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.
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.