What do Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, Robotech, and Big O have in common? They share the love and fascination over giant, mechanized robots. I mean, who doesn’t get a kick out of watching two hulking machines battle it out while destroying everything in their path? Fafner settles into the genre easily at the expense of feeling a little too familiar. After the destruction of Japan, a small island holds a small collective of humanity as they attempt to survive the mysterious beings called Festum who appear without warning and are merciless in their quest to assimilate all life. The island possesses the technological capability to render itself invisible and move itself about, but, after those lines of defense are breached, the island’s leaders let loose the Fafner, a mechanized robot piloted by the teen-aged Kazuki Makabe (after its original pilot is killed). After the first Festum is destroyed and the Fafner judged a successful combat tool, additional units are developed and the island’s children are taken from their homes to be trained to pilot them.
While watching Fafner, I was struck with the feeling that I’ve seen all this before. The idea of using teens as pilots, nearly-indestructible creatures antagonising a group of humans, giant combat machines that are hooked into the pilot’s body, even the sequence showing off the island’s defense system of massive steel walls instilled a feeling of deja vu. In my mind, the show lifts many of its ideas and plot points from Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the more famous (and infamous) giant mecha anime series. Thankfully, the tone of Fafner is considerably less dark and more mainstream. Kazuki is far more confident than Shinji Ikari and the supporting cast does not have as many psychological problems as Evangelion’s. There’s also an antagonistic human organization that desires the island’s cloaking field in order to develop stronger weapons, which makes for some nice tension between two different philosophies. Despite the presence of thematic similarities between a similar series, in the end, Fafner can stand on its own merits.
Apart from a number of exciting giant robot-on-giant monster action, there really isn’t much to Fafner. It is a serviceable addition to an already popular subgenre. For those who are not quite ready to tackle the heavy and mind bending narrative of Evangelion, Fafner is a great gateway anime, as it is considerably more approachable and mainstream.
Fafner: the complete series
directed by Nobuyoshi Habara
650 minutes, Number of Discs: 7
Company Age Rating: 14