Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > IS: Infinite Stratos Episode 1 – I am Man, Hear Me Roar

IS: Infinite Stratos Episode 1 – I am Man, Hear Me Roar

There have been a dearth of good action shows recently, “good” here being understood to include something resembling a substantive story as part of the overall package. The lack of decent mecha shows has been particularly noticeable, with the most recent attempt, Star Driver, being most notable for its odd combination of an incomprehensible plot with flagrant metrosexuality.

Given all this, I was happy at first that 8-Bit and director Yasuhito Kikuchi (both of whom worked on Macross Frontier, one of the best, or at least the prettiest, sci-fi actions shows of the decade) were taking another crack at the genre. Initial impressions were promising, with a return to the less common powered armor-sized mecha suits and interesting designs.

Then I learned that the show (and the light novel series it is based on) was about a teenage guy transferring to an all-girl high school. If you’re familiar at all with anime conventions at this point, you should know exactly what to expect from this set-up—and none of it is good.

The titular suits are based on a failed attempt to redo space suits for astronauts, but why this led to the development of an weapon system is unexplained, as is just about everything else about the tech. There's a huge manual on it that our protagonist forgot to read

An IS, or Infinite Stratos suit, is a type of exoskeleton that flies, increases the user’s strength, and does a bunch of other things that will likely depend primarily on cool factor and plot necessity rather than common sense. Also defying common sense is why only women can use the things, or why protagonist Ichika Orimura is an exception to the established rule. When it’s discovered that he can pilot an IS (and is good enough to beat an instructor), he’s promptly sent to the only academy in the world that trains IS pilots, which is of course all female.

The show does a decent job of showing the discomfort Ichika feels moving to IS Academy, although most of the girls view him as a curiosity (and a cutie) rather than a threat. But by far the most unrealistic aspect of the show, aside from the mecha suits and whatnot, is that Ichika finds having the attention of an entire school of hot girls a constant burden, something to be avoided. Last I checked, (positive) attention from girls was on every teenage male’s list of top things to acquire.

Ichika's sister Chifuyu is an instructor at the academy and a greatly admired IS pilot. She also inflicts the majority of the violence the show directs at Ichika, which I suppose is a step up from having the tsundere love interest do it

But Ichika must be reluctant, of course, in order to allow him to collect a properly sized cadre of potential love interests without committing to any of them. This episode only introduces two of them: Houki Shinonono, whom he knew in grade school but hasn’t seen for six years, and Cecilia Alcott, a member of British nobility who make it a point to remind everyone that she is British, and nobility, every ten seconds or so. We know these girls are official love interests because the show bothered to name them.

By an act of willful author contrivance Houki and Ichika wind up as roommates in the academy dorms, leading to all the opportunities for fanservice one would expect. The show isn’t particularly transgressive by modern standards, with no clumsily censored nudity or the like, but given Ichika is the only male cast member we’ve seen so far, I’m guessing we’ve got plenty of opportunities to “improve” in the future.

Of course, there is a tsundere love interest in the form of Houki Shinonono, long-separated childhood friend and kendo champion extraordinaire. I'm not certain if her failure to successfully inflict violence on him is a defiance of cliche or another sign that Ichika's latent superiority complex will be continually justified

If Houki exists to be the lead girl among Ichika’s to be formed harem, providing the majority of the show’s excuse for romantic tension, Cecilia exists to drive the show’s excuse for a plot.  First upset that Ichika doesn’t immediately recognize her greatness, she’s infuriated when the class seems posed to select him as their representative to a school competition, insisting that they duel for the slot. The episode ends with Ichika, showing enthusiasm for the first time in the episode, accepting the challenge.

Of course, Ichika didn’t want the position before he was challenged about it; despite several hints throughout the show that traditional male/female relations have been upended by the invention of IS suits, he still seems chauvinistic in the classic anime protagonist way. There’s also little explanation of why, since IS suits are banned by treaty from being used as weapons, every nation still wants to have a skilled cadre of pilots for a system now used exclusively in sports. For that matter, why doesn’t America or other first world countries have their own version of the school? The show seems to delight in creating plot holes.

In addition to providing an arrogant noble for us to bash, Cecilia reminds us that the academy is an international institution, the only one of its type, which collects top candidates from around the world. Have I mentioned she's British?

Of course, the show has several episodes ahead of it to answer those questions, as well as to deliver on the actual action scenes that it teases us with in the first fleeting seconds and then hides behind a curtain for the rest of the episode. But the nature of the story makes it rather unlikely that the answers will be well thought out, logical, or possess any consistency aside from the bare minimum required to advance the plot.

Most disappointing is how poorly the show utilizes the most interesting aspect of its setting: the changes to the societal status of women in society with the development of IS technology. There are several ways it could have been introduced and just as many ways it could have shaped the characters, but as it stands only Cecilia (whom the audience is not supposed to like at this point) is interested in preserving female privilege at the academy, and Ichika seems the least oppressed minority in the history of the world. Toss in Ichika’s own (likely justified) self-confidence and any hints of oppression can be kissed goodbye.

The show starts with a lovely in media res fight between several IS suits led by Ichika and what looks like an automated opponent. More scenes like that and I'd be better inclined toward the show, but it looks like we won't catch up to that point for multiple episodes

The simple fact that the show is male fantasy in its most direct form. Our hero is a gifted mecha pilot who fights in stunning battles along with a cohort of beautiful women who will all fall for him—and that doesn’t even address the entire school of girls who have informally made it know they’d love to get in his pants. Seriously considering the lessened social status of men in an IS-dominated society would get in the way of the girls’ cooing.

I’m not saying for sure that IS will be a bad show; maybe there is a reasonable explanation for everything, and it’s possible that the series will find its footing once the exposition finishes and we can get with aerial combat. But right now, there’s better than even chance that this show is going to become another Strike Witches, only watered down and somewhat more vulnerable to cliche. At least Strike Witches didn’t take itself this seriously.

One final strike against the show is that it appears to follow the Strike Witches model of having the female pilots not wear pants. The women dress normally otherwise, but that only makes the piloting outfits more distinct. Why would no one design a less revealing outfit? Can they not even do hot pants?

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