I found out about Soukyuu no Fafner quite some time ago, actually it was 8 or so years ago when i was looking for something similar to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even though i heard many good things about the show, the stigma of being a very "shounen ai" anime kept me from watching it. With the airing of last years second season i decided to finally give this mecha classic a shot.
The story about angsty teenagers piloting giant mechs against an alien invasion of so called Festums doesn`t deserve any awards for creativity, though i have to admit that the show throws a multitude of themes into the mix that were really interesting. The theme of young people being thrown out off their ordinary lifes, facing the grim reality of a war for survival, was very well executed and one of the strong points of Fafners narrative. Not only is the loss of innocence strongly emphasized in some of the shows calmer moments with the reocurring metaphor of changing into something else while piloting the fafners but also portrayed in the opening with childhood pictures of the protagonists. What sets Fafner apart from shows like Evangelion though is the stronger emphasize on the theme of family. Seeing how their parents struggle with the decision to send their children off, basically beíng child soldiers was one of the strong points of the first half.
Sadly the shows focus drastically changes towards a pseudo philosophical approach to themes like existentialism, the meaning of life and the concept of understanding each other. Even though these themes aren`t uninteresting on their own, quite the contrary, they just feel not well executed at all to the point where the show starts to feel unnecessarily convoluted, even pretentious. There are many other shows (other than NGE) that dealt with these kind of themes in a much more cohesive and elaborate way (Rahxephon, Serial Experiments Lain, Zegapain).
The story itself though, as earlier mentioned, is nothing special, to the degree of being quite bland if not for the convoluted mass of (never explained) terminology it throws at you. It`s as if the writers try to cover up their lack of creativity with pretentious terms and convoluted concepts. That may sound quite harsh but despite the beforementioned themes the story in itself wasn`t more then mediocre.
If you are looking for heartshattering drama though, this show will not let you down. Without spoiling anything, Fafners reputation of being one of the most saddening anime is quite earned. Just be prepared for melodramatic death scenes... You know, the good stuff.^^
For death scenes to have any meaning the show of cause must provide characters that you can empathize with and Fafner, for the most part, delivers. Actually i would say this is the shows biggest strength, though also its biggest flaw. Let me explain: Almost all the side characters (and there are many of them) are not only characterized perfectly, with their own physical, psychological or emotional burdens to carry, but also go through some drastic character developement. This of cause ties in to the beforementioned themes of the loss of innocence and familiar bonds, as the show spends quite some time on how the characters live with and relate to their respective families. That of cause makes some of the dramatic deaths even more intense for the viewer as you really feel the loss those people must experience at that moment. Needless to say, i can only give highest praise for that accomplishment.
But as great the side characters are, the main character did in no way resonate with me. This may be because of his quite "shounen ai relationship" with Soushi (even though a romantical relationship is never directly stated or even "physical", the show makes it quite clear that Kazuki shares a very "special" relationship with Soushi). Without insulting fans of the shounen ai genre, i have to say that this was very alienating for me, to the degree that i couldn`t relate to Kazuki at all. The problem is: He came off very unsympathetic because he was very distant to most other characters beside Soushi, even to his close friend Maya, who clearly had feelings for him. Well, nonetheless, i am quite aware that this is extremely subjective as fans of shounen ai would definitely like his relationship with Soushi. For me though it was hard to relate to Kazuki.
In the art and animation department studio Xebec did a wonderfull job in bringing the beautiful landscapes of Tatsumiyajima island to life. That is especially true to the very detailed and vibrant scenic backgrounds. The animation itself was also really good for its time even though i have to say that the mecha fights weren`t the main attraction here. I didn`t expect the mecha-battle animation to be on par with something studio sunrise could pull off, but at times i felt that the mech fights were really boring and uninspired. The character animation though was really good. Yes, Hisashi Hirai`s character designs are a hit or miss, but i feel that they felt much more distinct in Fafner than in let`s say Gundam Seed. It also helps that there are some really creativ character animation sequences to underline certain chracter driven moments.
The soundtrack was also amazing, even though there were some tracks that were more than inspred by NGEs OST. Interesting enough it was recorded by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra. I also have to mention the amazing opening and ending themes by japanese artist angela.
All in all i have to say Soukyuu no Fafner was an interesting experience to me, even though it had its flaws in the story and character cathegories. On one hand the story was quit simple and uncreative if not for the needlessly convoluted pseudophilosophical approaches, on the other hand certain social themes like loss of innocence, familiar bonds and how to live a peacefull life in a world under constant attack were mor than interesting. The shounen ai approach to the main character will certainly leave a sour taste for some viewers, but i think the excelent side characters mak up for it.
Not to forget the intense, heartshattering drama, for what the show is known for.
I`d say, if you`re a mecha fan you should definitely watch this show.