Today we aim for Shangri-La by watching Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth, the sequel movie to Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor. It starts some time after the events of the TV series using the same cast to carry the story. From there, we launch into a giant mecha action film.
Proving that nothing is ever predictable, this movie was released nearly six years (December 2010) after the conclusion of Fafner in the Azure's anime series. Not only that, but there is also a new Fafner in the Azure series on its way for Fall 2014, which I will be watching when it comes out. If you're keeping count, that means that the sequel TV series will be airing ten years after the original series. That's actually quite a leap in my opinion.
Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor ended on something of a bittersweet note, so this movie follows in its footsteps by dealing with some of the backlash of the past. The teenagers are still piloting the Fafners to defend their little island paradise from both the New U.N. and the Festum. Much like this TV series, the movie is an ensemble cast of the original Fafner pilots with an emphasis on Kazuki.
While it is brief, this movie does manage to capture some of the same subtext about kids and warfare that the original series did. There are new Fafner pilots in addition to the changed Fafner pilots of the TV series. It is a not-so-subtle but effective way to illustrate how the original Fafner pilots have become very different from their time at the beginning of the series. They kill with little remorse and seem like they have been desensitized to the violence around them.
It's a very stark contrast really.
Even worse, the ramifications of Kazuki's condition following the TV series are explored in depth. He is a living testament to how piloting the Fafners will invariably kill these pilots eventually. The subtext there coupled with the already largely changed mental states of all of them manages to carry on the TV series' complex message about the young pilots and the warfare around them.
On the brighter side of things, the characters are back and better than ever. Everyone has had a animation upgrade and the movie doesn't alter their personalities much at all actually. The characters are still (relatively) the same people they were at the end of the TV series.
The biggest thing that Fafner: Heaven and Earth has going for it is the animation. The original Fafner noticeably could suffer from the lack of animation technology when it was released. The fights were few and far between and those that we had were sometimes stiffly animated. Even the characters could suffer from it at times.
Time (and budgets) have clearly caught up with Fafner's animation demands and everything has improved. There's a crisp vividness to the whole movie that surpasses even the best animation from the series by miles. The Festum are now generated with CG, which actually was probably a good idea. They looked kind of weird when they were traditionally animated (although one can argue that there's an uncanny valley here with the CG).
To that end, the action scenes have improved too. They were very well done and were well animated to boot. It really highlights just how little we actually saw the Fafners in total warfare during the series.
Generally speaking, everything about the animation has improved dramatically. From the characters to the Fafners to the Festum - it is all better.
The entire movie is one humongous example of the reset button trope. While the TV series ended and implied that the worst was over for humanity, the movie goes back on that and sorta changes the game a bit. The Festum are still here, the New U.N. is actually still effective enough to be a disruption to, well, everything, and the Fafner pilots still have to defend the island against both. By the end of the movie, even more has been conveniently reset.
Speaking of, the movie really starts drowning a bit in its redefining of the Festum. At the end of the series it was hinted that the Festum were managing to forge individuality amongst themselves. In this movie it seems like there is far less individuality going on and a more hierarchical system has taken hold. It isn't entirely explained and it seems like it runs a bit contrary to the things that the series had hinted at.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn't really dig deep anywhere else either. It focuses a ton on the action and on rebooting the franchise and not nearly enough digging deeper into the juicy subtext surrounding the Fafner pilots (especially Kazuki). In doing so, things are a bit unexplained or seem excessively convenient.
Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth's production team clearly went into this movie with an agenda. What was that agenda you ask?
"We want to make a new Fafner series".
The movie seems geared toward drumming up interest in the series again with explosive action, updated visuals, and reintroducing the original series' conflict. I don't consider this a bad thing, but it gives you an abruptly clear idea of what to expect from the movie. It's setting the stage for the sequel series that they were clearly planning from the moment this movie's script was being written.
The action of the movie is excellent and the whole thing feels very much like an epic episode of Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor, but it lacks the same narrative depth of the series before it. You can expect that from a movie like this though, at least I did.
This is best for someone that saw the original Fafner series and plans on seeing the sequel series that will be premiering in Fall 2014 (this year). New viewers will be be lost and they won't understand most of what is happening. Conversely, veterans of the series that saw the original but will be avoiding the sequel series had best leave this alone too. It resets most of the events of the TV series in preparation for the sequel series.
Overall, I don't regret watching it since I'll be one of the ones watching the sequel later this year. It was a solid action film with some good callbacks to the original series. That's about all there is to it though.
You can watch Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth on Hulu.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein.
5 Centimeters per Second, Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne, or Evangelion 3.0 next.
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.