Fantastic Children Vol. #1 (also w/CD) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, April 07, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, April 11, 2006



What They Say
A strange group of kids called "The Children of Befort" are searching for the girl who is the key to their happiness. For 500 years they wandered from life to life seeking for her reincarnation. Yet, they cannot live for more than 11 years to the natural cycle of death and rebirth.

Tohma is a kid on a small island reaching out to find friends. Helga is an orphan seeking a place where she can truly belong. When they both meet, their lives will change forever.

The Review!
An extremely layered series, Fantastic Children barely scratches the surface of what it wants to be about in its first five episodes that captivate with its style and potential.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The show is presented in stereo mixes for both its English and Japanese tracks and both of them come across quite well with some minor directionality throughout it. The show has a good mix of both dialogue and action sequences that use the directionality nicely such as some of the boating sequences while the quieter dialogue scenes are very sharp and still move around well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The series has a very distinct feel to it depending on the characters and setting at the time and they're fairly different. The first couple of episodes spend a lot of time in the past and in the hazy settings of Europe which looks good but has a definite soft feeling to it. When it shifts to the more current settings in the south seas, the show has a far more lively and colorful feel to it with the seas and jungles. There is a mix of the two at times when the characters come across each other and the source material for the transfer look fantastic with clean lines, plenty of detail and a problem free print. There are a few areas where the blacks don't maintain a completely solid feel but it's very minimal and far between. Otherwise colors look great, aliasing is non-existent and there isn't any visible cross coloration.

Packaging:
The cover for the release uses some of the elements from the Japanese cover of Thoma looking off to the side but eliminates the smooth white background with multiple shots from the show to provide a collage of pieces from the opening sequence and artwork to something a bit more mellow and mysterious. It's a decent looking cover at first glance though when you look at it in detail you can see some of it shouldn't have been enlarged for cover artwork since it loses a lot of sharpness and detail. The back cover has a good layout to it with a collage of shots from the show in a nice border while below it is a fairly good summary of what these episodes are about. The episode numbers and titles are provided as is the production information. The technical area is fairly decent but problematic in that it lists the running time wrong (75 minutes instead of 125 minutes) and could have used listing things like aspect ratio and what extras were available. No insert is included nor is the cover reversible.

In addition to the disc only release, a special disc + soundtrack release also came out. The packaging for this is a bit different in that it's basically a thin box designed to hold the keepcase and jewel case. The front piece has much better and smoother artwork than the keepcase cover as it features various characters from the show, some of which we haven't been introduced yet, The back of the package has really great layout of a scene from the show with the children in their usual outfits against a gray background that uses a lot of its space to replicate the text from the keepcase cover. It also replicates the same mistakes such as the run time. The included soundtrack in the jewel case contains the twenty tracks from the show and the inserts are translated for English use. The score for the show is a real plus so having the soundtrack is an extremely pleasing move.

Menu:
The menu layout for the release is rather nicely done as it brings in a lot of the sketches and illustrations of the various locales from the series. It has a lot of nice simple animation to it as the various pieces come together to the final layout alongside the brief music that's included. The menus aren't flashy but they fit the theme of the show just right and set the mood for what's about to start. Access times are nice and fast and the navigation is easy to use. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
The only extra included is a clean version of the ending sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Little has been said about Fantastic Children since its initial licensing other than a single trailer having made its way out which has left the show with little advance word. With the first five episodes on this volume, it's definitely easy to see why the show is such a hard sell. So little really happens here but what does happen is so enticing and fascinating that it's hard to pin down exactly what needs to be focused on.

The story of Fantastic Children revolves around this group of children who seem to be alive throughout the centuries. We see early on their movements through Europe in the 1700's going forward through 1901 as they try to search for a woman and each other. The children are very advanced in their knowledge for being eleven years old but it's something that they're able to retrieve in every new life they start. It's slowly revealed how dire their situation is in that they gain their memories of who they are at one point but the closer they get to the age of twelve, the closer they get to forgetting everything. Eventually they'll be reborn again to try and continue their search but they've also lost members of their group along the way.

The thread that ties the events of the past to where the storyline picks up in 2012 is that of the woman who does and appears at certain times as she was reborn in 2001. An orphan, she's now known as Helga and lives in an orphanage on the island of Chikao in the South Archipelago Seas. She's a very disconnected child with hardly any friends beyond one much younger boy who tries to help her escape constantly from the facility. The two have little luck even when they come across a young man who lives on a nearby island with his family named Thoma. Thoma's an energetic and outgoing kid whose been trained in some martial arts by his father and is working to become the next caretaker of a religious site on the island they live on. But he also has a bit of a taste for adventure and comes across the chase that goes on between the orphanage and the two kids on the run and he finds himself interested in Helga and so ends up entangled in their mess.

Their mess, which also has the children we've seen before looking for Helga, also gets messed up with something far more complicated when a series of "criminals" ends up on the island and a government agency is doing everything in its power to find them. The crossing of the paths is light but it introduces more mystery that's related to the show and the cast slowly expands the further out it goes which only raises more enticing questions. With the way the show crosses across several hundred years and presumably much more than that, it's something that doesn't reveal itself quickly and is laying the groundwork for what looks to be a very fascinating piece. Being an original work, it doesn't play out like a lot of other shows out there at the moment where it hits certain marks by the first couple of episodes. It doesn't feel like every other boys show that's airing which is a huge plus. There is a mystery here and it doesn't reveal itself anywhere near completely, leaving it so that you can't guess the next step based on seeing so many things just like it.

The design of the series is something that's also very appealing is the character designs for the show which is more in the classic style, such as the rounder faces, sharp noses and so forth. It works very well for the mood of the series with the way it provides something of a feel of innocence but also a dark nature behind it for the Fantastic Children themselves. There've been a number of shows that have used this retro style in the last few years so it's more common than it used to be and something that I've really come to enjoy so it was interesting to see it applied here on something that isn't based on something that originated decades ago like Tetsujin 28 or Kikaider.

One area where the release does fail and fail rather hard in my opinion is that while we do get the original openings and closings, there are no translated credits anywhere for the cast, songs or anything else. Combined with the different method of authoring in that each episode is not on its own title like Bandai usually does you can get the feeling that the show was done by someone not familiar with how Bandai usually does things. Not having translated credits may not be much of an issue for some but for credit whores like myself it feels like the release is missing something extremely critical.

In Summary:
Fantastic Children looks to be a fascinating series by its first five episodes as it's laid out an intriguing mystery for a storyline. The way it's shifted back and forth over the centuries and teased with how the Children have survived and moved among the shadows works well while the scenes in the present in the islands adds a lot to how it's all coming together. So much of what goes on here is a mystery and it teases it all out very slowly but it does it in such an engaging manner with great visuals, very alluring music and pacing that compels you to get to the next episode as quickly as possible. This is a series whose focus is squarely on good storytelling and is very easy to recommend if you're looking for something that's not like tons of other standard boys shows out there.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Ending,LE: Soundtrack

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, 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: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 19.98/29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fantastic Children