Gunslinger Stratos: The Animation
by Lauren Orsini,
Gravity-defying moves. Angst. Panty shots. Cool outfits and guns. You like these things, right? Gunslinger Stratos: The Animation hopes you like them enough to ignore this episode's dire lack of anything new. This week brings us an episode that has been perfectly calculated to contain a potpourri of everything it thinks fans like, becoming predictable in the process.
Last week, we saw the traumatic death of a main character, Kyouma's lolita girl servant, Shidune. Just in case you forgot, this episode reuses about two minutes of footage leading up to her death, which I found lazy and unnecessary. As characters struggle to cope with the aftermath, we've got a parade of cliches you've certainly seen before. There's a shower scene where running water mimics tears. Shidune's sister stands at her grave in the rain. Tohru and Kyoka almost kiss as they comfort each other in their angst. These are textbook grief scenes, and to see them one after another is eye-rolling.
But before they can kiss, it's time for another fight! In the briefing room, the battlers learn that there's a new condition for victory. As they fight for their lives against their equally powerful doppelgangers, they are also racing to reach the top of Tokyo Tower first. It sounds a lot like a video game challenge, doesn't it? Square Enix's influence continues to factor highly in this video-game-turned-anime's plot. In the episode's only creative scene, Tohru concentrates on his brief while everything else in the room literally fades to white, symbolizing that he alone is the man for the job. Indeed, only Tohru's qualities suit him to be the one to aim for Tokyo Tower. “Is he the factor that will bring change to the world?" the doctor asks himself. He wonders if it's a coincidence that the new victory parameter happened after the perfectly suited Tohru joined up. Of course it isn't! This is another cliche: Tohru is the chosen one who will solve everything. At times like this, Gunslinger Stratos is a little less nauseating and a little more like the macaroni and cheese of anime: comforting in its predictability.
However, what keeps me from panning this anime altogether is the doppelgangers' wrinkle in time effects. For all its faults, Gunslinger Stratos' saving grace is a big one. As the fighters in this world mourn Shidune, the other Shidune mourns her Kyouma. It's a glimmer of proof that the other side is just as multifaceted as Tohru and his friends, with equally close—and similar—relationships. “Tohru loves me, but hasn't Tohru abandoned you?" the other Kyoka says while addressing the “me from the other side” as she puts it. When Sensei faces off against the other Shidune, both sides are overwhelmed with emotion as they see their lost sibling in front of them. The culmination of the episode is a one-on-one battle between Tohru and Tohru, who are equally strong and must rely on outside factors in order to get an edge over one another. Paired with a powerful orchestral soundtrack, Tohru's battle with Tohru is easily the most interesting part of the episode, piquing the audience's curiosity about just how similar doppelgangers can be.
Gunslinger Stratos wants desperately to be your new favorite anime, and uses every popular anime cliche in order to get there. In the process, it forgets that cliches become that way through overuse, and we've seen them all before. It's upsetting because Gunslinger Stratos has a time travel element that could be promising and new—if only the anime chose to get out of its own way.
Gunslinger Stratos: The Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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