Enter Tohru Kazasumi, a normal teenager living in the dictatorial 17th Far East Imperial City Management District. Tohru is trying to live a normal life despite his exceptional physical and mental prowess. Unfortunately, life has other plans for Tohru for soon enough Tohru is pulled into a multidimensional conflict where he must fight an alternate reality version of himself, whom only shares Tohru’s face. If Tohru wants to survive, he must consolidate his views with his doppelganger’s to reach the best possible outcome in this war.
It’s a Game World After All
Gunslinger Stratos does a moderate job of integrating the mechanics of the game it’s based on into the narrative. By forcing both the worlds in this anime into a blood sport, the show gives itself room to show the mechanics of the game it’s based on while also allowing it to weave a narrative into the action. The frequent tactical discussions in the anime give the viewer an idea of what the source material is like while also questioning the point of conflict at the center of the show. This fairly interesting because it provides a talking point on the nature of violence in video games or the nature of violence itself. Sadly, the anime abandons these discussions after the first few episodes and goes in a much worse direction. Also, if the mechanics shown in the anime don’t reflect the mechanics in the original game, then this point is completely mute.
I’ll Face Myself
Fighting one’s self is pretty common trope that can be used to varying degrees to success, Gunslinger Stratos is able to put enough of a spin on this trope to make it interesting in places. In Gunslinger Stratos, the warring factions are composed of doppelgangers of each character with only a difference in beliefs and wardrobe. Though each character does fight themselves to an extent in the anime, the characters frequently have to fight the doppelganger of their family or loved ones. It’s quite interesting to see the character struggle to harm enemies that are essentially people who they care about even though they could die for their hesitation. Unfortunately, this element of the show is never explored in depth or shown that often at all, which is a huge missed opportunity.
For an action show, Gunslinger Stratos has very little action and not in a good way. Throughout it’s run, Gunslinger Stratos makes frequent use of still frames to convey each scene. It’s especially bad in the action heavy sequences in the middle of the show because it resorts to using still frames with various special affects to show character moving while underfire. This leads to repetitive actions scenes that not only look cheap, but also fails to grab the audience’s attention.
To add insult to injury, characters frequently look off model during any type of scene and if the camera zooms out at all, the characters look like a messy blob of lines and colors. I know A1 can make some beautiful animation, but this is by far one of their worse looking shows to date.
Final Fantasy Rejects
Gunslinger Stratos tries to take a page from Tetsuya Nomura’s character designs and uses them in all the wrong ways. Like many other pieces of fiction, Gunslinger Stratos tries to differentiate itself by giving each character a unique outfit. This can range from normal high school kid to a sexy schoolteacher or even to a mafia boss, or in the case of the alternate world normal teenager to a sengoku judai samurai. The fluctuation of these character designs interferes with the visual cohesion of both worlds because it makes it hard to tell who is on which side is which. Gunslinger Stratos tries to make itself look unique, but it only succeeds in confusing the audience.
The Weakest Link
Ultimately, weakest part of this show is its terrible villain. What made this villain so weak was because the anime never understood what the big bad was. At the being of the anime, the timekeepers (the main antagonist) were portrayed as a seemingly omniscient being whose motive could not be fathomed by humans, which was good because it showed that the timekeepers were a godlike entity whose presence could be something more symbolic, but this only masked how pointless the time keeper’s presence was in the series.
Essentially, the timekeeper is set up as the final boss of the show, but fails miserably at being relevant in the slightest. All the timekeepers do through out the show is push the plot forward. The timekeepers frequently pull plot developments out of nowhere to keep the two warring worlds fighting each other. By making all these actions that antagonize both worlds, it becomes obvious that both sides will unite to destroy the timekeepers because it would mutually benefit both worlds. Though it’s obvious how the timekeeper’s role will play out, it’s made worse by its design.
The avatar for the timekeepers is a goth loli girl. This design simply does not work well for the role the timekeeper is trying to play because it humanizes this godlike entity in a way that doesn’t command respect. It’s just hard to buy into the fact that a little girl is an almighty god whose power is beyond human comprehension. Also, the timekeeper’s design is based off of one of the design of another character in the show, which cheapens the timekeeper’s presence in the show. Gunslinger Stratos undermines its main villain by giving it a design that clashes with its role.
Finally, what ultimately makes the timekeepers a weak main antagonist is that they aren’t actually the final fight in the series. After the timekeepers are defeated, the show goes on to have one more forced battle between the Main character and his alternate universe counter part. By doing this, the show further invalidated the timekeeper’s influence on the show because it proved that the timekeeper’s presence added nothing to the characters and setting it acted on. Part of the fun of a show is watching how an antagonist will act to change the world it’s in, but the timekeepers did nothing to influence the series it was in any meaningful way.
Gunslinger Stratos is a giant trap. It will lure you in with a moderately interesting premise and put an interesting twist on a preexisting trope, but once you get invested in this series; it will let you down. The animation of the show takes a nosedive after the first few episodes and it never gets better, which is quite damning since half the appeal of this show is its action. The plot is an awful mess that never figures out what it wants to and ends up amounting to nothing. Ultimately, what killed the show was it nonsensical main antagonist, which only amounted to being a waste of time and space. If I had the powers of the Timekeepers, I would have gone back in time and told my past self to not bother with this show so I could have saved 6 hours of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t have time bending powers. So I’ll have to settle for saving your time.
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If you want another opinion on this show, try reading Richard Eisenbeis’ review on this show.