Fractale got some interesting press leading up to its release. Yutaka Yamamoto, production director of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and director of Kannagi, said that he was going to retire if Fractale didn't do well. That's a pretty lofty statement, especially from an anime director. There was also the incident where the Fractale Production Committee took down the stopped the American stream of their show until they removed the illegal copies of it on the internet...and then started the stream again a few days later. Overall, a lot of noise about a show that seemed to come out of nowhere.
So how did people like Fractale? Well, it pretty much got a resounding 'meh' from people on both sides of the ocean. So much for all the merch that was appearing before the show took off, eh?
Knowing all this, I gave Fractale a watch. I mean, not everything is for everybody and it's entirely possible that the hype and bad press didn't help. Well, it isn't the best thing that Yamamoto has been involved with, but I think it's an OK, if flawed, show. Hit the jump to read why.
Fractale - The Complete Series (BD/DVD Combo)
Fractale is set thousands of years in our future on an idyllic countryside. In this future, humanity has become isolated and complacent due to the influence of the Fractale System. Imagine a highly-evolved internet that everybody is jacked into and that is capable of physically affecting humans and you've got the right idea. Run by the a religious order that maintains the Fractale System and controls mankind, all in the name of prosperity and ease.
The story starts when we meet Clain, a young boy that lives in his house with several 'doppels', advanced holographic projections that represent his parents, whose physical bodies are somewhere else. Clain has a fondness for ancient technologies, which include digital cameras and physical media. While Clain is talking a walk around his house, he spots a girl being chased by some shady looking characters. After saving the girl, he finds out her name is Phryne and that she's running away from something, thought to be a priestess of the Temple.
When Phryne decides to go off on her own, she leaves a small brooch with Clain. Upon further examination, Clain discovers that a doppel named Nessa is in this brooch, only this isn't your normal doppel. Unlike the other holograms, Nessa can actually be touched by those she wishes. Clain tries to return Nessa to the Temple, but ends up getting captured by the Granitz faction of Lost Millennium, a terrorist organization that is attempting to bring down not only the Temple, but the entire Fractale System.
Clain and Phryne start off as pretty good characters. Clain's kind and friendly nature is relatable and you can see that Phryne is trying to escape from a horrible fate. The problem is, neither of these characters really grow over the course of the show. Yeah, by the end Clain grows more of a backbone and Phryne decides to not hid from her fate, but the two make repeated mistakes in the face of out and out experience. Phryne tries several times to appeal to the kindness of bother her father and the Archprestess, despite having recently seen that they do not care what she or anybody else things. I understand that somebody has to do something stupid for elements of the story to work, but I can only take so much stupidity. That said, was touched by Clain and Phryne's final scene.
I also really dug the setting. I'm very fond of post-apocalyptic stories that feature the remains of our world. Fractale really does a good job of this when it shows our 'ancient' tech and by showing the crumbling remains of our cities. You really get a feel for the passage of time and that something messed up must have happened millennia ago. The fact that humanity has descended into a fake utopia shows that whoever won that encounter must have found a way to manipulate and control with an advanced system that leaves people docile and unwilling to rise up. This is reflected in the Temple, your stereotypical overzealous religious organization that wants all the power. Their methods, while done in the name of preserving mankind's comfortable way of life, are vicious and morally reprehensible.
That's not to say that their opposition is much better. Lost Millennium is shown to be just as vicious, with a blatant disregard for life. When they attack a Temple circle in the third episode and reveal the rather sinister purpose of the daily prayers, Lost Millennium still manages to look like the bigger monsters by wantonly shooting up the whole area. Worshipers, Temple soldiers, nuns, nobody is safe during this (and future) attacks. The funny things is, the branch of Lost Millennium that has Clain and Nessa captive aren't even the worst of the organization. We later meet another terrorist commander that tricks people into giving up their access to the Fractale System and conscripts them afterward.
That's probably the weakest part of the show for me. As much as the show wants me to believe that Granitz and Lost Millennium are the good guys, they're just as messed up as the Temple. Clain, Phryne and Nessa eventually befriend the Granitz family, but I never could warm up to them. A combination of an annoying tsundere and a holier-than-though commander made the episodes where Clain, Phryne and Nessa spent their time with the Granitz family a chore to get through.
Despite my dislike of the way the show treated Lost Millennium, I really liked the general tone of the show. Especially in the early going, there's a very Miyazaki-esque sense of wonder about the whole production. In fact, the times where Fractale is at its best is when its on the ground and showing off the beautiful countryside in comparison to the cold architecture of the Temple buildings. Unfortunately, this sense of wonder and happiness is broken with surprisingly violent turns the show takes. Lost Millennium's terrorist attack, Clain getting shot later on and the final battle feel uncharacteristically violent in comparison to everything else. That works for some shows, but it doesn't really work for Fractale.
Despite the criticism I heard about the quality of the art and animation, I thought Fractale looked quite pretty. The colors were bright and popped and I dug the character design. Despite not being fond of Lost Millennium, I did like their uniforms. Of all the things I did appreciate, Nessa was the one thing that stood out the most. She is adorable! I would've preferred her original hair color as shown on all of the promotional art, but other than that she's great.
In terms of audio, Fractale was also well-done. I enjoyed the soundtrack and really dug the opening song. The ending song alternated between being performed in English and Japanese, which worked fine when it was in Japanese and, well, not so fine when done in English. Both the English and Japanese tracks were good, so fans of either language option will be pleased.
All in all, I do recommend Fractale, despite its flaws. It's a visually and aurally pretty show with an interesting conceit and world. Unfortunately, the inconsistent characters that do very stupid things will grate. Then there's the terrorist organization that the show wants you to like but can't really because of their general attitude and behavior. Because of these things, I can't say that everybody will like Fractale, but I know that some people will.
6.0 – Okay. 6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.
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