Quick anime history lesson: Once upon a time, Yutaka Yamamoto worked for Studio Kyoto and was responsible for some of the funniest episodes of Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu? ("the bread stand" and "the hot springs" chapters). He was then made the production director for the whole of the original Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya series, and then promoted to be the series director of Lucky Star. Unfortunately, after just 4 episodes of Lucky Star he was canned because he slept with his boss' daughter or son or something stupid like that. Yamamoto didn't give up his career in anime after that rather large setback though, and he rebounded by founding his own studio (Studio Ordet), and directing the fun Kannagi: Those Crazy Shrine Maidens, and then the short movie Black Rock Shooter.
He then made apologies to his American fans at Otakon '09 for what his ex-studio Kyoto was doing with the Endless Eight episodes of the second season of Haruhi that were currently airing and pissing off the entire global fandom community at the time (despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the new Haruhi, which then pissed off his old bosses even more since they never apologized for that crappy trolling themselves), and he went on to declare that it was his intention to single-handedly save the anime industry from collapsing under the weight of all the shit that was being produced as illustrated entertainment over the past few seasons. He announced that his next show was to be called Fractale, and boasted that it would be "fresh, unique, and a genre changer," just like Evangelion was 15 years earlier. He even went so far as to put his career on the line and claim he'd retire from the biz if his supposed magnum opus failed.
Well, now that Fractale is finally complete (after a super short 11 episodes), how well does Yamamoto's bragging hold up? Not very well I'm afraid. First of all, Fractale's nothing new at all; it's basically a super abbreviated retelling of Eureka 7, which itself was a remake of Fushigi no Umi no Nadia. Hell, two of the characters in Fractale look exactly like, and play the exact same roles as Hanson and Sanson in Nadia, down to their ties, hats, and sunglasses. The plot doesn't have any time to spread its wings in its condensed 5 or so hours of storytelling, and the whole thing, despite trying its best to feel epic and grand instead feels claustrophobic and, well, tiny.
Okay, let me back up and tell you a little something about the plot first. Fractale takes place many hundreds of years in the future, and is about a teenage boy obsessed with technology named Jean, I mean Clain (who lives in Ireland), and his adventures after meeting and rescuing a mysterious girl (Nadia) who's being chased by a group of ruffians (Grandis and Hanson and Sanson) for the mysterious jewel she wears. The boy releases a powerful doppel (a holographic avatar) of a young and bubbly child (Marie) from the girl's jewel, and soon all three are caught up in a war that's raging between the all-powerful assholes running the world (Gargoyle and his Neo-Atlantis) and the group of rebels led by an enigmatic man (Nemo) and his loyal and ragtag group of soldiers (the crew of the Nautilus).
The main difference between Fractale and Nadia though is the fact that BOTH sides in Fractale's war are full of dickholes and preachy cunts. Yeah, Nemo's, er, Sunda's side is slightly less assholic, but they still fight their war in order to impose THEIR wills on the population of the planet, and not just to stop evil. And they're little bitches about it too. And really, the Fractale Church of the Consciousness as a whole isn't totally evil, they've just let the world become too dependent on technology. Hell, we're pretty much already under their control now in 2011!
In order to really dive into the problems with this series I'm going to have to enter some pretty massive SPOILERS territory now. You have been warned.
So it's the far-off Irish future (Well, everyone has fair hair, Celtic names, and the land is very Irish in topographic looks, so I assume it's Ireland, despite the fact that everyone still acts very Japanese), and the world appears to be idyllic, what with nobody really having to work, free medicine directly downloaded into people's bodies when they're sick, and the world web of the satellite-controlled Fractale system keeping tabs on everybody like the world's snoopiest "big brother" ever... But nobody interacts with each other (most people stay locked up in their homes and simply send their goofy-looking holographic avatars, or "doppels", out into the world at large when they do need to go outside), the biggest and brightest cities are really just crumbling concrete husks painted over with a holo-coat of shiny glass walls and lights, and nobody knows how to even till a field or boil water anymore. But everybody's a complacent little lamb, and nobody questions the all-knowing Fractale, and so life goes on... Until it doesn't.
It seems that the Fractale system isn't as powerful as it appears to be though. Some of the satellites that are constantly beaming zeros and ones down onto the population of the planet (and scanning their brains every night for forced uploads) have failed and fallen, and there are a group of rebels called the Lost Millennium who want to take the Fractale (and all its priests and priestesses) down in one giant fiery explosion filled with death, destruction, and dismay!... Because "technology is bad, m'kay," and they believe that mankind should go back to living in the dirt and sweating his ass off working in the sun all day, every day. Ugh, FUCK YOU, Lost Millennium.
We start off this tale by hanging with dorky ancient-technologies uber-fan Clain (the young lead), and we soon witness his historical meeting with a mysterious girl on Nausicaa's flying wing (Mehve) as she attempts to escape from a trio of bandits who are trying to shoot her down from their own small airship. Clain helps the girl, Phryne (a maiden nun of the Fractale Church), get away, but she then bolts from him that night, though not before giving him a small crystal brooch that just so happens to contain the realistic and always smiling doppel of the "Key" (a ten year-old girl named Nessa) that's needed to reboot the Fractale system every thousand years or so because... Well because.
We follow Clain and Nessa as they tool around for an episode or two, before they're captured by the almost incompetent Lost Millennium. They then pick up the run away Phryne, and soon they're all just one big happy family who massacres priests and nuns in their spare time. They meet a few people outside of the Fractale's control grid (most of whom are completely lost without its presence, and will do anything to get back into it), and one guy with an old camera who appears to be Clain's father, but we're never really sure of that, so whatever), and one other branch of the Lost Millennium army headed by a smirking total douchebag who wants to burn it all down even more than Sunda does. Then the ending is upon us. *Yawn.*
One of my biggest complaints about Fractale is that nothing that happens in it seems important at all. The Fractale is supposed to be a global network, but we never leave the British Isles, and even this land is almost completely void of citizens. The world feels so small, and the threats don't seem to be all that all-encompassing. The (very few) battles that take place in the series, although very violent and bloody, seem trivial — especially the rumble in the last two eps where we only really watch two armies of airships approach each other and fire their cannons and lasers from a distance... Compare this to the epic airship battles in Last Exile and you'll see Fractale as a giant step backwards in storytelling and visualization.
Another major grievance is that the mysteries behind what each side is fighting for are told, then reneged, then kind of reexplained in the final assault when the floating fortress that the main players find themselves on is exploding to shit all around them. The mystery of what the Fractale really is is not compelling in the least, and it's just blurted out in the last 20 minutes as if the director thought "Oh shit! Fuck! Did we tell them that the Fractale was based upon the psyche of a partially retarded 16 year-old girl who had the brain of a 10 year-old, and that they pulled her spirit out and turned it into a computer program and then kept cloning the girl's body over and over for 1,000 years?!?"
"Ummm, no, sir.... May I ask WHY the super scientists of the past based this world-wide satellite internet on the brainwaves of a girl with the Downs?"
"Get the fuck off my back!!! It's, ummmm, because she's got, ummmm, I mean simple minds can only...... Fuck! We'll deal with that in the sequel!"
Do not fear. There will be no sequel. Not only does Fractale not know what it's about, it doesn't know how to keep your interest. And no, I'm not shitting you about what the Fractale system really is. It's a mongoloid girl's brain turned digital.
Oh, and don't even go in thinking that this is another Nadia — meaning it's fun for grandpa, mom, dad, and junior. Fractale is not for kids at all. There is lots of perversion, blood, and violence, and some disturbing strangulations and gropings performed by old men on teenage girls (and one almost gynecological exam to check to see if Phryne is still "pure"). Yeah. No, I'm not shitting you. It jumps from harmless kids adventure to mass murdering rebels with uzis and then back again almost every other episode. Fractale is one of the most schizo shows I've ever seen that doesn't seem to know it's all over the map (you know how some series do this on purpose to try and shock you [*COUGH* Elfen Lied *COUGH*]). It just seems like a mistake here.
Other than all that, I can say that I really did like the opening song, just not the animation. The Op is nothing but fractal art twisting and turning in an endless kaleidoscope of colors set to a pretty nice techno-Celtic J-Pop song... Yeah. Strange, but nice. And the end theme is Salley Gardens (a poem by Irishman William Butler Yeats put to a lilting and sad tune), as sung by a Japanese woman who ALMOST gets the idea of English pronunciation. The whole tale of Fractale was meant to be very Irish and Celtic in look and feel, but except for people's names, some random Celtic symbols on some background art every so often, and the End theme, it's not very Celty at all. The setting plays no important part in the story. What a wasted opportunity to do something cool with a location outside of the typical anime fallback setting of Tokyo.