Many centuries into the future, humans live as part of the Fractale system, a computer program that moderates their activity to ensure a free and peaceful existence. But while life is indeed comfortable, the cost of growing up in virtual reality communities filled with holographic people called 'doppels' means that it can also get lonely. For Clain living estranged from his parents, adventure finally knocks when he rescues a mysterious girl called Phryne, who appears to be on the run. She spends only a short time with him before hurriedly moving on but leaves behind an unexpected gift: the curious and frustratingly whimsical doppel called Nessa! As Clain learns to adjust to his new friend and survive the scrapes she gets him into, he discovers that she and Phryne are at the heart of a great conspiracy. If he is ever to gain a sense of purpose, Clain will have to leave his comfortable existence and challenge the only thing he has ever known, the Fractale system itself.
StoryThere 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.AnimationBesides 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.SoundI 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.CharactersFractale 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.OverallFractale’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.
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. Story 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. Animation 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. Sound 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. Characters 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. Final Notes 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.
What a hidden gem! Fractale, though one of the lesser known anime really shines in terms of world design, pleasant coloring pallets and lovable characters. Though only 11 episodes, Fractale takes you on an adventure around the world and beyond. Story: Can we as a species survive in a Utopia? What does it mean to be truly free? Fractale throws you into a futuristic utopia set hundreds of years after us. With our main character Claine who lives out by the seashore. You will immediately be bombarded with superfluous amounts of futuristic technology that it seems hard to grasp at first but as the story continues many of these ideas and inventions are put into question. The story pacing at first was a bit slow but since this felt more like an episodic journey I wasn't The story pacing at first was a bit slow but since this felt more like an episodic journey I wasn't too dismayed. It's great to see the main character with a unique hobby about him. (in our case, Claine loves antique machinery) Very quickly, however, Claine is thrust into the 'real world' and is forced to make a decision. What is it that I want to see in this world? Animation: A-1 is known for some pretty stellar art/animation and having quite a good repertoire already this only serves to help them. Now, is the animation anything special? No, no it's not; however, the landscapes and backgrounds really shine here in setting the proper atmosphere for the viewer. Fractale covers the entire world and the soft colors and large landscapes help draw the audience in so plus 1 to A-1! Sound: Since the actual quality of the audio can vary from many different websites, I am going to focus on the content. The BGM was average with a few exceptional pieces being the ending and the Fractale song you are introduced to in the first episode. I have to say, the ending, (which is entirely in English!) is a lot better than one would expect. Characters: Here is another area where Fractale shines; creating good, memorable secondary characters seems to have its challenges with some animation studios. Personally, I think the secondaries really pull this whole anime together with having many characters with likable personalities. Overall: The story and the characters make Fractale an experience. Measuring one's freedom is sometimes not such a straightforward question. We see many beautiful pastel scenic views of fields and cliffsides, futuristic cities and the expanse of space. You have peace and you have war. You have hilarious moments and you have heartbreaking scenes. All of which makes Fractale such a hidden gem. 8/10 -John
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