Fractale vs. Sound of the Sky

fractale vs sound of the sky

Fractale VS. Sound of the Sky

Watched via Funimation and Crunchyroll

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Fractale is a conglomeration of Sci-Fi tropes, all used successfully in prior anime series. When Fractale first began airing on Funimation’s website streaming service, I was very excited, yet wary to watch it. I’ve noticed this strange theme in Sci-Fi series, where they begin strong, then falter in the end. Luckily I was proved wrong, and Fractale managed to pull through throughout the series. Does that make the series original? Far from it, Fractale manages to do just enough to keep fans intrigued while giving them the same recycled material they’ve already seen, just spliced together in a new way.

Alright, let’s dive into plot. First we have Clain, a young man who lives alone with his holographic robot parents. He suddenly comes across a mysterious young woman on the run, being pursued by a gang. From there on out his life becomes entangled with this woman, Phryne, and her own holographic robot, known as Nessa. Phryne disappears in the middle of the night, and leaves Nessa behind. Immediately following, the two are captured, escape, find a secret rebellion, earn their keep on an airship, then eventually go up against the powers that control the fate of the Fractale system. Along the way Clain discovers that Phryne is the key to the digital world that keeps everything running and its future existence. To him, however, she is just the girl who won his heart.

Despite all of the tropes and reused material along the way, I found myself really enjoying the ending to this series. The plot explores fate and identity in a way that I found to be less idealistic than previous Sci-Fi renditions of this story. Just don’t expect anything new and exciting.

Based on that plot summary, I’m still pretty interested in this show. I’m not expecting much groundbreaking anymore, but it still sounds like a fun, maybe thought-provoking time.

PLOT: Following a great war, humanity’s technology has regressed to a state similar to the early 1900s. The 1121st Platoon is stationed in the town of Seize, Helvetia, largely ignored by military command and waiting to be needed for any combat. The platoon consists of two senior officers and two younger officers, with a new member, Kanata, arriving as the series begins. Kanata once heard a military trumpeter play “Amazing Grace,” inspiring her to join the military and become a trumpeter herself.

Sound of the Sky alternates between plot-focused and moe-focused episodes, with the show as a whole focusing so much on moe that there isn’t much room left to resolve any of the plot at the end. The characters are all young, cute women, and, for the most part, Sound of the Sky plays that up. A lot of time is spent on Kanata getting to know the preexisting members of the platoon, and predictably her outgoing personality has clashes with the tsundere members of the group. Kanata also helps the kuudere of the group, Noël, come out of her shell, and by the end of the show the platoon’s basically a big, happy family.

In between all of the mushy group dynamics, Sound of the Sky only partially addresses the ongoing war storyline, which should be its main storyline. With this mostly-ignored platoon of girls, the war peeks in a little in the background, and some of the group’s members are dragged into the resolution of the war, but it all happens so quickly that it’s hard to take seriously. When the show can spend an episode on a joke about urination, you’d think it’d be able to pay as much attention to its serious storyline. Instead, the show is clearly weighted in favor of showcasing its moe characters, undercutting any ability to tell an intriguing wartime story.

I was ever so slightly intrigued by this series when I first saw previews, as I do love moe friendship series. That said, I never could get on board with this zany plot. I just don’t understand the need for a show that focuses on playing musical instruments while training for combat.

SETTING: Clain lives in a world where digital technology is deeply ingrained in every part of life. As I mentioned before he lives with holographic robotic parents, rather than with his own real relatives. This seems to be how the rest of the world lives as well, except for a small fraction of the world which is in rebellion, who chose to live off the radar of the Fractale system.

As part of the Fractale system there are priestesses and members like Phryne, who lead the people of the Fractale world in worship every day to maintain the prosperity and happiness of the world and its people. Opposed to the system are people who believe the world should be more like the past, where individuals live and work directly together. Without a doubt, Fractale is one of those Sci-Fi series that is exploring digital technology and how social interactions have become removed with the presence of technology. It’s easy to see how the setting and plot fuel each other, but also how they do little to add to the bigger picture of Sci-Fi. Every location and social construct is built off of those that have come before in other series. I was intrigued by the priestess cult and how Phryne personally ties into the whole mix, but aside from that this series recycles setting just as much as plot.

My main draw to this series is that cultural theorist Hiroki Azuma provided some of the ideas behind it, which would be where the ideas about technology and identity come from. I’m disappointed to know that they don’t come to much fruition, though. I wonder how much of that relates to how many people the story had to go through before being considered ready for the masses.

SETTING: Seize, Helvetia, is based on a real city, which helps give it a tangible history. Seize looks old and lived in, with rambling buildings built upon rocks and traditions that are strange to outsiders, like the festival that occurs the day Kanata arrives. In the world of Sound of the Sky, Seize is the most intriguing part, and I desperately wish the show had spent more time developing it. The local religion is also terribly interesting, along with the suggestive tapestry-like imagery that features in the show’s opening. This is a clear case of the show having potential for some great worldbuilding, but it gave that up in favor of focusing on its moe characters.

Beyond that, I was also drawn in by the idea of a post-apocalyptic world where the technology has degraded to the point where any preexisting technology seems almost magical. The 1121st Platoon’s tank, the Takemikazuchi, is incomprehensible to everyone but Noël, who has a mysterious ability to fix it. This tank presents a strong contrast to the rest of Seize’s technology, and I wish this contrast had been further addressed, as well. Essentially, Sound of the Sky has all the groundwork for a solid, unique sci-fi setting, but it squanders developing it enough for a great show.

CHARACTERS: Clain is your typical young Gary Stu type. He was raised in a world of technology, but finds himself questioning his existence amongst it all. He loves old gadgets, and often finds himself on walks exploring the real world, which distance himself from the digital world he is immersed in. This is exactly how he finds himself swept away in a battle between the people and Fractale.

Because this series is aimed at a young male audience, we watch as Clain becomes entangled with aiding two young women, both of which he develops feelings for. On the one hand he pines for the emotionally conflicted and stern Phryne, and the other wants to care for her younger loving self Nessa. FYI, Nessa is a holographic projection of a younger version of Phryne, constructed of the parts of Phryne prior to a catastrophic event…or something like that. Eventually he has to come to terms with his feelings and “choosing” between the two of them. There is also some jealousy along the way and some love triangle shenanigans.

As silly as it may sound, I really did enjoy the character interactions and the idea of being stuck between loving a person and their alter-ego. While the plot and setting are trite, the characters are what bring this story to life and what make the ending all the more tragic and emotionally compelling.

CHARACTERS: Considering their roles as moebait, the main characters of Sound of the Sky all fit squarely within stereotypes expected of a show with cute girls doing cute things (in the military).

Kanata, the main character, is of course the energetic, overly-optimistic new member of the platoon who wants to be good at everything and ends up bringing everyone else together. She doesn’t push that character type too much, and her bugle playing never improves too much, as that would mess with her character’s silliness. She is definitely likable, but it’s hard to take her seriously as a member of the military given her inexperience and naïveté, especially when she spends an episode holding in urine because she can’t leave her post at the phone for even a minute.

The other characters also fall into their roles without shaking things up too much. Two of the characters have particularly mysterious backstories—Rio, Kanata’s bugling instructor, is secretly a princess and key to solving the war, while Noël was involved in the apocalyptic-levels of destruction that occurred before the series begins. Despite these interesting backstories, though, most of this show focuses on the girls’ dynamics, which seems like a huge waste. The other two main girls are more standard—Filicia, the leader of the platoon, is a solid big-sister character, while Kureha’s a very standard pigtailed tsundere.

The final major character of the show is an enemy scout, Aisha, who becomes injured and is taken care of by the platoon. Aisha shows promise for bringing in new ideas and causing change within the group, but by the time her plot line takes off, it’s too little too late, and the show never uses her to the best extent. I would’ve liked to see more of her interactions with the platoon, but c’est la vie.

Fractale definitely had its fan-service moments, but it sounds like in comparison it used its time more wisely to develop plot. Which seems like a shame, because of the two it looks like Sound of the Sky had the more original story of the two.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I’ll admit, what really drew me into giving Fractale a shot was its animation. The character designs and settings are all so beautifully realized I couldn’t help but give the first episode a try. The designs are reminiscent of works like Last Exile or Castle in the Sky, while differing just enough to be engaging. For example, I loved Phryne’s costume design and how the Fractale priestesses seemed derivative of nuns. Sure it sounds hokey, but it’s just enough to give the series that spin it needs. Same can be said for the rest of the characters, who are all just a step away from being too cliché.

Honestly, when it came to the setting designs, it never bothered me how stereotyped they were. Fractale seems to take place in a European-type future, but the clothes and societies never seem too stylized as to restrain the story line and its progression. One could argue the opposite, that the setting is too broad, and therefore nondescript, but I think it works for this Sci-Fi story, especially since the world is supposed to be a construct of Fractale’s ideals.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Sound of the Sky is an early effort of A-1 Pictures, a studio which has recently become known as one of the better anime studios, especially when it comes to series that need a detailed moe flair. Because of this, they did a good job with the moe elements of Sound of the Sky, particularly the movements of the main girls. They also made sure to make the backgrounds and settings look gorgeous, and the opening looks old and mysterious in a way that definitely draws in the viewers’ attention. Overall, they put in a lot of work to make this show look beautiful, and it’s the highlight of the show.

The character designs also pull out the stops to draw in viewers who like moe girls. The characters look like the girls of K-On! stuffed into military uniforms, and as far as I can tell, the character types continue that trend. I find the characters to look appealing, but it’s hard to take them seriously in their role as soldiers when everyone looks so young and cuddly. For some viewers, the character designs may have fulfilled their purpose, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re part of the fundamental failure of this show.

You bring up a great point. Had the characters been more realistic, and believable in their drive to play music in the military, it may have been easier to digest the crazy plot.

OVERALL: I think the biggest advantage I had to watching Fractale was that I haven’t seen too many Sci-Fi series of this sort before. Watching it, it was still clear that it was highly derivative of other works, but it wasn’t so apparent to me as to start annoying me. Now that I’ve seen more of those kinds of series, I am more prone to not liking them as much, since they feel like the copy. Anyways, my point is, that if you have seen some of the great masters of the genre, you probably won’t enjoy this series as much as I did. Even the ending and character relationships probably won’t be compelling enough to get you through it. In fact, it’s probably better to stick to the masters, if you’re short on time and/or a hardcore otaku, as you’ll probably already be hyper aware of the tropes.

Now if you are unfamiliar with a lot of Sci-Fi anime, you may find more enjoyment out of this series. I did feel that the ending held up rather well and didn’t fall off a cliff, like so many other current action series tend to do. Clain and his cohorts are rather exciting to watch and easy to empathize with. Either way, it’s just a one season series, so it’s not a bad way to spend a lazy weekend or some downtime.

I think I’ll still check this out sometime, at the very least to see the result of all its initial hype. And I’ll still probably find some merit to it, especially with how beautiful it looks and how cute the girls are.

OVERALL: In a nutshell, Sound of the Sky doesn’t know what kind of show it wants to be. It presents itself as a post-apocalyptic military drama, with the setting and initial worldbuilding to support that, but eventually it falls prey to trying too hard to bring in moe fans. The show needed to strike a better balance between moe and plot, and it failed to do so. I’m sure many fans of this show will argue that it succeeded at both roles, but when a show wastes an episode on a pee joke and then shoehorns in an ending, it fails to honor its main plot. Sound of the Sky was filled with loads of promise, from setting to visuals and music, but it squandered that promise on drawing in moe fans. You can argue that at least it tried to have a serious premise, but I still feel cheated in the end.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (7/10)
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2 thoughts on “Fractale vs. Sound of the Sky

  1. 1) I guess there’s a mistake here somewhere http://i.imgur.com/4nP95sz.png

    2) Yeahhhhh, Fractale had issues. Big issues, especially at the end, where it did a good job of summoning forth a host of anime moments from other anime (from its battles to the character actions), and didn’t do it very well. It made me not care about what happened going forward. That’s how poor it was. And that just sucks, since I was one of the few who thought the start was pretty interesting.

    3) Yeahhhh, I dread kind of watching Sound of The Sky, as opinions are mixed, and yes, the pee episode is pretty controversial. But I’ll do my best to go in with an open mind. I think.

    • Whoops, thanks for catching that, we were in a bit of a rush to post cause the holidays.

      Writing about Fractale was awesome in that it made me start mentally listing everything it possibly stole ideas from. I was even starting to get Star Wars vibes from it. lol -W

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