Going Old School in Contemporary Anime, Fantastic Children

November 27, 2010

Two keywords to describe today’s anime would be compact and impact. Gone are the days when it was common to leisurely develop story over 70~100 episodes. Short seasons with truncated plots are being made now more than ever, and fiercely compete for the attention of spoiled fans by trying to be as flashy as possible.

I am not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with catchy premise or extravagant style, but within this growing demand for immediate satisfaction we are seeing less emphasis on gradual enrichment of story and characters. Fantastic Children is the anime I am recommending today, which is one of few contemporary anime (along with Terra E and Cross Game) that goes back to the roots of what made old school anime so great.

What you will notice first about this series is its very modern make-over of old school aesthetics. Character design has more chubby and rounded look of Astro Boy and are very simply drawn, but the drawings appear crisp and modern due to enhanced digital effects like diffused lighting. The series was animated by the veteran Nippon Animation studio, which you can read more about in exhaustive detail in this post by Ben. The animation is  very fluid as expected of a relatively modern production, yet the studio manages to infuse something inherently traditional in how the characters are animated, like how often they sort of  ‘tremble’ with emotions for example in dramatic moments.

Generally speaking though, the real strength of Fantastic Children lies in the story and characters and that muted art direction (also shared by Cross Game and Terra E) helps to draw as little attention away from them. The pacing may prove too sluggish for contemporary anime fans who are used to being treated something flashy each episode, but it is this very classic narrative style that makes Fantastic Children so progressively compelling. Each episode will tell something about the past, the characters, weaving intricate webs of plot that makes us curious the more we learn, and more we learn the more we become invested in these characters and their tragic plight. The show starts off bit confusing and it takes some episodes to really ‘get into’ but once you do, you will find the story so engrossing, you will simply ask for more and more after each evil cliff-hanger.

Fragmentary dreamscape that continues to haunt throughout Fantastic Children

I also want to mention the wonderful soundtrack, especially the main theme “Children of Befort” (clip below), even if it is bit over-used. The entire piece is a wonderfully brooding conversation between cello and piano, filled with lots of regret and tragedy surrounding the mystery behind the children of befort.

All these things that make Fantastic Children so fantastic could be the reasons why it still remains criminally underwatched despite almost universal critical acclaim. This anime original story penned by the director Takashi Nakamura himself is a dazzling concoction of adventure, mystery, sci-fi, romance and drama, and more contemporary anime like Fantastic Children, Terra E and Cross Game needs to be made, in this writer’s opinion, to remember love for everything good about old school anime.

 

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15 Responses to “Going Old School in Contemporary Anime, Fantastic Children”

  1. Kim Says:

    Fantastic Children was excellent (except for the very last scene but that can be forgiven). I really love how it slowly builds up the story & characters. Thomas anguish during that “one scene” is one of the best moments in anime in my opinion.

    If you haven’t seen it I also recommend trying to find the extras on DVD where there is an extra scene with the Belfort Children, just perfect.

  2. coburn Says:

    Unless my memory is off, this is actually available on DVD in R2 (ugly looking boxset), but I have to say I can’t remember hearing anyone talk about it before. But you do make it sound interesting.

    The link you make between compact shows and “catchy premises” is neat. A lot of these 13 ep shows either never get beyond the ‘blurb’ or set up a fairly simple mystery/contradiction in episode 1, solve it, and get the hell out.

  3. Celeste Says:

    Ah, Fantastic Children. I didn’t know it was animated by Nippon Animation (but it all makes sense, now!)

    My thoughts on the series echo yours. Its a little bit difficult to get into, and the character designs take some adjusting to, but the investment one puts in initially pays off by the end. That said, I’d lump a few more in with Terra E and Cross Game in terms of “slow” (yet plot-driven) anime; namely Gankutsuou. Princess Tutu might slide into this slow anime category as well, if only because its plot mirrors more traditional magical girl shoujo works; a genre which seems to all but have disappeared.

  4. kadian1364 Says:

    Yeah, Fantastic Children is positioned on my backlog somewhere between Nana and the Gundam franchise rewatch. I forget if I’ve actually read about Fantastic Children elsewhere or if it’s just you that’s hyping it up :)

    If we’re talking about modern “old-school”, I’d be remiss to neglect to mention Beast Player Erin. It’s a classic-styled all-ages anime that has such a timeless air about it you’d be shocked it only premiered in 2009.

  5. Elineas Says:

    kadian1364 stole my plug for Beast Player Erin. Between playing with its fantasy setting nicely and maintaining its solid classic storytelling for 50 episodes, Beast Player Erin doesn’t look like an anime with modern sensibilities at all, instead harking back to what makes stories great in the first place. I do admit my bias for solid children’s anime is speaking though, because not enough people watch those.

    But yeah, Fantastic Children remains on lots of people’s “to watch” list, including mine. Maybe after finals…

  6. gaguri Says:

    @Kim

    That’s one emotionally charged scene, thanks to everything they’ve done beforehand. I think I’ll look for that extra scene in a minute :D

    @coburn

    I thought it was pretty neat too (lol), I like the way you put it though “set up a fairly simple mystery/contradiction in episode 1, solve it, and get the hell out.”

    I am finding this movement in other mediums too. In Korean pop music for example, now you have tons of mini/digital albums with catchy tunes or dance moves, like hit and run tactics. Because only one or two songs of one band get popular at a time. Instead of long good listen through a whole album, this approach of instantly grabbing fans attention without trying too hard is not too great to see.

    @Celeste

    Mm I can see why you would put Gankutsuou and Princess Tutu together, though I personally separate them. Fantastic Children/Terra E/Cross Game is very deliberate in showing its attempt to go back to tradition (starting with visual aesthetics), as opposed to very extravagant feast for senses of Gankutsuou. Princess Tutu I also think is bit easier to watch because it is very episodic from start. But other than that, yea they are two very plot-driven anime (well, Princess Tutu maybe), but anyway they all need to be watched!

    @kadian1364

    Pimping good anime since 2008 my friend :D

    Garrh Kemono Souja Erin, will gaguri ever beat his evil backlog?

    @Elineas

    You watch Fantastic Children, I’ll watch Kemono, and we’ll both rave it about them when we finish, it’s a deal ^^

  7. Jack Says:

    This show is always in need of more love. It’s rather criminally forgotten and there’s little discussion of it.

    I should re-watch it again soon. And you should watch all of the Patlabor franchise!

    Actually that might not be fair, considering Fantastic Children is only 26 episodes.

  8. gaguri Says:

    Gah another one in the backlog. Not sure if I’ll watch the whole franchise but I’ll make sure to check out few movies at some point!

  9. Atmosphere Says:

    I really enjoyed FC. Beautiful soundtrack and the way the story was sort of split into two halves made for an enjoyable experience.

  10. gaguri Says:

    Soundtrack really was special. IIRC the ED theme was done by Origa (GITS – SAC), my second favourite after children of belfort main theme.

  11. Atmosphere Says:

    Yeah, she was the one who did the ED. Love that track. The OP was great aswell. From the bgm, my favourite tracks to listen to are Helga, Sentou, Kazoku no Kizuna and Itoshi no Tina.

  12. kitsune Says:

    Hello hello!
    Its been a while since I visited but what a nice surprise to see a post on this lovely piece of work.
    Another reviewer mentioned this to be reminiscent of the Neverending Story which I thought was quite apt as it did feel like a fairytale at times where ever episode paced like a chapter in a book where you can really immerse into their world. It was so pleasant and good I hope something like this comes along more often. Oh but the ending was annooooying!

  13. kitsune Says:

    haha i realized i wrote something similar to this in another one of your posts, sorry for not being original! hey but it means its true for me


  14. [...] at Ha Neul Seom called it  “a dazzling concoction of adventure, mystery, sci-fi, romance and drama.” The Nihon Review [...]

  15. Bourney Says:

    This series was somewhere between Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, that’s the best description I can come up with


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