Fafner in the Azure is a giant mecha series set in Earth's future chronicling the lives of the titular Fafner pilots. This could have been something really stupid and pointless, but what we actually got was a dark mecha series that opts to explore complex themes about life, acceptance, and understanding.
It's just a normal day for the people of Tatsumyajima island. The high schoolers are musing about life, how nice Japan must be, and other innocuous topics...
...until a giant flying golden creature proceeds to attack the island, which reveals that the island has an extensive defense network of guns and missiles. In order to stop the attack, Kazuki (our protagonist), is pushed to get into a Fafner, a giant mecha, to destroy the creature, triggering the start of a dark and introspective series.
In addition to the island being prepared for all-out war, we also learn that Japan has been destroyed, humanity is decimated, and the Festum (gold creatures) are taking no prisoners as they continue their attacks.
The plot of Fafner is a twisting journey that takes a lot of strange and complex turns. It's a story about loss, growing up, understanding, and (to be honest) a whole lot more. Generally speaking, it has a lot in common with its literary cousins RahXephon and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it sets itself apart by deconstructing the notion of child soldiers a bit differently than both of them, forging its own path entirely.
The theme song essentially makes reference to how the children are picked to go to this war and then their innocence is cut away before they were ever understood. This actually seems like a reasonable analogy for the whole series. Evangelion portrays Shinji as an emotionally damaged teenager who pilots the EVA, Fafner is opting to show us how plunging normal children into a war will change them into something they weren't. It makes for a great story when it gains the right narrative traction.
It would be amiss to not mention the designs of the show. Contextual note: the character designer for Fafner was also the character designer for Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny, which is basically apparent from the get go. The design style is extremely familiar for veterans of those Gundam shows. This probably explains why Shinn's long-lost cousin Kazuki is the star of this show.
That said, the characters are very well done and they channel the same design that I liked in Gundam SEED. The Fafners are actually quite impressive in their own right too. The designs of the Fafners seem to emphasize that they are not living beings like it's cousins RahXephon and Evangelion are. They are extremely mechanical looking. Even more so than Gundam 00, the Fafners seem designed for practical combat.
I really like the overall design scheme for the Fafners. The mechanical emphasis of the Fafners takes the industrialized look of the 00 Gundams to a new level. Compared to the Fafners, the 00 Gundams are still extremely flashy.
The plot leans heavily on the ongoing evolution of the cast, particularly the Fafner pilots. Luckily for us, it pulls it off marvelously. The Fafner pilots are an excellent driver for the themes of the series, helping us weave together a story about giant robots, friendship, and loss.
The pilots go through many trials in the series trying to understand who they are supposed to be. Are they pigs to the slaughter? Batteries for the Fafners? Normal kids? Killers?
I started to feel for these characters after a while. It took a few episodes for them to gain the necessary traction but then they managed to click. What we just witnessed was a whole bunch of children growing up to their harsh reality and coming out better because of it.
That said, it wasn't a fairy tale to get to the ending. Fafner is extremely dark at times. The writing is not afraid to take some chances in its mission; just because you're featured in the opening credits does not necessarily mean that you have plot armor. These characters usually have to go through hell to get to their character evolution.
In addition, we saw a complex look at the topic of child soldiers that probably gives Neon Genesis Evangelion a serious run for its money because it goes really deep into the topic: how it effects the pilots, the families, and any number of others.
Lastly, this is my undisputed favorite opening in history. There's something about the crescendo style that nailed it with me, especially from about 0:23 on. Couple that with the extremely appropriate metaphors in the lyrics and the metaphors hidden within the animation itself and we've got something really excellent here. It has meaning and it sounds good.
The big downside to Fafner is much the same as RahXephon's: the plot is difficult to follow. It's extremely complex, convoluted, and nearly impossible to entirely understand in your first viewing. Sometimes it even backslides so far that it becomes nonsensical and it seems like the characters are just spouting off gibberish. They front-load a bunch of information about some elements and then forget to even lampshade or explain certain elements.
The exact nature of what "the core" is or what the "mir" are is an apt example. It can get maddening to try to understand what all this information and symbolism is exactly trying to tell us.
In the same way, Fafner's pacing can be inconsistent. When the plot gets its traction and gets going, the show is amazing, but sometimes it goes a bit too slow for its own good.
In this same train of thought, there's a lot of characters in this show. There are so many pilots and family members in this show that it gets impossible to keep them all straight unless you pay close attention. As a result, the development and exposition on many characters is either underdone or it falls flat. The Fafner pilots get much of the development and it works, but the families can swing around a bit on the spectrum.
Fafner was a big surprise from Xebec. While it invokes a whole bunch of tropes from Gundam, RahXephon, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, it is also bold enough to blaze its own trail. It became a dark and sometimes cruel story about children piloting the titular Fafners.
There's a whole bunch of themes in this series ranging from simple ones like friendship and understanding to complex ones like loss and what exactly they are fighting for. The plot and characters take these themes and run with them marvelously.
That said, the series also suffers from an extremely complex plot and it has problems with explaining what some of its plot elements exactly mean. There's a whole ton of characters in this show that get varying degrees of development.
This best for someone that wants to see a dark mecha show that pointedly takes the emphasis off the mecha and puts it right on the pilots. How the pilots evolve and grow over the course of the series forms the primary storytelling element of Fafner. The plot is convoluted and occasionally under-explained, but it manages to tell the story of these pilots extremely well.
This is one of those series that I have no regrets about watching. I thought it was pretty great, although I would understand why some wouldn't agree on that point. It tells an intriguing tale that sets it apart from the other mecha series that I loved.
There is a sequel movie to Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor called Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth which I will be reviewing. There is also a new 26-episode sequel series in the Fafner universe that will be premiering in Fall 2014, I can't wait to review it.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein. The characters image was taken from here. The header is a promotional item.
Equal chance of Evangelion 3.0, Lagrange, Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth, and Beyond the Boundary next time.
This is part of Anime Marathon 2014, a continuation of Anime Marathon 2013 by popular demand. I'm on a mission to review every anime I can for the TAY community and anyone else that wants to read it. I can never guarantee when these reviews will be posted, but I'll do my best to keep it consistent.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner.