious it’s not, but as as an extremely lightweight melange of various genre stereotypes, it has a modest amount of charm.