With teen mecha pilots, huge glowing celestial enemies and poly-mythological naming conventions with a leaning toward the Norse and the sturm und drang of Wagner’s Ring cycle, Fafner doesn’t so much wear its influences on its sleeve as tailor a whole leisure suit out of them.
What Fafner may lack in concept originality, it certainly makes up for with intrigue. The first volume works hard to set up an array of mysteries that pretty much indicate there aren’t one or even two lies being perpetrated on our oblivious teenagers, instead everything has been fabricated. This makes Fafner a nice contrast to a lot of anime that is happy to open with meandering, episodic adventures where one wonders if the characters conspiratorially agreed to ignore any cues that might lead to a plot developing.
With so many mysteries and such a large cast to introduce, the first four episodes race along. Fafner successfully drip feeds the viewer just enough information to keep them coming back for more while at the same time introducing new mysteries. Unfortunately with so much blocking in to be done, characterization is the first to suffer. The teens come off a fairly non-descript lot and I’m struggling to recall personalities beyond ‘the hunky one’, ‘the sick one’ and ‘the one who likes manga’.
Art-wise, Fafner is one level of detail below that found in productions by the top shelf houses like Studio I.G. or Gonzo, which goes to show how spoilt we are in the West. Characters are nicely differentiated with the teenagers distinguished by what appears to be the mass migration of their eyelashes to their cheeks. Mecha designs are okay, but are not going to have you rushing to line them up across the top of your PC. On the other hand, the students’ uniforms have a sweet, retro-Macross vibe with red cravats that make me think of Rick Hunter (and cause me to go all fuzzy and twelve years old on the inside).
The shadow of Evangelion certainly looms over Fafner, which makes it hard for the series to reveal its own identity. And Fafner certainly hints that there are plenty more revelations in the offing. Indeed, it suggests that it is not going to play safe and keep within the lines – (a team photo of the trainee pilots is a sure fire indicator that the Christmas list is about to get shorter).
If Evangelion left you wanting more and you prefer your teenage mecha crises to be less of the existential, and more of the literal, variety, then Fafner is a thoroughly entertaining distraction.