The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Fantastic Children

Title: Fantastic Children
Genre: Drama/Action
Company: Nippon Animation
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 4 Oct 2004 – 28 Mar 2005

Synopsis: Even in this day and age of science and technology, there still exists legends. In modern Europe, one of the tales persistently whispered about is about a group of mysterious children with white hair and blue eyes. For hundreds of years, they mysteriously appear across the countryside, taking the place of other children. Eventually they wander off looking for the one they call “Tina”, an artist obsessed with creating one peculiar landscape. In the year 2012, Thoma is a boy living in rural island tropics who befriends two kids escaping from an orphanage. What happens next sets in motion the unraveling of the mysteries of the children with white hair, hidden in space and time.

The Highlights
Storytelling: A mystery fantasy adventure uncommon in anime today.
Art and atmosphere: Kid-friendly designs ill-matched with overly morose tone.
OP and ED: Aesthetic treats in an otherwise limited production.
Flashbacks: Dramatic, but sag down the second half.
Mixed success: Average realization of sky high ambitions.

Fantastic Children is an anime at odds with the times. Ostensibly a fantasy adventure with very kid-friendly designs and story, it is peculiar in this age dominated by card battling tournaments, garrish magical girl costumes, and innumerable other merchandising opportunities that it takes an un-commercial stance to children’s entertainment. It aims to appeal to its audience only with the merits of its story, certainly a noble goal this critic can appreciate. But Fantastic Children is also at odds with itself; simplistic adventure logic give way to heavy melodrama, and numerous lofty ideas are given the barest of explanations. This is a case where imagination and defying conventions alone isn’t quite enough to meet the lofty expectations it sets for itself.

First, Fantastic Children establishes itself as a kid’s story with a strong mystery element. It begins by following the white-haired children, or the Children of Belfort as we learn later, on their search for this special girl named Tina. At the same time, a different plotline follows Thoma as he helps his new friends Chitto and Helga escape from a mean orphanage headmaster. We’re whisked to several different places and times, with snippets of important dialogue and appearances of shadowy figures, until eventually these plotlines come together. There could have been numerous spots to utterly confuse or disorient the audience, but the anime does an admirable job providing enough clues to tie the stories together. Its ability to build up suspense in its early episodes is one of Fantastic Children’s strongest points.

However, I had mixed feeling about its second half. Major revelations are made which I will not discuss in detail, but suffice to say they were not what I expected, nor as affecting as they were intended. There involves one long five-episode flashback, with numerous shorter flashbacks peppered in until the end. Though they portray important events, their frequency and sheer length drag down the pace of the current storyline. They are also chock-full of melodramatic content that verges on overbearingly sad and dreary that it taints the story to its conclusion. Introducing far-out scifi technologies and concepts, Fantastic Children failed to illustrate them well enough to seamlessly integrate them into the story. It’s an abrupt change of gears from the inquisitive adventure tone of Fantastic Children’s first half.

The real missed opportunity was the anime’s aesthetics. The characters look simplistic, perhaps harkening back to anime adventure designs from the 70s and 80s, but showed a limited range of expressions. The background art does a workmanlike job, depicting ancient ruins and dusk skies well enough, but don’t elicit much praise otherwise. The musical selections were also unremarkable, comprised mostly of sad cello tunes that mixed together into one piece in my mind. The exceptions were the OP and ED themes, which meshed evocative art and dignified melodies so well that maybe they set the bar too high for the anime to match.

Fantastic Children poses a critic’s dilemma: should one reward imagination and ambition despite average presentation and extraneous bits of plot? In the end, I believe its core, the riveting suspense of its first half and heartfelt drama of its second half, and its uniqueness relative to other anime offered this century make Fantastic Children worth seeing. But it’s a recommendation I make with a hint of disappointment, because I believe it could have been so much better.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: kadian1364

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