Fantastic Children – Unearthing An Overlooked Gem

At the end of every anime season, when the new stuff hasn’t started and the old stuff has ended, there’s a short window of time where a person is often willing to try an older, unwatched anime that he/she wouldn’t otherwise try. Maybe it’s boredom or just the relief from the pressure of keeping up with the latest anime that causes this phenomenon.

Whatever the reason, I found myself drawn to finally watching a series that I’ve had in my possession for over three years – all the while gathering dust and broken promises of intended attention – Fantastic Children. The result of this decision was a mixture of elation that I discovered one of the great SF (science fiction) anime series of the last decade, peaceful contentment from watching an excellent series end well, and anger for letting Fantastic Children sit for so long unwatched.

Before I get to why Fantastic Children should be watched, I want to verbally kick myself a bit.

Even though I should have known better, I let the old-time, simplistic animation style convince me that Fantastic Children was ‘obviously’ lacking in the quality department. I’d forgotten that Kaiba, Cross Game, and Kemono no Soja Erin (to name a few) collectively proved that it was impossible to draw conclusions about an anime from it’s animation style.

My other failing was that, in the couple earlier attempts that I made to watch Fantastic Children, I made a snap decision about the show’s plot potential and decided that it didn’t offer a compelling reason to continue watching. This was the wrong decision as I found out this time because the beginning episodes which I thought were boring were, in reality, the building blocks to a compelling, truly epic SF/love story. To compute how far I undershot my guess about the plot/story of Fantastic Children in terms for someone who hasn’t seen Fantastic Children would understand, it would be like dropping Gurren Lagann after a couple of episodes after deciding nothing interesting, thrilling or epic was going to happen.

Okay, that’s enough self-flagellation 🙂 .

I can just hear dozens of eyes at this point thinking, “I’m interested,  so tell me, what is Fantastic Children about?”

And I’d reply, Fantastic Children is an epic SF/love story set in the year 2012 and follows a group of white-haired, blue-eyed “children” that have appeared at various times for over 500 years in Europe and now in southeast Asia as they search for someone very important to them. They are named “Befort’s Children” after a town in Belgium where they made their first appearance, their otherworldly maturity and odd appearance has led some to call them devils and vampires. Their paths will cross with Thoma, a young man attempting to spirit two escaped orphans away from an abusive orphanage, and with a secret governmental agency (run by Dumas, who also happens to be white-haired and blue-eyed) that seeks to harness a completely new form of energy.

Saying anything more and I’d spoil too much.

I can now hear the eyes now thinking, “Seriously, what is up with the animation style and just how old is this series?”

And I’d chuckle, saying one shouldn’t judge an anime by how it’s styled (hoping these readers will have forgotten what I wrote a couple of paragraphs above) but to answer the question – Fantastic Children came out in the late 2004 which makes it a contemporary of the first Full Metal Alchemist series. It’s an original creation of the director, Takashi Nakamura, and is animated by Nippon Animation, best known for their longtime work animating series under the World Masterpiece Theater banner (Heidi, A Dog of Flanders, Anne of Green Gables,  etc.) and for employing Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata before they founded Studio Ghibli. (Which probably helps explain the animation style.)

The animation quality itself is pretty good with lots of fluid animation from the beginning of the series to the end and, surprisingly, there is the use of CG. (Never been a huge fan of CG myself but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the series which says something.) Truthfully, though, once you get sucked into the story of Fantastic Children, you’ll forget any misgivings about the animation style and will probably even like how the animation doesn’t intrude upon the story.

“I’m almost convinced,” says the eyes out there in the ether, “give me a couple more good reasons why I should watch Fantastic Children.”

Gaguri at Ha Neul Seom called it  “a dazzling concoction of adventure, mystery, sci-fi, romance and drama.” The Nihon Review said, “If even one anime per year had a plot as good as this one [Fantastic Children] I would consider myself a blessed individual.” Psgels at Star Crossed Anime Blog says, “Fantastic Children always kept you guessing at what was going to happen next,” while naming it the Best Story of the 2000-2009 decade and ranking it at #13 on his personal top 20. And finally, the hauntingly beautiful ending song to Fantastic Children was sung by Origa, who you might know from her work with Ghost in the Shell: SAC.

In closing, don’t make the same mistake I made in nearly passing over this hidden gem; watch Fantastic Children, you’ll be happy that you did.

Yet another mystery of the this series, What is the meaning of this painting?
The non-Japan, non-school setting was different and refreshing.
The use of lighting effects helped keep the show from feeling old.
A still shot doesn't really do the animation quality justice 🙂 .
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14 thoughts on “Fantastic Children – Unearthing An Overlooked Gem”

  1. I started off with very old anime, such as Legend of the Galactic Heroes, so old animation style was never really a turn off for me.

    Btw, the fact that I can instantly tell CGI from reality in movies before 2008, also helps. “Animation” is already fake to me, so it doesn’t matter if something looks “faker” even…

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  2. Those old anime also tended to be long series, so I gave the plot plenty of time to develop. In fact that was the major draw for me, to see stories told over a long developmental process, rather than piecemeal, episode by episode, as was the case for those broken up tv series in the US.

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  3. The Japanese, I’ve noticed, are very very good at making science fiction/fantasy love story hybrids. Utawarerumono, ML Alternative, Heroic Age… and there are other titles that don’t fit the fantasy/sf or the romance genres at all but has elements from all 3 genres put together.

    Scrapped Princess was so close to making 5 stars in my list, except for the horrendous, incomprehensible, and inconsistent ending episode. If it wasn’t for that, that one would have been a great example of sf/fantasy. Except Utawarerumono’s PC plot takes the crown for that particular niche. I tried to look around and see if Scrapped Princess was an adaptation and thus see if that was the reason they messed it up. Never could find such. Philosophy wise and plot wise, the ending exposition just wasn’t up to par with the stellar beginning and middle. I can pretty much extrapolate exactly what happened, but it could have been done so much better. More human and more dramatic.

    Btw, I may not be collecting “figurines” of anime people, but I did get myself an Iaito katana. It will be interesting to see how it feels when training.

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  4. The first 4 episodes were very sad. Reminded me of certain parts of the OP and EDs for Legend of the Galactic Heroes. A combination of classical with science fiction.

    I’ve noticed that these weird pastel color animation styles tend to make the characters bland while at the same time upping the environmental context as well as the body language and facial gestures. It’s a different character design emphasis than harem or shonen. Since Fantastic Children is billed as SEINEN, which is about 5-10 years older in demographic than shounen, it fits the theme.

    Because I’ve seen how the Japanese treat fantasy, science fiction, time travel, and alternate worlds, I tend to now have a sense of where the plot can go. Right now they are still setting things up.

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  5. I know that I have heard of Fantastic Children from somewhere in the past, but I believe I was not as interested in anime back then as I am now. I have nothing against old anime, in fact I am planning on picking up Ghost Stories once the summer season ends. After reading this, I feel like adding it to my plan-to-watch list as well.

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  6. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=2589

    This anime definitely felt like it had director and original creator cohesion. Because both was the same in one.

    The thing is, while the Japanese produce marvels at certain times, it’s really hard to get repeat performances from them. I’m not sure if this is an economic issue or what, but there are a whole slew of directors and writers which would go well together, but often don’t ever get together unless they are already one person.

    Light novels and visual novels have great stories and presentation, but without direct creative control over the direction and production process, it gets morphed into something wholly distorted. Not always, but often enough. Manga are more numerous and easier to adapt, but with a concurrently more shallow context and world building. It also caters more to the younger demographic, while I’m more interested in older or seinen demographic works at the moment. What’s also annoying is that the most interesting manga are the ones that have very slow plot lines. Meaning, their plot and construction is as complex as a book, but you only get a few pages of story per week or month. That’s going to take years to even finish the primary story arc. I tend to see a lot more story material in visual novels, eroge, or light novels. The material is just denser since they don’t have to focus on spending their time drawing, shading, and such which is a lot of time.

    Chrome Shelled Regios, for example, even in slightly fudged English translation (light novel), presented a rich, vibrantly harsh world of a post-apocalypse era in which the only places humans can live are in mobile domed cities. The theme is much similar to ML Alternative in terms of the military and science fiction elements. I like those kinds of settings. The Japanese also use the word “setting”.

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  7. SPOILER WARNING Don’t read if you haven’t gotten to episode 20 or so.

    The thing I found a bit hard to believe since it was a limitation of the world building is due to the fact that the royalty just do not have the right level of security. They do weird things like taking trips alone or with one bodyguard in secret meetings. That may make sense, such as in Utawarerumono, if the lone body guard is an elite that can kill 20 or 100 people all put together but… that’s not the case in FC. It’s not just the lax palace security, but their information sharing protocols is worse than medieval. Their regimental captains in the palace guard don’t even get a briefing on where their VIP is, even though the commanding general knows their VIP is somewhere out there with a single guard. At minimum, they had to have a 1000 guards ready to go in at a moment’s notice, prepared in mid air or stashed in some woods near by. The royalty keep talking about taking measures against suspicious traitors but… they don’t ever do anything. Even when the plot comes full force out in the open, the commanding general acts like nothing is wrong. In fact, they allow their Executive Protection detail out of the palace, after a freaking assassination just took place. What kind of idiot body guards would have to exist for that to even happen…

    Failures in security is a given thing when the attackers are ruthless and have inside help. But to compound the error by just letting your protectee out of your sight and within no distance of any help… that’s just gross incompetence.

    I’m kinda spoiled on the realism of this aspect, since a lot of stories of this level put a lot of thought and relationship detail into the whole inter-political struggle of the palace. Works done by David Weber or the author of Deathstalker, have got political infighting down to a tee, as well as accurate representations of all factional options or limitations. The same was true for Dune with their inter house wars. The author of FC was either time limited or didn’t have the budget/research time to flesh out non-essential details. While the focus should rightly be on the characters and their emotional connection with each other, having such glaringly obvious security errors makes it hard for someone like me, who pays close attention to bodyguard or executive protection holes, to take seriously. It wasn’t enough to break the setting but it came close. Especially as they had already shifted “settings” once before. I can’t help but believe that if they had someone trained as a real body guard there advising the OC, that they could have tweaked things to avoid these issues.

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  8. Unearthing an other gem, have you heard of Cat City? Hehehe.
    A movie that is not japanese. I don’t think it qualifies as anime.

    But it is meant for older audience. 12+. I recommend the hungarian version.

    I would be happy to see it becoming popular. Because it so unknown and so good.

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  9. @ymarsakar: Thanks for your comments and sorry I haven’t responded sooner. I’m so glad you gave this anime a chance and that you liked it.

    I see you had a problem with real-life knowledge interfering with anime watching. Reading what you wrote makes alot of sense but I didn’t pick up on that myself. My one sister that I sometimes watch anime with is studying to be a nurse and gets bothered by the unrealistic medicine often portrayed in anime. I’ve found I give SF anime series a harder time because I’ve been a fan of print SF since elementary school and constantly compare any SF anime to examples of similar works in print SF.

    @Péter Csiszár: Even though I rarely talk about non-anime animation here, I am interested in all types of animation. If I can find Cat City, I’ll eventually give it a try.

    The mention of Hungarian really makes me feel nostalgic. Even though I’m not Hungarian myself, I was a member of a Hungarian-American Catholic church from birth to college age (when I moved to an Italian-American church without being Italian either) and almost always attended the one Mass they did in Hungarian. I didn’t understand a word they said but I liked going.

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  10. Steel, was this an anime she was watching that had a nurse as a main character?

    People wouldn’t normally see it, because that kind of security requires paranoia to obtain, not just being careful. Well, for the most part private security and bodyguards are invisible to the public. While they don’t appear as a threat to most people, that’s when the threat is low. When the threat level is high and assassinations have already been attempted, the security now bristles with teeth. Like say the Secret Service rolling out .50 caliber machine guns mounted on their vehicle convoys when normally you don’t even see them carrying a single weapon. Partially it is to get the people and weapons ready to counter-act, but it is also partially as deterrence.

    As for print SF, the Japanese are too different for me to compare. One is in a novel format, the other is in a video and strange culture format. So I don’t usually make comparisons between Voyage of the Space Beagle and Japanese scifi. Mostly it’s about novelty. If the material is new and interesting, it doesn’t really matter to me what else I have experienced.

    This played a significant part in Stellvia of the Universe. The first part felt like a slice of life show set on a space station, with high school classes. Nothing I’ve read in science fiction books or short stories in English ever compared to that.

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  11. Wait, there is one exception. Higher Education by Jerry Pournelle and other authors. A story about a dead beat publicly educated delinquent that gets a trip to an asteroid mining job training program and has to learn physics and other performance problems. To make too many mistakes was to fail and be sent back to Earth, not to mention eating some radiation if it is really dangerous.

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