Anime Reviews: Fantastic Children
Though the character art can be physically painful to look at, Fantastic Children's many attaching characters and truly epic story make it a modern classic.
Title: Fantastic Children
Production: Nippon Animation
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 10/4/2004 to 3/28/2005
Age Rating: 7+ (dark or disturbing thematic elements, mild violence)
Summary: From the trembling pen of a once prolific scientist, the unusual 500-year-old story of the Befort Children is told to the world--children who, at the age of 5, leave their homes, travel around Europe until the age of 11, die of mysterious causes, and resurrect shortly thereafter to begin the process anew. The Befort Children are desperately looking for Tina, a woman connected to an artist named Serafine who painted a mysterious image of a crescent moon on a foreign landscape. Elsewhere, on the eastern archipelago, a young boy named Thoma practices martial arts with his father within the shrine his family maintains, in-between shuttling his mom to and from the island via motorboat and exploring all the local islands. One day, Thoma sees a girl his age lying in the hands of a Buddha statue. The girl, Helga, is a runaway from the local Chikao Island orphanage who seeks a place from her memory; a place eerily similar to the landscape painted by Serafine...
The Good: The characters and plot work together beautifully to create one of the greatest tales ever told in anime
The Bad: Artwork could've been better; confusing first half; lousy title
The Ugly: No seriously, that's the title you're going with?
Through my adolescence, I've fancied myself a creative person with a desire to write stories. Fantastic Children is the perfect example of a story I wish I could write, but more on that later. This was another anime brought to my attention via Anime Academy, and man, it hit home right away and didn't waste any time making it onto my much-coveted Top 10 Anime list. From the AA review, I was already aware that it was gonna at least be a good series, but I had no idea just how good until this seemingly-inconspicuous series slapped me around like I owed it money.
The summary I provided can't really do this series justice, because so much stuff is happening, even right from the very beginning, and to compress it all into a brief summary is damn near impossible. You've got the story of the Befort Children as they continue their long search for the woman named Tina, the story of Thoma who learns martial arts from his dad while driving his mom back and forth from her job on the main island via motorboat, and the story of Helga and Chitto who are both searching for the mysterious place in Helga's memory. There's also a plot thread involving Detective Cooks, who is investigating the whereabouts of several lost children when he uncovers the story of the Befort Children. Another subplot details the goings-on of a shady organization called Phantom GED, who is tracking down escaped test pilots of some mysterious device that rapidly ages them. As you can see, there's an awful lot of events going on, and while it may seem overwhelming at first, they are all addressed in their due time, and they all mesh together quite nicely.
And amidst it all, the plot runs the gamut from lighthearted adventure to sci-fi to action thriller to supernatural mystery to heart-wrenching romance...there's really nothing left unexplored by the time the series is over. And it would all totally fall flat on its face if it weren't handled with such care and skill as is demonstrated every single time there's a genre shift in this anime. You can easily tell Fantastic Children was the product of an inspired director and an enthusiastic team, because, where the series should have crumbled under the weight of its own intrigue and ambition, it remains afloat by sheer determination.
To add to the various character stories going on simultaneously, you also have the main characters themselves (all two dozen of them!) to keep track of. However, as mentioned before, since this is a labor of love and utmost care, never once will you lose track of who's who and what their ambitions are, simply due to how well fleshed-out everyone is. Thoma starts out as your every-reckless-comedy-hero until he shows you how well he can rationalize things out and how serious he can get, Helga starts as your every-helpless-waif until everything is revealed and you see just what darkness lurks inside that tiny frame, and so on and so forth. Even the Befort Children, who seem so cold and devoid of emotion, reveal their humanity(?) very quickly and soon also become easy to connect with.
With so many plot threads and characters introduced, it'd be a waste and a shame if they didn't build up to something incredibly awesome. Luckily, they do, in fact, build up to something incredibly awesome. At the start of this review, I mentioned how Fantastic Children was the kind of story I wish I would write, and that's because so many things come together so neatly with so few holes, layered thick with plot elements that all build up and all pay off significantly, that the end result is pretty much perfect. Remember the last time you saw a TV show or a movie, where everything fit together like magic at the end, and you were left wondering, "How did they do that?!" That's exactly how I felt once this series was over.
But, as we all know, nothing is perfect, and so here's where the slaughter begins. Well, it would be a slaughter if there were any significant flaws with this series, but there are some nitpicks nonetheless. First off, the artwork was clearly the least of the studio's concerns when it came to putting this friggin' epic story to animation. As a result, while some characters look fine (namely, the inhabitants of the faraway Greecia), others look positively abysmal (Hiisuma, Agi's mother, Paruza, Detective Cooks, Gherta). While it's pretty shallow to knock a series for having weak artwork, it's frustrating in this case, because this series deserves better. For such a huge, epic story, it would have been amazing if the artwork followed suit.
Second, as mentioned earlier, there is a lot going on in this series, so until the Great Big Exposition Episode (13, in this case), you're gonna just have to save your questions. Because you will have questions. Especially regarding the Befort Children. So, why do they fight giant shadow phalluses? What is this OSL energy they refer to? (And no, Malaysian English dub, it's not "Orsel." ｢オエセル｣ or "o e se ru" does not come out to "Orsel.") What's with the memory crystals? Who's this Tina and why are they searching for her? Well, keep guessing, because you'll just have to sit and wait for 12 episodes to find out. While this isn't technically a large flaw, it will turn people away, and that is a waste and a shame.
Finally, Fantastic Children just has a dumb-ass title. Literally any other title would have fit the story better, like "Rebirth Chronicles" or "The Love That Transcends Time" or "Horrible Things Happening to Everyone All the Time"--anything! This stupid title can also alienate potential viewers, and that's no good.
Aside from those small bumps, I would recommend this series to everyone I know. There is really no reason whatsoever to not see Fantastic Children unless, you know, you don't enjoy nice things. A powerful and weaving storyline rife with twists, wonderful characters, and masterful direction are more than enough to justify my enthusiasm for this series, and also potent enough to remind me why I fell in love with anime in the first place.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Though the series' artwork is more or less an afterthought, this epic fantasy easily offers enough action, drama, romance, mystery, and revelation to make it a modern classic.