Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - Complete Series
In 2114, the Festum, a golden group of aliens, arrived and began to decimate the Earth, with Japan being especially hard hit. Now in 2144, a group of people have escaped the war torn world by living on a hidden island known as Tatsumiya. There they raise their children in a simulated peace while simultaneously preparing them to fight the Festum in giant robots known as fafners. Only teens and young adults can pilot the fafners, which causes the adults great anguish. As the fighting escalates and young lives are lost, the islanders must decide how to proceed while the pilots struggle with the reality that they have abruptly been thrust into.
Originally airing in the early 2000s and released in English by Geneon, Fafner is a recent license rescue by Funimation, along with its 2010 follow up film, something that presumably is related to their acquiring of this title. A mecha show from the folks at Xebec, more recently involved in Rinne: The Flower of Lagrange, Fafner takes a more serious approach than some other series, focusing on the hardships of war and the necessary cruelties perpetrated by the higher command upon the soldiers, even when those soldiers are their own children. Although it is peppered with small moments of triumph, the overall tone of Fafner is depressing, and viewers who prefer their mecha over-the-top or deliberately goofy will find neither of those things here. What they will find, however, is a harsh, fairly well-told science fiction story that points out that even when we win, there is always a cost.
The main character of Fafner is a young teen named Kazuki Makabe, the son of the base commander. Kazuki is unusually talented in terms of piloting robots, and unlike most of the other young pilots, he does not undergo any major emotional changes when he gets in the cockpit. That is one of the unique features of these robots, you see – the pilots become almost assimilated (an irony as the story progresses) with their machines, causing them to feel pain when the mech is injured and impacting their physical bodies at the cellular level. For most of the other teens, this results in emotional changes – a normally shy girl becomes determined and the class clown's fears are revealed. For Kazuki, however, none of this happens, which marks him as the strongest fighter from the get-go. He and the other pilots are aided by classmate so-shi Minashiro, who is tapped into everyone's psyches through something called the Siegfried System, which allows him to give them advice and orders. The toll it takes, however, is extreme, as he experiences everything that each pilot feels, right up to their deaths.
Readers of Norse mythology will by now have picked up on the fact that this show uses a fair amount of terms from it to describe weaponry. All of Tatsumiya's systems are named according to this pattern; however the Festum are described using Greek names and the major warning system is known by a Judeo-Christian term. These distinctions are interesting, and certainly the show's interpretation of Brunhilde, a Germanic sleeping beauty, is worth noting, but it can get to be a bit much at times. There also does not appear to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason as to why the distinctions were made in the first place – it seems as though someone simply preferred Norse tales over Greek ones and divvied up the names that way.
As a show, Fafner is rife with characters – there are numerous pilots, and their parents also play a crucial role, to say nothing of the opposing forces at the Neo U.N. For the most part, the more distinct a character's appearance, the more important he or she is, whether alive or dead. Likewise each robot has its own name, though they are more easily told apart by virtue of their colors and features. The question of which is more important, the pilot or the machine, is one which surfaces a fair amount in the show, and the proliferation of people as opposed to mechs makes this stand out more. (Although there does always seem to be a new Fafner when a new pilot comes on the scene...) People die more frequently than machines are destroyed, and a bit of study of the opening animation can give you a very good idea of which characters will live and die. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.
The animation here is neither beautiful nor truly terrible, with moments of very smooth motion and others where characters are clearly off-model. Artistically the Festum are interesting to look at, and by the end of the series some of them are downright terrifying. People are consistently drawn with lines on their cheeks which makes them appear to be in a constant state of embarrassment, and the women's uniform boots, if glanced at quickly, look as if their pants are down around their ankles, probably the single most irritated piece of design in the series. Robots are a bit spindly, but the total fusion with the pilots could serve to explain the unusually twiggy designs. Some good attention to detail is given to the characters' mannerisms, however, specifically with so-shi's habit of bending one knee and resting his arm on it, which is consistent throughout the series. The show does not come in wide-screen on either the DVD or the Blu-Ray, and the Blu-Ray is considerably sharper in appearance. Funimation has left the Geneon dub intact, which is certainly serviceable, but Jennifer Sekiguchi's Maya is distinctly weaker than her Japanese counterpart.
Unutterably sad in places, thoughtful in others, and filled with mecha battles and the harsher realities of war, Fafner takes a more serious look at what happens when only children can pilot machines of war than the wish-fulfillment variety of giant robot shows. The juxtaposition of why the adults raised their children on Tatsumiya Island and what they have them do later on forms an interesting core to a show where the burdens of battle are placed upon the young, and Fafner is not shy about looking at the toll that such things take on all members of a family. There are no easy answers or happy endings here, but there is an interesting story to be told, and fans of darker mecha shows who missed this one should check it out.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Looks at war's toll on both the fighters and the commanders (the base commander always looks distinctly stressed), some exciting battles. Use of the “music box version” of songs works well for the mood.
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