Fantastic Children Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, July 06, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2006
What They Say
As the Children of Befort continue their centuries long search, the investigation over their reappearance has drawn Detective Cooks into the depths of the mysterious Ged Group. Meanwhile Thoma, Helga and Chitto continue to develop their friendship, but will Helga really be able to place her trust in others? Or will they be parted before their adventure can really begin?
The mysteries continue to build up in the various points of time that the show follows and slowly but surely they begin to overlap.
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.
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 and plenty of detail. If there is any real problem with the transfer it's the amount of mosquito noise to it with some of the colors when you have close-ups that provide one shade for a large part of the screen. 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.
Similar to the first volume, the cover art uses some of the Japanese material, this time of Helga and Chitto, with a mixture of other artwork and designs for the background which gives it a less than distinct feel. The character artwork holds up a bit better this time around with a solid looking feel but it's not the kind of designs or layout that will really help to sell the show or attract people to it. 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 (95 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.
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.
The only extra included is a clean version of the ending sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If there is anything unkind about this series, it's the normal wait between each of the volumes, at least for these first two releases. With the second volume, we get five more episodes that takes up through episode ten and there is an immense amount of information given throughout these episodes across several sections in time and they all flow together. There are still several different storylines running through here and the convergence of all of them is more apparent in this volume, but much of it comes through the pieces laid out slowly during the first volume. It's almost worth watching the first volume again before starting this.
The Children of Befort provide for some fascinating moments in this volume. Having lost one of their own in the last volume, we see some of them come perilously close to it again here in the current time as they search for Christina in her new reincarnated form. Some of them handle events better than others, but almost all of them have curious flashbacks to their lives before they changed and remember those that loved and cared for them. This dangerous set of emotions ties them too strongly to this world and not the one that they're trying to return to. The child formerly known as Flo for example is in a rush to return to her fellow Children as she's discovered where Christina may be but along the way she stumbles across her father in this time period. He's come undone since losing her and is a shadow of his former self and it haunts her completely, to the point where she's careless and he discovers her.
The trio of Thoma, Helga and Chitto is similarly slow to the previous volume for them as they're spending a lot of time on "Thoma's Island" and he's still having a lot of fun being able to seem so confident about the place and his knowledge of it. He's doing his best to impress Helga, though he gives her some very poor clothes with which to do it, but in the end he finds himself more impressed with her. There's simply something about her that sets her apart as we've seen before but it comes up again as she deals with a nest of killer bees that has Chitto trapped. Her ability to set things of nature at ease is rather strong though it is amusing that it doesn't seem to work on humans, another in a long line of shows and stories that tries to set humanity outside of nature.
The trio does go through some evolution here as they find themselves back at Thoma's house where his mother does a good job of taking them in and dealing with the problems that the two had at the orphanage. There are some great moments as Thoma's parents have to deal with the addition of two new people and the kind of changes they bring to the mix. Thoma's father in particular is off kilter the most but most of the time that comes from learning new things about his wife that he didn't know. There's also a very curious convergence with one of the Children who is exploring the island that leads to one of the old statues coming to life, revealing it as a fascinating piece of machinery right out of Laputa. Thoma and the Children have crossed paths lightly a couple of times so far but this time it's pretty blunt and sets Thoma into the mindset of really wanting to know what's going on.
The most fascinating story to follow to me though is that of the detective named Cooks and his new seemingly faithful assistant. Alice. Through Cooks and his investigations, we get to see the events of the past in a new light and see how much of it comes together. His grandfather, being a detective himself, was caught up in an event with the Children of Befort in time past which he had brought to a scientist friend of his, Professor Radcliffe. Cooks grandfather had seen an event with the Children that led to their deaths and he managed to gain a strange stone that was nothing more than a mystery built upon a mystery. Using the recent discovery of x-ray machines, something invented by a former Befort child no less, Radcliffe discovers that there's some kind of code within the stone that's ever changing.
This starts a fascinating series of events as this small nation's government sees the stone and its mysterious properties as a way to build up its own power and sense of pride and begins investing heavily in the project to understand it. The original group, called Project GED, eventually becomes the mystery group in the present known simply as GED that we've seen bits about in the first volume, such as the pilot who was almost killed but ended up becoming aged because of the failed experiment. Through the background we gain from Radcliffe's dogged pursuit of the truth and the present day investigations of Cooks as he heads to Clairmont to understand what the connection with GED is, we start to see a lot of the larger powers at play and the lengths that they'll go to in order to provide their country with a weapon of incredible power. But only if they're able to really understand the fragment, something that we get clued in from seeing how the Children deal with the tiny fragment that Kirchner appears to be connected to.
Watching all of these storylines come together and seemingly throwaway pieces from earlier episodes suddenly become key to furthering the story, even in the past, it's one of the more fascinating shows I've seen in recent memory. Very few shows actually require you to really pay attention to the storyline anymore in order to understand it that when these kinds do come along, it's like a breath of fresh air. Even better, so much of the bigger mysteries are given an off-hand comment here or there that only force more questions instead of answering them that there's a level of frustration that's enjoyed because of it. The creative team behind this are feeding us great delicious bits of a beautiful meal in a way that makes us work for it instead of being spoon-fed. Between it's essentially cheap pricing and solid episode count, it's an easy recommendation just from that, but when you add in a beautifully complex and evolving storyline that doesn't give easy answers, it becomes something you want to thrust into other peoples hands. Don't pass this one up.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Ending
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player via DVI set to 1080i, 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: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fantastic Children