Fractale starts very promisingly, and I thought at first that I had stumbled upon one of the all time anime classics. The world-building is very inventive, with main character Clain living on the fringes of a virtual world. Most people on the planet now live within a sort of VR world named Fractale, having escaped from the bleak realities of the real world. On the occasions we see what a city really looks like, it is a depressing grey landscape of tower blocks and empty streets. Instead of seeing that, people experience amazing surroundings and feel like they are living in comfort or even luxury, and can exist as avatars (called “doppels”), their own appearances changed to whatever they want. But as I said Clain lives on the fringes, in a little house on the top of a cliff, living all on his own with his parents occasionally popping up as very bizarre looking avatars at dinner time. He has a passion for older technology, which is generally viewed in the world of Fractale as extraneous junk.
Crashing into Clain’s quiet, solitary existence comes runaway priestess Phryne, who leaves as quickly as she arrived, leaving behind a pendant, which turns into a young girl called Nessa the next day. Her identity is the central mystery of the series. She appears to be a doppel, but there is a lot more going on than that. Some people can see her and some can’t, and she seems to have physical form… when she wants to. I won’t spoil the surprise, but she’s a great character, the best this series has to offer.
As the series progresses, Clain gets involved with a gang of rebels who live outside the Fractale system, and they are really fun characters, especially Enri, the little sister of Sunda, who is the leader of the particular faction of “Lost Millenium” that Clain gets involved with. She constantly jumps to the wrong conclusions about Clain and his intentions towards Phryne and Nessa, often reacting violently towards him, but her attitude softens as time goes on, so she’s quite an entertaining tsundere character.
I mentioned that I thought initially this was going to be one of the great classics of anime, and of course you can guess how that sentence ends, because it isn’t. The potential is huge, but it’s squandered after the first couple of episodes. Instead, the main thrust of the series is nearly always some kind of iteration of Phryne running away and Clain trying to find her and save her, with plenty of padding on the way. Often entire episodes take a sidestep into temporary jeopardy that is quickly resolved, and doesn’t really get us much closer to the final showdown, or generally unfunny attempts at comedy episodes. After a lot of filler, we do at least get to the endgame with several episodes still to go, so the finale moments have plenty of room to breathe, but the pacing of the first half of the series is all over the place. It’s a shame to see so much padding in a series that is only 11 episodes.
I also struggled to warm to two of the three main characters, which is a bit of a problem as they are our main focus of the series. Phryne is just irritating, and Clain’s obsession with following her wherever she goes, often making himself an unwanted presence among the Lost Millennium gang, makes him a rather tiresome character. He is obviously lovestruck, but the romance element to the series never really amounts to much, and you just end up wanting him to stop meddling in other people’s business and look after Nessa, who is completely devoted to him. In the end, one wonders if his interference actually made things better. It’s hard to say, but I got the feeling that the pieces on the board would have ended up where they were, with or without him, and might have got there with fewer casualties along the way.
This series is also let down by its character art, which was a big disappointment for anyone who saw the concept art prior to the series. Nessa is a cute character design, but the art for Clain, Phryne and Enri is all very plain and unappealing. Luckily matters are helped greatly by the background art, with some beautiful landscapes modelled on Ireland. The opening sequence is also a great bit of art, all trippy and kaleidoscopic.
So despite a few flaws, I have to say that this isn’t a bad series at all, and well worth the price I paid for the DVD. I think I would have come away from the series very happy that I had seen a good, solid, above average adventure, if it weren’t for the first couple of episodes that promised so much more and raised my expectations. In the end, it felt like an amazing concept had been squandered. RP