Thoughts, Words, Works

Review: Fractale @

Clain and Phyrne from Fractale sitting together

Fractale is an 11-episode series from A-1 Pictures, set in a future where everyday life is moderated by the "Fractale System" that provides for everyday needs and allows augmented reality projections worldwide. Clain is an ordinary boy who's a little disillusioned by the system, but after being visited by a mysterious girl, he embarks on a journey to find the truth behind the Fractale System and those who would oppose it.

Art & Animation: The colors tend towards bright and well-balanced pastels; the scenery is often rather plain, but still welcoming and attractive. The original character designs are very picturesque, but they lose a lot in the conversion to something easier to animate. And as for that animation, it jumps around in quality from episode to episode, sometimes very good and sometimes rather lacking and sloppy. The influence of Studio Ghibli movies, like Nausicaä and Howl's Moving Castle, is evident in the visual style, especially early on. An interesting choice is that they generally don't represent Doppels (goofy AR projections) in CGI, which is something that other shows have gotten away with, justifiably so, yet it occasionally uses CGI for other things like doors and streams (usually without being too obtrusive). Overall, the animation is pretty good-looking without being exceptional. One thing that bears mentioning aside from that is the OP sequence, which is actually a sequence of wonderfully rendered fractals, reminiscent of an old-school Winamp virtualizer or something.

Plot & Characters: I really wish there were more good science fiction anime. However, despite being set in the future, Fractale makes only a passing attempt to draw upon any kind of science. Without spoiling much, I can say that it leaves the details of all its imagined technologies so vague that you have little sense of how they're used or what they are and aren't capable of, let alone such vagaries as how they supposedly work. That's a shame because Fractale makes a big deal about some of these technologies, and not stopping to set the record straight lets a lot of air out of its narrative tension. That alone wouldn't be enough to write off the show, though, if it were attempting to be anything else. At times it does seem like it wants to be more of a character-driven story of maturation, but the pacing and tone of the show are so inconsistent that it's impossible to pin down what its intentions really are. The result is that it's a bit of a train wreck. The characters are probably the strongest part of the show's writing: Fractale manages to make them distinctive and quirky while not leaving the depth of the characters overshadowed by those quirks. Ultimately, while I found the twists and tonal dissonance frustrating, the show's brevity acts as a limiting factor, both preventing it from addressing those problems as well as from exacerbating them, so it falls far short of the worst offenders in that category.

Music & Sound: Fractale has some interesting, but understated music. Some of it is very fitting, and much of it is forgettable, but it's generally pleasant. The problem is that there's one song in particular which has great plot relevance, and it's not the song it's cracked up to be. What makes things worse is that it's often sung, by different characters, and almost never sung well, even by the ones who really should be good at singing it. As a result, this song that really should be moving, elegant, and maybe a little mysterious, falls literally a bit flat. Meanwhile in the voice department, there's a solid cast including a performance by Hanazawa Kana that is startingly energetic, completely outside of her typical archetype. Meanwhile, Minami Tsuda gets her first major role in the series, and not without sounding a little amateurish, but she grows into her role and does a pretty fine job. The ED is a peaceful new rendition of the Yeats poem and Irish folk song "Down By the Salley Gardens", with some episodes having an alternate verse sung in Japanese and some having the original in English. The OP is a poignant pop-electronica song, also containing some Celtic influences, and it goes well with the aforementioned fractal imagery. The singer for both, Azuma Hitomi, has a nice voice, and pretty decent English pronunciation, where it matters.

Audience Considerations: Fractale at least attempts to be a show for mainstream consumption, but it doesn't completely avoid moments that would make your normal American viewer raise an eyebrow. One female character seems to have conveniently little modesty in showing her naked form in front of Clain (or, we later discover, most people), while Clain plays the typical awkward adolescent male; meanwhile, another girl incessantly speculates and accuses Clain of rampant perversion. These points are relatively small, though, and they make less impact on Fractale than the serious wrongdoings and morally ambiguous choices perpetrated by many characters in the show, for which the tone does a poor job of highlighting and compensating. Again, the show sends mixed messages on what it's trying to be, but suffice to say it contains themes which are probably unsuitable for children.

Overall: Fractale is a series that aspires to be many things and fails to deliver on many of them. It has an aesthetic and a goal that are admirable, and it resolves itself with no worse awkwardness than your typical anime, but it has many small flaws and a couple big ones that prevent it from really taking flight. There are things to like about it, and I give them props for trying, but you won't regret skipping it. I do, however, recommend looking up the OP sequence on Youtube or something and giving it a watch.


User Comments

User gravitar mDuo13 @2014-01-16 02:57:35

You know... in retrospect, I may not have been as harsh as this series deserved. The more I look back, the less I think I enjoyed it.

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