Hidden Gems of Anime: Soukou no Strain

I promised an article on Soukou no Strain, aka Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry (What a horrible English title!), back in November.  This splendid show of just thirteen episodes came out back in 2006; yet, it wraps the viewer so well in the struggles of its characters that I’m surprised people no longer mention it.  I suppose the singularity of the plot excludes comment?  I cannot think of another sci-fi anime including so much quantum science and portraying a one man quest to annihilate humanity which can only be stopped by his sister!

Soukou.no.Strain

Anyway, the show begins with Ralph Werec departing for the space force in order to train for being a mecha pilot.  His younger sister, Sara Werec, is distraught because the dynamics of sub-light speed travel would prevent them from seeing each other again: she would age and die before Ralph.  (To use an example of how time passes differently for people traveling at or near light speed, my high school professor claimed that if people on earth watched a person traveling at light speed lifting a cup of coffee through a live video feed, you might see the cup move from the table to his lips in fifty years!)  And so, Sara herself later joins the space force in order to see her brother again.  Before she graduates from its Strain pilot academy (they call giant robots Strains), *Spoiler alert* Ralph returns to earth as a traitor and slaughters all Sara’s friends with his Gloire-type Strain.  Sara’s piece of equipment for connecting to her Strain, called a Mimic, is destroyed during the battle.  Her desperation to learn why Ralph betrayed the Union leads to her entering Gambee pilot training under an assumed name.  A Gambee is a less powerful kind of mech which does not require a Mimic to pilot.

Sara and Emily

Might I add that this anime portrays the relationship between big brothers and little sisters more realistically than my dear readers are likely to find in current anime?  Ralph and Sara are closely connected by familial affection rather than romantic feelings.  (If not for shows like Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, I would lack a reason to remark on that.)  This show knows how to play the audience’s heartstrings.  I was watching Soukou no Strain with my younger sister, and this show has a very touching flashback to Lottie and Sara’s time with their respective older brothers.  Once the flashback was over, my sister could not hold back but tearfully rose from the couch to gave me a hug.  (I almost teared up myself–almost.)

The Strain Pilots

Even without this sense of identification, one’s heart would need to be made of stone not to be moved by the characters’ plight.  Sara in particular suffers rejection from her fellow Gambee pilots.  With the betrayal of her brother–her only family, she lost the ability to relate to others.  This betrayal makes her regard herself as trash.  The Gambee pilots interpret her self-hatred as snobbery and harass her accordingly.  Besides confronting Ralph, part of the heroine’s journey involves learning that she is valuable–that her fellows do not treat her as she deserves.

Lavinia certainly thinks that Sara is worthwhile, spawning one of the funniest episodes in the series, "Lavinia's Lovely Plot."

Lavinia certainly thinks that Sara is worthwhile, spawning one of the funniest episodes in the series, “Lavinia’s Lovely Plot.”

Sara’s discovery of Emily, a doll containing a Mimic without a partner, is her first step in discovering her value.  Her daily routine comes to include speaking to this doll, which is located in the workshop of the genius Melchi and his assistant Carmichael.  Discovering that she is somehow compatible with this Mimic, she is able to take off in an experimental Strain when her brother attacks the training fleet to which Sara is attached.  Thereafter, she becomes incorporated into the unit of Strain pilots and her wounds begin to heal.

Lottie and Sara as friends.

Might I add that I love Lottie’s nickname for Sara: “Konjou Onna” or “Gutsy Girl.”

And so, this is a great mecha show with complex, likable characters, strong pathos, and exciting interstellar battles.  You’ll regret it if you pass up on this gem–one of the strongest single season shows ever made!

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