#MechaMarch Soukou no Strain: Fighting an Endless Soup of Time

Following Eureka 7, let’s also start Mecha March with one of my hidden favorite series. Yes, I did write a small post about Soukou no Strain last year. That series of blog posts went well and I will return to it, but it didn’t have any means behind it. Somehow, it was able to get people interested in watching it. Now, I’ve re-watched it yet again and am ready to look at it without the nostalgia glasses on it probably. It is still one of my favorites, but a little less than it was beforehand. It didn’t have quite the appeal of buying something randomly and loving what came out of it anymore, but that’s ok. There is still a lot of strength to it that still remains from this previous watch. I also am looking at the cheap purchase of Gunparade March last fall and I am very curious if it could be another strain. Gulp.

Strain is an anime series that takes place in the distant future of 6000 AD. Humanity has spread out across the galaxy through travel that is slower than light speed. The name of the game is sub-light speed travel and this play in all aspects of the story. In this series, mankind is split into two different factions, the Galactic Union and the Deague. Two factions that are continuously at war with each other which sets the background for a lot of the plot as well. We also follow the Union and they two types of mecha units in their arsenal. The first types are the high flying aces who have mimics of their brains taken from when they were babies into their mecha that allow them to have split second reflexes. These are called strains. Otherwise, they are forced into the Gambee pilots who are merely grunts. Unlike the Union, the Deague mainly uses explosive drones instead of mecha and they are amazingly effective.

The story of Strain starts at an older looking academy for Strain pilots. Our main protagonist Sara Werec is training to be a Strain pilot who is going after her brother, Ralph, who is the definitive Strain ace. The school is like a very shoujosque fantasy dream world with giant robots. It also has a romance that may or may not happen between Sara and a boy around her age before they graduate. One of those can’t spit it out classic romance tropes was in motion. Then one night, Sara’s world was shaken apart. The Deague attacked the academy with a strain pilot leading the charge. The Strain pilot? Sara’s beloved brother Ralph Werec. Everything was taken away from her including her mimic. No wonder she got some cold.

The rest of Strain is focused on Sara afterwards with her attempt to be a Gambee pilot on a spaceship-based academy. She still has the motivation to go after her brother, but that’s it. She is suffering from PTSD to the maximum level, which shows that there is no psychologist in anime yet again, and the other trainees around her hate her for her lack of interaction or humanity. It is that sort of locker room culture that makes her an easy target because she accepts everything that happens around her, like ripping her clothes in the locker apart and such, without saying anything about it. She doesn’t defend herself from it which is why it digs so deeply into the story. For as basic as it is, the show is strong for playing with those elements without taking them way too far here.

Yet in that environment, Sara has some successes as well with the new guise of Sara Cruze. Her robotically being focused on working hard and succeeding at going into sublight speed training a large amount of time before she was ever meant to based on basic training schedule. Having that sort of effort also got the interest of Lottie, the queen of the Spatial Armored Division or the strain pilots of this training area. While the Gambee Pilots hated her, Sara gained some guardian angels that watch her over which reminded her of her past and opened up a door for her past to be made. That leads to the main turning point in the story. The discovery of the plot element itself.

The majority of Strain goes with their Union ship with the Deague, led by Ralph Werac following them. In a moment where Ralph attacks the ship, Sara gains help from a mysterious source. A doll that happens to be a mimic of some kind and the thing Ralph was searching for. So you can guess what happens. Sara goes into battle on a brand-new Strain with this mimic and was able to fend off Ralph and save the ship, which is called the Libertad, from getting more casualties. Lots of people have died already and it has a cost. Why didn’t Sara appear earlier and why didn’t Sara’s Gambee start in the first place? Every action has a cost when rookies are at war in a situation, they don’t understand for the first time ever.

So here is a story in multiple parts. Sara learning to be herself once again physically and mentally when taking her name back, her building her own support network with Lottie and the rest of the Spatial Armored Division that like having her around, dealing with a lot of the blow back of her hiding who she is and appearing later on, and dealing with her insanity crazed brother in her own way as well. I didn’t even mention this was all in one cour yet, right? Yeah, that’s the truth of it. For 13 episodes, there is a lot of good story telling, great world or galaxy building, good main character and side character building, and a lot of things in that short of a package. It’s very good story that has a lot of elements in there as well. It still comes with a lot of things which don’t make as much sense either.

Let’s talk about time dilation a little bit. That is one of the major things in Strain. So a bit of a spoiler, the mimic that Sarah is attached to is also instantly connected through all of space and time to the little girl that her brother Ralph takes with him. That’s why Ralph knows where to attack which is completely fine and everything. Having FTL travel teased to the Deague is why they signed on along with the horrible backstory of this event. It makes sense why the Deague and the Union would want it. At the same time, how do you fight a war across entire galaxies without Faster Than Light travel and communication? Results of battles are not going to appear instantly at all, so how does this work?

This goes along with how does a training ship, not a secret ship, happen to have an alien mimic in the first place? You can push these elements aside in a one cour show like this, but if was larger it didn’t work. None of this really bothers me in story, but these are annoying after thoughts that come later. One character that ruins the middle portion of Strain a little bit, even if it does connect to the story over all, is Latvia. The one way too into Sara lesbian character of the Strain that ruins a lot of what I’ve told you already. She takes up way too much screen time in her failed attempts at hitting on Sara, making her uncomfortable, and inevitably getting Sara’s new mimic lost. There is a little too much “hand of the creator” getting involved here that is kind of distracting now. There is decent non leering fanservice in the show, but Latvia changes so much of the context of the story.

The background art and animation from Strain is pretty great honestly. There is somehow an old school kind of sketchiness to the art that makes it feel special from coming out in the late 2000’s. It’s been pointed out to me that a lot of the story characters look like Gundam characters. Will yeah, Sara and Ralph do look a lot like the princess and prince duo of Sayla and Char respectively. Otherwise, there is that mixture of gundam, modern designs, and some moe at the same time. You can tell there is a turning point in those designs from more realistic to moe as well here.

The mechanical designs of Strain are great. I love all of them. The Libertard is such a memorable ship design and you can separate it from so many other shows which have more boxy designs. Most ships are boxes or battleships, but the Libertad looks like a fish. Each mecha design represents their sort of function. The gambee are the mook units and they are very basic square robot designs that are easy to build while Strains are shaped more like birds of prey and have so much more freedom in their designs. They even fight like birds that fire lasers. The drones from the Deague are very form over function as well which works considering that they are mass produced and comes in dozens and dozens of them. I just love all of them honestly. Very well-designed universe.

So thank you for indulging me in talking about one of my secret gems of a show. Soukou no Strain is such a show that not a lot of people know about and I hope this post awakens at least a small amount of people do somehow. The reach of this blog is small still, but I would like to try doing a little more anyway. With all that hype, it’s still a good show instead of a solid one for me. That doesn’t make it bad because I don’t think that one of my favorites show has to have the highest rating possible at all to be like that. It’s a very well put together show with a small amount of flaws in it that set up back a little bit. Oh well, what can you do? I still really love it.

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