Two stars out of five. There’s bad bad anime, and there is good bad anime, and this is good bad anime. For everything it gets wrong, it manages to get enough right to be enjoyable. However, it’s simply not good enough for me to rate at three stars.
Ichika has it rough. He’s the only boy able to pilot the IS exoskeleton, powered armor normally restricted to female-only use. He’s the brother of one of the best IS pilots in the world, and is now a student at the Infinite Stratos Academy, a place where people train for the “sport” they use the mechs for. He soon has it rougher when he finds out that as the only boy in an all-girls school, he gets a lot of attention. Then, there are the random IS suits that are running amuck…
I won’t split hairs. There are many things wrong with this anime. It’s a harem show, and the whole point of it is to have every single girl in the show chase after Ichika. If this means changing the personalities of certain characters after they are beaten by him, no problem. Ichika isn’t the worst harem protagonist in anime, but they make up for his good qualities by making him clueless to women’s feelings to a near autistic level. You have your sexy time scenes, your beach episode, and everything except the token lolita character.
You also have a very loose and casual sense of detail. The shenlong is supposed to be a close-ranged mech, but then they bust out the shoulder lasers. Mech power levels vary drastically as the series possess, with some seeming blatantly overpowered, and some surprisingly weak for their generation. The mechs have a shield system which absorbs damage until zero, in which it shuts down, but you see Ichika taking punches to the face from an exoskeleton covered arm. and for a sport which is legitimately seen as dangerous, the female pilots have little qualms about using what would be deadly force on Ichika and each other a bit too often.
However, there are good points, too. The mech design is good, and the world itself is interesting. The IS robots are governed by a treaty preventing any military use, and their total number is restricted to the amount of cores the creator of IS doles out to the nations of the world. That same creator seems to have limited the operation of the robots to girls only, giving a legitimate reason for all of the girls to gather together in the first place. Some characters are done well. Ichika’s sister is no-nonsense, and has a lot of good scenes. Charlotte is one of the better harem secondary characters I’ve seen; she’s competent, understands things, is not prone to hysterics, and pilots her IS with startling strength and ability. Ichika is good because he’s essentially normal apart from the insane cluelessness; he isn’t a sad sack, and he has fond relationships with people even as he worries about the past.
There’s also some cool humor. It helps if you are the kind of person who likes to riff on bad anime, but there are some legitimately funny lines, like when Laura declares her romantic attentions towards Ichika, or when the oddball creator of the IS shows up. A strength that some people might disagree with is the mundanity of the world. There are no epic fights against conquering alien races, or constant “unlock the power-up” quests. It’s just some young men and women dealing lightly with their past and unexpected, malfunctioning threats. The story also doesn’t explain quite everything about the world, or neatly wrap it up. If anything the ending between two characters is interesting precisely because it adds some detail that begs for further explanation.
Keep in mind that despite all this, it’s really a bad anime. Even if you like harem anime, characters like Cecila and the weird girl who dresses like Pikachu in the beach episode will grate on you, and it never rises to the levels it may hint at. But it isn’t as bad as Kampfer, Yumeria, or Demon King Daimao, where you can’t even find pleasure in riffing on it or noticing some of the subtle details of the world. I wish that the light novels this anime is based on would come to the states, because the anime hints at a richer world that it doesn’t have time to properly show you.
For Christians, I’d have to give it an R because of uncensored toplessness and mild sexual situations, aka skintight wetsuits. There’s also the bloodthirstiness of some of the women, which is played for laughs, but considering that they are firing lasers at an unshielded human, it can make you squirm a bit. If you’re a vet of harem anime, it might startle you at times with its sexiness. They use it for effect, which is something not many harem anime seem to do well.
If this were the old days, I’d say Infinite Stratos is a fun rental, the kind where you watch it over a weekend and mock it all the time you watch it. But in the end, you find you had a lot of fun doing so, and liked some of the potential of the world. Even if you like it a lot though, you’ll find yourself apologizing for it.