It’s certainly not the only show this season about which this could be said (Madoka Magica comes to mind) but there’s a really interesting dichotomy taking place in Fractale. You have the very cute and Ghibli-esque character designs, the lush backdrops and the Celtic lilt of whimsy that suffuses the whole enterprise. Yet against that, you have extreme brutality where death is treated much more realistically than in more “violent” anime. You have a great moral quagmire in which two sides of dubious motives appear to be at polar opposites of a battle that neither really deserves to win, with innocents (Clain and Nessa) caught in the middle. In a sense, there’s a kind of nihilism to this series when you stop and think about it.
So in that sense, one might be tempted to call out the similarities between this and some of Miyazaki’s more serious work – Princess Mononoke certainly. But as violent and dark as that film is, there’s still a sense of right to most of the various sides – in fact, Miyazaki doesn’t take a so much nihilistic view as one where there’s some sort of good even to seemingly bad people. I don’t get the sense that Yamakan and writer Hiroki Azuma are going for that here, though it’s still early in the game.
The death of Enri’s henchman was unexpected, but the matter-of-fact way it was dealt with in this episode confirmed that we’re in for a dark ride – a very different kind of series. Some things certainly became clearer this week – Phryne is the daughter of the High Priestess. She hates Fractale, and fled the temple with the data that became Nessa – though apparently she never expected Clain (or anyone else) to be able to extract it. The temple wants her back very badly, and though she starts out as a prisoner of Sunda and Lost Millenium and Clain means to flee along with Nessa, they end up as reluctant bedfellows, joined in their mutual loathing of the temple and their need to flee.
Other things are happening too – most namely that the Fractale’s “stars” – apparently satellites or floating beacons of some kind – are going out. The Priest mentions that there’s not much time left for the world, though we don’t get anything like full disclosure on just what that means. Of primary import is what side Clain will choose in all this. He’s not hesitant in calling Sunda and his gang terrorists, but he’s seen the sinister nature of Fractale now and Phyrne – whom he’s obviously in love with – clearly loathes them. And then there’s Nessa – the doppel who “loves love” but hates Phryne. Is she jealous, or is there something deeper? Clain is caught in the middle of the girl and the doppel just as surely as he is between the totalitarian but stable Fractale and the violent and ruthless but free and independent Lost Millennium.
I see no reason whatsoever to suspect there are going to be clear-cut answers anytime soon, and maybe not at all – Fractale doesn’t feel like that kind of show. This has the feeling of a story with an agenda behind it – something that’s trying to paint a picture of the futility of seeking comfort in moral certitude and the ominous nature of both freedom and prosperity. Clain has had an awful lot of hard lessons in four episodes and I suspect there are many more to come.