An anime movie.
Str.A.In., which is an acronym for Strategic Armored Infantry, is one of those rare titles that manages to grab a firm hold of the viewer's attention by indulging in an action-loaded, rip roaring pace from the first episode right on through the thirteenth (and final) episode. It is marketed to appeal to mecha fans and indeed; it will deliver in spades to those looking for a self-contained saga on par with some of the Gundam franchise entries. For everyone else, there is enough of a story within the lightening-fast pace to warrant serious consideration.
Released across 4 discs, Funimation brings the Studio Fantasia property to North American viewers via a pair of thin packs within a lovely cardboard slipcase. The show's total runtime comes in at 300 minutes even with episodes 1-7 contained on the first disc and 8-13 on the second. There are extras in the form of textless songs, English voice commentary over the sixth episode, and a crop of Funimation trailers.
The show wears an appropriate TV Ma (17+) rating due to some violent themes, occasional topless female nudity, and a bit of gore and rough language. Speaking of language, Strain comes in typical sub and dub options: Original Japanese dialog and/or English dub in 5.1 Surround with English subtitles available in either.
The story centers on a young woman by the name of Sara Werec (who happens to be quite reminiscent of Dana Sterling from Robotech Masters fame). Our friend Sara, like her older brother Ralph, is a Reasoner; basically an elite pilot who patrols in one of the military's most advanced weapons: the insect-like robotic units called Strains.
Strains require a very unique interface to operate that is based on the merging of amniotic fluid and computer technology called a Mimic. It is explained early on that should a pilot's Mimic be destroyed, their ability to operate a Strain is eliminated as well.
The beginning portion of the show sets up Sara's almost incestual obsession with her older brother Ralph and how this obsession has ultimately led to her decision to follow in his footsteps by joining the Union military.
It turns out that there is a massive interstellar war being raged between human factions. Our protagonists fight on the side of the Union against a slightly more mysterious group known as the Deague (pronounced "Deeg").
The story really heats up once older brother Ralph begins leading a series of assaults against the Union by targeting training facilities. What ensues is sibling rivalry on the grandest scale.
What the show's entire structure boils down to is balance- Balance between hard-core science fiction (the likes of which would fit right in with a Star Trek motion picture or Gundam series for that matter) with bouncing breasts and panty flashes. Balance between hardened warring factions and juvenile lesbian encounters. Balance between richly drawn character models and computer generated space battles. For the most part, the formula works. About the biggest flaw in the whole structure comes in the form of a lead character who takes entirely too long to warm up to. Granted she does endure a succession of heartbreaks, heartaches, and just general misery but the viewer more than pays the price. Things do eventually improve on this front so long as you're willing to endure several episodes of drone-like behavior with supporting cast bending over backward to express their love or hatred of the lead character.
I should note that Studio Fantasia deserves credit for bringing a pretty cool visual style to the mecha element (a genre that must surely feel as if it's all been done before when developing). The Strains not only look like giant mechanized insects (something between a bee and a lady bug in flight), they also move like them as well. Much of the combat sequences take place at the speed in which the units actually move (meaning close-ups with blurred backgrounds), we are treated to occasional angles of the Strains duking it out from a distance. They zip, zing, and zoom around each other like a pair of hungry hummingbirds. Suddenly the importance of an interface like the mimic becomes clear.
Without a doubt the show's greatest strength lies within its pacing. I can go as far as to say that Strain contains the most explosive first episode that this author has yet to encounter. By the time the credits fade to black, you'll be left catching your breath while thinking, was all that really just the first episode? The pacing slows a bit in subsequent episodes but considering that it has only 13 episodes with which to tell its tale, there are few, if any, dragged out moments. The action-laden pace is quite consistent as well with the only exception coming in the form of the seventh episode where a contrived attempt at humor puts the focus on an obsessed lesbian's attempt to win Sara's affection.
Otherwise the show maintains a nice scientific approach to space travel, galactic distances, alien cultures, and so on. Politics are always in the foreground, which makes the battle scenes feel much more provoked and quintessential to survival.
Both language options are quite solid and in fact the dub really goes the distance to retain the original script. The English cast reads like a who's who in terms of Funimation's vocal talent and the actress commentary over the sixth episode will convince even lottery winners that they're missing out on the best job in the world.
In all Strain is an entertaining mecha entry that will satisfy fans of the genre with a solid mixture of classical elements coupled to the animation benefits of computer technology. Kudos to Funimation for snagging this underrated property and brining it to the American masses that, like yours truly, can never have too much mecha.
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An anime movie.
An anime DVD boxed set.
An anime DVD boxed set.