Fractale Redux – Episode 2

Fractale develops further upon the themes it explored in its opener here. Clain meets Nessa for the very first time, but he is blinded by his anger at Phryne for leaving her with him. So, on the suggestion of his father, he decides to leave her with the police in a nearby (almost deserted) town. He returns home, dejected, and after a tumultuous talk with his parents he realises his mistake. The pair reunite, but they blunder into a trap set by Enri and are kidnapped by the girl and her goons. And so, our heroes get carried off into the distance in a Team Rocket-spec net, but with no Pikachu to save the day with a well-timed Thunderbolt.

Clain is understandably shocked to find a shouty, red-haired HanaKana pop out of his computer, but he is even more surprised to find that while Nessa is a doppel he is also able to touch her. After a little research he finds that such technology has become the new standard – unsurprisingly, Clain is not the type of person who stays up to date on the latest technological advances of the Fractale system – and was essentially precipitated by the sex industry in order to replace humans. This is the first explicit reference to a seedier side to Fractale’s world. We still don’t see this aspect of the setting, but the show keeps dropping hints and building up to the reveal later on in the series.

Nessa’s character is very simple to describe – cheerful, care-free, bubbly. Phryne and Nessa are both completely different to Clain: Phryne is more mature and more confident than him, while Nessa is more childish and innocent. Is Nessa really as innocent as she lets on, however? After she falls from Clain’s bicycle she lies still in the road and asks him to touch her. The word she uses is 触って (sawatte), which most often has a negative or sexual connotation. Why use this word specifically? Is there something in her past that might lead to her saying a risque word in a purely innocent context? This is something that is actually revisited in Fractale’s finale, but for now it’s simply a small hint of sinister goings-on that non-japanophones might miss. Heck, I only caught it by chance.

In having Phryne and Nessa thrust upon him, Clain has been confronted by two wildly differing personalities, both of which are at complete odds with his own. CLain is isolated and unstimulated, but suddenly a mature, confident young woman and a happy-go-lucky, inquisitive young girl walk into his life and leave a massive impression. He begins to question his life cooped up in that tiny house, physically separated (albeit not digitally) from a whole world of new people and new experiences. His experience with Phryne running away made him reject the infinite possibilities, but he soon realises his mistake. He is finally ready to open himself up to a world beyond the confines of his lonely existence.

Some of the animation in this episode was top drawer. The scene where Clain meets Nessa for the very first time is wonderfully done. In every medium shot the characters were lively and dynamic, with Nessa rarely staying still for more than a few milliseconds at a time. The close-ups of the pair’s faces are where A-1 Pictures really excel, however. Their facial movements are meticulously animated, conveying infinitely more emotion and meaning than the same conversation shot with near-static models. Clain’s eyes flitting from side to side, looking anywhere but at the young girl in front of him; a frown creeping across Nessa’s face, followed by tears welling up in her eyes as she is told that Phryne abandoned her… These are the sorts of things we often take for granted in anime, which is surprising given how often we anibloggers hark on about “show, don’t tell”.

Episode two is not as good as Fractale’s opener, but it’s still decent. At the time this aired a lot of people criticised the comedy in the episode as being too slapstick and silly – Nessa ruining the campsite, Enri and her goons trying out their suspiciously-similar range of disguises etc. – but I found it quite welcome. It showed that for now, at least, Fractale isn’t taking itself too seriously. Without this comic relief the only moments to really break through the tension of the plot would be Nessa’s initial meeting with Clain’s parents, and relentless HanaKana would have grated even more than Nessa already does (for what it’s worth, I don’t find Nessa particularly annoying, but I can totally see why other people would). Clain and Nessa being kidnapped at the end of this episode signals the start of the plot proper – with the basic setting established, Fractale needed to move Clain out of his comfort zone and throw him into conflict with the Lost Millennium group.

Fractale Redux – Episode 1

One year ago, a certain magical girl series was taking the anime world by storm, but apart from a few people getting excited over who was associated with the series (i.e. SHAFT, Shinbo), Madoka passed by mostly unnoticed when it came to season previews. No, the series that was getting the most people hot under the collar was the now-infamous Fractale. Yamakan was here to save anime from vacuous moeblobs and boring protagonists with a sci-fi premise and a Ghibli-esque aesthetic. But it didn’t quite work out for poor old Yamakan, as ultimately his series became that which he strove to eradicate. One year on, and the memories of Fractale still weigh heavily on the mind of anime fans; for many it was the first sign of a decline in the once-glorious noitaminA timeslot. After a promising start, the show ended up throwing sci-fi tropes at the wall in the desperate hope to see what stuck – Fractale’s ending is as messy as its art is beautiful. But is it as bad as the aniblogger hivemind would have you believe? I admit to being somewhat swayed by anime blogs when it came to Fractale, as it was around that time that I began to regularly read blogs, so much of my opinion was formed from reading Scamp’s thoughts on the matter. In an attempt to seek out some truffles in this otherwise barren undergrowth, I’m rewatching Fractale in full and blogging the experience – Fractale Redux.

So, Fractale episode one. I mentioned before that Fractale had a promising start, and its opener is actually very effective. Fractale’s world is not our own, and so like most other shows it introduces the most ubiquitous characteristics of its setting – the Fractale system and doppels are skillfully presented, with exposition rarely coming off as boring. We are told of a technologically advanced world, but this is at a complete disconnect with what we see – rolling hills and lush pastures reminiscent of the countryside of Ireland as opposed to a futuristic cityscape. In a world where the doppel system means one can choose to live anywhere, irrespective even of where their parents choose to live, our protagonist, Clain, chooses to live in this rural paradise, as far away from new age technology as possible.

This shunning of technology is expanded upon when he visits a flea market in a nearby town. The stall he shows most interest in is selling ancient computer parts and storage devices, while he utterly abhors the booth selling illegal ‘data narcotics’, a new drug specifically designed for doppels. When the Garda arrive to apprehend the troublemakers, they disperse all the doppels in the area with the push of a button, and it is revealed just how lonely Clain really is in this world – the only people there who weren’t doppels were the dealers. In all likelihood, since moving away from his parents the number of people Clain has directly interacted with could be counted on two hands. This shows when Clain actually does come across a real person, and judging from his reactions Phryne might be the first real girl of his age he has ever come across. Teenage boys overreacting is a cliché of the highest order in anime, but here it did actually serve the purpose of showing just how inexperienced Clain is not only with a topless girl being in his room but with any human contact at all.

Loneliness has made Clain eager to establish human contact, but when Phryne disappears at the end of the episode he feels betrayed. “She showed up when she wanted and disappeared when she wanted. Always doing what they want… Everyone in the world now is like that.” Clain seeks to distance himself from a selfish society where people are far more concerned for their own well-being than for the feelings of others. This time, however, he is angry. For the countless other times this might have happened Clain expected this rejection, but here and now he finds himself enraged. In a boring, lonely life Clain has been largely passive because of the distance the Fractale system has placed between people, but when something finally happens to him his social awkwardness doesn’t allow him to act upon it. Outwardly he is angry with Phryne, but in reality it his weakness that is to blame. And from what did this weakness arise? The Fractale system. The world itself is accountable for Clain’s inability to act.

Clain’s personality is the classic bored teenager, forever wanting away from the Fractale system. And yet it interferes in his life indelibly, preventing him from actually doing something outlandish for a change – a system touted as liberating serves only to stunt emotional growth. We only receive concrete information about the Fractale system once in the entire episode, when Clain examines the data on a memory card he acquired at the market. It is an ‘ancient’ textbook dating from around the time of the system’s inception, and promises “a world that knows nothing of war, where a person’s livelihood is guaranteed, even if they don’t work”. This is pure propaganda, and the data even goes on to say that “Fractale is, indeed, a 22nd century God created by mankind”. All signs point to a classic dystopia setting, but Clain, it would seem, is the only one who realises that this. Fractale’s world is one of extreme communism, enforced religion and social disconnect. Clain is the Neo of this world, he just can’t take the chance he gets to begin to break out of his destructive cycle of mere existence and start living. When offered the pills, Clain chose blue and is left to rue what might have been, but when Nessa arrives at the very end of the episode, the pill offered to Clain is as red as the young girl’s hair.

In the space of a single episode, Fractale attempts to present its most fundamental components to the viewer, and it does so effectively and efficiently. Clain is surprisingly fleshed out for a protagonist upon whom the viewer is supposed to project their own thoughts and feelings, even if said feelings may have a large common ground, and Phryne has enough mystery about her to entice the viewer and leave them wanting to know more. Through the one large piece of exposition and the various bits and pieces one can pick up in analysis, we are presented with two diametrically opposed accounts of the Fractale system – propaganda versus experience. The natural route for the plot to follow is an exploration of the pros and cons of Fractale in a Kino’s Journey-esque manner, and indeed this eventually comes to pass. However, for know all the viewer wants is for Clain to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.