Fafner Vol. #1 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, June 30, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, July 05, 2005



What They Say
THEIR PARADISE WAS A DECEPTION...
The youth of Tatsumiya Island believed that they had ordinary lives ... until the advent of the Festum, extraterrestrial intelligent life forms intent on assimilating all humans. Abruptly, their once peaceful island transforms into a high-tech military fortress to counter-attack the hostile aliens. Their shock intensifies when they learn that only they can pilot the Fafner, a class of humanoid-type robots that represent the final and only weapon against the Festums and their divine powers.

The Review!
Bred for the purpose of flying the robot that can save their island and all on it, young Kazuki must take on the role when everything spins out of control.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a solid active mix for the forward soundstage with lots of audio cues being moved across the screen both in terms of dialogue and sound effects. With the way some of the action sequences go there's also a good sense of depth to it as things move around the screen. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this release look to be of really good quality as there's practically nothing wrong with how this looks. With such recent animation, bold vivid colors and clean line work, it avoids all the usual troubles and instead just has this really great clarity to it. With so much of it taking place in exterior shots around an island, the amount of blue that's visible that usually gives trouble is pretty much a non-issue. The town and interior locations all look great as well with their more photorealistic style for the buildings and settings and all of it just maintains a very solid and problem free feel.

Packaging:
Using new artwork created by Hirai, the cover to the first volume of the series gives us the basic big elements that make up these episodes, namely Kazuki, Soshi and Fafner, set against a blue sky with some clouds and a small look at the island below. The cover's a bit busy even with just the couple of things here but mostly due to the mixing of the blues and whites from the clouds which mingle with the already light character artwork. The back cover provides a few shots from the show and some large panels of illustrations along with the listing of episode numbers and titles. The summary gives a brief bit of the premise but not took much while the remainder of the cover goes with the discs features and extras and basic production information. The insert included provides a very heavy blue filtered shot of Fafner against the sky and opens up to a nice two panel shot of what will become the main cast in their uniforms. The back of the insert provides target release dates for the remainder of the series. The reverse side of the cover has the original Japanese first volume cover art while the back cover goes for photo shots from the show and some of the basic information on it.

In addition to the disc only release, a disc + box release has also come out. The box goes heavily in the light blue and various shadings of blue for the sky background as well as wispy white clouds, but it also does some really good male character art across it. Done as a wraparound cover, one main panel features Soshi in his uniform, the spine has Kazuki in his as well as a lot of the Fafner behind him, while the other main panel is the full head shot of Fafner itself. The top panel is just sky with the logo and the bottom has the basic specs. It's a decently attractive box but it feels like it's missing some of the fanservice that it could have, especially based on seeing some of the Japanese release artwork.

Menu:
It's been good to see so many new Nightjar menus lately and this one is no exception as it takes the DNA style concept used in the show in the visual monitors and applies it here with very striking color and graphics while bringing in new displays and character artwork. The navigation is easy to use along the bottom and available at all times which is great for making sure it's always interactive. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to get around with. The disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
The extras are a bit light for this volume as we get textless openings for both the first episode and the regular episodes thereafter as well as the same format for the ending sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fafner arrived in 2004 with a bit of a splash and a lot of notoriety depending on what circles you float around within. If you hang out with a lot of Gundam SEED fans, then they were talking up the series to some extent due to the involvement of Hisashi Hirai as the character designer as he did both series. Hirai's been someone I've liked since I first saw his work in Infinite Ryvius so to get to see more of his progression here was definitely of interest. Or to at least see how he's modified some of his designs so that he can keep using them, as parts of Fafner felt like an alternate reality Gundam SEED if you weren't really listening to the dialogue.

Fafner starts off with these first four episodes with a potentially very interesting storyline. We're introduced to a very diverse little town on the island of Tatsumiya. It has something of that old-town feeling to it with the close buildings and narrows streets but it also has some nice modern conveniences such as the medical center and a rather up to date looking school. We're given some minor introductions to the characters in the first few minutes and they hit up the basic archetypes pretty well. Recently returned Soshi, who was on a trip to Tokyo, has that world weary feel for a youth to him, something like he's been burdened. Kazuki is the rough and tumble kid who doesn't lose many fights and is dependent on just himself. Maya looks to be the heart of everyone as she's a caring young woman who helps her friend Shoko, another young woman whose physical condition keeps her relatively bedridden. We get a few others that don't stand out too much but become important as it goes along such as Kenji, Koyo and Mamoru.

The brief glimpse into school life for these kids is rather quickly interrupted as all the monitors around town turn red and display the sole world Alvis on it. Everyone finds themselves being evacuated quickly to shelters without knowing the real reason why. The adults however know exactly what's going on and the various teachers and others suddenly show up in a high tech command center under the island where they're tracking the arrival of an alien they only call Festum. This massive golden thing is on a beeline for the island and is working its way through the defenses and camouflage shielding that they have. It's weapons are like micro black holes that hit all over the island and take the various weapons down, as well as destroying anything else and killing several people in the blink of an eye.

Even worse, the one truly powerful weapon that they have at their disposal, a giant robot like machine called Fafner, isn't able to be used now due to the fact that its pilot got killed in the first wave. This forces the adults to make a dangerous decision and to bring in the next candidate, someone who doesn't know what's really going on. This brings Kazuki into the bigger picture as his genetic code, something he's been bred for we learn, is the highest matching to what's required to work Fafner. What's worse is that he learns this from Soshi who has long know the real secrets of what's going on here. Kazuki is needed to defend the town and island itself so that they can go and hide it again. There's no safety elsewhere Soshi tells him as Tokyo and all of Japan ended nearly thirty years ago and the U.N. is constantly on the search for the island.

With this attack and how it runs through, everything changes on the island it seems and the decision is made to bring in a number of potential pilots to begin training as they don't want to focus on just one for various reasons like they did in the past. This is actually a quite heartrending series of sequences as the commander and doctor visit the various homes and pass on the news and only one of them takes it with a positive spin. This has long been the goal however and people have been having kids with the goal of having a high synergy with Fafner, but when the reality comes knocking on the door they do what any parent would for the most part.

With this new group of kids brought into the big secret, something that the other kids aren't supposed to know about since the intent is for them to focus on their studies and bettering themselves, we get to see with them just what is going on in these secret underground areas and how the world really is compared to what they were brought up with. At the same time, they're put into a rigorous training series in order to figure out who will be able to deal with Fafner and keep the island safe once they move it again and hide it from prying eyes. These discoveries are slowly dealt out and come mixed with all sorts of relationship challenges as several of the kids have parents that work down there already and have to deal with how that affects their relationships with them.

As much as I like Hirai's designs since they do stand out from most other designs, it does feel like he's coasting a bit here with the sizeable cast he had to make for SEED. At first glance and without knowing anything, you could easily mistake this for a side-story for Athrun and his new strange looking mobile suit. There are plenty of other similarities among the kids and a couple of the adults, some are obvious and striking while others are more subtle, but I wish there wasn't just as much of a similar feel to his previous works. This perception will change though as we actually get to know the characters better and they're able to stand on their own.

In Summary:
Fafner starts off with an interesting premise and instead of drawing it out over several episodes things get pushed forward and into different areas much more quickly. The overall nature of what we learn in these episodes is very intriguing storywise and plays up to the kinds of things I like to see in shows of this nature. The revelations made of how reality is not what we've been brought up to believe is nicely done and all the more plausible based on an island life. The characters aren't all that deeply rooted yet but there are some strong buds growing and there are several that are easy to get attached to already. Mixed in with some good giant robot action sequences and plenty of mystery still to go, this is a great looking series visually with enough hooks in the story to keep me interested in for several volumes to come. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it as the setup has been well done.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fafner