Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 16th 2006
Tatsumiya Island, the mobile and battle-equipped base of the Fafner robots, sends out forces to investigate a similar abandoned island. However, a sudden awakening of Festums—mysterious giant statues—forces the team to go on the defensive. Koyo Kasugai is one young pilot sent out to rescue them, but he pays a great price in doing so. Afterwards, ace pilot Kazuki questions tactician Soshi about his priorities: saving Fafner units or saving lives. Unable to resolve the situation, Kazuki leaves Tatsumiya Island with senior staff member Ms. Kariya, but she has other motives for her actions. With Kazuki now a lost cause, the island's residents must rely on its second-string pilots to protect them from the next Festum attack.
Fafner needs its own personal blog. Seriously. If you thought the tragedy and breast-beating of Volume 2 was one big depress-o-fest, just wait until the angst of these four episodes. It's not like another monumental shock even occurs in the story arc—in fact, Episodes 10 and 12 venture into comedy—but being 15 years old and riding big, incomprehensible machines will apparently turn you into a self-absorbed, existential soliloquist.
A few episodes ago, a major plot shakeup caused an emotional fallout that proved to be more compelling than the series' usual sci-fi and political trappings. Now that everyone's gotten over it, however, Koyo's fate in this installment is just an echo: everyone is expressing the same feelings again, and having the same arguments again, and being upset because the giant robots are fighting. Fortunately, it lightens up a bit when a rebellious student locks himself in the school A/V room, leading to an amusing "man on the ledge" scenario. Later, a Festum attack is averted by a team of scrubs, led by a fanboy who wears his Gundam—sorry, "Goubain"—mask in the cockpit. These attempts at comedy aren't nearly enough to balance out the drama, however; ultimately, Fafner always gravitates towards serious matters.
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with a serious giant robot series. The problem is that Fafner takes itself so seriously, it sucks out any sense of adventure. Every 5-minute battle leads to 20 minutes of entry-level philosophy about the value of human life. Kazuki and the other leads, Soshi and Maya, seem more like mouthpieces for Socratic dialogue than actual participants in the story. If you want to see what the scriptwriter thinks about war, just listen to the main three kids babbling away. But if you want to see what war actually does to people, look to the side stories—the anguish of Koyo's parents, or Kenji's insecurity over the glamour of battle versus reality. That's where the focus should be, but sadly, it isn't.
The artwork, at least, is easier to bear than the emotional baggage. Sharp colors and lines create a futuristic look that fits the timeframe of the series. Especially effective are the backgrounds, which shine with Pacific blues and greens—the aesthetic opposite of a grim giant robot series, and yet the reason why it's so eye-catching. The character designs are comfortably familiar, but with a dash of personal style; it's hard to miss Hisashi Hirai's trademark Gundam Seed look. Not everything is pretty to look at, however. The unimaginative storyboarding, crammed with talking heads and landscape pans, comes straight out of the Anime Guide to Clichéd Scenes, and the battles lack any sort of grace or visual flow. (Blame this, too, on the Fafner robots' lack of a distinctive shape.) It doesn't help that the CGI integrates poorly with the rest of the animation, seen most glaringly in the golden Festums and their dark purple blasts.
The music score is one area where a super-serious approach works; the classical orchestral background fits with the epic tone of the series, not to mention all the technology that's named after Wagnerian opera. Even the comedy moments are graced with lighthearted virtuosity in the strings and woodwinds. Meanwhile, the powerful theme songs by angela echo the strong emotions that run throughout the series.
Voice acting studio Bang Zoom! provides an outstanding English dub on this disc, matching the drama and intensity of the Japanese cast word for word. Although the affected dialogue makes it easy to fall into overacting, the actors usually keep their voices restrained, even when brimming with anger. The dub script stays true to the subtitles, but the translators might want to re-check their subs: all the Fafners are numbered in German, and "Achat" and "Hguc" are obviously not German numbers (it's pretty clear that the spoken words are Acht and Fünf). Along with the usual language options and previews on this disc is an extensive art gallery, although most of it consists of ordinary publicity images.
Volume 3 of Fafner makes the mistake of being dramatic just for the sake of drama. "Will you remember me?" Kazuki asks Maya during one particularly contrived scene. Yes, Kazuki. We'll remember you as the distressed, self-absorbed brat who ran off because you couldn't handle disagreeing with Soshi. Will Kazuki's desperate move take the plot in a new direction? More importantly, will it finally make him more interesting than the supporting cast? If Fafner doesn't lighten up, the series may crumble under its own emotional weight.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Slick artistic design and a great dub.
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