First Impressions – Fractale

This is no Ghibli, boy. No Ghibli.

Yamakan, NoitaminA, original story, etc. The buzz surrounding this has been pretty significant, and with good reason. If you’ve ever wondered what a full anime series made by Hayao Miyazaki would be like (and who hasn’t?), you’ll get a reasonably good idea after watching Fractale. However, even the grandmaster who created Princess Mononoke had a few duds like Castle in the Sky, and this series unfortunately leans a bit more towards the latter in terms of quality. Even so, it’s still quite enjoyable.

Clain is growing up in a world run by the Fractale supercomputer. It provides for everyone’s livelihood, regardless of whether they actually work or not, in exchange for “praying to the day star” a few times each day. It also allows everyone to interact with others through holographic avatars known as ‘doppels’ without leaving their homes. Unlike most people, Clain is quite fond of wandering around and one day he rescues a mysterious girl who is being pursued by a rocket zepplin.

More hikikomori paradise after the break!

What I Liked

He never smiled like that for a hologram.

Setting: I’ve always had a thing for social thought experiments, and I find this one very compelling. This isn’t like Ghost in the Shell or Star Trek, which dealt with societies that, although allegorically linked to our own, were still very alien. As social networking sites and cell phones have become ubiquitous, it’s easier than ever to regularly interact with people we rarely (if ever) physically meet. We can filter our associations or even cut ourselves off from them altogether with little to no real consequences. This only started a few years ago, so our society is still learning to accommodate. I’m looking forward to this show fleshing out a world which is not only fully adjusted to this dynamic, but essentially based around it.

Protagonists: While so far these characters aren’t wholly original, they are something we don’t see often these days. The heroine Phryne is independent, capable, and somehow both mysterious and down-to-earth at the same time. She is cute but never tries to be, which is quite rare. Her understated strength and femininity are very reminiscent of classic Ghibli heroines. The hero Clain is similarly refreshing and much more realistic than most contemporary anime protagonists. Having been raised by his parents through their doppels, he isn’t used to human interaction when he first meets Phryne. He’d likely never met a real woman before, but he adapts very quickly. When she walks up to him topless and asks him to help her put medicine on her back, he’s understandably flustered and has no idea how to react.  However, he manages to overcome the awkwardness of the situation and help her anyway. I’ve seen many men in anime be reduced to blushing, blubbering messes by less and refuse to get anything done out of some false sense of modesty. I really appreciate that what could have easily been a huge misstep became an interesting character moment instead.

Art and Animation: Yamakan wasn’t just taking notes on the characters and storylines when he was watching Miyazaki’s movies. The flying machines, the character designs and even the grass looks like it could be cut out and pasted into almost any Ghibli film and not look out of place. It’s a simple and timeless style and animated beautifully, so I have no problem with it. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

What I Hated

As effective as having no antagonists, but wastes more time.

Harmless Villains: There’s a fundamental problem in rolling your comic relief into your antagonists’ characters. If they’re not portrayed as somewhat capable and threatening, there’s no perceived danger or tension. Even the behavior of the protagonists cannot remedy this. If the heroes are much more competent than their competition, then there’s no struggle and no catharsis. If the bumbling bad guys still manage to cause problems, then it can either come off as forced or just make us hate the people we’re supposed to support for being dumber than dumb. I do get the distinct impression that the folks chasing Phryne were intended to be nonthreatening, but even if that’s the case, it doesn’t bode well for what’s to come. Even though this is my only real complaint, it has the potential to ruin the rest of the story if not reigned in properly.

Overall Impressions

It’s a little underwhelming after how much of a drama queen Yamakan was being by saying that he’ll quit anime if this show doesn’t succeed, but I can’t really hold that against the show itself. Despite the derivative elements, the execution is very solid and there’s enough of an interesting original premise to keep it from feeling like we’ve been here already. There’s a lot of potential here, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it. I’m especially looking forward to learning more about the Fractale system’s true nature and why it’s breaking down. However, if that trio in the machine gun blimp is coming along for the ride, it could get pretty bumpy.