Fractale is the brainchild of a creative collaboration between infamous anime director, Yamamoto Yutaka (Yamakan), anime critic, Hiroki Azuma and prolific staffer, Mari Okada. The original story is credited to ‘Mandelbrot Engine’, which is likely an alias for this trio. Hiroki Azuma is a cultural scholar and literacy critic with a specific interest in otaku and anime. He’s credited with story developer on this project, and hasn’t worked on any anime before. Yamakan is an accomplished anime producer and somewhat successful director who is driven by a desire to open up anime into wider genres and audiences. He is well known for stirring controversy and being opinionated, which is something he feels is lacking in the anime industry today.
His controversy stems from his ex-KyoAni status – he was sacked as director of Lucky Star after a handful of episodes (although I think this could have been over a conflict of opinion more than due to incompetency..maybe), despite his valuable creative inputs into The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi (e.g the Hare Hare Yukai choreography which he developed in his own living room). He then went on to direct Kannagi and found the production studio, Ordet, along with several other former KyoAni staffers (including Emi Kesamaru, who’ll be art director for this anime). Yamakan also recently directed a live-action film, which may be why he’s put his foot down with this project and announced that he will retire from anime if it is not a success. His promise to retire has attracted a lot of attention, and certainly makes the hype a little more interesting.
Ordet is closely linked with A-1 Pictures in terms of sharing animators (Ordet isn’t the kind of studio that could produce its own in-house commercial work), and that tradition is continued here, with A-1 Pictures credited with animation production, and Ordet with production assistance. Yamakan’s strong views cross-over well with Azuma’s, and I’m guessing their meeting was what sparked this anime. Mari Okada’s experience is a necessary ingredient to get this original anime off the ground, and so is obtaining Fuji TV’s coveted noitaminA timeslot, with which Mari Okada is strongly associated (at one stage people were calling it the Okada power hour!). I think this work has great potential with the two creative and ambitious minds of Yamakan and Azuma, and this potential is firmed by Mari Okada, who’ll be trying to ensure it’s entertaining. The core staff behind this anime appear to have a strong dynamic, and have been considering this series for some time now (it was originally revealed in May last year). I have no doubt it’ll be a unique and inventive anime in terms of the story, but I have my doubts about its production values.
I appreciate Yamakan’s outlook, but I’ve seen a few signs of him not exactly being a great director (in terms of managing a schedule and staff), and this isn’t comforted by the choice of chief animation director, Masako Tashiro, who’s a relatively new animator. His character designs seem pretty good though (but not great). Yamakan even recently said that producers should aim to reduce the number of drawings used in anime because good animation doesn’t sell (pointing to Denno Coil, and Birdy as examples). All in all, this is an anime I have high hopes for, but not necessarily high expectations.
Now that I’ve seen the first episode, I’m pretty much in the same position. It was an intriguing introduction to the show, and hinted at a really interesting story and setting – a Ghibli-esque fantasy world forged digitally. There’s a bit of confusion about how it works, and why certain people are in this world, but it is fundamentally an interesting concept and clearly the vision of Azuma. In terms of the dialogue, the script isn’t so successful – it often feels a little aloof and abstract so that you can’t get a good hold of the characters. So far the characters are likeable, but certainly not memorable. In fact, that is a pretty good description of how the show unfolds in general. Despite the interesting ideas that have gone into it, if you strip away its charms, Fractale follows the same beat as many anime aimed at male otaku. A young guy living a peaceful but unfulfilled life comes across a mysterious and beautiful girl who gets him caught up in some adventure and a whirlwind of awkward sexual tension. This standard sequence of events doesn’t seem to be imbued by Yamakan’s desire to make something original and appealing to wider audiences! At least not yet.
From the production side of things, Yamakan storyboarded and directed this episode, and I think he was pretty effective. The background art is good stuff (compliments of Emi Kesamaru), but the character designs are relatively bland, especially when placed aside the original designs by the artist Hidari. This sub-par design work means that the layouts/storyboard have to be good with scene composition and angles to make this an attractive show. The animation was relatively good. There seemed to be a decent number of drawings for the episode, but no real stand-out scenes of key animation. No names in the animator list stick out for me. Interestingly, few Ordet staff worked on the episode, and it was mostly done by A-1 Pictures’ standard staff. Other than Yamakan himself, there are apparently no Ordet members as main staff in the first four episodes, which I suppose makes you wonder what they’re working on.. The animation director was the chief animation director, Masako Tashiro, who, to my mind, seems to be the weakest link involved in the anime at the moment. His character designs are pretty poor and I don’t see much in his past body of work that makes his big role hear seem justified.
Another of my doubts about the show was the choice of female seiyuu, Yuu Kobayashi, for the male lead role. She is a talented seiyuu but I disagree with her being cast as boys, because I find that she can’t quite pull it off. However, I found her voice fit it nicely when I actually watched it, which was a big relief. The rest of the seiyuu cast is quite nice. We’re yet to hear much of Kana Hanazawa, but I can trust her to bring energy and warmth with any role. Iguchi Yuka was really good in the role of Enri, the cute and silly loli pursuing Phryne! Tsuda Minami is voicing Phryne herself, and hasn’t really captivated me so far. She’s a rookie in the voice acting industry.
In terms of music, the BGM is fairly forgettable – it follows the standard sound of a classical orchestral score, but is seriously lacking in emotion or impact. The ED has the flavour of a traditional song from Ireland, but falls into a similar trap in the BGM and ends up being fairly dull. The OP, on the other hand, has an original, grabbing sound and instantly became my favourite OP song of the season as soon as I heard it! The artist responsible is Hitomi Azuma. The animation that accompanies it, which depicts a flow of fractals, is really interesting, and certainly gets marks for being unique. Check out the OP:
So does this series have what it takes to keep Yamakan in the industry? It’s hard to say. There were a lot of negative comments floating around 2channel, but I’m not surprised by that given how many critics he has, and there were a few genuinely positive opinions to be found. The ratings for the show were quite decent, at 2.5%, which isn’t exactly the highest noitaminA has reached, but it’s better than their ratings have been in recent seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how that figure holds up for episode 2, because it’s too hard to determine its popularity from 2channel reactions, given the widespread mockery of Yamakan overshadowing genuine commentary.
A few points from the live commentary on nico video done by Yamakan and Kobayashi Yuu:
⚫ Ireland was the inspiration for the setting design, and is also reflected in the ED song.
⚫ Yamakan storyboarded the OP
⚫ While the undressing scene was a moe point, viewers shoudn’t be expecting moe from the show from now on!
⚫ Yamakan considers Phryne moe, while his colleagues lean towards Nessa. Kobayashi Yuu agrees, saying she’s incredibly cute! Cute and crazy Kana Hanazawa (Nessa) promised for episode 2!
⚫ This is a 1-cour, 11-episode work.
⚫ The technology that this world is built on has been running for 1000 years.