In Search Of… Fafner in the Azure

Good morning and welcome to a New Year to all of you wonderful people out there in the Otakusphere. It is once more time to talk about my continuing journey In Search Of… my next favorite anime.

I’m still impressed by my cleverness.

So what is this feature? Well, people have been regularly submitting anime for me to watch. Most of them are shows I haven’t seen. Some are shows that I just forgot to include on my MAL account. Either way, I watch them and say what I think. If you want to submit a title, you can do that on this Google form.

This recommendation comes from the undeniable LitaKino, she of Sailor Moon decorations and a healthy love of mecha shows. She is willing to give anything a go, and her enthusiasm is infectious. One of the shows she champions is the one that we’ll be talking about today — Fafner.

Until now, Fafner has been a blind spot in my mecha experience. I’ve always thought of it as coming on the tail end of the movement that included Evangelion, RahXephon, Argentosoma, and other mecha shows that blended the “grit” of real robot shows with the epic nature of super robot shows. I don’t know if that is accurate; it is how I’ve felt.

The only thing I knew about it before going in was that it had mixed reviews when it came out, but the general opinion of the show has come around to be medium-positive.

So what is Fafner?

Fafner, which has the full title Fafner in the Azure – Dead Aggressor, is a 2004 anime directed by Nobuyoshi Habara (also known as Mamoru Konoe), according to ANN. Just glancing through this guy’s history, he’s been a part of many titles, including AMAIM. Most of them are tied to the studio XEBEC. I don’t see a story director, but the two scriptwriters are Kazuki Yamanobe (who did the first 15 episodes) and Tow Ubukata (who did episodes 12-25.)

Typically, I’d give you a little bit about the plot and setting here, but I’m going to save that for now.

(Is that foreshadowing? Maybe?)

So why is Lita recommending it? Well, I’ll let her tell you.

“Fafner has some of the best sci-fi and mecha elements I’ve seen honed together so well. One of the series traits that is similar throughout the mecha genre itself of young adults piloting giant robots and has psychological effects ends up being tragic. … Fate deals a mass blow to their life and a constant ripple effect throughout the show. Also, the alien race element is explored in an interesting way, unlike other mechas I’ve seen. Things get a bit complex during this part but so intriguing.”

So let’s get to it.

Fafner is Bad

Look. I’m just going to rip this Band-Aid off. This show may just be the worst anime I’ve ever finished. It’s undoubtedly the worst I’ve completed in the past 10 years. 

There is no reason human beings should watch this. It is a complete and utter failure of storytelling on such a fundamental level that I can’t understand why anyone would make it, let alone like it. This show isn’t worth the plastic that they printed the DVDs on. 

I almost didn’t finish it the first time I tried watching it. I got to episode 6 and stopped. I only completed it because I started watching the shows as a replacement for #anitwitwatches. 

I don’t even hate it because hating it would require me to actually care about anything that happens. I just hate that I wasted time thinking about why this show is so awful. 

There. I got that off of my chest. I don’t want to dislike this show. Anyone who has followed this blog for any time knows it’s generally my policy to like things. And if I can’t like it, then at least find something I can enjoy. 

And there is a contingent of people who enjoy this show. The median scores on both ANN and MAL are in the 7 range. So more people like it than dislike it. Hell, Lita loves this show. 

In all honesty, Lita is not wrong; this is precisely the type of show that should appeal to me. So I feel compelled to explain why I don’t. Otherwise, I’ll be cursed to carry this weight for the rest of my life.

So let’s get to it. How exactly does Fafner fail? 

The Power of Exposition

People often criticize exposition in storytelling. There is an old saw about one experienced person going to another experienced person and saying, “As you know…” right before launching into a lengthy explanation solely for the audience’s benefit. 

And don’t get me wrong, this is clumsy. 

But without some explanation, the audience can quickly become lost and disinterested. This is especially true in science fiction and fantasy, where the “rules” of the world are essential for the audience. The setting itself plays a role in shaping the characters and guiding their decisions. 

For example, imagine watching Full Metal Alchemist without knowing anything about the “Law of Equivalent Exchange.” Or how about watching Evangelion and not understanding the “Second Impact?” 

The explanation can be brief. For instance, all we know about the Second Impact is that it was a global catastrophe that happened when Adam was discovered (I think.) All we need to understand about the Law of Equivalent Exchange is that the same amount of material needs to be put into the transmutation as what is coming out of it. 

At its heart, Fafner is a thought experiment: What would happen if the writers didn’t tell the audience anything directly? Instead, they force the audience to rely on context clues. 

As a thought experiment, it is interesting because it lets me see just how necessary exposition is. 

I’ve watched 26 episodes of the show. I watched the show relatively close, so I could make Twitter posts. And even after that, I can only give you a basic idea of what is happening. So here it goes. 

Sometime in the past, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, an alien race named The Festum came to Earth. Japanese people messed with something that was carrying them and ended up causing Japan to get destroyed and the remaining people to not be able to reproduce naturally. 

The remnants of the Japanese people moved onto artificial islands and started making robots. Our story begins on one of those artificial islands.

None of this is explained in the first 14 EPISODES of the show. Imagine going 14 episodes into FMA without knowing what the Law of Equivalent Exchange is? Now imagine the show expecting you to understand it. 

Even better, everyone in the show speaks in code. Characters will say things like “Solomon,” “Festum,” “Sphinx-type” or “Arcadian Project” without any explanation about what they’re talking about. 

What is worse is that there is no excuse for this behavior. Theoretically, the children need to learn what is going on. Their teachers should explain it to them and, by extension, the audience. This doesn’t happen. 

I can only imagine that the creators thought it would add realism by skipping the exposition. But the only thing it accomplishes is making the show confusing and removing any weight. 

For example, later, we learn that the island is part of a project designed to help humans communicate with the Festum. This would be a wonderful reveal if it were built up. The show could have revealed the other characters that didn’t want it. We could have seen the philosophical debate. But instead, it’s just dropped without any context. 

Throughout the show, I kept checking to ensure that it was only 26 episodes long and that I didn’t skip a hidden first season. But I didn’t. 

This foundational problem bleeds into the second and probably more important issue. 

Muted Conflict

One of the things exposition can do is provide background about characters. For example, I was watching the first episode of RahXephon recently, and Asahina tells Ayato, “You’ve been drawing pretty girls.” 

This one line tells us that Ayato draws. It tells us that he has been drawing one (or many) girls. 

This kind of basic information is completely lacking from any of the character interactions. For example, when we first see the main character Kazuki, he’s having a fistfight with another character. 

We never learn anything more about the fight or why it mattered. No one else mentions it. It’s just an unexplained piece of conflict that doesn’t matter. 

Even more, it’s never backed up by anything later in the show. None of his other interactions are particularly aggressive. 

Here’s another example: Kazuki gives his father a dirty look, but we never know why. 

Later, we are presented with another conflict between Kazuki and Soushi when they were kids. This time Soushi is growing crystals out of his hand, which is a sign of the Festum. It has a bloody ending, but the reaction is very muted.

If that didn’t make any sense to you. Well, it didn’t make any sense to me, either. 

These interactions are meaningless without exposition. They don’t have any weight. I don’t know why I should care. 

The worst of all these interactions is in episode 6 when one of the teens, a girl named Shoko, dies. (This is your spoiler warning. I don’t care. You can’t spoil an awful show.)

The show has six episodes to build up Shoko. Here’s what we know about her before she gets sent off to fridge land. She has been sick for a long time. She has a crush on Kazuki. She seems pretty meek.

That’s it. That’s her entire character. 

Here’s what we could know. Why is Shoko sick? How has her sickness impacted her ability to make friends? How did she develop a crush on Kazuki? Why did she become infatuated with Kazuki? 

Any of this information would make her eventual death feel like it meant something. 

Instead, it feels like just another panel on a storyboard — empty, vapid and dumb.   

I can do this for all of the characters. We don’t know their wants, goals, or fears. And those brief moments when we get some insight feel disconnected because they’re not paying off anything, and we don’t know the stakes.

We finally get one payoff to a character conflict that was abruptly cut short, but even that is not enough to do more than help elevate a handful of episodes. 

The entire cast is mostly a bunch of emotionally stunted puppets wandering around a futuristic island base while occasional sad music plays. And I just don’t care. 

The show doesn’t give me any reason to want to see them succeed or fail. They don’t have any personalities. Mostly, they’re one or two character traits that sometimes pilot giant robots. 

There is no excuse for this. 

Are you still there? 

OK. I’m done. I got through talking about Fafner with a minimal amount of hyperbole. 

There are moments of Fafner that are fine. There are moments of giant robot action that the animators and storyboarders handle well. And while the mecha designs aren’t particularly great, they aren’t bad either. 

The music is good, and the opening is stellar. 

But that is where anything good about the show ends, and none of those things make the show worth watching. Fafner is a show better consigned to the dustbin of history. 

So from here in the hinterlands, this is iniksbane saying, “I’m still here.”

I’ve already started watching the next show, Infinite Ryvius, which is already better than Fafner. You can check out my thoughts about the show every Monday on Twitter. 

And, if there is a show I should watch that I don’t have marked on my My Anime List, please fill out this form and tell me about it.

Please. Pretty please.

And, as always, thanks for reading.


3 thoughts on “In Search Of… Fafner in the Azure

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