OMG I finally got to watch some (subtitled) anime (on my own time and in my own space)! It’s about time, right?
I first learned of Soukou no Str.A.In. (wiki) from Anime Expo 2010, which I attended for two days this year. Sara Werec stars as the series protagonist; her mission is to go to war to rejoin her brother, Ralph Werec, who left when she was a child and has since become the Union’s greatest hero. Since they live in a universe where many ships are capable of sub-lightspeed travel and the frontline of battle is 130 light years away, even if Ralph survived and returned home, Sara would be long dead as a result of general relativity. So, she decides to follow him as soon as she’s old enough so that she’ll be able to see him again at all. And she does.
Lower right: Sara Werec and her Mimic, Emily. Upper left: Ralph Werec
Next time we see her, Sara is about to graduate from the academy training facility as one of the Union’s greatest Reasoners, aside from her brother, who is touted as a hero in her history and strategy classes. (A Reasoner is a STRAIN pilot; a STRAIN is a type of elite flying combat ship capable of carrying one passenger, the pilot.) Each Reasoner, including Sara and Ralph, has a Mimic, a machine created the Reasoner’s brain cells from before that person was even born. If it’s destroyed, it can never be replaced. One night, the academy is attacked and Sara and her friends head out in their STRAINs to fight back. Her friends are killed in battle and Sara’s Mimic is destroyed.
While searching for the pilot of the enemy STRAIN, Sara discovers that the pilot is none other than Ralph Werec, her brother. He’s changed and seems to barely recognize her. He revives a young girl and takes her with him back to his STRAIN, where he leaves Sara standing in the dirt without any answers. Sara’s new mission is to catch up with Ralph and make him explain his traitorous actions. She changes her name to Sara Cruz so she won’t be recognized (and demonized by her association to her brother) and enrolls in another academy as a GAMBEE pilot. (Since her Mimic was destroyed, she can no longer pilot STRAIN fighters.)
Ralph Werec, episode 1
She works hard and isn’t very social, and the other GAMBEE trainees bully her and make fun of her. Eventually, she discovers a broken down STRAIN on the ship where she’s staying and a doll named Emily which has a Mimic built into it. As events progress, Sara finds out she can pilot the STRAIN with Emily, even though Emily is not her Mimic. She attracts the attention of the higher ups and, slowly, her story comes to light. While all this is happening, Ralph is in league with the enemy but has an agenda of his own and even betrays the enemy ship’s crew to protect his childlike charge, a(nother) girl named Emily.
Str.A.In. (meaning “Strategic Armored Infantry”) is just thirteen episodes, running about 25 minutes each. It’s not a huge time commitment (as opposed to, say, an American TV show with multiple 20-episode seasons or something), and I definitely recommend watching it. I found out after finishing the series that it was inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s novels, including A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. I can see some influences, but honestly, I wouldn’t have the connected the two unless someone pointed out the similarities (as Wikipedia did).
There’s a minor character in the series who, because of the way time in sub-lightspeed works, is physically younger (that is, has aged less) than his younger brother. I was willing to go with it and just suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story, especially since it was only a minor plot point, but afterward it confused me. My father, sister, and I even had an extended conversation about general and special relativity because I was confused about how subjective time and objective time (in the series) worked. I think I get it now, but I ended up getting a crash course in Relativity for Stupid People at like 11 PM a couple of nights ago so I would understand it.
Ralph Werec, episode 13
I’ll admit right now that I was in it for Ralph. His story intrigued me much more than Sara’s did, but I understand why the creators focused on her (rather than him) and actually, I think it worked out better that way. There is, however, a moment in the 11th episode when one of the characters says, “Sara, you aren’t permitted to go out yet. But I think if Ralph Werec is coming, you should fight.” Sara was wounded in the last battle and her history (including her relation to her brother) has just come to light for all the other characters. She’s even suspected of being an enemy spy. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt in most cases, especially when I just want to have a good time, but this line really got to me. It was completely unrealistic, even within the constraints of the series. If I were Sara’s commanding officer, my first reaction would be lock her in the brig until shit had been sorted out and we’d either  beaten the enemy (Ralph) or  died trying. I wouldn’t let her out to presumably fight him if I suspected she might be a spy. That said, I understand where the character was coming from, but I just have to believe that they didn’t really suspect her of being a spy in the first place and just tossed the accusation around to scare her.
In the last major battle, all the STRAIN units were piloted by women, which I thought was awesome. (Although there had been men pilots as well, they were either killed or seriously injured earlier on.) Multiple women characters have multiple conversations about things other than men, so this series definitely passes The Bechdel Test (though, admittedly, much of the driving force behind the two main women characters’—Sara and Lottie—actions is their love for their respective brothers).
A good, solid show. Recommended if you like mecha sci-fi. (Also, it’s a mech series with female protagonists who are not simply love interests! YES.)