Gunslinger Stratos: The Animation
by Lauren Orsini,
I'm the kind of person who frequently remembers my dreams—a series of disjointed and barely connected events one after the other. Sometimes when I'm watching Gunslinger Stratos: The Animation I question whether or not I'm still awake, because it really is just like that. During episodes 10 and 11, there were storylines that didn't make sense, unfamiliar characters who had never been introduced, and abrupt tone and mood changes that left me reeling.
We begin with Tohru and Kyoka getting spirited away by their former teacher, Olga. She's an experienced hitman with a convenient, cozy, log cabin safe house, which is perfect for young lovers getting to know one another, and apparently also perfect for relaxing Tohru's brain into an opportune dream about Purple-haired Girl's memories. Purple-haired Girl is from a future where escalators make less sense than they do today (seriously, check out 5:37) but the only thing you really need to grasp from this scene is that her parents are not Tohru and Kyoka. What? I know I'm not the only one who's been picking up those cues from the beginning. In an expertly crafted anime, it would be a triumph to diverge so wildly from viewers' expectations, but here it seems like a missed opportunity. Why has she gone back in time and approached Tohru to save the world and not one of the dozens of other people who share his same time-traveling abilities? "Because he's the Main Character" isn't going to fly. Purple-haired Girl also gets younger as she travels back in time, while nobody else does. Given her lolita physique even as an adult, it doesn't seem like the reason is to make her more vulnerable and approachable.
The next morning, it's time to prepare for the final battle, but there's always time for a date! Weirdly, this Tron-like compound has a gorgeous pastoral landscape for our two young lovers to explore. “Look, there's a bee. Just kidding,” Tohru says. What a dashing, funny guy! Later, Tohru speaks to Kyoka as if she were a real human being, and Kyoka gets angry. “You suddenly got good at dealing with girls,” she fumes. Apparently that one conversation with Other Kyoka was enough to make Tohru comfortable around women for the first time in his life? Either way, they end up sharing the most awkward kiss in anime history, hands down. Dead, open eyes? Check. Fish lips? Double check. No music to make it less uncomfortable for the viewer? You guessed it.
Suddenly, boom! We are treated to a scene of their doppelgangers halfway through their infiltration of Dr. Odhners' lab. No time for setup or the pesky animation that would entail. It's yet another jarring shift that has become synonymous with Gunslinger Stratos. I think the scene is supposed to remind us that Other Tohru and Other Kyoka are also in love, except instead of making fish lips, they prefer to express it by beheading old scientists. Suddenly, scene change! Our Tohru and his crew are getting ready to go back to Japan 2015 for the final showdown. Tohru takes a few moments to soliloquy after everyone else makes the leap. “If there were another me... would I meet him?" he ponders. Uh, yes, and you already did. If this is supposed to sound deep, it's not working.
Have you noticed that in Japan 2015, there are a lot of bizarre lighting effects and rainbows, regardless of the time of day? Usually I look to the weather and the music to determine an anime's mood, but it doesn't really work here, as the music is sparse and we sometimes see a rainbow's arc behind a tableau of people getting blown to bits. It's too bad about the music, because these two episodes had some good pieces. I loved the piano ensemble while Purple-haired Girl was inexplicably floating in space, and I've been a big fan of the high strung strings that back Tohru and Other Tohru's equally tense interactions.
Wait, why is everyone fighting again? We all just had a truce a few episodes ago. “This has nothing to do with the Timekeepers,” snarls Other Tohru. “We will steal your future." Tohru logically explains that they need to combine forces in order to fight against the Timekeepers. Tohru says his doppelganger can even be in charge of the valuable Time Cubes as proof of his trust. Oh, okay then, says Other Tohru. “But there's no need to give us control.” Wait, what? This guy sure changes his mind quickly, which is convenient for the animators who need to fit this entire unwieldy storyline into just one half hour. “That's what I thought you'd say,” Tohru responds. I see, it's a joke. Because they're the same person. Tohru is not very funny.
They leap into the Timekeepers' temporal axis—if you want me to explain why they have to do this, I have no idea—in order to face the Timekeeper that looks like Shidune. Meanwhile, who are all these people? I'm guessing the people on their teams who have barely been introduced were popular in the game, so they're included here, but it's very confusing for viewers who have just seen the anime. We see Other Tohru agonizing over how he wasn't able to save Kenji—who the heck is Kenji? This is the very first time we have heard about some of these people. Other Tohru is plagued by visions of everyone who has died crying tears of blood, which is admittedly a bit metal. “If you accept the Dead End,” says Timekeeper Shidune, “All this stuff never would have happened.” Uh, right, because everyone, everywhere will be dead. The Timekeepers are allergic to logic.
Fortunately, our Tohru is ready to jump in and save the day, while Timekeeper Shidune says the most cliche villain lines you can think of. “Impossible! You had that ability?” and so on. Tohru's lines are even worse. “They don't teach us this at school,” he says, fighting a giant sand demon in a scene full of Michael Bay-like explosions. “We're doing something stupid.” This is so cheesy I'm feeling secondhand embarrassment. Then, right before the final showdown, Shidune says something that would have seriously improved the episode had I known it sooner: if you lose, “you'll be lost to time and space.” I wish we had known the stakes were so high beforehand. It would have really improved the tension of this scene, rather than leaving viewers befuddled as Tohru and Other Tohru go on their desert dreamscape vision quest.
As it is, the most shocking and surprising twist is that there's still more of this anime. It is not over yet. Tohru and Other Tohru have to fight again, for some yet unexplained reason. Stay tuned for at least one more half hour of jarring mood changes and logical leaps. It's interesting that just a few episodes ago, I had such high hopes for this show! Now I'm watching with the curiosity of a rubbernecker looking at a car wreck. At this point, Gunslinger Stratos is becoming more entertaining than it's been in a while, but for all the wrong reasons.
Gunslinger Stratos: The Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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