(26 episodes, 2004-2005)
My previous exposure
Suggested in this thread.
What’s it about ?
Random young children all of the same age have pulled a disappearing act, suddenly turning albino and deciding to wear creepy dark cloaks. And it’s not the first time this happened, as similar disappearances happened every few decades for several centuries… and the children always look the same. Detective Cooks, officially in charge of investigating one of them (but really following up on his journalist grandfather’s investigations a century ago), follows their trace and discovers a mysterious government conspiracy that has figured out the kids are periodically reincarnating themselves, and is now trying to reproduce their death-defying technology. Said conspiracy is of course headed by yet another albino young man…
Meanwhile, the purported protagonist of the series, an athletic boy called Thoma, helps a young girl named Helga escape from her orphanage, and they loiter around on an island for a while. The link between this and the main plot is that the “fantastic children” are looking for Helga (actually another reincarnating-through-the-ages person), but they do such a crap job of it that it takes half the series for both threads to rejoin together.
And then we get the actual explanation for all this : all the reincarnating people are actually aliens, with the “fantastic children” being a team of scientists who sent the princess into Earth’s afterlife in a bid to save her after an assassination attempt, and are now trying to get her back to their princess. The albino dude masterminding the government conspiracy really works with the alien king’s evil brother. And so on.
What did I think of it ?
Oh, dear. How did this series manage to go so horribly wrong ?
Actually, no, I don’t think it went wrong. The problems are so deeply ingrained into the plot that it must have been planned that way from the start. Which boggles the mind, but it happens.
Let’s start with the positive : it’s a gorgeous series, with some spectacular work on the settings and very fluid animation. There are also nuggets of fascinating characterization for the “fantastic children”, struggling between the memories of their century-long mission and their latest upbringing as normal children. (Although having them fight actual monsters from the afterlife whenever their resolution falters is a bit too heavy-handed a metaphor.)
But whatever ambiguity the series had managed to build up in its first few episodes is destroyed by the reveal of the very simplistic backstory (to say nothing of the suspension-of-disbelief-killing decision to make Helga a bomb for the main bad guy to fight over). This is a very black-and-white series (in the sense that it has irredeemable bad guys, and good guys making obviously-wrong decisions that come back to bite their ass later). You’d think the taboo scientific field of exploring the afterlife would provide interesting conflict, but it quickly becomes an afterthought, a plot device for people to fight over (or whine that they should never have become involved in it).
The confused structure of the first half of the series exemplifies what’s wrong with it. Thoma, our supposed protagonist, gets into wacky hijinks with the orphanage escape that seem transplanted from a much more carefree story, and are frankly quite boring. The “fantastic children” do nothing besides running around ineffectively (and it quickly becomes obvious that they’ve been doing so for centuries). Detective Cooks’s thread is by far the more interesting, but it’s mostly a vehicle for exposition and just stops abruptly at the mid-series mark (his few token scenes after it just emphasize how irrelevant he’s become).
Darn, the premise sounded really interesting, but this show clearly had a completely different (and much more boring) story to tell. Too bad.