Poor old Fractale. It was eminently predictable, of course, that if the series proved to be anything less than a masterpiece the critics both in Japan and in the West would turn on it like piranhas. Yamakan brought it on himself to some extent of course, but even if I knew it was coming I can’t help but feel it’s largely undeserved, On balance, if this series were helmed by another director – say, one not so prone to controversy – it would have been received as what it is. Namely, a beautifully animated and imaginative if flawed project – a complex story told in very simple terms.
This week we saw some acknowledgment that Clain’s view of the terrorists from Lost Millenium had turned a little too quickly. Of course it’s easy to forget that the leads in this series are kids – Clain seems to be about 14 – and as such, quite naive about the world. Another layer was added to the moral dilemma this week when we met another faction of Lost Millenium – this one called Alabaster and led by a charismatic figure named Dias. They meet Sunda’s faction in the wilds outside of Fractale’s range, where a group of “Dead Zone Refugees” are trudging in misery, helpless with their connection to Fractale’s blessings having been cut. Alabaster offers them assistance – free food and even vaccinations in an abandoned village nearby. Clain’s fickle head is turned again, as he sees Alabaster as the kinder, gentler Lost Millenium. Unfortunately they have their own ulterior motives – that vaccine was actually a treatment to remove the terminals from the refugees, making them forever unable to connect with Fractale. The villagers are given a choice – join the fight or die, a choice they’re willing to illustrate by gunning down the man who tries to flee.
Of more interest is the odd man who seemingly snaps photos of a skinny-dipping Phryne with his antique digital camera – except those turn out to be of Clain. Clain follows the man to his house and is immediately entranced by his treasure trove of antique technology, sheer heaven for an antiques otaku like Clain. He invites Clain to return at midnight for something really special, Phryne tags along, and what they see is a reproduction of a beautiful city, visible only through the man’s antenna on the night of a full moon. While in his house, Phryne palms some of the man’s photos and the man – coughing and clearly ill – makes a gift of his camera to Clain. Those photos are obviously important, as one of them shows a yellow-haired baby in his parents’ arms. Obviously, that baby is Clain – but who is the coughing man? Clain’s father was seemingly alive, although we only saw his doppel – and the man in the photo with baby Clain might or might not be Coughing Man. And how did Phryne know who the baby was – just a good guess, based on appearance?
Lots of questions, still. This was a pretty serious episode, especially after last week’s low-key one. I think the simplicity of the storytelling style and the cuteness of the character designs has thrown people a little bit – there are actually some pretty complicated things going on here, and what seems to be setting up is a potentially cruel wake-up call for Clain. His whole world has literally been make-believe – now he’s finding out more about real life than he’d probably care to. Nessa is obviously as innocent as can be but Phryne is a different matter – she’s a child by appearance, but though still naive about some things, she’s seen enough terrible things to have apparently lost her innocence long before Clain came into her life…