If the writer for this series didn’t watch Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned the night before scripting this conceptually hackneyed mess, I’ll eat my hat. With a similar science fiction concept of white-haired children born around the same time and wearing staring-at-you-funny expressions, a viewer of both might be forgiven for thinking one the younger but incompetent rip-off of the other.
Fantastic Children’s flaws might not be immediately obvious as it establishes a gripping set of circumstances in the beginning. The atmosphere during the opening episodes is disturbingly potent, the music hauntingly beautiful, and the white-haired Béfort Children (tragic runaways searching for a mythical place of freedom) will likely set teeth on edge with their penetrating glances into the camera. From the fifth episode, however, the plot deteriorates into an odd mix of general triteness and sporadic profundity.
Firstly, Fantastic Children meanders towards its conclusion, making perfunctory pit stops at numerous themes that barely hang together: science v ethics, doomed star-crossed lovers, the afterlife, reincarnation, a detective mystery, off-world political intrigue, and… mecha? Preferably, the focus should have remained on the Béfort Children’s sense of alienation and the tragedy of their search as this provides the most powerful suspense. As things stand, the story overloads on themes and switches focus halfway with inane results.
Related to this problem is the show’s hesitant pace. It devotes much time to setting the scene, although this comes in the form of allusions and vague snapshots of the bigger picture instead of thorough explanations. Indeed, faced with randomly appearing shadow monsters and nebulous dialogue, viewers will spend several hours intrigued but also confused and frustrated. Eventually, the series decides it’s had enough dragging the audience along and begins to rush through conclusions, each cornier and more juvenile than the one before. Flashbacks and haphazard leaps in real time are the main tools for this, which not only hamper the narrative’s flow, but also exacerbate the jumbled feel of the content.
With that said, Fantastic Children evidently means well – its stunning opening episodes promise a lot, and once or twice (for instance, with the romantic tragedy subplot in the latter half) the conflicts hit the right emotional buttons. The series simply lacks the elegance of other, more successful sci-fi mysteries to remain consistently enjoyable.
Boasting one or two inventive fantasy battle sequences, this show could have been Now and Then, Here and There’s quirkier spiritual successor. Washing everything from the backgrounds to the clothes in dull greys, the colour palette has roughly the same solemnising effect as rain at a funeral. Conversely, the characters look basic and are drawn with similar attention to detail as the cast of Digimon. Unfortunately, the weak plot undermines Fantastic Children’s attempt to make a visual impact by contrasting cute character designs with dark tragedy; the combination is something that looks acceptably World Masterpiece Theatre-ish but feels increasingly flat and uninteresting as the narrative worsens.
In its own delicate, haunting way, Fantastic Children joins the ranks of anime with exceptional soundtracks. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop – if the anime market were purely a soundtrack contest, Fantastic Children could stand beside these greats as an equal. The ending theme in particular stokes the emotions with sweet flutes and fluttering vocals, providing an outstanding melancholic conclusion to every episode. In between, there will be moody piano music, playful character themes, and discordant synthesised sounds. Occasionally, Fantastic Children also enhances its natural sounds to excellent effect. In the second episode, following a chase through an underground waterway, one drop of water falling into the pool below brings the tension to an excellent climax.
The series spends a long time chronicling its characters’ backgrounds – generally, they have a history of foolish decisions and desperate acts – but for all that effort, it fails remarkably to make them involving. In regards to the Béfort Children, their initial fascination stems from one thing: clearly they are not human, but clearly they suffer like humans do. Despite their uncanny abilities, they are still children lost in a vast and hostile world and needing the love and familiarity of a good home. On top of this, they grapple with some tough choices and an agonising secret, all in the desperate search for something that is impossibly distant.
Once you get the general gist of the characters, however, any further explanations seem superfluous. Most of them never develop beyond caricature. Despite being the most important individual, the orphan girl Helga – sad, sorry little Helga – will also stretch viewers’ patience with her chronic haplessness. Spending entire episodes detailing her past thus becomes a tedious and repetitive exercise involving misfortunes only memorable for their clichés. Beyond the most superficial pang of sympathy, I felt little else for her.
Faced with such lacklustre performances, viewers will most likely settle for Thoma, who, though hardly complex, is still sprightly, outgoing, and fun to watch. Moreover, his role involves one of the more original twists of the show.
The most generous complement I can offer Fantastic Children is that it’s a passable patchwork of well-trodden Western ideas. Poignant tragedy and stupendously moving music get lost amongst corny flashbacks, a lot of silly science, and subplots of utmost banality. Moreover, everything either happens too slowly, with undue attention paid to characters I struggled to like, or the explanations spew forth in a sequence of clichés. Middle of the road, morose, and too often mundane, Fantastic Children delivers sporadic amusement at best.
ANIME MINOR JEWELS SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Produced by Nippon Animation, which is making titles only for the young audience. Amongst their various works I only liked Mahoujin Guruguru and the first version of Hunter X Hunter. I guess this is their third best and only because just like the other two it has some really dark and adult overtones. Directed by Nakamura Takashi, who although not famous has done some very interesting experimentation in his career. Before this he had directed Robot Carnival and A Tree of Palme, both of which are quite heavy on metaphors and themes. Yet he is not a person who goes for entertainment and instead goes for moody atmosphere and extreme emotional stimulation with dark and depressing events. Other than that, it is rather hard to enjoy his work if you don’t get into a very specific mentality. He has both style and substance but does it in quite a rough way. I found it extremely hard to get into the proper mood and even when I did the payback is mostly cool concepts and heavy drama instead of properly exploited themes and storylines. So I must warn you guys, this dude is quite eccentric in the way he does his work. An average casual viewer will not be able to appreciate him and the veterans will still need to get into a mindset akin to looking spaced out at weird imagery and situations. I for example couldn’t do it despite my years of experience.
So what do I think about this show? I find it as if Village of the Damned performs a Fusion Dance with Please Save My Earth and the result is Fantastic Children. Their movements though were not coordinated and the result was a bad hybrid. This show is considered to be a masterpiece for those who liked it and total boredom for those who didn’t. Not because it’s one of those philosophical anime where they talk and talk and talk and say many important stuff while plot and pacing are slow to inexistent. This is not nearly as close as the philosophical level of Ghost in the Shell or the constant satirical wordplay level of Bakemonogatari. In the contrary, the dialogues are easy to follow and there is plenty of story and plot going on. It is mostly the unorthodox appeal of the show that makes it hard for most viewers to appreciate. If one can see past those weird aesthetics, he or she will most likely be amazed with what is going on in this show.
So was I one of those people? I mean, I do admit there is a good story and interesting concepts in here, and I do like those a lot, so why not? And the answer is… Sorry folks, it took me 5 years and 4 attempts to finally get to finish it and only because I had nothing better to watch during the fourth try. This is quite rare for me as I usually have patience to watch even shows I don’t fancy. I just wanted to finally watch it and make a review about it and not because I wanted to be entertained. In the contrary I was mostly annoyed and displeased with it.
So what were these reasons that made it so hard for me you may wonder? Here is a list.
1) Character figures. They are unappealing. Not just because they don’t look cool like those in Hellsing or moe like those in Haruhi. They look silly, childish and simplistic. Such a thing wouldn’t be a problem if this was purely a simple children’s show but in this case it is actually a very dark and complicating story, full of angst, death and mystery which no average little kid would have the mindset follow easily. Or should watch in general; this show is too depressing and cruel for kids for all I see. So here I am asking you, shouldn’t a show which has something really strong and bold in it deserve to have equally bold and captivating character figures? And I don’t mean big-busted chicks or GAR muscular dudes; I mean eye-captivating. How can a character transmit such important feelings and messages to you if he looks so damn generic or even stupid? Oh sure, shows like Kaiba have even more simple-drawn characters but over there they would also have interesting mannerisms, cloths, body language, extreme facial expressions and the backgrounds helped to bring all that out even more. Over here you see nothing; they are plain/ugly people talking. It can’t work like that; it’s like a very boring teacher at school talking in a completely dry way and not teaching you anything, thus failing at his prime directive of TEACHING. It’s the same thing here; the characters fail to show you their character. Who would be willing to watch a show full of boring/unappealing characters?
2) Caricature personalities. Ok, let’s just suppose that some manage to get over that snag and sit to watch the show past its stupid character figures. Let’s just say they will focus on the personalities. Once again, it will probably not work because most of them are 2D caricatures. The good guys and the bad guys are easily identifiable, which is expected in a kid’s show but then again it is not just a kid’s show. Even the ones who play out neutral end up being defined mostly by a vague character trait. This is enough to ruin all the effort given to their backdrop and development, which as strong as they may be are still lost because of the lack in interest from the average viewer.
3) Forced development. Even if you try to see them as overall developed characters, you still get the impression they matured in a completely convenient way. It is all nothing other than memory losses and memory gains that happen only when the plot requires for it and not because they did something to lose or gain it. Thus you get the feeling the characters are making aimless circles around things they have no control or even remember why they are part of and then PRESTO out of nowhere they remember everything so the plot can advance. This is making them nothing more than plot devises instead of personalities who are in control of their own actions. And they were surely supposed to have more control over them since they went through a ton of trouble, took the initiative to embark on quite the far-fetched mission, and had super powerful technology on their side.
4) Wimps. Another bad thing about them is how most of the cast is a bunch of weak crybabies. They can’t even cross the street without getting all scared and emo; quite bad for those who like more active and decisive characters. It has nothing to do with coolness; it’s just that most people expect from the main characters to be bold in whatever they have set their minds to achieve. If they are cowards, weak and passive then the story can’t go on and they are not even fit to be called main characters. Yet for most of the show you see them being scared and frozen over things that are not that scary to begin with. Their angst is not excused at all. Heck, it could be excused for little kids but even century old immortals seem to lack the basic experience to control their emotions, even around issues they deal all the time. Shouldn’t they be wise and apathetic around trivial issues after all this time? Shouldn’t they be far braver if they decided to take part in such a dangerous mission to begin with? They weren’t forced to take part you know, they chose to do it. Being so emotionally weak is only making them feel like they are out of character. Not only they are 2D personalities but also feel fake and forced to be as such for the sake of superficial meta-series drama.
5) Repeating names. Let’s suppose you can see even past that and focus on getting to like the dialogues. They are mostly good in context and easy to follow to the most part; so in theory this means they are good and help you enjoy the show. Well excuse me once again but they were horrible just for stating their names. ALL THE TIME. Do you know how irritating it is to mention someone by name even when you know him all your life? How about doing it every two sentences? How about mentioning them even when there is no reason at all? This is of course nothing but a literature method to help the viewer/reader remember the names of the characters. And such a show which has such unappealing figures would sure need this method, as I personally didn’t care to even remember them. Still, that made the dialogues to sound really fake and tiresome, just like their personalities, which once again leads to your enjoyment lowering even further.
6) Docile pacing. There is a lot of story all right but to the most part it is offered with monologues and a spoon. The action scenes or the manhunts spread out throughout the show are not helping to keep things exciting. They are quite simple and feel almost as poor attempts to stall time. Hell, since the main story plays out as a mystery, for the most part you see people talking and not knowing, making questions and being cryptic. All of which should normally build tension and excitement but in the contrary end up feeling very boring because of the character figures, mannerisms and the fake dialogues.
7) Disjoined elements. In the second half the story, everything swifts to something entirely different, a long flashback to some other time and place, making you think you are watching an entirely different show. The elements of the story don’t seem to be uniform at this point, trying to have both unearthly fantasy and earth science at the same show and yet in different packages. I mean it was cool alright but I definitely felt like they were completely different shows.
I am so envy of all the people out there who got to enjoy this anime. They didn’t give a damn about all I described so far and just thought “Wow, good story, gets a 10 from me”. Apparently, they wouldn’t mind it even if the animation was stop motion stick figures on some plain desk. I prefer my anime with a lot more things going on and this was a really good example of doing a good premise in a bad way. It is also sad how the show is not ruined by fan service or derailment from the core idea, as is the case with most anime. It is very consistent in its atmosphere and thematics but it’s also plain unappealing from the get-go. If though I am to give the show some credit, I can also say the following good things about it.
1) Very good atmosphere. Its artwork is very good at making your imagination go wild. Half of it is taking place on a European society from centuries ago, and the other half on an alien planet with very fantasy-like decorations.
2) Very interesting themes. They mostly have to do with immortality, love, and duty, but there are many more. I won’t spoil it further so I leave it vague.
3) Very good songs. They are very elegiac. I liked them.
… And that is pretty much all of it.
It is not a mess as my criticism may let you think. The music score has some very elegiac pieces in it that really drive your mind away. And the story is complicating enough to involve immortality, reincarnation, memories, alternative dimensions, ancient alien civilizations, mystery, secret organizations, inhuman experimentation, sci-fi, superpowers, romance, power struggles amongst powerful aristocrats, and a few more. It even goes as far as mentioning how real historical figures were aliens who affected human history with their scientific breakthroughs. It becomes a lot more enjoyable in the second half, when the mystery is revealed and the corny alien romance kicks in. Too bad most of everything else is dull; under different handling, this could be a show most could enjoy.
Anime: Kaiba, Sailor Moon, Please Save My Earth
Movies: Village of the Damned
Videogames: Planescape Torment, Xenogears
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 6/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks like a well made fairy tale from a 70’s series)
Character Figures 0/2 (dull)
Backgrounds 2/2 (interesting blend of fantasy and sci-fi)
Animation 1/2 (nothing much)
Visual Effects 1/2 (nothing much)
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Voice Acting 1/3 (repeating names grunge me for 5000 damage)
Music Themes 4/4 (great OST)
Sound Effects 1/3 (nothing much)
STORY SECTION: 7/10
Premise 2/2 (Very complicating and intriguing)
Pacing 0/2 (dreadfully slow)
Complexity 2/2 (lots of those thanks to the complicating story)
Plausibility 1/2 (excused in a dragged out fashion; messy in excusing the characters being so wimps)
Conclusion 2/2 (solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Presence 0/2 (dull)
Personality 1/2 (simplistic and out of character when they are so scared all the time)
Backdrop 2/2 (everyone has some)
Development 1/2 (too far-fetched and dependent on memory losses; dragged or simple for most but all get some)
Catharsis 1/2 (far-fetched but otherwise it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 1/3 (a bit famous)
Rewatchability 1/3 (mostly skippable)
Memorability 3/4 (quite memorable, although not always for good reasons; many remember it for its distinctively boring plot)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 4/10
Art 1/1 (looks interesting)
Sound 1/2 (the music is good, the dialogues are bad)
Story 1/3 (good ideas but presented in a boring way)
Characters 3/4 (interesting characters but presented in a boring way)
With better visuals and faster pacing, and perhaps better action, this could be a masterpiece.
I personaly loved this anime. the animetion quality is really bad, but the story is beautiful. the soundtrack is lovely and fitting to the series. character development is very solid and left my heart a little sad for all of the characters. a bit tough to understand at first but it catches up quick. the end is no joke too.