Clain Decran is a young boy (and a technophile) who lives in a world where machines called Fractale make everyone's lives nice and smooth. But then one day he meets a girl named Phryne being chased by a girl and two people on a ship, who is an actual girl and not a doppel (an android) like most of the girls he's seen in recent years. After rescuing her, she stays with Clain for the night and leaves the next morning, leaving behind a pendant that transforms into a little girl-looking doppel named Nessa, who holds great power within her. The two eventually head out to find Phryne, but are soon kidnapped by a group of Fractale-haters called Last Millennium, who fly around the world to "free" people from the usage of Fractale. In addition, Clain will have to deal with the church, as Phryne turns out to be a run-away priestess from there.
Sometimes the hype of a series, or in this case its director, can be more interesting than the series itself. Fractale director/creator Yutaka Yamamoto is a man infamous on the Internet for his openly honest opinions on anime, as well as his work on The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Kannagi. He was also the one who even came up with that stupid dance in the former everyone imitates.
Anyway, months before Fractale aired, Yamamoto said he wanted to use to make a series to turn away from the otaku pandering series and make a series that everyone could enjoy - even anime fans who left the hobby due to recent trends. He even threatened to retire should it fail, gaining a slot on the well-received noitaminA hour block. Further delays in American due to fansubbing issues/storms only heightened interest more when the series resumed over a month later in official English subs from FUNimation. So after all that trouble and all that hype, you'd think Fractale would be worth the wait.
Um…no it wasn't.
Before we get into why that is, though, let's start with the good news. Fractale's background art is gorgeous. A-1 Pictures once again brings out another wonderful looking series that even Kyoto Animation's staff would be jealous of. The opening theme is one trippy-looking animated sequence, and the series' opening episode, showing our male lead Clain with his "parents" and "dog" as well as the various other Fractale, looks pretty cool. When Nessa is fully introduced the following episode and spreads her cheerful, infectious personality to everyone around her, I felt nothing but good vibes from the series.
Those good vibes die by the end of episode 2, when Clain and Nessa later meet again with, and get kidnapped by, an obnoxious little girl named Enri and her two bumbling male henchman straight out of a Tatsunoko series. On the good ship Danan they meet their group Lost Millennium's leader - Enri's older brother Sunda. In addition to holding Clain and Nessa as hostages against their will, he also spends most of his run of the series being a jerk even to his own allies as well as looking down on Fractale and hitting others that don't agree with him. He also makes his points like any good leader would - killing people and attempting to strip them of their sole means of survival. If you can honestly believe it, he and his ship's crew are supposed to be the good guys. You see, they're only doing what is right according to them. You know who else did terrible things because he thought he was in the right, though? Hitler. (About halfway through the series we meet another group of Fractale haters who "help" out other people into living regular lives, whose leader makes the crew of Lost Millennium look like Tohru Honda.)
"Alright", I thought, "Sure, I'm not keen on these Fractale-hating people, especially the damn loli. But hey, maybe this will still be fun like Castle in the Sky was." Nope. After Sunda and Enri come into the picture, the whole "technology is evil" angle never really leaves, and the few nice, calm people on the ship are reduced to mere sentences in the series' run. And don't think that Fractale tries to defend the issue from both sides, because about the only character who represents the side for Fractale is Clain, who realizes the "error" of his ways. And for all the talk Sunda and Enri make on how dependency on technology strips people of their humanity and slowly kills people, it's bitterly ironic how many terrible things happen near the end of the series thanks to their stance.
In addition to the Lost Millennium "protagonists", we also have evil temple people flying around in a giant ship, led by a woman who calls herself Moeran. *giggle* Around this time Phryne comes back into the series as a permanent character, where we learn why she ran away, as well as get to know more about her creepy "father", one who makes Kimura seem like a feminist. The series plays anyone religious outside of Phryne at such an evil angle that it's hard to take them seriously. Even a video game like Grandia II does the whole "religion is run by an evil cult" shtick with more humility than Fractale does.
And don't think Fractale has anything humorous or fun to lay back on during the series' more intense moments, because it doesn't. Except for the occasional antics by Nessa, the series' only other source of "humor" comes from Enri calling Clain a pervert, usually hitting him as she proclaims him to be one. That and a creepy scene involving Clain and his loincloth underwear in episode 5. Oh somebody stop me, please. I'm laughing on the floor from the sheer humor of this series.
But the area Fractale truly fails in is its pacing. You'd think a show only 11 episodes long wouldn't have this problem, but it does. For example, take episode 5. Almost the entire episode is spent trying to find Nessa, which they barely manage to do at the end of it. But then she barely appears in the next episode, more or less making the previous episode filler. Yep - filler in a series only 11 episodes long. And don't forget the padding of all the "hilarious" antics on the Danan ship, which take up almost a whole episode in of itself. Oh, and the climax of the series is 5 episodes long.
Speaking of that, let's talk about episode 7. It starts with Clain and Nessa flying on a mini-ship from the Danan and landing in a giant metropolis, where they meet doppels in some place called Xanadu…and they turn out to be evil. Gasp. At first I thought Clain was dreaming that he was in Xanadu, but it turns out he wasn't. Normally I'd say, "Oh, I'm stupid" upon this revelation, but the series does such a poor job revealing it that I couldn't, and the many cuts in the episode don't help. Anyway Nessa gets kidnapped, the others try to find her, blah blah blah. It doesn't really matter, since the city is never seen or mentioned again after this episode. This episode would almost count as filler if not for the fact that the episode ends with Clain getting kidnapped, which initiates the events of the last four episodes. Again, great pacing at work when 80% of an episode is filler, only to be made not filler in the last few minutes. Way to go, Yamamoto.
Episode 8 has Clain heading to the temple's laboratory, where he finds out what's been going on with Nessa and Phryne, and finds a *gasp* secret that would be a secret to those who've never played a Japanese RPG or watched an anime before. Episode 9 is a more somber episode with Clain, Nessa, and Phryne, which of course is hampered by the latter's leaving for the temple, even after all the evidence that supports this not being a good idea. And of course Clain, like a good protagonist, goes after the idiotic woman. Episode 10 involves the Danan leading an attack on the temple while even more reflection on Nessa and Phryne's true purpose is shined on. And as a bonus, we get another appearance from Phryne's creepy as hell "father". The last episode is the series' half-assed attempt to wrap up not only the loose ends of the series (including one giant plot hole that the evil father has to point out), but also give us a gunfight scene, a talk with a higher power, and a cheerful epilogue. I'm not even going to get into the last 6 minutes or so of the episode, which features one of the biggest let-downs I've ever seen in anything.
Since we're talking so much about Phryne, let me note that I found her to be a lousy character, as well as a weak love interest for Clain. All throughout the series she either dodges questions he asks her, blames him for things not his own fault, runs off for no reason, or forces herself into situations just because. Oh, and she constantly gets herself into trouble, which always results in Clain or one of the people from Lost Millennium having to rescue her stupid ass when she does as if she was Princess Peach. I wanted to know throughout watching why Clain would fall for a girl like her, because the series sure doesn't do a good job explaining why he does so.
And what about that music, huh? The soundtrack, though nicely orchestrated, is utterly forgettable. Fractale's animation starts off decent but falls apart rather quickly; the artwork on the characters in-particular gets embarrassing by the end. Speaking of which, click here to check out the character design changes from the promo art/manga art versus the anime. I'll wait.
Did you click it? If you did, pay special note to Phryne (the second girl) and Nessa (the bottom girl), who have completely different hair colors. It's not uncommon in anime for characters' hair colors to change in the transition to anime. In the case of Fractale, though, this seemingly unimportant hair color change actually hinders one of the most important plot points in the series. Smooth, Yamamoto. Real smooth.
On another plus side, the acting is good, with Kana Hanazawa's performance as happy-go-lucky Nessa far and beyond the strongest vocal performance. I also found it very amusing that the evil ruler Moeran is voiced by Sumi Shimamoto, aka Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which isn't surprising considering the director's love of Hayao Miyazaki films. The only sour note is Yuka Iguchi as Enri, though it does match her bratty personality.
But decent acting and pretty backgrounds don't a great show make. And Fractale has plenty of reasons as to why it's not great. There's a possibility the ongoing manga flows better, but the damage has been with the anime version. Unless you really think the power of cute can easily forgive badly constructed stories with giant plot holes, stay far away from Fractale.
Bumped up to two after a re-looking over, solely because of Nessa and Nessa alone. Add a star or two if you think visuals can make up for story. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: The characters' interactions and dialogue make it seem like a kids' show at times, but the levels of cruelty and violence prevent it from being watched by them. There is also the rare bit of fan service, though it's hardly anything compared to the more violent, cruel moments in the series. Early-to-mid teens and up.
Version(s) Viewed: FUNimation YouTube stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Fractale © 2011 Fractale Production Committee
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