Infinite Stratos, Vol. 1

By Izuru Yumizuru and CHOCO. Released in Japan by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Holm Hinners.

I knew this one was going to be difficult, and kept repeating to myself as I read it, “Remember this came out in 2009, before all those other ones.” But it’s hard. I never saw the Infinite Stratos anime (I know, you’re shocked), which itself is almost five years old at this point. And we’ve had endless works of a similar type or variety since then, intentional or not. Guy arrives at a school, lots of girls, his relative is a higher-up, gotta pilot a giant mech… I should go re-read my review of Hybrid x Heart to see if I’m repeating myself from there. I have no doubt this series was a big influence on them. Which is fine, and I tried, but man, this feels really tired. There are too many tsunderes, the lead’s obliviousness had better be faked or else I’m going to have to rip his arms off, and the occasional interesting plot moment gets derailed at every point for harem antics.

So: in the near future, powered suits have been invented that revolutionize the world. However, only women can pilot them. As a result, men are somewhat second-class citizens now. But guess who is, for some unknown reason, the only man who can pilot an IS? That’s right, our hero Ichika, who is now going to be attending the all-female high school where he can learn how to be a fearsome mech pilot. The mechs, judging by the illustrations, are more Bubblegum Crisis-style suits than Gundams, and the documentation on them is thick and difficult to memorize, particularly if you are a dense male lead. Fortunately, Ichika will have help from his childhood friend Houki (grumpy tsundere), the British Cecilia (haughty tsundere), and his OTHER childhood friend Lingyin, aka “Rin” (standard garden-variety tsundere). Oh, and his older sister, who hits him in the head a lot, but means well. We think.

There are a few things this does well that I can appreciate. Ichika may be the only man in the world that can pilot an IS, but that doesn’t make him immediately the best pilot in the school, though a lot of that is implied to be simple ignorance of how the suits actually work. It is also refreshing, though perhaps unappreciated by me, that the book doubles down on the harem antics so quickly. Most of the stories of this sort that I’ve seen before try to balance out the plot and the harem equally, but IS doesn’t really seem that into its plot, which is a shame as it’s implied that enemies were trying to either kill or kidnap Ichika towards the end – likely related to why he’s the only man who can pilot an IS. And, it has to be said, in 2009 harems and tsunderes were HUGE. Not so much in 2018. I can easily see why this got an anime.

We’ve only had about 12 volumes of this since it began, mostly due to the author’s poor health (which he discusses in the afterword), so it’s not as big as it could be. I will say this: most of the series that have derivative plots that we’ve seen over here before are manga-only, so if you wanted to read actual harem prose, you’ve come to the right place. I’d recommend this book to those who like the anime as well.

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