Some adventures are grand, sweeping affairs featuring hundreds of characters in massive worlds full of daring escapes, massive armies and all the other fun stuff: See Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. etc. etc. Others are more intimate adventures where a few people achieve a personal triumph on a much smaller scale: more Niea_7 or Welcome to the NHK. And some are a slightly awkward marriage of both, where a few people try to do something very grand in a small space. Fractale is definitely of that last sort, but don’t read that as a knock on it. Awkward though it may be at times, it’s a rewarding journey.
Fractale centers on Clain Necran, a young boy who lives on his own in his family’s house somewhere out in the countryside, or at least a place that looks like a countryside might have looked in nineteenth-century Ireland. He’s not alone because his parents are dead or abandoned him, but because they plugged themselves into the “Fractale” system that runs the world, allowing them to leave their doppels behind at the house while they’re off … somewhere else. Clain also lives in the “Fractale” system, a world wide network of computers that controls in some manner every bit of life in the areas that it covers, allowing people to leave their original bodies behind and become pretty much whatever they want wherever they want, within whatever limits the system sets on them. In exchange they have to worship the Temple, a.k.a. Fractale itself, and partially submit to its will. The exact mechanics are never really explained to any great degree, but in an 11-episode series you only have so much time.
Clain’s life is a semi-idyllic romp of chasing after lost technologies and not really interacting with real people very much, when it gets interrupted by machine gun fire. A young girl, not a doppel but a real person, in a small airship is being chased by unnamed assailants in a slightly larger airship. She escapes and basically crash lands in Clain’s life when he takes her home, unconscious, to ensure that she’s alright. Before anyone starts tossing out “Sounds kinda like FLCL“, Phryne is no Hara Hara Haruko, and neither is the present she leaves behind when she runs away: a very young doppel named Nessa who was disguised as some old data in a pendant Phryne gave Clain. As it happens, Nessa and Phryne are both on the run from a collection of anti-Fractale groups called Lost Millennium, and from the Temple, with whom they have a very disturbing relationship.
Following a very clumsy kidnapping attempt by the folks in Lost Millennium, Phryne runs away again, leaving Clain and Nessa to be captured anyway as part of a plan to overthrow the Temple. The Lost Millennium are led by Sunda and Enri Granitz, who do a wonderful job fulfilling the “tough guy” and “tsundere” roles right down to Enri’s snaggle tooth and hideously annoying tendency to call anything she doesn’t like “ecchi”. The group even includes a pair of Blue Brothers stand-ins (one of those occasional features in anime that is rather bewildering). Clain and Nessa get dragged into Lost Millennium’s anti-Fractale activities more or less against their will, though Clain finds himself getting to like them despite his distaste for the violence involved in their chosen methods of rebellion. Nessa doesn’t really have an opinion one way or another, preferring to play hide and seek.
This isn’t to say that the show’s message is “a pox on everyone” since the Temple is clearly the bad guys, but the Lost Millennium folks aren’t saints by any measure. One of the other Lost Millennium group’s favorite recruitment tactics is to run what is basically a murderous press gang, and the Granitz folks don’t particularly discriminate when they start shooting at Temple events. The deeper Clain gets pulled into the anti-Fractale movement the more he begins to question everything about the world around him, including what Nessa is and why she is so eager to love everything she sees. Clain also finds himself becoming more infatuated with Phyrne after she ends up with the Granitz folks again, despite her efforts to isolate herself from everyone else. The conflict between Clain, Phryne, Nessa, Lost Millennium and the Temple eventually comes to a head, leading to a surprisingly satisfying ending to the show despite a few sad deaths. And a few satisfying ones: Suffice it to say there are some folks involved with the Temple that are exceptionally worthy of a painful death.
The animation of the show is passable. The CGI has a very mid-90’s look to it and it’s quite obvious there were multiple crews involved with the production at various points, but it never gets to the point of being an obvious distraction. Pacing is also a little choppy here and there, but that’s more of a nitpick. The dub is fairly good overall, with vocals that match up as well as English can to the original without being slavish. There is a fair amount of language massaging, but the same intent is there. The songs in the show were also translated and sung in English for the dub, a step not everyone bothers to take, so bravo to FUNimation for that. Extras include two spoiler-filled cast and crew commentaries on episodes one and seven, episode one being the better of the two commentaries; some art galleries; a short video of the show’s overture being performed; and some commercials.