Infinite Stratos Complete Series Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

Infinite Stratos Complete Series Collection Blu-ray Anime Review When a boy enters the all girls high tech academy that only a few can get into, it turns to some amusing yet mild chaos.

What They Say:
Ten years ago, the development of the revolutionary Infinite Stratos powered exoskeleton changed the world’s balance of power overnight. Unfortunately, while the distribution of IS systems to every nation on Earth has ushered in a new era of peace, the fact that only women have thus far been able to pilot the Stratos systems has sent the relationship between the XX and XY-chromosomed halves of the human race into a spiraling tailspin!

When fifteen-year-old Ichika Orimura is suddenly discovered to be the first male with the ability to control an IS, whatever plans he might have had for his own future are tossed out the window even as he’s thrown to the wolves and enrolled at the otherwise entirely female Infinite Stratos Academy by order of the Japanese government!

Contains episodes 1-12 plus the Encore OVA episode and a bonus music CD.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is fairly straightforward and solid as it comes with the original Japanese and a new English language track in a stereo format using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show has a very good mix of dialogue and action and each side of the equation gets a very good treatment as it utilizes the forward soundstage. When it comes to the dialogue, it’s well placed when appropriate and there’s some noticeable depth as well a few scenes that helps things along nicely. With the action, it gets to flex its muscles a bit more but in the end it is still a stereo presentation. There are some very fun moments with the battles that get fought and the way they zip and zoom about, and some of the wacky action that gets into it, that it’s a fairly fun mix that works well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this twelve episode series plus OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The series is spread across two discs with nine episodes on the first and the remainder on the second, which is a single layered disc. The show has a few extras to it but nothing that would affect the quality. The show was animated by 8 Bit and it has a pretty good look to it where it has a fair bit of detail in a few areas, such as the uniforms and the design of the IS units, as well as some good bright colors that gives it a very fun feeling. There’s a smoothness to the animation and action that keeps it moving very well and the combination of that with the choreography really makes it a fun transfer to watch. The colors are rich and clean, though it doesn’t get deeply expressive like some shows, and it’s free of problems such as noticeable noise, cross coloration or anything else.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release uses a standard size Blu-ray case with a hinge inside as there’s a third disc with the soundtrack in addition to the two show discs. The front cover is appealing since it utilizes something we see with many Japanese releases where there’s so many white backgrounds. With that here, we get a good pairing of characters with Ichika and Houki together while there’s a flash of the IS coming in as well. The logo is simple but it uses both the IS aspect and the longer version as well. There are some nice colors here with the uniforms by bringing in the red and black as well as the blues around the logo, but the majority is given over to the white space that lets the rest of it stand out. The back cover uses a good bit of white as well where we get the summary, albeit at an angle, but it’s very easy to read even with the small size font. There’s a few cute taglines about the show and a decent selection of shots from the show that lets a few things stand out without being too much. The disc lists the extras clearly and the technical grid covers all the details in clean and clear fashion. While the show doesn’t have a reverse side cover, it does have an insert that is fantastic as it provides a translation of the vocal songs from the soundtrack and gives us both the Romaji version and the English translation of it.

Menu:
The menu design may be a little familiar but it works very well as it uses the colors from the cover with the whites and soft shades of blue that gives it a cool but appealing feeling. The left side has the navigation section itself, which also doubles as the pop-up menu, as it breaks down the episode numbers and titles as well as the extras on the second disc. The right side features the character artwork which gives us the characters in uniform that’s appealing and that’s set against the hexagon designed background which uses the colors well. It’s a smooth and professional menu that creates the right atmosphere and sets the mood very well. Submenus are quick to load though the discs did not read our players’ language presets as it defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The release has a nice selection of extras to accompany it which helps to flesh things out a bit. Notably, we get a commentary track with the twelfth episode of the show with the voice actresses for Houki and Cecilia talking about the show in general, the characters and other flouncy things that are pretty par for the course when it comes to voice actors talking about their work. It may be fluffy but it is fun too. The disc also includes a ten minute interview with the series director that has some good press junket kind of promotional material to it, including a look at the anime studio itself that’s always fun to watch, especially for a studio not seen too often like this like EightBit. The bigger extra through is the 42 minute “Radio IS” video work that does the radio interview style session with a couple of the voice actresses, but it’s done video style of course as well. In a way, it doesn’t really cover anything new, but the VA’s have a blast with it, it’s fun and it gets them talking about the show, the quirks and their characters in a cutely engaging way. And naturally, and thankfully, we also get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

The release also comes with the soundtrack, which I’m not quite sure where to classify, but it’s a surprising and welcome addition even if my taste in j-pop music and the like has dimmed significantly over the years.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series of the same name by Izuru Yumizuru which has also spawned a manga series, Infinite Stratos is a twelve episode series that has an additional OVA that deals with a near-future world with a sense of fun and without a look at the harder details of how such a place would exist. And that’s not a bad thing if you separate yourself from these kinds of things early on because if you can, what you get is a very fun little show that doesn’t take itself too seriously as it hits the usual cliches but does it with good execution, solid animation and a cast of characters that’s appealing. It’s the kind of series that you can see being one that you could go either way on depending on the day and mood you’re in, but in the end it’s a show that definitely made for a fun viewing and made me want to see more seasons of it made.

The series deals with a relatively near future where an overactive and somewhat spacey young woman has created the IS, Infinite Stratos. It’s a power suit of sorts that’s hugely powerful and changes the balance of power in the world because of its existence in a few different ways. One is that the nations of the world entered a treaty about how they could be used, essentially declaring it off-limits for military use and ensuring that all countries would have access. But there aren’t even 500 suits in operation as they’re made sparingly as they’re considering unique units. Multiple businesses and countries work the angle of progressive generations though which introduces some differences. The other big shift is that only women can utilize the suits and that has changed the way the species work as suddenly women have a lot more power potential and they’ve taken advantage of it, not that you’d notice it much in the series itself.

Ten years after the treaty, the show focuses in on the Japanese academy where the training is done with numerous girls using the suits they have on hand for this purpose. They operate under various teachers, but the main (and really, the only one) we see is that of Chifuyu, who has quite the history herself since the introduction of the IS. What she also has is a younger brother named Ichika who has been discovered to be the first male that can use the IS suits. And that has him now attending this previously all-female academy and that throws things into chaos. There are the girls who don’t want him there, the neutral group and those that are excited by it. And then there are those that have a vested interest in him in different ways. While Ichika manages to deflect most of it as he just wants to use the IS, he is at least aware that there’s interest in him.

The group of girls from around the world that are into him is fairly routine but it’s the execution that allows it to work. You get Cecilia as the elitist blonde that can’t abide his presence and gets into plenty of heated arguments and duels with him. There’s Rin, the childhood friend that appears after a few episodes and tries to assert that position into something more with the other girls. There’s also Houki, another girl he knew when he was younger who is also the younger sister of the inventor of the IS units. There’s also the introduction of Laura from Germany who hates him because of his relationship with his sister, feeling that she was stolen from him, and the arrival of another guy who can pilot the IS units who obviously isn’t a guy from the first frame. It’s an amusing group of characters, familiar to be sure, but they all connect well in the setting and it makes for a good bit of fun.

The series as a whole spends a lot of its time dealing with the characters and their interactions. This is a plus since it avoids the whole monster of the week angle that it could, which is something that you can fear a bit when the first unusual IS shows up that may be unmanned, or a later instance where one of the girls gets taken over. That’s not to say there isn’t a larger storyline here, but it moves in a couple of different ways. One involves Laura and why she’s there, but she doesn’t hit until near mid series and it’s more of a subplot. With the unusual IS’s that are out there, this morphs into the the main thrust of things in the last couple of main episodes, but even there it’s not something that truly defines the series. It brings about an absolutely fantastic fight sequence in the final episode, but even that’s not the main draw of the series as it always comes back to the characters.

Like a lot of single season series, there is the additional OVA that’s included here which can often be a whole lot of fun as they step outside of the normal constraints. Unlike many of those though, this one doesn’t opt for a huge fanservice episode (we did get a slice of that with the half beach episode!) and instead serves as a mild character epilogue as the girls spend some of their downtime and end up at Ichika’s house where they’re all trying to get closer to him. It’s not hugely competitive in its own way as it plays out more about the characters. It’s not entirely mellow as there is some silly stuff, but it’s fun to watch them overall. It’s also good to see Ichika in his natural environment as well as seeing Chifuyu understand how things she said to the girls may have impacted them, and in turn her own relationship with her brother.

In Summary:
I had little in the way of expectations for the series going into it considering the general reaction to it during its broadcast, but I really found it to be a pleasantly fun and enjoyable show. It avoided some of the pitfalls that I really don’t like, especially the enemy of the week angle, but it plays up others with the standard harem archetypes. Even while it does that though, it knows to make it about the characters and they’re a bit more than just caricatures. And it doesn’t go into lengthy back stories for each girl. They have their defining points but it’s not a mystery to be solved and dealt with but rather just something about them that may have some impact. This series has some really good animation, I thoroughly liked the designs and the overall idea is sound if not fleshed out enough. It’s a series that I easily wish we had another season of just to expand on it and get into some of the meat of it.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 language, English Subtitles, Commentary, Behind The Scenes, Interview, Radio IS, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 10th, 2012
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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