Spoilers for STRAIN and Mobile Suit Gundam ahead.
That Strategic Armored Infantry was inspired by 1984’s Mobile Suit Gundam is not a secret. Both shows deal with a team of amateurs forced to command a vital space ship in an intergalactic war, both focus on the troubles and mental hurdles of their youthful cast members as they pilot mecha robots, and both feature a pair of siblings torn apart by the ravages of war only to be reunited on opposite sides of the conflict. But whereas Sayla Mass and Char Aznable would go on to become legendary anime characters still referenced to this day, very few people gave a rat’s ass about Ralph Werec.
Ralph Werec is the older brother to Strain protagonist Sara Werec. He is an ace soldier, a hero of his time, but not exactly a family man. After the death of their parents, he goes off to fight a war light years away and leaves his little sister behind. If all went according to plan, she would be long-dead if and when he returned from this war, due to the effects of time dilation while fast-traveling across space.
However, Ralph returns from the war early, now unkempt and scarred, and torches his own homeworld to the ground. He kills his sister’s friends as they attempt to muster a defense, then walks away as Sara begs him to tell her what in the world is happening. When she doesn’t take his shrug for an answer, he cuts her down and leaves her for dead.
This mostly mirrors the story of Char and Sayla, but with less lore and more edge. Char and Sayla fled their homeworld together and went into hiding, constantly moving from place-to-place. Char would eventually leave Sayla at the lowest point of her life to join the enemy army under an alias, after which they were reunited as he attacked a space colony she just happened to have recently transferred to. If anything, his sister is one of the few things sacred to this legendary war hero, which means a lot if you look through the man’s terrifying track record.
Now char is a big boy with a lot of screen-time. He stars across multiple long-running anime and there are entire movies and OVA series dedicated to developing him. It’s no surprise that Ralph, the villain of a 12-episode series from the mid-2000’s, can’t weight up to him. But development and screen-time aren’t the issue here; the problem lies at the core of Ralph’s character and the very low ambitions set for him.
The prospect for his character is so interesting. He was a man held up as an ideal for years, a gallant exemplar of what a soldier should be, and a dearly beloved brother. Yet, for reasons unknown to all, he suddenly changed completely, betrayed his people, and brought war to his own home planet. He never said a word about it to anyone and he won’t explain himself.
It’s a mystery and a fascinating one at that, but while the show does a great job at developing protagonist Sara Werec and showing what these horrifying events did to her, it’s very lackadaisical when it comes to Ralph. He only appears infrequently and the segments where he is shown interacting with his allies in The Deagea are particularly shallow. He is permitted near-limitless access and the full trust of his host Captain Medlock, all because he is giving her the D and that has completely erased her capacity for reason.
Ralph eventually betrays The Deagea as well, slaughtering everybody on the ship and beginning a suicide mission. His goals are then finally revealed, which turn out to be, anti-climatically, pure genocide. Why? Because humanity once abused an alien race of cute loli girls for research purposes.
Yes, because some scientists bastards 600 years prior to the start of the anime abused little girls, Ralph loses all faith in his species and decides that humanity must be eradicated in its entirety. A humanity that, by my estimates, will probably contain millions of little girls. Some of them probably fairly alien in nature, considering humanity is spread out across countless planets and space stations in this setting.
His motivation is weak, generic, and completely falls apart the moment anybody challenges him on it, which honestly drags an otherwise intriguing anime down. So much of Sara’s development hinges on this man, from the very start of episode 1 you are left wondering what happened to him and why he changed so drastically. She and the audience and are waiting for the big reveal and this really called for something interesting, developed, and shocking. The reveal should have elicited surprise and maybe even a tinge of sympathy in the viewer; instead, it made me ask “is that really what you are this angry about?”
I am sure author Masanao Akahoshi wanted to do something cool here and reveal some dark secret of the anime’s setting, but it’s not really that shocking. We know this is a world where babies have their brains harvested to turn them into engines for cool murder robots. If we were meant to be stunned by the notion that scientists in this world did some shady stuff to cute aliens, the least he could have done was not make it something that happened 8 lifetimes ago.