Tl;DR - Would you be surprised if a series whose source material is an arcade game is crap? Guess what!
OK, so here we are talking about Gunslinger Stratos. As I alluded to, it's an anime that is based off of an arcade game, which is well known as a medium that is optimal for presenting rich and interesting storylines... ok you're already not taking this sentence seriously. Wasting time on a story is the opposite of what most arcade games want to do. If you waste time telling a story, then generally that's time spent where the player isn't playing, ergo the player isn't losing and thus isn't cramming more money into the machine. Instead, the magic sauce for most arcade games is to apply just barely enough story to set up the game mechanics and get the sweet, sweet cash out of the player's ham fists and into the machine. It's the same concept as how strippers work, only you don't get beaten by the bouncers when you mix up which slot the money goes in.
Now, despite this obvious detail and for whatever reason (I'm guessing some sort of contractual obligation or boredom) we have been afflicted blessed with Gunslinger Stratos. Honestly I don't know a whole lot about the game (I've heard it's quite fun), but I know enough to know that there isn't much plot to speak of. For the anime, they took what little there was and streeeeeetched and squeeeeeeeeeezed it very painfully into a full show. And it's completely 'nanners.
A plot synopsis is something like this: People (read: teenagers, it's anime so of course) must time travel to the past and fight their doppelgangers from other parallel dimensions to the death with [often ridiculous, e.g. one character uses a minigun with a giant bayonet] magical/sci-fi weapons. If they don't, some sort of nebulous villains called the Timekeepers (who are explained more towards the end, to my infinite amusement they turn out to be nanomachines, though there's no Metal Gear crossover) will turn people to sand at random, because they're assholes. To aid our heroes in their task of killing themselves they pick up the series resident deus ex machina Swiss Army Knife, called energy cubes, which basically do whatever happens to be necessary to advance the "plot" at various points in the story. Also, needless to say killing yourself and your friends from alternate universes is rather traumatic, so there's a heavy dose of broodiness and hormonal teenagers present that motivate different events. The overall plot of the show trends towards the characters fighting off the Timekeepers but... (spoiler alert) after they actually finally manage to defeat them, the parallel universe version of the main character decides the actual main character isn't hardcore enough and tries to kill him in order to achieve some vague and illogical end that doesn't make much sense. As always folks, let this remind you to immediately kill your doppelganger or else they will eventually try to murder you.
Now, here's the thing: I like shows that are bad like this one. It's hilariously bad. It checks all the boxes, awkwardly inconsistent time travel, hilariously dumb dialog, spiky hair, perplexing characters... oh man there's just so much here to mock. I had a blast watching this show.
I'm going to avoid commenting on the technical aspects of this show because there really isnt much to say. It has colors. It has spiky hair and gravity defying clothing. The creators can definitely draw better than I can, but that's not setting the standards very high and I'm not willing to give them much credit beyond that.
The takeaway is that this show is a disaster. It's comically awkward, but I'd only recommend it if you enjoy laughing at other people's [terrible] work (like me!). Hopefully my scathing sarcasm properly communicates my dislike of the show.
PS: I just realized that A-1 Pictures (the studio that made it) is responsible for making some of my favorite series in recent memory (A/0, Shigatsu wa, Silver Spoon, Space Brothers, Servant x Service and a few more). I guess nobody is perfect.
Gunslinger Stratos occupies a rather strange space between Shounen and something else. It is a space with a lot of potential, but that is easily done wrong. Gunslinger Stratos tried really hard to maintain the balance between it's various elements, and succeeded largely, unfortunately it fell short in some respects, and it is a sad thing. But let us look at the anime in more detail and you should understand what I mean.
Story - 4/10
Story, one of the most important facets of an anime. It certainly is something that no anime can do without, and is something that needs to be done right. Gunslinger had an interesting premis. Two alternate and somewhate parallel timelines were both headed for destruction. Luckily for them beings from the future called Time Keapers were there to help them. But only one of the two timelines would be able to be saves, and to determine which is would be, the two timelines had to fight each other.
Naturally each timeline contributed their version of the same individual, and as such you have a lot of instances of two almost identical looking individuals fighting one another.
Shounen - 4/10
I found it hard to find the right genre to place Gunslinger in. It had several elements from different genres, they all vied for control without any one gaining the upper hand. So in the end it was the main character's somewhat stereotype that made me decide to put it under shounen.
Now what exactly am I talking about when I say several genres were vying for control? Well, it had obvious Shounen elements. The main character is a very indecisive individual. One of those I'll live my live and go with the flow kind of individuals. He didn't really make an decisive decisions.
There was romance, though only in the slightest. It is essentially, Kyoka is in love with Tohry, but doesn't tell him, and Tohru is largely to ignorent to notice. They do jump from being good friends to being in a romantic relationship in one episode. Which I found to be rather too quick. There was no real build-up. Throughout the previous episodes we only get hints and snit-bits that show us Kyoka loves Tohry, and he might like her; then during their day off the two go on a picknick and all of a sudden they are cuddling, kissing and talking like old lovers. It all seamed somewhat rushed for me.
Gunslinger Stratos tried to be psychological with it's premis and asked a few questions here and there regarding morality, motivation, the nature of the future, etc. However, nowhere in the anime are the question satisfactorily tackled and answered, nor do the questions take enough of a foreground to consider them main plot elements. They felt more like afterthough add-ons that planned and integral parts.
In the end what you are left with is issentially a series of battle royals for control of cubes that make your weapons better. A few sad deaths and a few ironic comments, but not much more.
Balance - 6/10
The balance in this anime was excellent. Unfortunately this excellent balance both added and detracted to the anime. It gave you a wholesome portion of all the various bits of the anime, some character flushing out, some action and a little intrigue into the story, but it prevented any one element from gaining the upper hand and giving you a clear definition of the genre.
It begins to feel like an dish with too many flavours, all of them on the same level, and no dominant flavour to ground you. As such it took me a while to decide what score to give it. I had a good score for the balance, but a bad score for the way it detracts from the anime for being to equal. The short length of the anime didn't help this at all, since the anime couldn't properly yexplore some of it's better bits.
Surprise - 2/10
Surprise, or the 'I have to keep watching' factor, was rather absent for me. It had a decent to mediocre story. It had pretty good action, it had somewhat bland characters, and a rather lackluster soundtrack. I often found myself putting off watching the episode for three or four days and at two points considred dropping the anime all together. This is an area they could definately keep working harder at.
There were a few plot twists, but I saw them all coming miles away. So there weren't any cliffhangers that I hadn't already seen the bottom of. The storyline is predictable and mediocre at best.
Animation - 5.83/10
Animation is the makeup of an anime. It is what turns it into a visual media work. It can also make or break the anime. It is very important that the creators of an anime do a good job of doing the animation, whilst at the same time stamping their own unique feel and look on to the anime. Animation is what can change an anime from a bland, generic anime, into a unique set piece.
Colour - 4.5/10
The colour in the anime was well done, bright and crisp. It was pleasent on the eyes and smooth to look at. I did find it to be uncompromising though. In scenes where I thought it would have been a good idea to tone down the colour or the make it a little darker, the anime kept its bright colours.
All in all I found it to be technically very well done, but cinematically ill-utilised. The creators could have done a much better job in varying their colours usage to strengthen scenes in the anime.
Animation Style - 6/10
The animation style for me was very bland. It appeared very generic and uninspired. It felt like the animators were keeping their standards, but not putting in that love and care to make this turn into something more than just another mass produced series. I have to admit that the weapon designs did look pretty good.
Motion - 7/10
Motion is what makes the difference between a Manga and an Anime. It changes still pictures into living, breathing works of art. The motion in Gunslinger was definitely on par with what we have come to expect from modern anime. Character movements were smooth and well though out. Choreography was also well done, though a few of the motions were a little unrealistic.
Sound - 7/10
Gunslinger was a little bought back on the sounds. It felt like the creators were content with using stock sounds. I couldn't find much new tot the sound repertoire. On the plus side, the sounds were well chosen and did contribute well to the feeling of the anime. It felt gentle and thought through. Not the best I've heard, but certainly satisfactory.
Music - 8/10
The music was rather well done, to my surprise. The songs fit in the general mood of the anime, and the lyrics were well matched. I found myself often replaying the songs once or twice, especially the closing theme. They got me ready for the anime and helped me wind down at the end. their length and instrument usage was well executed and they made me happy to listen to it. Often it was because of the music that I decided to watch the episodes I had decided to put off.
Characters - 2.2/10
Alongside the story, Characters is where the Anime failed, and quite miserably. So let's get right into it and find out how and why they failed.
Motivation - 3/10
Though the external motivation, or plot motivation, for the characters was decent (trying to stop their world from becoming non-existent), the individual motivation for characters I found to be rather lacking. The main character, Tohry, and his love interest Kyoka get dragged into the fight without much protest, and without making a specific decision to join. They just go along with it. Sidune herself has the superficial motivation of serving her master, but we aren't given any explanation why she wants to serve him so badly. Besides that we have several other characters with no exposition of backstories that are there without any reason.
Breaking from Archetypes - 3/10
I'm rather pissed at the creators of Gunslinger Stratos for this. I found archetype after archetype in the anime. The main character is bland, he has no unique qualities that set him apart from your typical shounen protagonist. We have the typical love interest who loves him dearly but he is to ignorent to notice. We have the love interest's big brother who doesn't like the protagonist because he is over-protective of his little sister. You have the staff member/scientist who betrays the group in pursuit of his own ends... The list goes on. It was really saddening to see the creators be so lazy to not think up proper characters.
Main Characters - 2/10
I found the main characters to be very bland. They fell perfectly into the main archetypes, they didn't have any motivation, they were indicisive, they didn't develop. There is some superficial development, but there is no instance where any of the characters question their decisions or morals. They make their decisions, which is basically just to stay on their course, and then stay on their course, and damned be anyone who tries to argue with them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if it were one character int he entire group, but everyone is this way.
Tohru at the end of the last episode says he hates his other self, but this in no way effects his actions. We don't se any internal conflict where he struggles between his desire to kill his other self, and his moral of wanting to end the conflict.
Supporting Characters - 2/10
Here I have much the same gripes as with the main characters. They are all bland, indicisive and most of all, unimportant. There is no internal conflict to the characters. They have superficial conversations and arguments, but no where do you see any internal questioning, thoughts or doubts from the characters. They feel dull and void of any need to be recreated.
Importance to story - 1/10
Not only where the specific characters unimportant to the story, but their roles themselves were unimportant. Many of them were extra, their conflicts, deaths, injuries etc. didn't influence the way the story played out. This was a cheap way for the creators to tell a story. They didn't pay any particular attention to the characters, and non of their lines carry any weight.
This anime is essentially yet another retelling of a story that has been told a hundred time, and each time was more interesting than this one. The story isn't bad per se, but it is uninspired, generic and lacking in anything to make it special. If you have nothing better to do, you could take a look at this anime, but put it at the end of your list of anime to watch.
At first you don't understand what the hell is going on, but as the show gets into the second episode everything starts to become more clear. The entire show is based in the future, with one exception, they travel back through time with a small team of fighters to battle themselves from a different timeline. However, the large twist is the shows duality and take on society and people in general. There is quite a lot of talk about changing the future where humans end up destroying themselves through evolution/strength of weapons. Which in our present day holds a lot of weight a validity to the overall shows theme.
The basic metaphor of the entire show is this: Humanity and it's future is never written in stone, but the potential to destroy ourselves is still quite great. Their answer to this destruction is to create a world government so that we are not fighting each other and destroying the people and the world in which we live in.
As far as the animation, style, music, color, etc. it is what you would expect from any solid animation coming out in this era of amazing computer graphics. The characters are quite shallow in depth to their personalities and nothing really sets them apart from a fiary tail, one piece, or gundam character that isnt one of the main points in the stories.
Overall an enjoyable watch, and worth the bing of 12 episodes!
In my opinion this is one of the greatest animes I have seen in a long time. It reminded me of STEINS;GATE a bit, which is another favorite of mine. The story may be a tad hard to follow, but it's super interesting! The whole concept and world this anime is set in is totally awesome! Beautiful, beatiful animation and the characters all have great personalitites. Some kind of pop up and you probably won't know who they are, but overall this is a very straight up badass anime with lots of action and twists and turns. I'm gonna recommend it to a lot of my friends for sure!