The first of Winter 2011's noitaminA shows, Fractale is an anime original story (there is a novel being written at the same time but I don't know if it's out yet) and is streaming on Funimation's site. A quick note, some of the character's hair colors were switched last minute (honestly, Phryne and Nessa having purple hair actually makes more sense), ponytails has red hair and the other girl has brown hair, I honestly couldn't find any clean images with the correct colors, sorry!
Summary: About a thousand years into the future, humanity is completely dependent on the Fractale system. It provides for everyone’s needs, creates a virtual world around you so perfect that many people don’t interact with each other anymore, and an unforgiving government system. However, there are people who resent this lack of control over their lives and some people who just hate the system and a young boy named Clain, who doesn’t hate the system but does love antiques, falls in with these people and has a chance to change the world.
The Good: The setting, while not completely original, was an interesting one that I wish had been explored more. There are plenty of futuristic stories about supposedly perfect societies having corrupt governments and Fractale did a good job grounding itself there (also, for some reason I just liked the fact it was set in Ireland, probably because I’ve never seen an anime set there so the change was nice).
The Bad: As much as I liked the setting for this story I really ended up disliking the characters and the plot of this story by the end. Clain and co are caught in the middle of a fight between the Temple (maintainers of the Fractale system) and the Lost Millennium (a bunch of freedom fighters who want the system destroyed) and, even though each side is shown early on to be a bunch of extremists who will kill civilians if necessary, Clain sides with the LM, which I didn’t understand, and if the point of the story was how people are too dependent on technology (which makes it bad) then the story was way too heavy handed with it. As for the characters, I feel that even after 11 episodes we still didn’t really know any of them, either that or they were extraordinarily simple characters that I still couldn’t sympathize with. The show had a lot of filler strangely enough, yet it was devoted to silly antics, not to fleshing out the plot or characters, and the whole story (especially the ending, the Wolf’s Rain ending made slightly more sense) left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Art: The art looked marvelous in some episodes, off model in others (the character’s faces looked off model in all of episode 10, shame because the faces also seemed much more expressive), there were some times were the animation got more jerkly*. Several bits of the early episodes are set in real Irish towns (screenshots here) which I thought was cool and the inside of TOWN looked stunning, a really colorful feast for the eyes.
The Music: I almost didn’t notice at first that the ending song is a Yeats poem sung with a very heavy accent, it’s a nice choice but the singer really does have a very heavy accent there. Funimation didn’t translate the opening song but I found a translation on youtube and it seems that the song is about trying to get closer to people knowing that you might be hurt, like a hedgehog. Since Clain’s struggle at the beginning of the show is to grow closer to others, something he’s never had to do, I thought it was a very appropriate song for the series.
When I first saw the above image, one of the first promo pieces for the show to come out, I thought that Clain and company would meet, meet the L.M, meet the Temple, decide that both of them have their good points and bad points, steal that airship, and then travel the world looking for a third option that was the middle ground between those two groups and each episode would explore a different take on Fractale and really explore the technology vs tradition, free will vs being completely taken care of aspect of the show. I would have loved that but instead I got an entire episode about how one character wears a fundoshi, that would be annoying enough in a 26 episode show but an 11 episode show? Gah and honestly, this just didn't feel like a noitaminA show. noitaminA actually has a fairly specific audience (josei lovers mainly, like me) and this show just wasn't mature enough to show here, it neither dealt with tough issues (like the other show this season, Wandering Son) or feature older characters (like nearly every other noitaminA show) making this the first noitaminA show that I've seen and didn't like, gaaaaaah.
*and, since I have gotten some crap for pointing this out on some forums, there is a time and a place for changing animation styles and these cases weren’t it. The changes in SD were cool and the animation shift in Birdy the Mighty: Decode 02 were well timed (and I really liked it there) but here it just felt like they were pressed for time and had to make do with less.