Take A Little Princess, put it in space, add Humongous Mecha and a lot of angst, twist the characters around and throw in some Fanservice to keep the fanboys with low attention spans.Sara Werec (a jumbled "Sara Crewe") has been groomed from birth as an elite Reasoner, pilot of a mecha called a Strain. Only those who were chosen before they were born can pilot one (the thing relies on a psychic connection with a power core that includes the user's own brain cells), generally meaning the upper crust military families. Her main reason for joining the army is to find her beloved brother, over whom the staff at Grabera Academy gushes. She's just about to graduate and take the side of the galactic Union in an ancient war against the empire of Deague...Then in come Deague forces, led by a stolen, modified Strain piloted by Sara's dear brother. The entire school is destroyed. No one except Sera is left alive.Several months later, she takes another identity, goes to another school and starts training as a grunt pilot, having lost said brain cell core in the attack. But a mysterious doll with a psychic aura changes everything again, and soon Sara's back in the fray, although nothing will let her go that easily. Her goal: to find her brother and figure out just why he would do something so horrible. And when she does, can she face him?The English language localization release is titled STR.A.IN.: STRategic Armored INfantry.Aside from its rather shocking beginning, the series has become notable for being chosen as one of the series to headline the launch of Funimation's own Internet video-on-demand service, allowing the entire series to be legally viewable online in fairly high-quality standard-definition for free, with higher-quality single-episode purchases and DVD purchases available. Anyone interested (and living in America) can see the series here.
Alpha Bitch: Isabella, towards Sara. She doesn't last more than a few episodes, and afterwards her posse continues to harass Sara, blaming her for Isabella's death. A later episode has Isabella's friend as the new leader, but this girl ends up bullying her close to death. Not even Funimation's Youtube channel has this episode as part of it.
Anime First: Actually, anime concurrent with the manga, but the anime is clearly the point of the franchise.
Anyone Can Die: Made clear in the first few episodes, where the cast is pruned from hundreds of extras to double- and single-digits.
Barbie Doll Anatomy: Played straight early on, subverted with Lavinia in episode 7. Particularly embarrassing for her as she unintentionally runs out of the shower naked after accidentally kissing Jessie, then runs through the ship in her birthday suit in shock.
Berserk Button: Lottie's gets pressed accidentally by Sara at the end of episode 8 when she hears Sara calling Ralph her brother.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Melchi and Carmichael, the two mechanics. Melchi especially tends to be a bit eccentric, but his superiors seem to overlook it because he does some genuinely useful things that end up saving a lot of lives.
The Cheerleader: The Gambee pilots act like this towards Sara, which progressively gets worse when the Strain pilots try to befriend her and when she gets Ram-Dass. Comes to a head after Isabella is killed in battle, at which point Mariette lures Sara to an isolated portion of the ship and starts harassing her, before she starts actually beating Sara up. Thankfully, at about the point where she goes for a large lead pipe, the Strain pilots intervene and shut the incident down.
Collapsing Lair: Inverted with the Kunrun. Medlock activates the Self-Destruct Mechanismbefore any of the heroes are anywhere near it, to try and trap Ralph inside. Only after that does Ralph take the controls and ram the ship into the Libertad.
Colour Coded For Your Convenience: Strains other than Sara's Ram-Dass (magenta and blue) and Ralph's modified Gloire (brown and gold) are mass-produced, so there's a lot of this; the trainees at Grabera used yellow and green Flyssas, while the ones for the trainees in Basion are green, and the instructors and higher-ups at Basion are briefly seen with purple Strains of an unknown model. Ralph's first Gloire was blue and white, as are those belonging to the instructors at Grabera.
The uniforms at Basion are colour-coded, too. Orange for Gambee pilots, powder blue for Reasoners, teal for Bridge Bunnies, white for medics.
Competence Zone: The entire Basion force is made up of teenagers, although it is based at a school that was drawn into the battle, and they do keep calling for adult backup.
Cool Ship: Both the good guy's and the bad guy's main ship in the series.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: When the Reasoners are fighting thousands of Tumors, they cut through them like butter. When there's only a few Tumors around on the other hand, they have a lot of trouble with them.
A blatantly hilarious example happens in the beginning of episode 12, when Lottie and her remaining crew manage to destroy what looks like tens of thousands of them in a few moments. Then there's 2 left, and she's unable to get them off without Sara's help.
Conspicuous CG: The Strain fights. They're still pretty rad-looking, but, compared to the actual animation, they're obviously computer-generated.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Pretty much any fight that Ralph participates in, until episode 13.
Dawson Casting: All over the place, of course, but averted with Emily in the English version, where she's played by an actual child.
Dead Star Walking: Mary and Isabella were both played by the same, fairly famous, VA.
Emotionless Girl: Sara tries to come off as this, but her facade breaks throughout the course of the series.
Empathic Weapon: Mimics are created from the user's brain cells and are made to synchronize with the user and run their mecha.
The Empire: Deague is implied to be this; if you look carefully during the first episode where the lecturer is explaining the war, you will see the word "DIGUO." Dý guˇ is the Mandarin word for "empire." Additionally, on the series' official website, Deague is written with the Chinese characters for "empire," 帝国.
Even Evil Has Standards: The Bitch Brigade is fine harassing Sara in all sorts of ways, but when Mariette gets into actual violence, the other girls say it's going too far and beg her to stop.
Explosive Decompression: Well-done in the first attack on the Libertad, where the bridge is ripped open and becomes a vacuum — people have time to at least get to safety. However, in later episodes, TUMORs and mechs rip into the ship and whole conversations are had with the big hole to hard vacuum in the background.
Girl in a Box: The doll Emily is a Doll In A Store Room and the living Emily is a Girl In A Stasis Pod, each taken in by one of the Werec siblings. A third Emily is a Girl In A Mech found in much the same way. She doesn't survive.
Go Mad From The Revelation: Happens to Ralph, when he discovers that an "unmanned" robot he was fighting turns out to have what looks like a little girl inside. She then reveals how the girls share all their thoughts and memories with each other over vast distances, and gives him the same feelings. Which then causes an immense guilt trip when he discovers the Union performed hideous secret experiments on the little girls, effectively torturing their entire species.
Grail In The Garbage: Sara finds the doll Emily in what looks like a scrap junkyard portion of the ship. She immediately grows attached to it.
Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Union uses Gratuitous English naming schemes (although all the characters have English names, so it would be less realistic if the machines and locations had Japanese names), while Deague names places and things in Anglicized versions of Chinese words (including "Deague" itself, which comes from "diguo" for "empire").
Green-Eyed Monster: Isabella and her friends are a bit jealous at how skilled the "new recruit" Sara is, and continually try to undermine her as much as they can. They even go so far as to steal her pendant, berate her, and tear her uniform, and later Mariette nearly kills Sara after Isabella died in an earlier battle, and blames Sara not helping out sooner in that fight.
Hair Colors: Blue, maroon, pink, and purple. Ralph's white appears to be caused by trauma, since his natural hair colour is blond.
Heroic BSOD: Sara is in this mode for much of the series, actually.
Happens to Lottie in episode 9, and she nearly kills Sara over it.
Heroic Sacrifice: Cedie in the first episode. Averted with Melchi and Dufarge. They were unable to stop the self-destruct of the enemy ship, so decided instead to move it as far away from the Libertad as possible. But then Lottie flies in to pull them out of there.
Improbably Female Cast (Basion Tactical Training School at least started with an equal number of male and female pilots, but the mass slaughter of most of the students ended up with a squad of pilots mostly composed of cute girls and all reporting to male officers too old to be a ship threat. Only two male Reasoners are left, one dies later, and the other spends the last battle on the sidelines with a broken arm.)
Little Miss Badass: Lottie may not be child, but her flat chest and shortness were enough to give her the Fan Nickname. Also subverted by the army of Emilys, actual lolis in mechs, who went down like... well, dolls.
Loophole Abuse: The enemy ship chasing down the Libertad has sensors that closes off portions of a ship to unauthorized personnel. Emily tries walking around at first, but keeps getting locked off. Later, when Ralph returns to the room and takes a shower, she puts his jacket on, and while it's clearly too big for her, it lets her pass, and she's able to board one of the transport shuttles to head towards Gala.
Mistaken for Spies: Sara creates a new identity to avoid this. For good reason — once she's outed, everyone believes she's a spy for the Deague anyway.
Modesty Towel: Medlock first operates and then escapes from the Kunrun wearing nothing but one after Ralph kills the rest of the crew while she was locked in her shower. Justified in that her security pass is incorporated into her clothing, and depriving her of it leaves her dependent on Ralph.
Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: While some stuff is on the soft side of this scale, other aspects border on the harder parts, such as when they travel in close to lightspeed, they age slower than people in normal time. In one episode, an instructor mentions that four days have passed for them, while back on their home planet, a month has passed. Also, when they reach Gala, Carris mentions having a little brother, who is actually physically older than him due to the amount of time Carris spent in at relativistic speeds.
A quick glance at the displays in Sarah's STRAIN shows that her final sublight battle with Ralph took five years of relative time, supported by her friends wearing full military (as opposed to cadet) uniforms when they come to rescue her in The Stinger.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lavinia in episode 7 when she tries hiding Emily in the hopes that helping Sara "find" her would help win her over. Unfortunately she put her in the garbage room, and the doll got knocked into the trash chute. Which then got sent into a garbage truck, which is also speeding away from the ship to take out the trash.
Not So Different: Lottie is a young girl who entered the military in order to follow in the footsteps of her beloved big brother — just like Sara. The main difference is that Lottie's brother was killed by Sara's, which results in Lottie demanding answers from Sara at gunpoint once her identity is revealed. The realization that they really aren't so different convinces Lottie not to shoot her. This is even lampshaded by the title of the episode where we learn all this: "Like Looking At Myself".
The Promise: Sara and Lottie promise to meet their brothers in the army. It doesn't go well.
Psycho Supporter: Ralph to Vivian. Although not entirely: he is insane, and he does hate the Union, but he also hates the Deague and all other humans. He's just pretending to support the Deague because it's convenient for him.
Really 700 Years Old: in its truest sense, the Emilys, Melchisedec and Carmichael; due to sub-lightspeed travel, just about everybody.
Reasonable Authority Figure: The captain on the Libertad. He actually takes suggestions and advice given to him by his subordinates, such as giving the crew some time off on Gala, and when he learns of Sara's true background, he tries to understand why she did what she did without throwing random, baseless accusations.
Reliable Traitor: Subverted — he's killed by yet another traitor before he can enact his plot.
Spell My Name with an S: Is Sara's home planet Grabera or Glabella? The manga and the official subs use the former, but official art and the website use the latter. Also, "Deague" is pretty consistent for the most part, but "Diguo" is used once, and it has an actual meaning. Looks like, in both cases, other gratuitous foreign languages were transformed to look like Gratuitous English to match the rest of the series' terms.
Another question is whether "Strain" and other acronyms should be capitalized or not. (The official release doesn't capitalize them.)
Time Travel: Oh, theory of relativity, you drive this entire plot.
Timey Wimey Ball: Going chronologically, Ralph travels to a point that happened long ago, but arrives there in the future. Then he teleports through space, putting him in the past, but he is now at least 20 years older and pilots a powerful mecha of unexplained origin. He then goes to a research facility and steals something that he already prevented from ever arriving there. Time proceeds to (almost) make sense from there.
Lavinia and Jessie. They never do get together in the end, or at least it's left open-ended, despite having a very close encounter due to a misunderstanding. Which is rather strange, since Jessie seemed very responsive, yet she never brings up the incident again afterward.
Also contains some mindbreaking hints at a possible relationship between Sara and her doll Emily. Things get worse when we discover that the "doll" actually contains the living brain of an alien girl. Whose race shares a common hive mind. So by acting nice to her, Sara acts nice to a whole goddamn One Gender Race. Is this someone's weirdest yuri harem fantasy or what?
Took A Level In Bad Ass: While Sara was pretty competent as a Strain pilot, her brother absolutely stomps her the two times she tries to fight him in episode 1. As the series goes on, she's gradually able to withstand him a little better, and finally can stand toe to toe with him in episode 13.
And in episode 4 she would have curb-stomped him if she wasn't trying her hardest not to. Which is akward.
Wham Episode: The very first episode. You think you know what's going on and then there's a brick to the face. And then the third episode, and then... heck, the show basically tosses a solid object at your anatomy every other episode.
What the Hell, Hero?: Mariette and her posse in episode 5. At first they're extremely angry at Sara somehow being responsible for Isabella's death, but as Mariette continues her beating, even the other girls begin to get a little disgusted by how far she's taking it. It's likely she would've killed Sara with the lead pipe had Lotte and the other Reasoners not of intervened.