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Helen McCarthy on the science fiction anime with real science

A TV series that runs for eleven episodes isn’t usually considered the success of the year in any medium. In anime, though, all is not necessarily lost even when the distributors aren’t barricading staff in the studio and refusing to let them go home until they finish four seasons. Witness Fractale: attractive enough to win over the hard-headed buyers at Funimation, with a roster of Western talent to ensure that, though small, the English-language release is perfectly formed.

A solid script from J. Michael Tatum and assured ADR direction from Colleen Clinkenbeard supports the three US vocal leads, Brina Palencia, Caitlin Glass and Luci Christian, in performances of considerable sweetness. The Japanese voice cast is just as attractive. Lead Yu Kobayashi, a talented singer who specialises in boy roles, has voiced characters from Sho Ota in football drama Ginga e Kickoff! to Setsuna Sakurazaki in Negima. But cute as it looks and sounds, Fractale has a core of science underlying its fiction. True, there are plot holes aplenty, but there are also intriguing concepts. The series raises questions that our own world is struggling to answer.

Mankind’s digital engagement has evolved to the extent where all humanity’s needs are taken care of by the unseen engines of the Fractale system. This frees everyone to pursue their own individual passions, and has changed society to the extent that almost everyone now relates through digital avatars called doppels. When Clain, an antiques-crazy boy, meets a real girl for the first time ever, he’s impressed by more than the fact that she shows up in a glider with a crew of machine-gun-toting honchos in pursuit. His perfect world isn’t as perfect as it seems. Soon Clain is caught up in the terrifying conflicts between anti-Fractale activists and Fractale cultists, not knowing whether life as he knows it is about to end, whether that might be a good thing, or whether he’ll survive long enough to make up his mind one way or the other.

Director Yutaka Yamamoto gives the show an almost archaically rustic, domestic feel, with echoes of the Studio Ghibli aesthetic in both the visuals and the relationships. Scriptwriter Mari Okada is renowned for punchy, powerful dramas like Dead Girls, Red Garden and Black Butler. Scholar and critic Hiroki “hazuma” Azuma, creator of the original Fractale concept, is known in Japan for asking big, serious questions about where society is heading. Sohei Kano’s music is richly beautiful, and any show with an ending theme whose lyrics were written in 1889 by Irish poet WB Yeats gets my vote on grounds of poetic daring alone.

It all makes for a charming, intriguing package. And then it stops, with plot threads still unwoven and questions unanswered. If you can deal with that frustration, Fractale will reward you.

Fractale is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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