Home > Episode Reviews, Fractale > Fractale Episode 7 – Post Electric Blues

Fractale Episode 7 – Post Electric Blues

I mentioned last week that I thought Fractale was a sharp criticism of the modern otaku: the kind of person that would spend their lives in the digital world free of human connection that Fractale depicts. It’s a good thing I waited until this week to go into more detail, because this episode seems even more didactic than what has come before.

The episode beings with Clain playing around with his new-found camera

But first, let me start by reviewing the prior evidence. Fractale takes place in a future u/dystopia where people don’t have to work for a living, and are free to pursue their hobbies and interests without regard for any social responsibility.

It’s easy to see how such a world would be a paradise for anyone devoted to their hobbies. Even if you’re not really into anime, imagine a world where you could spend all day playing video games, or fishing, or doing whatever it is you do when you get some free time.

But otaku, whose hobbies have made them social pariahs, are that much more dedicated to them as a result. Like anyone who faces social pressure because of something important to them, it becomes far more core to their identity as a result, and being excluded by the rest of society means they tend to associate only with other otaku, which only further reinforces the importance of their pastimes.

Nessa's affection for Clain comes out in full force in this episode

But the relative scarcity of otaku means that it can be difficult to find people who share your hobbies in real life, particularly if you live in an area with fewer people, or away from the hubs otaku gravitate towards. This means turning online, out of necessity, to meet like-minded people. If your hobbies would turn people off from being around you, then you have to go where people who share your hobbies are.

And the Internet makes it incredibly easy to find people who like the same things you like, particularly if it’s reasonably geeky. It’s easy to get caught up in a virtual world populated by people who like the same things you like and ignore the physical world that is openly hostile to you.

Thus Fractale spends a lot of time dealing with the contrasts between its virtual world and the physical one, nearly always siding with the physical. Its hero is a counter-cultural reactionary obsessed with archaic technology, most of the supporting cast are revolutionaries who seem to have their hearts in the right place; even if they’re bumbling incompetents, they’re better than the villainous caricatures of the Fractale priesthood.

There's as much context for this picture here as you'll get in the episode

This episode just reinforces my theory that Fractale is a criticism of the otaku lifestyle. After the Granitz family airship, the Danan, malfunctions mysteriously and crashes, Clain wakes up in a strange woman’s bed in Xanadu, a city of technological paradise (if you couldn’t tell from the name). Nessa is captured by a mysterious man, who is interested in her unique capabilities. In the end, though, both are just trying to contain Clain and Nessa long enough for the priests to show up, so they can collect the bounty on their heads.

Xanadu has a perfect connection to the Fractale system, a window into the worldwide decadence that left humanity in such a pathetic state. The problem is, it mostly just looks like Second Life.

Xanadu kind of looks like Blade Runner with rounded edges. I guess even freed of the constraints of physical reality, people aren't that imaginative (or maybe it's just anime background designers)

Like Second Life, it’s presented as some kind of virtual paradise. Everyone is a doppel, and the improved connection to Fractale means they can look like whatever they want. The people we meet are artists, who participate in the city’s economy by selling virtual goods for people to use.

There’s even a weird undercurrent of resentment towards the hatred of anonymous critics dissing people’s work on the ‘net. Clain’s captor is accused of inciting a flame war after her work isn’t well-received, and Phryne almost gets brained by a real-life sculptor who takes offense at her dislike of his work, comparing her to critics online. It’s a moment that might have been intended as scathing criticism, or maybe just have been extremely therapeutic; it’s hard to tell which.

This guy brains Phryne instantly for daring to criticize his work. That's all the explanation we ever get

The problem with places like Second Life is the same problem underlying Fractale’s entire setting: the virtual world is merely a shadow of the physical one. And even here, that’s true. It’s a world where you can create anything, but can’t touch it.

Of course, that’s less of a problem if the show is targeting the kind of people who are willing to accept a lack of physical connection for such a world. That would take a pretty desperate person: someone either physically incapable of interacting with a physical world, or sufficiently detached from it to not care about what he is missing.

We do see people like that in this episode. The problem is, they’re the villains, another caricature of cartoonish evil. At the end of the episode, we see the physical body of the guy who captured Nessa: a wrecked shell, hooked up to life support and only capable of movement thanks to mechanical assistance.

Potentially sympathetic villain or wicked monster: you be the judge

He’s someone desperate: willing to do anything to maintain the illusion of a world where he can live free of his physical limitations. It’d be pretty easy to write a sympathetic story for such a character, to explain why he ended up in such a state. Such easy melodrama is everywhere in anime; it’s one of the staples of even the genre, even in excellent shows.

But that would introduce a layer of moral ambiguity, make it unclear who was in the right on this. And that kind of murkiness has no part in such a didactic story. So to the writers, he’s just another cruel villain, another treacherous bastard inhabiting the benign apocalyptic wasteland of Fractale.

If you’re trying to effectively convey any sort of message in your show, you need to consider the audience for that message. Actually, you need to do more than that: you need to really, truly understand who they are, and why they think the way they do.

The man's desperation is such that he shoots Clain in an attempt to stop Nessa. Honestly, I don't really get how that works

This is especially true if they’re already kind of a persecuted minority, and you want to further condemn their way of life. You need enough empathy for them to know why they would make decisions contrary to what you think is wise, and point them in the direction of what you think is right.

Fractale has none of that. Its message has all the subtlety of a cannon blast, another pot shot taken at a group of people that have weathered far worse.

And that’s the really weird thing: I think Fractale’s social commentary is slight and unoriginal enough that I don’t think that it would stop it from being a popular show, even among otaku. That it’s been a bit of a bore so far might, but then again, this is anime.

I think this was mostly just an excuse to get Clain to crossdress

If it seems strange that I’m spending most of my pondering the hidden meanings behind the show and completely ignoring what’s actually going on in any given episode, let me say, on behalf of myself and my co-blogger, threeheadedmonkeys, welcome to antiotaku! Since this is your first time here, let me direct you to some of our many fine articles.

Seriously, though, the reason is that Fractale just isn’t a very interesting show. Each episode’s plot is hindered by the tons of extraneous plot threads thrown in, to the point where nothing ever feels fully explored. The show’s overarching plot—determining the fate of the apparently crumbling Fractale system—appears to be on hold until the Danan reaches wherever it’s going (although, admittedly, this episode offers one revelation, but still nothing concrete).

After Clain is threatened by this virus that inhibits his connection to Fractale, Nessa goes crazy and triggers a gooey explosion that destroys Xanadu. (It was really hard to get a screen of using Hulu's player, so you'll have to take my word for it. Instead, enjoy the tentacles!)

As if acknowledging that nothing of dramatic interest is happening, the creators have seen fit to throw in the standard harem love triangle (or quadrangle, in this case), with the usual problem: no one is interested in doing anything more than throwing significant glances their beau’s way and blushing or calling them a pervert and beating on them.

So we’re left with a dull travelogue of a society that could not possibly exist, filled with a dozen half-baked science fiction short story ideas thrown in. The whole thing feels like the anime adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut book, with Vonnegut’s satirical and self-aware style replaced by a didacticism that disdains anime convention even as it clings to them to keep the show interesting.

Anyway, based on the last few minutes of this episode, the plot finally seems to be picking up. I can’t promise I’ll actually be writing about the episode next time, but I at least hope it will be more interesting for me to watch.

You can watch this episode here.

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