I picked up this show on pure whim after reading the winter 2011 expectations of some well-respected peers on AnimeSuki, and man, am I glad I did! This show jumped from low-mid to the top of my list this season.
The scene opens up onto some very pretty scenery art, reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, or Howl’s Moving Castle. I think of an early, Utopian Europe. The very first character we see, the protagonist Clain, goes along with this assumption, as he’s blonde, blue/green eyed, and drinking milk in a charming little cottage on a cliff by the sea.
My illusion is shattered in the next frame as the motherly/fatherly voices talking to Clain end up belonging to strange extraterrestrial-looking beings. To top it off, a boxy, yellow creature sniffs at Clain’s leg much like a dog would. At this point, I’m not sure what I was thinking watching this show and what the hell I’ve gotten myself into >.<
My sense of time continues to warp as Clain goes out on a bike ride through gorgeous scenery, listening to his music player (iPod style), only to end up at some sort of cyber-street fair full of illegal goods. Clain reveals himself as fascinated with technologies from the “old world,” getting excited at finding a disc that fits into his music player. The background holograms on the surrounding stalls read phrases like: “old century classic computer,” “old type CPU, RAM, memory, hard drive,” and “price negotiation OK.” With the odd creatures floating around reminding me of the spirits from Spirited Away and the mix of a cyber-world overlapping reality reminding me of Dennou Coil, I’m starting to really like what I see. Security (Police?) shows up to bust the action and the creatures immediately disappear, and the audience learns of the existence of “doppels,” something still to be explained. With most of the vendors gone and security off chasing the runners, Clain pockets the disc. It’s nice to see a protagonist going against the wholesome norm I typically see in shows of this atmosphere.
As Clain relaxes to check out the stolen disc–which turns out to be a history book and not music like he hoped–the show takes the time to relate a bit of history for the viewers. The Fractale System is one that promotes a perfect world with no poverty or war. Users must simply embed a “Fractale Terminal” into their bodies and send life logs to a Big Brother-like Server to receive basic incomes. The history book calls Fractale a 22nd century “God,” which of course sets my sensors to warning buzzers letting me know that this system isn’t all that it’s professing to be. This was already hinted at earlier with the street fair.
The following scene confirms this when Clain witnesses an air chase between two futuristic flying vehicles. I automatically take the side of the girl on the very Nausicaa-like glider. I mean, c’mon, she winks right at Clain when she overhears his music, and she gets a special scene all her own as she falls backwards off her glider and falls gracefully towards an unbroken ocean. At this point, we’ve only just started the opening credits!
Talking about the opening credits…I can’t say I’m really impressed with the visuals as it’s just a bunch of, well, fractals. The meaning isn’t lost on me since I assume they represent the overlapping, patterned worlds that we’ll come across when learning about the Fractale system. But is it too much to ask to give me some pretty scenes and hints of future characters? Hmph. Nice song though, “Harinezumi (ハリネズミ)” by Azuma Hitomi.
After these unsatisfying credits, again there’s the Castle in the Sky feel. Much like Pazu, Clain rescues a fallen girl and takes her to his home. However, instead of the completely innocent boy from Miyazaki’s creation, Clain shows some sexual attraction to Phryne. Tsk tsk! The humor that shows up in this latter part of the episode is pretty well introduced and spaced out. Some shock from Phryne’s lack of shyness towards nudity, and some very Dola Gang-ish comedy!
Phryne’s attackers follow her to Clain’s home and attempt through some very comical costumes and acts to trick their way in. When these fail, they burst in and are shocked not so much by her absence, but by the clothes she’s left behind, going so far as to accuse Clain of planning “naughty” actions. After much fuss, they finally leave and we have some more one-on-one time between Clain and Phryne.
The pendant Phryne wears looks mysteriously a lot like the symbol on the old chapel ruins. This similarity, added with her disappearance, the suspicion of the Fractale System, and the comedic antagonists, makes for an intriguing start. The interest only heightens with the sudden introduction right at the very end of the episode of a girl who materializes out of the computer data Clain extracts from Phryne’s pendant. At least she didn’t fall out the sky onto him