Following in the footsteps of anime greats Neon Genesis Evangelion and Rahxephon, Fafner borrows heavily from its peers but still manages to cobble together an interesting story of its own. Instantly fans of the aforementioned tales will recognize some key similiarities present in Fafner's plotline, but those similarities can actually help ease viewers into a more comfortable level of understanding. We've seen strange plots before when little explanation is offered from the start. Having accepted that, we can sink our minds into the offerings with ease.
Fafner tells the tale of Kazuki, a spunky teenager growing up on an island paradise. He lives a fairly care free lifestyle, surrounded by plenty of friends who also enjoy basking in the tropical splendor they call home. But that sense of serenity is one day shattered by the arrival of a mysterious golden being called a Festum. The Festum, much like the Angels of Evangelion, are bent on attacking Kazuki's island for reasons that have yet to be fully explained, but nevertheless the attacks are ruthless. During the assault, the island itself is revealed to be more than simply the idyllic paradise the children have grown to love, as buildings erupt from the ground, gun batteries rise from the forests, and even the concrete docks reveal missle turrets aimed at the alien attacker. The adults of the island are actually members of a secret organization known as Alvis, and beneath the placid facade of island life there exists a vast underground stronghold built, presumeably, to fend off the Festum. In the heat of battle Kazuki is called upon by his friend Soshi to pilot the one weapon capable of battling the Festum on equal terms: the Fafner Mark Elf. Once in the cockpit of this hight-tech marvel, Kazuki soon begins his journey, beset by the enemy as well as the discovery that all he believed to be reality has been nothing but a lie.
On the surface, Fafner carries all the of elements of a giant robot show. But it remains unique in much the way Rahxephon and Evangelion did, in that the conflict is seen through the eyes of the story's protagonist. We the viewers really know only as much as Kazuki does, and really we only learn the truth as it becomes apparent to him. As a result the story can certainly be a bit confusing from the start, especially when there is such a large and plentiful cast of characters introduced in very short order. Putting names to faces is essential early on in a story like this one, which is a little difficult when the children AND their parents are placed before us as characters to watch. But once this hurdle is cleared, the viewer can focus mostly on the hero and what comes his way. Kazuki himself is an interesting protagonist in that he defies the traditional stereotype that usually appears in shows like this. Rather than whining about being incapable of piloting the robot and risking his life for others (something Shinji Ikari did in nearly every episode of Evangelion), Kazuki gets with the program almost instantly. What little apprehension he shows vanishes once Soshi reassures him that he is not fighting alone. Even the pain of his first battle is not enough to stop his immediate resolve to protect the island he has called home for so long. This willingness on Kazuki's part makes him a more appealing hero. At the moment he is not clouded by angst, though he still seems to have a little trouble following orders. And it wouldn't hurt him if he asked just a few more questions from time to time.
The animation of Fafner is rich and vibrant. The colors are deep and from the start it has the feel of a well produced anime that holds much promise. The quality of the animation does slide a little once the series gets going, but not enough to be distracting. There is plenty of computer rendered imaging to be found as well, whether it be in the Festum themselves or the intricate displays adorning the Alvis command center. Character designs should feel familiar to fans of Gundam SEED and its sequel SEED Destiny. In fact, Kazuki bears a resemblence to SEED's Athrun Zala, crossed with the eagerness of SEED Destiny's Shinn Asuka. While the Festum look like something out of Rahxephon, the Fafner is an interesting mecha. Its design resembles the Labors of Patlabor, something more functional and industrial than outright fantastic, with a lot of blocky planes and a fairly ordinary color scheme. However, there is clearly more to this machine than meets the eye, as will undoubtedly be revealed in coming episodes.
Combine all of these elements with a stirring soundtrack performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic, and you have a recipe for an intriguing viewing experience.
Volume One contains episodes 1-4 of the series, but these 4 are time well spent. They offer a good taste of the things to come, should the viewer be inclined to follow. The mysteries of the island are vast and the threat of the Festum just as perplexing. Fans of mecha series brimming with mystery, conspiracy, and action should consider suiting up and taking a ride with Fafner.