Region: 2 - UK
Length: 275 minutes
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
In a near-perfect society, humans enjoy virtually anything their hearts desire by simply staying connected to a centuries-old technology known as Fractale. One day, a teenage boy saves a girl on the run from some dangerous pursuers. Suddenly his quiet life turns to chaos when he's caught between a religious order determined to save Fractale, and those who want to destroy it.
I can't find the words to describe this show. I could use such phrases as "wasted potential" and "good story in search of a tone" but it just doesn't come close to how I feel about Fractale. When I realised within the first two episodes roughly how the show would resolve itself, that should have sent alarm bells ringing. But in the end, the show managed to barely, and I stress the word "barely", scrape through in my books. Does this save the show? OK, let us define a thing, all right?
The show has a lot of excellent points that it could have used to save itself. First the setting of Galway (for some bizarre reason) is a real different take. The artists involved took the time to animate Galway as an almost parochial look at the region with straw cottages on the cliff edges and tumbling levels of houses and shops in the local towns. Then for some reason that I can't figure out they put my beloved Cliffs of Moher as a nearby landmark despite being over forty kilometres away. That Google map fail aside, the show then skips between an almost pastoral view of the local countryside where the look is distinctly European (and dare I say it, Miyazaki) and the halls and temples of the priestesses which are straight out of a Buck Rogers story or early Star Wars design aesthetic. By not telling us implicitly that it is set here or there, the show gives itself the breathing room to tell its story. Secondly, the lead is a good choice. Clain leads an almost pampered life but even he is bored with having everything perfect. In this, people don't need anything. It's just given to them without a need for reward. As a result, people become bored and decadent. This is something that Clain cannot see himself having to do for the rest of his life. But as he interacts with the people from Lost Millenium, he finds that they are murderers who think nothing of killing temple authorities But, at some point, he realises that Lost Millenium fight for what they believe in, that they only take lives because their opponents do the same without any remorse and that if it's a choice between the people of Fractale or the people of LM, LM is who he chooses. The characters of Phryne and Nessa are completely dissimilar at first but as time goes on, we learn more about them and find they have commonalities that I can't discuss without spoiling the storyline.
However, and I cannot simply overlook this, the show suffers from a sense of repetitiveness and an inability to finish its own goals that cripple it from episode one. The show shameless cribs from The Matrix and even manages to make the rag tag band of "true" humanity in Fractale make the heroes in Zion look like George Washington in terms of strategy. Fractale has existed for centuries, people are hopelessly dependant on it, there is a reset key in case the natives get restless. The list of outright idea-thievery is shocking. Lost Millennium come across as some kind of tolerant militants. They spend their time fighting for freedom but don't think anything of mowing down temple soldiers. They shun the technology behind Fractale but use it when they want to keep tags on the temple. What, seriously what kind of freedom fighters are these people? Some kind, any kind of consistency would have been nice. It's a sad indictment that as each character was introduced I knew who was going to go crazy, who was going to turn into a true hero, who had a heart of gold and who was a liar. I didn't even need to break a sweat.
Phryne is an analog to Aeris from Final Fantasy in that she's the piece of the puzzle that will change the outcome of the war between the temple and LM. Clain is a model of a bored person who can't stand the domesticity of his life. When LM, Phryne and Nessa come calling, he initially doesn't want to help but the two girls draw him in and eventually he joins their fight. Why then with the show nearly over does he openly go into another example of domesticity with Nessa and Phryne (albeit a chaste one)? He only abandons it when Phryne leaves without saying goodbye. So what was the point of showing us that? If it was for him to make the choice to join in the final fight with the church, then he could have been given the choice and then rejected it when Phryne left. Instead he whines and complains that she broke up their little house. Also, if Fractale can see anyone on Earth from satellites in space, why can't it find Nessa or Phryne when they are in the sky on an LM blimp or while on the ground walking around? Only when the story dictates they should find is this weapon in the temples arsenal used. And I completely object to the outright airdropping in of a character whose only role is to be a paedophile and I am not making that up. It's like the people who came up with this needed a bigger reason for him to be evil other than he was a bad guy. This cheapens the untold multitudes of children who have suffered at the hands of people like that and makes a mockery of the characters who are implicated in this character's arc.
The show's creators were working from an existing idea that was serialised in manga form at the same time the show was running both before and after and this can limit the scope by which they work. I suspect that the stunted storyline and compressed timeline is a problem they created themselves but man alive, it feels so artificial when the only people I should care about don't do anything I can rally behind until the final two episodes. Instead we get "Oh, this is the world of Fractale. Here's some of LM being jerks, now here's Clain being a jerk. Here's the temple being jerks. Here's some of Fractale's own citizens being jerks. Here's Nessa crying. Here's Clain blushing from being teased by one of LM's crew about him and Phryne. And that's the end of the episode." in nearly every episode. We learn some things about the other characters but the only person I felt built any connection with Clain or the two girls is ironically Sunda Granitz, the leader of the LM branch that finds the trio. He doesn't lie to Clain about where his goals lie but as we see from other factions within LM, he's at least honorable.
The fear that the story, if it was terrible, would therefore lead to a terrible script followed through. I had hoped that it was only the English dub that was making me unhappy but in the Japanese dub, it's the same. The cast in either one simply can't make me engage not care what the hell happens to them. Despite people like Luci Christian, Monica Rial, Minami Tsuda and Shintaro Asanuma being here, I just don't care enough to invest in them. People just spend their time reacting to things rather than acting.
Music wise, it does exactly what it says on the tin. There's some Celtic style music, there's some sinister music, happy music. Blah, blah, blah. I'm not saying it's terrible, I'm just saying that while someone got paid to do the music and they obviously sweated over the details, we have heard it all before. If the show has been exciting or interesting then the music could have come across as functional at the very least. With the show it is paired with, the music only adds to the disfunction.
The only thing that saves this show from being a complete waste of my time and yours is that the ending balances out all the loose threads and actually has a happy ending in the western tradition rather than a more Japanese one. Still, the ending also throws away a lot of sacrifices of the characters made along the way (even the villains successful efforts are wasted) and I don't feel any need to revisit this show for any reason. This comes with a warning that the internet was right all along about this show and I really shouldn't have doubted them on this. Tragic waste of the show's talent both in front of and behind the scenes.