Fantastic Children Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • 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

Fantastic Children Vol. #1

By Bryan Morton     February 22, 2007
Release Date: October 02, 2006


Fantastic Children Vol. #1
© Beez


What They Say
Through a cycle of reincarnations, seven scientists, the children of Befort from the planet Greece, scour the Earth for Princess Tina. They need her in order to return to their home planet and stop humanity damaging the universal balance between life and death.

Throughout history, a group of children with white hair, "the children of Befort", appear to study the same young girl.

In 2012, Thoma, a ten-year-old apprentice lives with his parents on the island of Papin whilst training to become the guardian of the island. It's by chance that Thoma meets Helga, an eleven-year-old orphan, imprisoned and mistreated in an orphanage.

Helping her to escape, Thoma will quickly realize that his new-found friend in inexplicably linked to the children of Befort, the strange Fantastic Children.

Episodes Comprise
1 - From the Edge of Night
2 - Wayward Feelings
3 - The Place I Want to Go To
4 - Shinon
5 - Kokkuri Island (Part I)

The Review!
Fantastic Children gives us a story that crosses space and time, as a group of children from another world look for the girl they hope can save them.

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 Thoma & Chitto, with Thoma looking sternly into the distance and Chitto looking back at him. They're set against a blue background, with the outline of a city just about visible. 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. A booklet included, with character profiles and details of some of the themes featured in the series.

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:
Not much here " along with the inevitable clean versions of the opening and closing songs, there's a slideshow of artwork from the show, and that's your lot.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
The Children of Befort - white-haired children who have appeared several times over the course of 500 years, apparently not dying, taking the places of children they've killed in the time period they appear in. So goes what little research has been done into them, at any rate. In truth, they're from the planet Greece, on Earth on a quest to find an elusive girl who holds the key to the survival of their world. In 1901, they finally find what they're looking for: a woman named Serafine, but unfortunately for them she dies before they can reach her. However, both the children and the woman they're searching for are caught in loops of reincarnation.

Skip forward to 2012, and the cycle has begun again. Young orphan Helga's about to meet someone who'll change her life - young boy and guardian-in-training Thoma. What Thoma doesn't realise is that Helga is the latest reincarnation of the woman that the Children of Befort are seeking " and it's only a matter of time before they figure that out and come looking for her. The Children have other problems to worry about, as well " a boy named Dante who seems to reincarnate in the same way they do and is determined to stop them from achieving their goal, and Detective Cooks who is carrying on the work begun by his grandfather: to find out the truth behind the Children of Befort.

Written like that, the story told by these five episodes makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, there are a number of key elements to that story that the episodes themselves don't tell you, or at least haven't revealed yet " instead, they're revealed in the booklet than accompanies this DVD (and if you're adverse to spoilers, don't worry " I haven't given the whole game away). If I had been watching this disc without the benefit of the booklet, the experience would probably have been a good bit more confusing. Even then, there are a few story threads that begin to become prominent by episode five that are still without much in the way of explanation.

The story at the moment is playing out in several distinct arcs, that you can see will eventually come together but that at the moment are very separate. First up are the Children of Befort themselves, with their quest for the elusive Tina (first seen reincarnated in the form of Serafine) and their efforts to deal with those who oppose them. This is the darkest arc of the show and in places it can be quite abstract, as they fight formless shadows and we get some background details on their reincarnations.

Next up is Helga and Thoma's story, which has much more of the feel of a relaxed, slice-of-life show. Helga's been living in an orphanage along with her friend Chitto, but the orphanage doesn't exactly treat the children in its care as they should and the pair are determined to escape " and after a chance meeting with Helga, Thoma becomes intrigued enough by her that he's determined to help. This part of the story is based in an island archipelago, and the setting itself goes a long way to creating the laid-back atmosphere that permeates their scenes " even when the kids get involved in scrapes that introduce a good bit of action to events, you never get a feeling that they're really under threat or that things won't turn out for the good.

The final arc focuses on Detective Crooks and brings a whodunit aspect to the show, thanks to his ongoing obsession with the Children of Befort " an obsession that seems to have caught the attention of his superiors and looks likely to land him in trouble if he doesn't start concentrating on the investigations he's actually been assigned to. Somehow, I doubt he's going to give up the chase.

The three arcs touch briefly in several scenes across the disc, without ever really getting heavily involved with each other " it's just enough to show that there's a connection that's going to be developed, but not just yet. Some of how that's going to happen is obvious enough " Helga being the latest reincarnation of Tina will eventually attract the Children, their presence will draw Crooks onto the scene, and Helga, Thoma and Crooks have both had contact with the mysterious GED Project " but for now the series is really just concentrating on developing the various characters, without throwing them together too much.

That means that the pacing does sometimes feel a little slow, although without ever getting to the point of being dull or boring " despite the laid-back feel of a lot of the scenes, there is a lot going on here, and it's very easy to just get caught up in the lives of the characters and get pulled along with the flow. That's a good ability for any series to have.

If I was picky, I'd point out that despite all the time devoted to developing them, some of the characters are still quite undeveloped " poor Helga has about 5 lines total in these episodes and remains something of an enigma, while the best development work with the Children of Befort goes to the two children who, by 2012, are no longer part of the search. That's quite a minor criticism, though.

In summary:
There's a lot to keep track of in Fantastic Children, even if the series does lull you into a false sense of security with its laid-back feel and slow pacing. It's engrossing viewing, and while some aspects of the story don't get explained in the show as well as they could it's never frustrating to watch. This isn't a show I would have picked up on my own " what little I knew about it in advance hadn't persuaded me that it would be worthwhile " but after seeing these episodes I'm glad I did. Definitely worth a look.

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

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

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