Fantastic Children is something a bit different. Ignore the bad title, a misleading bit of Engrish – I’m sure it sounds cool to the Japanese, and I assure you that there are no super-babies in this show. This anime is actually a lyrical, mysterious and quite beautiful piece of work, with one of the most complicated and fragmented plots I’ve ever witnessed. The show is sometimes melodramatic, sometimes falls flat, sometimes becomes truly epic, but is always ambitious and bold.
With distinctive, old-fashioned character designs, which I see as part of the charm, this anime does not look how you might expect from the sophisticated and challenging plot. Several complex strands run simultaneously: a group of strange (yes, fantastic, if we ignore the campy connotations of the word) adolescents known as Befort’s Children appear at various points throughout history. They have an ethereal appearance – white hair and blue eyes – and unknown to the world, Conrad Röntgen (Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen is the historical figure) was one of their number. Röntgen allowed himself to grow up, forgot his past and pioneered his research into x-rays, which he seemed to know about intuitively. At the same time, a girl called Helga grows up in an orphanage with her friend Chitto. She is always drawing the same picture, a strange shape like a crescent moon behind a great tower, a picture that other solitary women have drawn at various points in history. When she runs away from the orphanage, she meets Thoma, a boy trained as a fighter, who immediately swears to protect her. There are still more plot strands: Dumas, known as Damien, a boy who looks like the Befort’s children yet is not one of them, is part of an agency searching for Helga. Dr Gherta is a leading scientist in this organisation, but why does she feel so drawn to the mysterious object that opens a path into another dimension, where it seems that dead souls go? Then there are the men and women who were used in experiments involving this zone, who have grown old before their time. Finally, there is the detective trying, like the audience, to draw together all these disparate strands and see how it is all linked together. It finally becomes clear that the answers lie in another galaxy altogether, where a princess’s spirit can only be saved by transferring it to Earth – but can it be retrieved? The strands eventually do intertwine, and a charming, elegant story results, ambitious and grandiose.
As you can no doubt tell, this was extremely convoluted for 26 episodes, and in all honesty, it needed to either move more quickly or have an extra three of four episodes towards the end, because everything was resolved far too quickly and expediently. Considering the story is supposed to work over several generations, it seems bizarre that all the coincidences happened at once, and in all honesty, the ‘Losing their memories once they pass 12’ plot device was rather an irritating contrivance. Plus the Gricia arc was too slow and tried so hard to be stately and impressive that it ended up looking very false. The first half of the series was almost entirely exposition, and it provided such intrigue that the answers, when they came, were rather a let-down.
But Fantastic Children really stands out in terms of style. It looks like old-school anime, being produced by Nippon Animation, harkening back to their World Masterpiece Theater series. As ever, their designs bear a resemblance to Osamu Tezuka’s simple style, as well as 3,000 Ri In Search Of Mother, which this pays homage to with a little simian cameo. Characters sometimes have very exaggerated noses or hair, but at the same time the animation is for the most part top-notch, albeit with one or two rather unnatural character motions, an annoying tendency to direct combat as one character hitting the camera, and then cutting to another bouncing away, and one obvious example of (gasp!) recycled animation (taboo!). However, for the most part it was excellent, and the impressive CG blended in well.
Despite the shortcomings of the story, there were a lot of wonderful ideas and well-drawn characters. Not a perfect series but nonetheless an extremely enjoyable and charming one that I will enjoy watching again someday.
(collated from impressions, 19.3.05 and 17.11.05)