Home > Episode Reviews, Fractale > Fractale Episode 6 – It’s All Gonna Break

Fractale Episode 6 – It’s All Gonna Break

After a series of episodes that don’t stand up on their own at all, this episode gives us two (albeit related) stand-alone stories. At least they seem to be intended to stand on their own, because the episode ends with the Granitz airship taking off again for parts unknown. Really, though, I hope they come up again, because neither of them seem finished.

Clain is pretty taken with Dias and co., until he realizes they're secretly evil

The airship has set down in a region unreached by the Fractale signal in order to make camp for the night. Clain meets another faction of Lost Millennium, known as Alabaster. They’re led by another self-righteous young man, this one by the name of Dias.

While at first Alabaster seems to be a bunch of selfless do-gooders, giving free food and vaccinations to the refugees moving to an area with a connection to the Fractale system they depend on for sustenance. In time, however, it comes to light that those vaccinations were actually removing the terminals that allow them to connect to Fractale, leaving them permanently incapable of going back to their old lives, with no choice but to join up with Alabaster in virtual slavery.

Dias and the rest of his group are barely in the episode at all, and the story turns from them as soon as their bad intentions are revealed, leaving the whole thing feel unfinished. They just show up long enough for Clain to think they’re good guys, then realize they’re bad. It’s a good example of how brutal the world is for people who aren’t fortunate enough to have the Fractale system take care of their every need, and the helplessness of everyday people dependent on it, but not a very interesting story.

We first meet Clain's friend seemingly taking pictures of a naked, swimming Phryne. That looks really bad, so he runs away. In reality, he was secretly taking pictures of Clain, which probably isn't that much better

The other focuses on a mysterious middle-aged photographer, whom Clain quickly befriends because—since he’s using a device as archaic and outdated as a digital camera—he’s obviously as fanatical about past technology as he is.

The man questions Clain’s obsession with antique machines. Doesn’t he know how useless they are in the world of Fractale? Clain’s answer isn’t particularly interesting: he likes the physicality of it, the connection to the world.

The irony of the man’s question is that they are living in an area where the Fractale system’s signal cannot reach, and he has devoted his life to trying to repair it. It makes Clain’s answer seem appropriately juvenile: what is just a hobby for him could mean life or death for the Fractale refugees that have been flooding the roads, aimlessly searching for a connection to the outside world.

To be fair, though. Phryne is naked in pretty much every episode. For some reason, anime directors like to signify a girl is otherworldly or not ordinary by freeing her from social nudity taboos...

Clain’s preference for the physical seems to be the extent of the show’s social commentary: that an overreliance on ethereal digital technology is eminently unsatisfying to humans. We want to have people and things that we can touch. The thing about Nessa that makes her novel for a doppel—and most human—isn’t her appearance; it’s the fact that she can actually touch people on her own.

Given that the show’s audience probably spends an inordinate amount of time online, it’s a point worth making. Clain’s joy at meeting someone in real life who shares his interests is something anyone who grew up with unusual interests can probably relate to.

Clain is like a kid in a candy store amidst the piles of Old World tech

It’s just that this seems unremarkable and familiar to anyone who has paid any attention at all to traditional media outlets’ bemusement at and gradual (begrudging) acceptance of digital communication technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs: a lot of attention is paid to the dangers of becoming caught up in a digital world to the exclusion of the real world, but this completely misunderstands people’s actual understanding of technology.

The truth is, most people use technology to aid existing friendships with people they’ve met in real life. Facebook is popular in part because it consists of a network of people using their real names to communicate with people that they have (mostly) met in real life.

Physical interaction is even important for relationships begun online. That so many online communities have events where they meet up in real life is testament to the fact that physical interaction is an important part of human relationships.

The Fractale refugees think there's food in the man's camera case. That reminds me, this show has been pretty mum on how people using Fractale eat. How can a wireless network feed you?

What communications technologies do are enable people to maintain relationships that time or distance would otherwise make impossible. I consider both of my fellow writers here close friends, people I interact with frequently, and none of us even live in the same state.

They also enable people to meet new people based on mutual interest, rather than proximity. Without the Internet, for example, the audience for my writing on anime is anywhere between zero and four people, most of whom only have a casual interest in anime at best.

But, by publishing it online, however, I’ve been able to share my thoughts with thousands of other people, some of whom are likely more receptive of them than my casual anime watching friends are. Even outside of antiotaku, I’ve been able to interact with all kinds of people who also hold my interests, no matter how obscure.

The man wants to reconnect to the balloons that propagate the Fractale signal using this massive antenna

Still, I spend just as much, if not more, time with my friends here in the physical world, most of whom find the stuff I’m fascinated with pretty weird.

All this makes one of the basic premises underlying Fractale’s social world—that people give up physical interaction because the ghost-like embodiment of doppels are an easier form of interaction—hard to swallow. It just seems to go against human nature, as does the other major part of Fractale’s social setting: that all of humanity has become entirely dependent on the Fractale system for their every need, abandoning any sense of greater purpose for a life of meaningless hedonism.

The connection to Fractale creates a hologram over the entire town. The whole effect looks amazing

I would be more willing to suspend my disbelief if the show had an interesting take on the either topic, but anyone who was reading newspapers or magazines five years ago will find nothing new in its take on the former, and the latter is one of those old staples of science fiction that has been done better elsewhere.

I mean, everyone in the show who isn’t a radical terrorist or a priestess is completely devoted to nothing but the mindless pursuit of their hobbies. Clain’s friend here is the only normal person we’ve met with any sense of grander purpose, and his purpose is to reconnect the area to Fractale so that everyone can resume their normal lives.

There’s never any sense of ennui, no one ever seems to be bothered by a lack of direction. These middle episodes, that are about developing the world before the various story threads the show has been weaving are (hopefully) resolved, would be the right time to introduce such a character.

They’d be a particularly good foil for Clain, whose gradual transition from Fractale devotee to rebel seems to be mostly about his love for the physicality of the old world. We haven’t, however, seen anyone like this.

I realize that it seems incredibly presumptuous to be critical of the subtext of an anime. I guess I could be thankful that Fractale is on the air instead of another show about scantily-clad high school girls getting into trouble. But not only is this season good enough that I can afford to be picky, I’m expecting a lot because this show’s story was originally developed by the cultural critic, Hiroki Azuma.

Since it was coming from someone whose trade is understanding culture, I kind of hoped that it wouldn’t seem like a fictionalized op-ed article from 2000s era Time.

To be fair, Fractale is a little more substantive than that (since it will eventually be around five hours long, one would hope), and Azuma seems to be known more now for his writings on pop culture, and otaku in particular. It makes the show’s slavish adherence to the genre conventions of older anime all the more understandable—and regrettable—but that doesn’t excuse it.

But once you realize that Azuma is, in some ways, an outsider with a lot of knowledge about otaku culture, it should be easy to see what I think he’s doing here. I think Fractale is, at its heart, a parable to otaku, about the dangers of a life of idleness and physical detachment from other people and society in general. If that really is the intention, I don’t think it is very successful, but I can appreciate the sentiment, because if I was in his position, I would do the same thing.

I’ve written enough for tonight, though, so we’ll have to save all that for next time. In the meantime, Fractale remains a competent show, noble in its ambition but mired by its devotion to the conventions of the genre and its ignorance of human nature.

You can watch this episode here.

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