There are two types of derivatives: fun, tacky ones that laugh at themselves and the more unfortunate ones that insist on selling clichés as though we’d never seen them before. Fractale lands firmly in the latter category, although, with such a plain, bumbling sincerity, it’s not the most punishing rehash anyone could watch.
Take the protagonist, Clain, a pleasant young man with manners and wits and all the natural gifts God gave him, but miserable because his life is boring. He reminds me a bit of Renton from Eureka Seven. But that’s just coincidence - the part that chafes is how everything else is also a bit like in Eureka Seven (…and Laputa… and Bounen no Xam’d). From roughly the first few minutes, viewers will begin to make certain guesses. What are the bets that he meets an even more miserable girl on the run from a self-serving organisation? What are the bets that somewhere along the line, he and this girl must unravel a devious plan to revolutionise/remodel/revamp/reboot the world? What are the bets that he stumbles across an airship of rebels with whom he will travel aimlessly for a while? And what are the bets that this story will meander via perfunctory tragedy and over-implied, barely-there romance?
At best, the show gums a reliable science fiction dilemma (I can’t quite say ‘sinks its teeth into’ because Fractale doesn’t have any): ‘perfect’ technology vs. flawed humanity. It pits tragic figures addicted to the luxury of the computerised Fractale system against those like Clain whose nurturing only suffered because of the system’s clinical embrace. It also has an intriguing blend of reality and virtual reality, in which people stroll through virtual cities using idealised bodies that don’t look anything like their real counterparts. Sadly, Fractale’s is such a diluted treatment of these issues that taking it seriously or even emotionally connecting hardly seems worth the effort. For all its profound themes (which are old news if you’ve already seen Toward the Terra TV) or mind-melting blend of realities (Dennou Coil), its execution is jarringly safe. Every other scene is a cliché, every other line of dialogue a clunky exercise in Because The Script Says So.
What saves the show like a reinforced airbag is its inexplicable cosiness, which I attribute more to its soft colour tones and quaint environments than the plot. Through sheer happenstance, it avoids feeling like that other Eureka Seven photocopy, Bounen no Xam’d, which, on top of being vapid eye-candy, is also gratingly pompous. At no point do the Fractale’s creators seem aware that they’ve created a derivative but I sense through their homely drama and comedy that their intentions were succinct entertainment rather than bombastic cinematic preaching. And that makes it tolerable, sometimes even comfortable to watch.
Besides getting the technical stuff right with fluid motion and convincing detail, Fractale looks like a fun place to explore. The world concept has a quaintness that I find highly attractive and comforting in the sense that it looks as though someone put a lot of thought into designing it. Aiming for something vaguely steampunk-ish, the people live several centuries into the future where underwear is apparently quite a mystery, but they still do things like hang Dickensian clothes on washing lines and fly high-powered ships with antiquated zeppelin designs. All the colours are warm shades and soft, and the character designs are charming without being distractingly beautiful.
I like the opening theme, ‘Harinezumi’ by Hitomi Azuma. It has a melody I can hear and some nicely held clear notes and a fun beat. It’s one of those songs I would gladly sing along to if I could speak a word of Japanese. The ending theme is also agreeable. But the fact that I struggle to remember any aspect of the in-episode score says everything about the limits of Fractale’s musical offerings.
Fractale features an ensemble cast that appear more like props than people. They drift through speaking their oh-so-familiar lines as if they were computerised, never convincing me that they’re worth investing actual emotions in.
The only ones not going through the motions are Clain and his holographic companion, Nessa. Their relationship works because both are uncontroversial likeable types, warm-hearted, good-natured, and innocent. Clain is defined by his parentless upbringing and compensatory desire for the simple life humans had centuries ago (he likes ‘ancient’ memorabilia like digital cameras). His appeal increases exponentially when considering what a gentle, unpolluted soul he is despite his childhood being largely devoid of human warmth. Nessa on the other hand barges her way into our hearts through unabashed pluckiness - she’s innocent and wild like a baby but also sensitive to the hurt of others at all the appropriate times. Their relationship describes a classic comedy, where one partner frustrates the other through well-intentioned idiocy but both maintain a strong loving bond. Clain and Nessa, in glaring contrast to everyone else, also seem most capable of infusing the dead-as-lead script with heartfelt warmth.
Fractale’s greatest crime is to lack imagination. While many shows borrow or adapt ideas from their predecessors, the sheer banality of Fractale’s achievement nonetheless leads to an overwhelming impatience; even though its events felt rushed and cobbled together, I was grateful they wasted little time on fleshing out its world or ironing out kinks in the script. I saw the ending ten episodes before it arrived, and when it did, I was just about satisfied.
So the world is now peaceful and everybody is happy. And the lead is this kid obsessed with relic technology. And he meets this cute girl who is chased around by… rebels? Who want to free mankind from this utopia? And religion is evil? What’s with the genki loli? Hey, why does all that remind me of something and why do I don’t give a damn?
Fractale is heavy as lead on themes but light as a feather in presentation, which is why it never manages to become anything above sweet or cute. It also uses themes that can easily be found in other anime, where the same thing was done in a much more captivating way. It also created a blend that to the most part plays as a mediocre children’s adventure or a light ecchi comedy that again leave you almost indifferent if you are versed into better handled shows. Down to it, it is a bad mix of various good ideas.
Let’s start with the technicals and say that the visuals are very good as a whole, despite lacking identity and finesse. A-1 Pictures is a good studio when it comes to production values but otherwise hasn’t made a single great show. Although there are many who probably love this and Ano Hana, it is still too far away from excusing their overall weakness to have proper storyboarders or not to be stoned to death for making the dreadful Trinity Soul and the horribly boring Fairy tail.
Let’s move to the direction, which is done by Yamamoto Yutaka. So this guy has directed super famous and high seller titles, such as Suzumiya Haruhi and Lucky Star. Then all of a sudden has a change of hearts and wants to make “a serious and deep anime that will not be just fan service”. And as you can tell, he failed miserably because THIS MESS was the best he could come up with. The guy is simply good only at making storyless moe shows and tried to play it intelligent and artistic by creating something outside his field of expertise. Sorry man, you suck at being intelligent and artistic, go back to your moe softporns where you know what the devil you are doing.
Enough with that; let’s now focus on all the things that catches your eye while watching this… show.
The first thing that strikes as bad is the intro and ending themes. They are so damn generic and with almost nothing to look at. They are there for a reason you know; to get you into the mood and then hook you for the next episode. These here are freaking blunt to the point of skipping. Although I know some people who loved them for being relevant to the story (fractale and depiction of innocence) that still doesn’t make them interesting or that artistic to care.
The second is the main character Clain. He is a freaking harem lead archetype! He keeps bumping on pretty half-naked girls, he gets hit and blamed and he acts all spineless and scared. That sort of archetype is blunt to the point you don’t give a rat’s ass about. Supposed he is representing the average pampered kid out there so we can easily identify with him or something. He is still boring as hell and I mostly wanted to smack him that feel compassion or excitement over his quest to find out the truth about the world.
The third is Nessa’a haircolour. It is red while all the promotional posters have them purple. What kind of last-moment change is that? It’s like the animators didn’t even know what they were doing five minutes before starting to paint.
The fourth is the story exposition that just can’t remain steady for 5 minutes and thus constantly not allowing you to get into the mood of the show. At one moment it is a harem, then it is an adventure, then it is some sort of thriller, then it is a drama, then it is harem again. And never all of the above at once but one at a time. What a terrible handling of the plot! You end up not caring about any one of its various sub-plots.
The fifth problem is its unoriginality. Anyone who has seen a few dozen sci-fi or children’s adventures will most likely keep making comparisons to this anime; and chances are he will find Fractale as lukewarm compared to them. For example, at points it will remind you of the Matrix movies but it’s nowhere near as good. At others it will feel like Neon Genesis and again hardly as good. Everything feels like laundry from various people… and the clothes have washed out colors. Thus it doesn’t look good.
The sixth is the actual ending, which tried to be mysterious and serious but it otherwise looks as nothing but a perfect eroge harem ending yet again. It leaves you with the worst final impressions.
In other words, it is a show with a plot you can’t enjoy much, a cast you will find mediocre at best, and a story you have already seen elsewhere in a better way. Super fail all the way.
The Matrix trilogy
Oh, boy. This one. This series really had potential. It's concept is about humans who've become dependant on a program called fractale (seems legit). The beginning was beautifully done with Clain (the protagonist, who reminds me a lot of Renton from Eureka 7) beginning to have second thoughts after he meets Phryne, a girl being chased by a terrorist group called the Lost Milennium. The first 4 episodes were full of epic scenes and really told a lot about Clain and his motives. But once Clain joins the Lost Milennium things take a turn for the worst. Episode 5 is pretty much Clain getting accustomed to Fractale and we learn a bit about Nessa (Phryne's doppel) and Phryne's relationship. But most of the episode was find Nessa. The rest just got worse. The finale was 5 episodes. And all that happened was the group Phryne was a part of kept capturing her/she tried to deal with them. All it accomplished was that Phryne was a bossy, irrational, jerk who for no reason whatsoever left Clain in the dark about Fractale.
All in all, I give the series credit, it tried to do something new, but it didn't work. The characters were either bland or one-dimensional, the plot holes were huge and the ending was just confusing and unsatisfying. I'd say just avoid this.
I'm honestly surprised to find that people dislike Fractale as much as they do, especially fans who seem especially knowledgeable about anime. I've been rapid-fire reviewing anime for over a year now at 4kyeah.com with my friends and, compared to the dozens of anime we've spotlighted, or even the hundreds of anime I've seen by myself, Fractale may be the most I have ever been intrigued by an anime. If only the title made any goddamn sense.
The story is probably the weakest aspect of the show, though I still enjoyed it. It's an interesting far future sci-fi setting where the technology is sufficiently advanced to be almost indistinguishable from magic. THe premise of outcasts fighting against a global power that rules everyones' lives is hardly a unique one but I can't remember the last time that the global power was a mostly-benevolent religion. There are some wierd parts where the larger plot takes a backseat to building character drama but I found that helped build the show's unique and likeable atmosphere. Even if the ending was somewhat weak, I simply enjoyed Fractale letting me inhabit its world for a little bit.
This show is technically solid. It doesn't have the prettiness of something like Angel Beats or Kyoukai no Kanata, nor does it have the real-to-life grittiness you get in a Mamoru Oshii production but it's got a somewhat unique art style that is sometimes vibrant, sometimes pastel, and always beautiful. It's a damn shame that this show was such a flop because as HD re-release on BluRay would make me a happy bunny. As it is, it's a gorgeous thing to behold and each frame reinforces that wonderfully warm story tone.
The last time I heard Irish-style folk music in an anime was Fairy Tail and I've adored that soundtrack ever since. Fractale has some of the most memorable theme music I've heard in a long while and the soundtrack is always supportive, never blasting through to try to wrest the spotlight from the characters and animation. It doesn't stick out in my mind but it serves the rest of the show faithfully. As to the voice acting, the English dub I watched was spot-on. The characters sounded full and real, and each line feels genuine. This is the FUNimation crew on their best day, unfortunately, because this is a show that not nearly enough people will ever see.
If you're the overly cynical type, you can probably point at characters and make a lot of suggestions that the writers just ripped off the main cast of Xam'd or Eureka Seven. If you hate feeling joy, you can probably yawn and name the TV Tropes page each cast member falls under, then sit back and feel smug and smart and like a Cool Person. If you put all that kind of stuff out of your mind, you'll find a full and vibrant world of interesting characters that all feel really well developed. Clain has the slightly optimistic youthful cynicism of a person disenfranchised with the digital social lives his world leads, Nessa has the youthful optimism of a true avatar of joy, and Phryne acts like a mature girl trying to act even more mature which reinforces the burden she's been shouldered with. Each character, hero or villain, feel multi-faceted and they all have things they do that make them sympathetic and unlikeable. If you can put long-time otaku cynicism aside, what you'll find here is a marvelous world, that feels full of living peolpe.
Watch this show. Don't listen to the haters, just find it on DVD or streaming somewhere and watch it. It will improve your life, at least for the 4 hours you spend watching it.
Fractale has a lot of intresting ideas and the world that the anime is set in is filled with mystery and wonder, but the anime seems to lose focus during the middle and even though it 11 episodes, some episodes felt really pointless. More in video review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJbjLQmUFpI
BBFC rating - 15 for infrequent strong violence