Fantastic Children Vol. #3 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Release Date: Monday, January 15, 2007



What They Say
With Helga missing, in the hands of the GED Group, Thoma finds help from the last place he unexpected is his search. Meanwhile, the GED Group are desperately trying to catch their own runaway, Kirchner, who grows more dangerous the longer he is free! How low will GED stoop to lure Kirchner in and more importantly what will they do if he does take the bait? New mysteries, revelations and action lie in wait for Thoma, Helga and co in the third volume of Fantastic Children!

Episodes Comprise
11 - A Special Person
12 - Enma
13 - Memories of Greecia
14 - The Path

The Review!
As well as serving up the dreaded recap episode, this volume of Fantastic Children finally gives the Children of Befort the chance to explain what they've been searching for for so long, and why, as they finally catch up with the latest reincarnation of their beloved Tina: Helga. But their best intentions may still not be entirely in Helga's best interests...

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 Fantastic 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 suffers from a pastel, washed-out feel that removes some of the impact of the scenes, and leaves the show looking less than its best. There were no obvious problems with the encoding, or with the subtitles.

Packaging:
The front cover of this release features the Helga, with Cooks and his assistant behind her, set against an 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 scenery 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)
Helga & Chitto leave the island to go in search of the scene from Helga's painting, and Thoma doesn't take their departure well - he thought they'd become friends, and doesn't understand why Helga would want to leave when she'd just found somewhere where she could live in peace. He's keen to bring her back, and while his mother does her best to talk him out of the idea, he's soon out on their trail - if not to bring them home, then to at least help them in their search. The Children are getting closer to Helga, too - they've traced her as far as the orphanage, where the records have the first image they've seen of what the latest incarnation of Tina looks like. Meanwhile, Helga and Chitto's rowing boat becomes caught in a storm - and for better or worse, their rescuers are a GED Group ship with Professor Gherta on board. She has her own problems, though, in the form of Kirchner " or rather, the thing that Kirchner's become. She only has her theories on what's happened to him, but when the Children finally arrive, hot on Helga's tail, they're only too aware of what power has been unleashed...

Four episodes on this disc, but the final one is the dreaded recap episode (and not a very imaginatively-done one, at that), and can be safely ignored. The rest of the disc is top-notch stuff, though, as Helga, Thoma, GED and the Children are united and some sense is made of what's been going on up until now. The way the three arcs are brought together doesn't feel at all forced, either, and leaves you with the feeling that the series is finally going somewhere, after two discs of disparate and only vaguely connected stories. That just leaves Inspector Cooks' arc to be brought into the mix " he's sadly missing from this disc (apart from some scenes in the recap episode), but I've got no doubt he'll be back.

The science behind the transference between the Children's' home world of Greecia and Earth gets an airing here, which on one level is crucial to the story " after hearing the Children's' explanation, Thoma throws it back at them in far more simple terms, and that one scene is enough to plant doubts in some of them that their search for Tina, and their plan to send her home, is really the right thing to do. I'll admit I was scratching my head at this point, and wondering why it took Thoma's simple version of the process to make them stop and think " they're scientists, they know what's involved in using the technology they created, why didn't they think of the downside before now? Without wanting to give too much a way, a little hint: central to their plan to send Helga / Tina back to Greecia is what's known as the Zone, or more fully as the Zone of Death. Kirchner's problems were a direct result of him having been sent there by Prof. Gherta (the only one to survive, remember) " would Helga really fare any better if she had to make a journey through it herself?

GED Group's involvement is also intriguing " their experimentation into the Zone had been prompted by Dante, and Gherta seems to be carrying out her tests and research with little or no idea of the real consequences. Nobody seems to be challenging Dante about his motives or what he hopes to gain by opening the Zone to humanity, but from his rare appearances, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the welfare of mankind Is probably not high up his agenda.

Plenty going on here, then, and a lot of background explained as the disparate groups that began the series are finally brought together. It's not all good, though " on the downside, the fate of Crooks and his assistant are left up in the air, after a cliff-hanger ending last volume that left them in serious trouble but that goes unmentioned this time around. There's also a continued lack of any sort of character development for many of the cast, most noticeably Helga, who continues to say very little and do even less. As the centre of so much attention, I'd like to see more made of her, but the poor girl seems destined to remain as little more than a walking plot device.

In summary:
Fantastic Children serves up another engrossing volume, and finally begins slotting the various pieces of the story together before taking Helga off on a journey to explore her past. Where the show falls down is in what it doesn't do, as some characters and story threads get a little neglected, but when what is done is done so well it's a little unfair to be too critical. The series is now at its halfway point and nicely poised " if the remaining volumes are as good as what we've had up to now, this could be a real classic. Highly 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: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fantastic Children