I hate to say bad things about Fractale. This is the sort of anime that I would like to encourage. It clearly has ambitions to give us something new and superior, but so far there are a number of things that annoy me. I am not annoyed enough to stop watching, but I fear the series is going to turn out to be a disappointment.
The show has a solid, thoughtful science fiction premise. The world of the future is a cybernetic utopia (or dystopia) based on the “Fractale System.” People are connected to a world-wide computer network by means of “Fractale Terminals” embedded in their bodies. They are free from all material wants and mostly chose to live alone, visiting each other only in the form of holographic projections called “doppels”.
The hero, a boy named Clain (Yuu Kobayashi) lives alone in a house on a remote island, attended only by the doppels of his parents and the family dog. His isolation is broken when he meets Phryne (Minami Tsuda), a runaway priestess from the planet’s theocratic government. Phryne soon vanishes but she leaves something behind: a mysterious childlike doppel named Nessa (Kana Hanazawa) whom Clain is somehow able to touch. Phryne and Nessa are being pursued by a rather thuggish gang of revolutionaries let by a obnoxious petulant girl named Enri (Yuka Iguchi).
Annoyance #1: the “Ghibliesque animation.” The show is full of references to the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, from the character designs and the fantastic airships to Phryne’s crucifixion pose in her introductory scene (a shout-out to Nausicaa.)
Now if you want to imitate someone, I guess Miyazaki is about as good a model as you can pick, but copying his character designs shows questionable judgment. There’s nothing wrong with Miyazaki’s character designs, but they aren’t the key to his genius. The character designs in the Fractale manga would have worked just as well. What makes Studio Ghibli great is the outstanding quality of the animation, combined with Miyazaki’s ability (at his best) to tell stunningly original stories with unforgettable characters.
If director Yutaka Yamamoto had just kept the original look of the manga instead of trying to imitate the look of a Ghibli film, I would probably be praising Fractale for its animation quality, which is better than average for a TV anime. Instead I am constantly reminded that the animation is not nearly as good as what we would see in a Ghibli film. A TV show can hardly be expected to match the animation budget of a Miyazaki film. Yamamoto is just setting up a comparison that he can’t win.
Annoyance #2 is the incongruous mixture of dark and silly elements. We have what seems like a dark and serious story, and then we have Enri and her cohorts who seem to have dropped in from a Three Stooges movie. Mixing the dark and the silly is very difficult to pull off. Even Miyazaki has stumbled (e.g. in Porco Rosso where the two elements never really fit together.) It’s not totally impossible to make it work. Sometimes a touch of insanity can make a dark sequence truly horrific. But so far this isn’t working.
I have one final nitpick: just something in the ED that makes me wince, and this is in no way the fault of anyone involved in the anime production. If my quarrel is with anyone, it is with William Butler Yeats. Bill, if you are going to use “bid” in the sense of “command”, then surely the past tense should be “bade” (usually pronounced “bad”.) I can’t help it; there’s just something in my brain that can’t let go of these things. (And probably somebody’s going to tell me that in Ireland they don’t make the distinction.)