This is it, the sleeper hit of the 2004 season and the anime that dispels the idea that manga is always better. This is also the series that proves that well-constructed storylines can withstand the use of the clichéd formulas so typical in shounen anime.
At first, it doesn't seem to be that way at all. We start out with a very typical shounen action series: cute girls sporting school uniforms and short skirts, mecha battles and an interesting dose of fan service. We have seen that all before, right? Doesn't it sound like the Love Hinas and Chobits of years gone by? Well, the similarities stop there.
The first thing that struck me as odd was the gigantic cast employed. A new character is introduced in each of the first 13 episodes. Down the road, we apparently have a handle on what the character is all about... in fact, we are grateful they develop the character better in three episodes than some anime do in an entire series. And then, everything we thought we knew goes down the trash after new information is revealed. This is the main strength of the series: the element of surprise. It is used quite well and in such a convincing form that we have no choice but to keep watching. There is no air of disbelief that can be attributed to an unrealistic plot.
Unfortunately, many people are discouraged by the first few episodes. As stated before, this anime starts in a very conventional fashion. Those who dislike shounen anime will surely dismiss it quickly. And even those who can keep going for the sake of pretty pictures will have a hard time following it since the artwork and mecha designs are not distinctive enough. Those who continue the journey are rewarded in spades by a very satisfying story that can be appealing even to the female audience, who usually shuns anime that seems sexist in nature.
Is this one of the best anime ever? No, but it sure is one of the most entertaining. Oh, and they didn't botch the ending.