“Are you there?” If you hear this question, do not answer it. A mobile island may be humanity’s last hope against the Festum, alien forces that have destroyed much of life on the planet. With no options left, a new pilot of the Fafner, an immense mech, must be chosen. A young boy, and soon his friends must take on the fight and defend their homeland. Will the forces of the New United Nations help or hinder them in their quest to make their presence known on Earth? Will the forces of evil assimilate all in their path? Can Fafner, in both a two-season series and a theatrical movie, break out of the obvious comparisons to Neon Genesis Evangelion? Will anyone actually find this series entertaining?
Fafner is, in two words, utterly boring. It’s derivative, unimaginative, and any other words that you can find that describe “you’ve seen this before.” The best way to sum it up is “Mobile Suit Evangelion” or “Neon Genesis Gundam” or whichever combination of the two franchises. Much of the actual setting is very Gundam-stylized, with uniforms, lab coats, older people leading the fight while the younger generation actually drive the story. In the Evangelion-vein, the villains are more forces of nature that make you question your own individuality, and while the story doesn’t get to any “if you lose, humanity is lost” moments, it does tread the ground of “you could possibly lose yourself”.
There’s no massive flaws with the plot, other than the fact it’s all retreads. Teenagers have to save the world via giant robots, the villains are proven to by sympathetic creatures by the end of the series, characters you’re built up to like die, there’s a goofball and super-serious and more standard characters you expect. In a world where Evangelion didn’t exist, this would be a solid series, and watching it in a vacuum might be for the best, but say there was a show where a college professor found out he had multiple sclerosis and started selling LSD to make money for his children. There’s no way it couldn’t be compared to Breaking Bad, a show that did it earlier and to much critical acclaim. Even this summer’s big blockbuster of White House Down can not be seen without the knowledge that Olympus Has Fallen came out months before; while on a smaller budget, the plots appear to be so similar, it’s questionable (we’ll ignore the fact that Iron Man 3 and G.I. Joe Retaliation also seem to feature the leads saving the President and possibly the White House).
The largest issue with the series, beyond the fact that the plot is heavily reminiscent of others, is that the cast is generally… general. There’s no real characters to latch on to, there’s no moments of “Yes! He stepped up!” to really cheer up. The only characters, who’s names have escaped me (which is stigmatic of a larger problem with the show) is Comic Book Fan Guy, Angry Foreign Girl, Main Guy, Main Guy’s Friend, That Quiet But Sweet Girl That Dies, and Boss Man. Comic Book Fan Guy maybe gets a few scenes of focus, and yet is the character many will connect to most; he doesn’t really want to fight, but can’t ignore an opportunity to be a hero like he’s read (and eventually finds out the real hero was his dad, who crafted all the comic books he read).
Animation and design in the series are very, very weak. Admittedly, they’re competent; there’s no massive flaws, but the mech designs are bland, the character designs (by the same person behind Gundam SEED) just look like characters taken from previous works, and the CG integration for the mechs is functional, but doesn’t blend as seamlessly as Futurama and is mainly used as a cheap way to keep mech designs on model. The movie has a few moments of substantial cinema work, but nothing amazing, unlike the time-comparable Evangelion movies. Production IG can do solid mecha work (taking a look at IGPX, for example) but this series gets the weaker end of the production. If anything, the mechs move at a notably stilted frame-rate in comparison to the standard animation, even in the movie.
The TV series includes a “Making of Fafner” feature, promotional videos, DVD commercials, textless openings and closings, and trailers. The feature film includes an English-crew commentary (with Micah Solusod and the director), commercial collection, and the theatrical trailer (along with, like the other set, FUNimation trailers). Both sets comes in BluRay/DVD combo packs with slipcovers which, in an odd mix, feature standard BluRay packaging on the inside, but extra-wide DVD-height slipcovers, leading both sets to have an extra half-inch of weak cardboard packaging that might not survive a postal trip. It’s a nitpick, but it’s an odd design choice that only works to have the set stand as high as the DVD releases. In all situations, the original commercials and trailers are well-appreciated, and a commentary is great, even if it has the stigma of most English dub commentaries, featuring 90% on acting general, with the occasional reference to the actual act. The “Behind the Scenes” feature is straight from Japan, and worth a look if you’ve found the show interesting enough to get to this point.
Fafner: The Complete Series and Fafner: Heaven And Earth are not bad releases or horrible series, offering up a competent story, if not an interesting one. It’s just heavily shaded by one of the giants and greats, and doesn’t get a chance to stand out. The release is solid, the show is acceptable, the market it exists in is not kind.