Fractale – Series Review

Yamakan set himself up for all this, I’m afraid. It’s never a good idea to put the kind of pressure on himself that he did, and as a result I think a lot of people came into this series predisposed to hate it. And it’s good – damn good – even if it does suffer from some significant flaws in execution.

What’s great about Fractale is that it’s a really smart story about really big, interesting ideas. That’s not a shock, given that it’s creator is Hiroki Azuma. There’s a lot of commentary on larger issues here – freedom vs. security, identity, determinism… I really admired the fact that we were given a tale of a war between two sides who were both wrong – the anime had the courage not to gloss over that fact.

More so than it’s NoitaminA stablemate Hourou Musuko, Fractale probably suffered from pacing issues. In the end the ideas were too big – they couldn’t adequately be explored in an 11-episode format. As a result a lot of the character development was slow in coming (though this improved markedly in the end) and we had an ending that was exremely frantic and a little too neatly tied in a bow. This is the curse of NoitaminA now, I suppose – we saw it with Kuragehime as well. There’s only so much you can do in 11 episodes – though as this was an orginal series they might have done better cutting out some of the extraneous plot and focusing on the three main characters and the central moral dilemma of the story.

The show looked good, though the animation was a tad inconsistent. Yamakan seems to have made a deliberate decsion to go with very cute character designs and a “Ghibli look” to the art to make a contrast with the sometimes shocking brutality of the content. Indeed, I liked the fact that the series was able to lull me into complacency and then produce someting deeply unsettling.

Though Clain was the main character and even Nessa probably got more screen time, in the end this was a show more about Phryne than anyone else. Her tragedy was at the core of everything – the self-loathing caused by events beyond her control. It was fitting that she should be revealed to actually be that the center of it all, though the explanation in the finale had a bit of mumbo-jumbo to it. All of the adults in this series are deceitful and manipulative to varying degrees, with dubious moral character. There were no good guys here, really – just the two innocents Clain and Nessa, and the soiled innocent Phryne.

I know the finale will probably keep this show from being classed as a real success – if it would have anyway – but that’s too bad. It’s a solid, thoughtful and ambitious work that deserves respect, and I can forgive it it’s flaws because it at least tried to deliver something profound and sometimes succeeded. Alas, the director made himself the story – and that’s going to guide the lasting analysis of Fractale, I fear.

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4 comments

  1. S

    I see you didn't get any real discussions when you were blogging this, so I'll drop a little note of disagreement. At least for posterity. (I'm going back through your archives for recommendations, and came across this) [As a note, I've found a lot of solid series this way so far]

    I disagree a bit on this series, but it's really more of degree than of points. I view this series as a catastrophic failure. It wasn't a bad watch (visuals were good, a lot of the characters were interesting), but you can't swing for the fences with bad bat. And this one has a pretty beaten up one at the start.

    The real problems, in my view, is not that the ideas were bad or uninteresting. The two major problems were: 1) the deep ideas were approached with a bat rather than a knife and 2) the World Story's reason for existing was painfully insulting.

    The problem with the lack of subtlety is pretty straight forward. Clain & Nessa were great characters and generally left to be good characters. But everyone else was pretty much hit up side the head with massive amounts of "the plot needs X now!" syndrome. It was especially bad with Lost Millennium (the rebel group), who one minute are a bunch of survivalist farmers, then wanton killers, then brilliant tacticians, then sappy comedic side-characters. The WW1 "you're all wrong" approach can work really well in an fictional work… if you can make a logical case for each sides actions. They only sort of approached that by the end, but, at that point, the antagonists had become caricatures of stupid-evil.

    But the real problem went to the core of why this was all happening. It's not that they needed a sexually abused 16 year old girl to restart the system (as intentionally exploitative as that storyline was intended to be). It wasn't that they needed to use a human to reset the system (a 60+ year old Sci Fi concept that does actually make some sense). No, the core problem is that the series expects us to believe that they just "snuck in" a Human CPU/OS into the system that didn't have a single psychological profile done. The most complex system ever made by mankind, likely costing Trillions of dollars fails because the programmers are idiots that can't get a basic psychological evaluation done. With how important the girl is to the system, there would have been a committee going over the girls with a fine-toothed comb. It was the final culmination of "you really didn't think this through, did you?" on the series.

    At some level, I appreciated what the series was trying to do and there were some effective moments. I especially liked the stuff with the clones, plus Clain & Nessa. But a series with a self-perpetuating, space-based, nano-machine-controling computer system is actually caused by stupid programming. Which really hurts because I wanted to like this series, a lot.

  2. Well, to each his own – I think I summed up why I disagree with some of that in my post. Thanks for weighing in, though.

    Just OOC, what older series did you pick up from my archives?

  3. S

    Yup, it's an "each his own". We don't disagree on the points of contention, just the values we attach to how well they worked.

    As for recommendations, it started with R-15, which you mentioned a number of times during the Spring 2012 season. I'm going to track down Dororon here soon. Occult Academy. Kamisama Dolls. Mashiro Iro Symphony. Mirai Nikki (was while you were blogging it). Nekogami Yaoyorazu. Hoshizora. Baka to Test. Seitokai no Ichizon.

    Some of these were just as things you liked in passing, discussing other series. But, since we really agree a lot on the "angles" that series have and disagree on the value of those (normally), I've had good luck with the things you like.

    I also have UN-GO and Moribito around for a watch, as well. Though getting through Moribito is actually harder than I thought it would be. While I pop in, lately, to chat about current series, most of my time to watch anime is actually in large chunks on the weekends. Moribito is not a series well presenting for rushing through it. It's fairly slow paced, but also very detailed. You want to spend time with it. Doesn't work so well when you generally just plow through most of a series straight out, like I do.

  4. A

    It had potential but the character archetypes, and anime lewdness that pervades most otaku-centric shows (isn't the point of a NoitaminA to get away from all that?) dragged it down for me.

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