Fantastic Children Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Thursday, March 22, 2007
Release Date: Monday, November 27, 2006



What They Say
Thoma has brought Helga and her friend Chitto to an island far away from civilisation. But the child with white hair will waste no time in finding them though... Meanwhile, on the mainland, Detective Cooks discovers recordings about the existence of the "Children of Befort", referred to as the "Fantastic Children". He learns about their bond with a mysterious black stone, a stone that is shrouded in secrecy. Could this stone be the way these fantastic children seem able to escape the influence of time?

Episodes Comprise
6 - Kokkori Island (Part II)
7 - The Children of Befort
8 - A Warm Family
9 - Orsel
10 - The Ged Group

The Review!
While Thoma spends his time fooling around with Helga and Chitto, the Children begin to make progress in their search for Tina while Cooks begins to unravel the secrets behind the Ged Project...

Audio:
Audio is provided in Japanese, English and French 2.0 stereo " I went with the Japanese track for this review. While the audio is clear and easy to make out, there's very little use made of direction here " although to be fair, the way the story is presented doesn't give very much opportunity for that sort of creativity. There are some scenes which provide a little bit of action, and reasonable use is made of the soundstage there, but for the most part Fantasic Children is heavy on the dialogue, and that's kept to the centre channel. There were no obvious problems with the encoding, though.

Video:
Presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame format, video is presented in slightly different styles depending on which time-period the scene is set in. Scenes set in the past 'suffer' from a pastel, washed-out feel that removes some of the impact of the scenes, while scenes set in the future are far more colourful and vibrant. As a visual way of separating the past from the future it works quite well, but it does mean the past scenes don't look as good as they could. There were no obvious problems with the encoding, or with the subtitles.

Packaging:
The front cover of this release features the Children of Befort, lined up with concerned looks. They're set against a dark background, with another island scene just about visible behind them. The rear has a few screenshots along with the disc technical info and a promotional paragraph, while there's a nice piece of artwork on the reverse.

Menu:
Menus are available in either English or French - I went with English and was greeted with a static screen of a carved face & archway over a river, nestled in the jungle. An instrumental version of the opening theme plays throughout. Options are provided for Episodes, Bonus & Audio " there's a rather long transition animation when you select an option (a common gripe of mine with Beez releases), but once they're out of the way the menus are easy enough to use. Sadly, there's no option for Play All " you have to use the Episodes menu to start off each episode separately.

Extras:
Just creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences on this disc.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Five more episodes of Fantastic Children, and while there is the odd bit of interaction between the various threads of the story, we're still really dealing with 3 or 4 separate plotlines that are just waiting to be pulled together. We're getting there, but not quite yet.

Thoma and Helga get the early attention, as Thoma has a run-in with one of the Children of Befort on Kokkori Island. At first I'd thought they were about to stumble upon Helga and start putting two & two together, but no " instead, the Children had hidden a robot named Wonder on the island, and he's there to retrieve it. It's not the first time that one of the Children has almost stumbled upon Helga " it's part of the way the series takes the time to weave the various plot threads together without really allowing them to touch yet, and I love the way that works. Later, Thoma's mother finds out about the help he's been giving to Helga and Chitto, and when the orphanage director refuses to take them back allow them to live with her family, giving Thoma more opportunities to really get to know Helga, who's beginning to open up a bit and develop more of a personality at the series goes on. As with the first disc, Thoma's part of the story is very laid back and slice-of-life, with the island setting and the ruins around them helping to reinforce that feeling, in contrast to the scenes featuring the Children themselves or Cooks.

Episode 7 is a flashback story, going back to when Cooks' grandfather was on the trail of the Children of Befort himself. It fills in a lot of the details about the Children and why Cooks is so obsessed with them, as well as explaining the origins of the Ged Project, which gives you the first pointers to how the characters are perhaps going to come together. Ged becomes the focus of one of the later episodes on the disc as well, as Cooks starts digging where he shouldn't after encountering one of the victims of the project's experiments, and as his investigations continue " despite his new assistant's constant querying of how relevant it is to the missing persons case he's supposed to be working on " more and more background information is revealed, and the story really begins to click into place. The only problem with the way this is done is that it seems a little about-face " by the end of the disc it's easy to make a good guess at the Children's origins and where they'll be heading when they finally find what they're looking for, but the "why" of their mission and the significance of Tina and her reincarnations is still a mystery. To my mind, it would have made more sense to fill in that background the other way around.

As for the Children themselves, they're also developing and becoming more than the simple threatening characters they appeared to be in the early parts of the series. While some of them are still taking their quest - and their eventual fate if they fail in it " with a sense of acceptance, others are showing signs of being scared of their fate, and showing regret at leaving behind the lives they had before their reincarnated personality reawakened. This makes them much more human and easier to connect to, instead of just being gray characters with a sense of foreboding wrapped around them. Now, there are even occasional signs of happiness, particularly after they're alerted to the possibility that Helga's the one they're searching for.

On the downside, pacing is still on the slow side " the way the story is being told, it pays to keep a close watch on what's happening, but the slow pace works against that a little. There's also maybe a little frustration that things aren't coming together a little quicker. That's balanced out by the general feel of the show, though, and as the characters continue to develop they're becoming more likeable, on all sides of the story (with the exception of the clearly evil Dumas, of course), while the continuous drip-feed of information and story background during these episodes just leaves you wanting to see the next volume as soon as you can.

In summary:
Fantastic Children's second volume follows much the same pattern as the first " separate stories woven around each other, and beginning to come together. These episodes begin the process of explaining what's going on, and although there are still a lot of questions left unanswered, there's enough to give you a good feel for where the story is going. Add in the ongoing development of most of the main characters, and the series continues to be engrossing viewing. Recommended.

Features
Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 2.0,French Language 2.0,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Textless Opening & Closing Sequences

Review Equipment
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28" widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Beez
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fantastic Children