“Fractale” tells the story of a boy named Clain Necran who lives alone on a small, sparsely populated island. His only company is a pair of “Doppels,” a sort of virtual reality hologram projection controlled remotely by his parents who live separately in far away cities.
Clain lives in a distant future world where everything is controlled by a universal system called “Fractale.” At birth, everyone is implanted with a terminal that allows them to access Fractale and all the benefits that come with it. Everything is conducted through the Fractale system - food distribution, medical care, police services, and commerce. Everyone is compelled to worship Fractale like a benevolent god, and there is an all-powerful Temple which maintains Fractale's systems and conducts the religious services. In short, Clain's world is a Utopian society... or is it? Something is going on with the Fractale system, causing it to slowly decline.
At the beginning of the story, Clain is like many other anime heroes- he makes his way peacefully in the society, yet he knows that somehow, somewhere, something isn't right. This sense manifests at first in his interest in antique technology-- projectors, cameras, music, cell phones – traces of the past feel more “real” to Clain than his peaceful solitary existence. Still, even with the vague sense of disquiet he feels, it isn't until he encounters a mysterious girl that he breaks free from his bland existence and experiences real life, friendship, and adventure.
For Clain, it all starts when he meets Phryne, a Temple priestess on the run. She literally falls from the sky and into Clain's life. Clain helps her hide from her pursuers, but she doesn't stay around long enough to thank him for his effort. Instead, she disappears before dawn, leaving behind only a small brooch which contains a valuable secret.
Hidden inside the brooch is data of a type Clain hasn't accessed before, In fact, his poking around at the brooch's contents triggers an unexpected stream of data that combines to form a human-shaped Doppel who calls herself Nessa. Nessa is unlike any Doppel Clain has ever seen. While human-shaped Doppels aren't unheard of, Nessa's personality and behavior are much like that of a 10 year-old human girl. She is lively, curious, and seems to have a mind of her own instead of being controlled remotely. Furthermore, she has the ability to manifest herself physically to people of her choosing. Normally, Doppels are like ghosts without real substance.
Why did Phryne run away from the Temple? Who are the people after her, and why is she so important? Why did she leave Nessa in his care, and what exactly is Nessa? What is wrong with Fractale? What is the way that human society should live – completely detached from Fractale, or under its all-encompassing guidance? It is with these burning questions in his mind that Clain embarks on a journey to find Phryne and the truth behind Fractale and their not-so-perfect society. He faces great danger, makes friends, and find romance. But will he find any real answers to his questions?
This set contains all 11 episodes across 2 DVDs. Each episode is part of a story arc that spans the entire series, so there are no stand-alone episodes. “Fractale” is not an awful series, yet I couldn't bring myself to fully embrace it because there is so little that is new or unique about it. Almost all of the plot points and characters in this story have been done before elsewhere, and better.
“Fractale” was part of Japan's “noitaminA” programming block, a TV time slot that has become known in recent years for airing shows that do not fit the usual anime target audience of young boys or girls. For the most part, the programming has been a delightful succession of anime based on comics targeted at older men and women. Other series that have aired in this programming block include “Jellyfish Princess,” “House of Five Leaves,” “Paradise Kiss,” Honey and Clover,” and “Moyahsimon.” All of these shows are quirky and unique, and are a breath of fresh air compared to the usual anime aimed at younger audiences. I guess this is why I tend to expect more from “noitaminA” series. I don't quite understand why they decided to air “Fractale” during this time slot because it is such a pedestrian, vanilla-boring anime.
An average boy meeting a mysterious girl who draws him into fantastic adventures is such a common plot – see Castle in the Sky, Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, or even Birdy the Mighty. Really, it is everywhere in anime. There are a lot of elements to this series that feel like it is reaching for a Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli sort of adventurous mood, but with a much lower budget, and less originality. Episode 1 actually starts off rather promising, with some nice scenery that has a lovely British look to it. However, everything sort of falls downhill from there as the generic plot points are thrown at us. Is there ever an anime where a utopian-type society isn't really corroded at the core and those who are supposedly part of the benevolent authority aren't secretly sinister?
Running around in this common plot are characters who can be very annoying. Phryne has a habit of getting mad at people for not knowing all the deep dark secrets about what is going on, yet when people ask her to explain it all so they can know, she doesn't say a word. How frustrating, all this pointless mystery. Given that she is a Temple priestess, and that some of the pursuers include Temple forces, it's not hard to determine that it has something to do with the Fractale system. All of Phryne's silence is a pointless plot device and more harmful to Clain than it would be if she just laid everything out from the get-go. Nessa is childlike and selfish, yet conveniently has massive power when it's needed. Clain doesn't really have that much of a personality, except for his love of antiques. I can't really say that much of anything else about him left an impression on me.
The animation is very simplistic and often lacks detail. Much of the scenery is boring, with the exception of the Island in episode 1 and the Fractale-controlled city of Xanadu in episode 7. Costume design is weak - this is one of those shows where everyone wears the same thing all the way through - and even the airship Clain travels in is not very inspired. Compare the airship in “Fractale” to the ones in “Escaflowne” or “Last Exile,” and the boring design is more apparent.
If “Fractale” has one thing going for it, it's the nice soundtrack. There aren't very many quiet moments in this series. The air is always filled with gentle background music, usually in the form of soft strings or horns. The background music is lovely. Still, a good soundtrack can't completely make up for mediocre story, bland character designs, and unimpressive animation.
For this review, I watched the DVD part of a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. For what its' worth, the series does look nice enough. The colors are bright and clear. However, this only really serves to highlight the average-to-middling animation quality and lackluster character designs.
Here we have the expected audio tracks from FUNimation- an English 5.1 surround track and a Japanese 2.0 stereo track. The English track sounds louder, which helps in the case of hearing the nice background music, but the voice acting didn't do anything for me. I always have a problem with most dubs in thinking the voices sound too much like adults trying to sound young and failing. Really, this sounds like most other dubs from FUNimation, so if you don't have a problem with them, then this one should sound just fine.
Disc 1 has one extra - a dub commentary track on episode 1 featuring J. Michael Tatum, the script writer, and Scott Freeman, the voice actor for Sunda. All of the other extras are included on Disc 2. First we have an episode commentary track for episode 7 featuring dub director Colleen Clinkenbeard and Brina Palencia who plays Clain. Next is a brief Japanese TV promo, followed by some slightly longer Japanese preview videos explaining the concept of the series, and some DVD and Blu-Ray commercials. Next is my favorite extra, and one I would love to see on more releases for other anime- a look at the Shobi Wind Orchestra - Tokyo, performing the main orchestral theme for “Fractale.” As the music is the one part of the series I really enjoyed, I really liked seeing this performance. Next is a gallery of illustrations used for the Japanese release of the series. All these illustrations (and the one used for this US release) confused me at first because both Phryne and Nessa are shown with purple hair, when in the anime, Phryne's hair is brown and Nessa's is bright red. These illustrations are much more detailed and interesting than anything shown in the actual anime. A US trailer for the anime is included next, along with clean opening and closing animation sequences. We get the closing twice – once for the Japanese version, and again for the English version of the song as sung by the same singer. Both opening and closing songs are nice.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started watching “Fractale.” Its status as a “noitaminA” series raised my expectations a little, so when I saw what is a rather generic anime, I was let down. This isn't a BAD show, it's just sort of... there.