In case you haven’t heard, the big controversy this week was that the Fractale production committee ordered Funimation to stop simulcasting Fractale until they “eliminate all unauthorized distribution of the series on the internet”. Now, this is stupid for many reasons that I won’t blather on about here, not least of which is that this is an arbitrary request that Funimation could not possibly carry out. But it’s another example of the off-screen drama overshadowing this series. I don’t know whether Yamakan himself was involved in this decision, but he certainly has a talent for controversy – be it attracting or creating it.
And it would be a shame if this series continued to be overshadowed, because it’s damn good. It hasn’t totally come together yet but it has the feel of substance to it – incredibly lush backgrounds, lovely character designs and the germ of a potentially fascinating and subtle plot. We were treated to some truly beautiful direction this week – the bicycle scene, the clock tower, the conversation between Clain and his parents’ doppels. So far it’s mostly eye candy, albeit outstanding eye candy, but something deeper seems to be hiding underneath. Yamakan is an extremely bright guy and he always has something interesting to say in his works, so there’s no reason to expect this one to be any different.
On the surface this episode was mostly about the antics of Nessa, who couldn’t be more different than Phryne. She’s childlike, hyperactive and ebulliently affectionate. She’s also a doppel, though apparently a “touch doppel” as normally a human can’t physically interact with one and Clain can with her. She leads Clain on a wild goose chase through the mostly deserted village, to an old clock tower and a kind of caravan park where futuristic gypsies live a life of “freedom” in what looks like 20th century trailers. Why does Clain have a house, Nessa wonders? Well, he “likes old things” for one. Eventually exhausted by Nessa’s walking-catastrophe act he drops her off at the police station only to be abducted by Team Rocket, the girl portion of which we discover is named Enri. Enri has an older brother with a profound interest in Phryne and seems to share some of Clain’s dismay at the lack of physical interaction in this paradise of the future. Convinced by Clain’s story that he doesn’t know where Phryne is he releases him – though Team Rocket follows him. Eventually, Nessa turns up again and Clain has changed his tune after a lonely encounter with his parents’ doppels. But thanks to Nessa’s naive blundering the pair are abducted again…
As cute as these characters are and as lovely as the Ghibli-esque backgrounds and animation are, there’s a dark undercurrent here as there always is with Yamakan’s works. The key line of the episode was when Clain’s father responded to Clain’s plea for them all to live in the same house by exclaiming that “We’d tie ourselves down and lose our freedom.” His mother followed with “If we lived together in the same house, it’d be a sign we don’t trust each other.” There’s a kind of equivalent exchange principle at play here – to get something, you give something up. Houses tie you down – but is a camper a home? Can you really be a family if you’re never truly together? Mankind has apparently abolished poverty and war in this world, but everyone is alone – and most of them, unlike Clain (and apparently Enri’s brother) don’t see anything wrong with it. Clain craves human contact, though he realizes through Nessa that it can be messy, inconvenient and even dangerous. Is it worth it? That’s a decision everyone in a bad relationship or afraid to enter into a serious one has to wrestle with at some point, and come to their own conclusions. I’m looking forward to seeing Yamakan’s discourse on this over the next nine weeks, especially in this attractive and highly entertaining package.