Fractale started out at a bit of a disadvantage for me. I watched it immediately after the sublime Hourouro Musuko, and it was always going to be an uphill climb to compare favorably with that. Still, it emerged as one of the better premieres of the season – not surprising, given the talent involved.
This is a beautiful series too, but in a different way than it’s Noitamina neighbor. Fractale is lush, colorful and vibrant – if Hourou brought Shinkai to mind this one is definitely Ghibli and Miyazaki. Director Yutaka Yamamoto – known universally as Yamakan – is already one of the giants in the game despite being just 36 years old. Legendary for his work as an animator at KyoAni and for being fired after four episodes of Lucky Star, Yamakan has blazed his own trail with the likes of Kannagi. Yamakan is also legendary for his hyperbole, which includes claiming that he would retire from anime (he’s done some live-action work) if this show didn’t succeed. That’s a lot of pressure, but so far the series delivers pretty well – starting with the wonderful OP and ED work Yamakan is known for. The OP is a trippy compilation of fractal imagery, the ED is a simple piece of animation over a lovely version of W.B. Yeats “Down by the Salley Gardens”.
As for story, we’re still in somewhat unknown territory here. The setting appears to be some 200-300 years in the future on an island, quite possibly Ireland – which would explain the ED. The hero is Clain, a young lad of perhaps 13 whose only interaction with his parents and the local villagers appears to be through “doppels” – avatars, basically, presumably representing real people somewhere far away. The world is under the control of “Fractale” – some sort of man-made God that provides the necessities of life to everyone on Earth and demands a 5 PM prayer in its direction. Clain is in the act of prayer when he sees a young girl on a flying motorbike being pursued by a girl and two men on a rocket-powered blimp. She falls – intentionally – and Clain finds her and returns her to his cottage, where the girl and her goons show up later in pathetic disguise trying to find her. The girl is Phryne, she wears a strange brooch, and in the end that pendant finds it’s way into Clain’s possession after Phryne disappears. Much to Clain’s surprise, another girl – this time a red-head (Nessa, apparently) emerges from it and the stage is set for future adventures…
There’s a lot of interest here, even if the plot doesn’t really come together yet. The animation and artwork is just stellar, as you’d expect from A-1 Pictures. They’re on a roll, and they’ve established themselves as reliably high-quality producers. Clain and Phryne look like something straight out of Castle in the Sky – they’re moe but not annoyingly so, and the other characters share the same pretty, detailed design – very much a Ghibli look. As I mentioned the plot hasn’t quite clicked yet, but it’s early – and I liked all the characters we were introduced to. I’m not madly in love with Kobayashi Yuu as Clain. Especially after Kosuke Hatakeyama’s performance in Hourou Musuko it’s painfully obvious that this is a woman playing a boy, and even by those standards Yuu-chan is not one of the more convincing seiyuu at pulling this off – her boy roles work better in outrageous comedies like Higepiyo than in semi-serious story-driven anime like this. Relative newcomer Minami Tsuda is lovely as Phryne, though I don’t know how much we’ll be seeing her for a while. Nessa’s seiyuu is the very talented Kana Hanazawa, fresh off her triumph as Tsukimi in Kuragehime.
This wasn’t a life-changer like Hourou Musuko, but a winner nonetheless. You know production values are going to be stellar, so it depends on where the story goes from here. Scripter Mari Okada is a solid veteran with an excellent resume, so I expect an interesting plot and good character development as we go. Looks like Noitamina is in excellent hands for another season, with arguably the two best premieres of the winter season.