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Fafner Complete Series DVD/Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Years after an alien attack on the world, its only hope may be a group of children hidden on an island that can pilot special mecha.

What They Say:
Terrorized by a hostile alien race’s mental warfare, humans hear only this question just before their lives are destroyed by the violent invaders. Kazuki and his classmates lay everything on the line to pilot their heavily guarded island’s secret weapons: towering mechs for which only they are genetically qualified to control. With most of Earth in ruins, humanity’s survival relies on these youths’ selfless determination to protect the only home they know. But when each battle pushes the pilots to the brink of assimilation, who will protect them?

Contains episodes 1-26.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation here brings the original Japanese language track and the previously produced English language track and gives us lossless versions of them using the Dolby TrueHD codec. Both tracks are in their original stereo mixes as we had them before so there’s no changes in that area. The show is one that uses a fair bit of action combined with the music and other effects to make for a good sounding release that presents everything a bit cleaner, clearer and louder than it was before. The lossless aspect does give it that increased volume level and it generally works out well once balanced. The action shines pretty well for a forward soundstage series and the dialogue is kept well placed when appropriate. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this twenty-six episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using upconverted standard definition materials. The show is spread across three discs for the Blu-ray with nine each on the first two and eight on the last. The series doesn’t get a really high bitrate throughout, though it has its moments where it does shoot up a bit, but it’s mostly a low one and it shows at times. Some of the areas have a fair bit of noise in the solid colors and the banding is a bit more pronounced and clearer now, though that mostly comes from a source issue. Some areas show a bit more macroblocking that comes from the style of animation and the source materials itself, making for some less than pleasant visuals. A lot of the show looks decent and you can see some differences if you spot compare with the DVDs inside, but it’s not a huge upgrade by any means.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is in an oversized Blu-ray case with an O-Card that gives it the DVD height so it could fit on either shelf depending on how you want it. The front of the O-Card and the case itself are the same with the standard visual of Kazuki as he has the stern and strong look about him as he looks alongside his Fafner. There’s a lot of white and silvers here that works well with the other colors that figure into it. The back of the O-Card is different from the case though as it goes with the usual design of showing off images from the show, breaking it down with a decent summary and a good breakdown of the extras for the set. The technical grid is certainly busy as it shows both formats but it’s all easy to read and accurate while clearly listing this as an SD Remaster set. With the case itself, the back cover provides the rest of the wraparound image of the Fafner from the front cover. The reverse side has artwork of Kazuki on the left that’s pretty nice while the right breaks down the episodes by format with episode numbers and titles and another look at the extras. No show related inserts are included.

Menu:
The menu design for the release steps things up a bit from the norm as it’s not dealing with just clips playing in the background. The menu is largely designed around a black background while the left side has a mixture of empty space around the logo and a series of hexagons with movement around it. The right side brings in a few flashes of animation from the series to give it the mvoement it needs across a couple of monitors that are showing. The navigation is kept small and simple in the middle with the basics easy to access and the submenus quick to load and easy to navigate. The show defaults to the English language track with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras for the release are definitely good overall considering what they bring into it. Though it’s only a portion of the extras runtime overall, we get thirteen different clean versions of the opening and closing sequences since it changes a fair bit in small ways throughout. We get the original DVD commercials from Japan and the original two and a half minute promo before the series debuted. The big extra for this release though is the twenty- minute preview event that has the cast and creators together for from back in 2004. It goes into some of their time on stage but also showcases a lot of the creation side of it in the early part of the year with what they wanted to do.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original work by Xebec that was notable at the time of its release for the character designs by Hisashi Hirai, Fafner is a twenty-six episode series that plays with giant robot versus alien as the world ends framework well. The series is one that starts off awkward, but as it adds more of its pieces together and the characters become clearer, at least the ones that survive, it starts to have a bit more nuance and emotion to it. The show eventually spawned some manga releases and a light novel as well as getting a theatrical film made for it six years after it ended, which FUNimation has also licensed. The show was released originally by Geneon but the movie has never seen release, so bringing the series out again in a tight little collection like this works well.

Fafner takes place in the mid 22nd century, some thirty years after an attack by an alien presence of some sort called the Festum. Mankind has changed into survival mode where, under the Neo U.N., people either fight, support those fighting or become targets and die by the Festum. The layout of the world isn’t given much attention for the first half of the series, but it’s expanded upon well as it progresses and starts to fill in the blanks. That tends to be the more difficult part of the show because it’s giving us some interesting story elements early on, but it’s just a portion of the picture and it makes it difficult to really discern motivations and intentions because of it.

What the show wants to focus on early on is with an island called Tatsumiyajia where the people have managed to avoid all danger for all these years and live a normal life. So normal, in fact, that most if not all of the teenagers here are unaware that the world has ended. To them, they simply live on a remote island with little contact with the real world outside of the occasional boat that they send out to bring in new supplies. They’re well educated and very well protected as a massive, sprawling underground base is on the island as part of the Arcadian Project to deal with the Festum. And what the adults have done is to place these kids with childless adults in order to help raise them for the day that they would fight. The whole island is protected by a cloaking device, since both the Neo U.N. and the Festum are looking for them, and it also has the ability to move as well in order to cover their tracks.

The revelation about what’s going on comes as events push the adults to deal with a Festum issue that causes them to reveal their location. That shows the younger generation, unaware of the reality, what’s really going on as the attack comes and one of them, a young man named Kazuki, is forced to pilot the Fafner, a mecha that stops the Festum from reading their minds so they’re able to attack and defend better than humanity has been able to for thirty years. Kazuki’s not alone though as his mecha, and others that come online as others in his class are brought into the fold, are orchestrated by a slightly older person named Soshi who works the advanced technology of the island to help them with strategy. He’s a middle ground between the students and the adults, but he has his own agenda as well.

As the series progresses, it has a lot to balance while slowly doling out the background information. While we have a good ensemble cast overall, it’s complicated since the kids aren’t really the children of their parents (it does make sense) and there’s double agents within their midst on that side as well when it comes to the Neo-U.N. as they’re doing what they can to try and save humanity. The kids side of it is presented well enough since they’re thrust into things and doing their best to survive and do what they can to push back against the Festum and protect their friends and family. We never really get to know a lot of details about them, it’s all pretty superficial when it comes to these kids, but we see the varied interests they have and the show has no problem killing some of them off along the way in order to make a point. Yet it doesn’t feel gratuitous and each kid does have their own personality. If they had another thirteen episodes I could see them spending more time on most of them individually to provide the background that would strengthen the connections. Not having that does weaken things a little bit, but not detrimentally so.

Where the show has its real problems is that when it comes to the overall design of the world at this stage, the Festum themselves and the Neo-U.N., it never really comes together well. You can piece parts of it along the way and your imagination fills in some of the gaps, but there are some decidedly big gaps to be had out there as well. The general idea is good, but I wanted to see more of how things actually happened, even in brief, and there needed to be more clarity about the whole Arcadian Project and what it really tried to do when the adults were younger. The series also suffers from the Evangelion effect in that it wants to deal with weighty philosophical matters but it doesn’t know how to convey them well. They feel more like trappings than the actual meat of things, which reduces its effectiveness as events shift more and more towards humanity and Festum trying to understand each other.

In Summary:
Problematic as I do find the show in a lot of ways, there’s also a good deal of appeal. Fafner is constantly moving but knows when to slow things down without doing it in overkill. We get some mild beach time and even some bathhouse time, but it’s not overly forced and is just a few minutes each as opposed to the sole focus of an episode. It wants to give us serious characters and inserts some mild humor where appropriate so that it’s not a complete buzzkill. And there’s always something to be said for original series in general as well as ones that will put the kids in danger and have some of them not survive. It’s not quite as natural as I’d like here, again coming back to that lack of real background on most of them, but it does make it clear that not everyone will make it to the end of the series. Fafner is definitely a fun show if you can disconnect certain parts of it, or perhaps they work better for others than for me, but it’s not an out of the park hit, either content wise or with the visual transfer here.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Making of Fafner, Promotional Videos, DVD Commercials, Textless Openings, Textless Closings

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: September 18th, 2012
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC SD Remaster
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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