Fractale Episode 1 – Superconnected
I was a big fan of director Yutaka Yamamoto’s last show, Kannagi. It was the rare high school comedy that had enough heart and energy to be worth recommending to a wider group of people than die-hard anime fans, something I attribute as much to Yamamoto’s fluid direction and sharp comedic timing as the excellent manga it was adapted from.
So when I heard that Yamamoto’s Studio Ordet and frequent collaborators A-1 Pictures would be creating the next show for noitaminA, a programming block devoted to broadcasting anime that would be of interest to people who aren’t young males and which frequently makes a strong showing in our end of season awards, I was incredibly excited. Hearing that the story would be social science fiction based on an original story from Japanese cultural critic Hiroki Azuma (whom I had never heard of but had to be more interesting of a writer than most anime writers), I was even more excited.
I was expecting something new and original, a work that would combine Yamamoto, Ordet and A-1’s animating talent with a well-written original story by someone outside of the anime ghetto. It could be a phenomenal work, something that could stand on its own as a quality show, not just something good for anime.
Such lofty expectations, of course, were bound to be dashed. Fractale isn’t a groundbreaking anime; it’s just pretty darn good.
Set in a world where everyone has enough resources to live a life of leisure, thanks to the titular computer system, Fractale follows a boy named Clain, who lives by himself in a house, collecting old technology.
Just because Clain has his own house doesn’t mean he’s unsupervised. His parents watch over him in the form of doppels, holographic avatars that allow instantaneous contact with any point on the globe. His parents, in fact, live on separate continents from each other, as well as Clain.
The post-scarcity world of Fractale is one of leisurely nomads, free of the restraints of work or the separation of distance through the Fractale system and their doppels. People travel the globe, living life like a permanent vacation. As Clain says, “Everyone just comes and goes as they please.”
It’s an interesting world, for sure, and one which will likely be explored thoroughly over the next 11 episodes. Most of this episode, however, focuses on setting up the show’s main plot, which isn’t nearly as interesting.
Things pick up when Clain spots Phryne, a young girl, fleeing on a small aircraft from a pursuing airship. Struck by her, he rescues her, and hides her from them in his house. They spent a night together, hiding in some ruins where they can’t be reached by radio signals, and looking up at the stars. In the morning, she’s gone, leaving behind a small brooch that contains some kind of data.
When Clain tries to analyze the data, a red-haired girl appears out of the brooch. End of episode.
Rather than something bold and inventive, the show seems like an homage to adventure shows from the 80s and 90s. I’m sure Clain will eventually set out of find Phryne, and the girl who arrived at the end of this episode will feature prominently.
Its “teenage boy encounters the fantastic which begins an adventure” theme and nonchalant, everyday approach to its futuristic setting are pretty common tropes from the era, although that still remains true today, to some extent. There’s also a damsel in distress, and even the comical, over the top villainess and her two buffoonish sidekicks.
In its laid-back pacing, rounded character designs and pastoral visuals, it’s also reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s work.
This kind of makes sense. After all, Azuma is known in part for his work with anime and other media common in otaku culture. So it stands to reason that a creation of his would intentionally riff off common anime conventions.
It’s still too early to say anything definitive, of course, but so far the show has stayed fairly close to those conventions. In that regard, the only thing separating it from the hordes of other derivative anime airing right now is that it’s borrowing from shows that are 20 years old, which makes them seem fresh, if not particularly inventive.
But I’m being too negative. The bottom line is, even if it doesn’t turn out to be as original as I’d hoped, Fractale is still set in a unique science fiction setting, with characters that mostly seem well-crafted, if not original. And instead of simply aping what’s currently popular, it’s looking to the past for inspiration.
That alone makes it one of the best shows of what’s shaping up to be an excellent season, even if it’s not the sort of instant classic you can show your non-anime-watching friends.
I mean, I never thought I’d be disappointed with a show that plays like an 80s science fiction anime influenced more by Charles Stross and Ian Bainks than Star Wars. Here’s hoping its blend of old school anime and contemporary science fiction ends up working.
You can watch the episode here.