At first glance, this looks like some weird story about kids, targeted at kids. But don't be fooled by the simple character design or the title. This series is actually quite intense, with a memorable and complex plot and good storytelling that will draw older viewers waiting with bated breath for what happens next. It is definitely not a series just for children.
The story revolves around a group of mysterious children who appear every once in a while throughout Europe. Who are they, where are they from, and why do they keep on reappearing? These are some of the questions that are being answered bit by bit throughout the series. At the same time, the story also follows another group of children who have run away from the local orphanage, and are searching for a place they want to go. At first, it seems that these two main plots have nothing to do with each other, but at the middle of the series, the two plots converge, and the viewer discovers that they are closely connected after all.
There are also a couple of sidestories with a few adults involving something almost supernatural. Although these sidestories seem off-track, they are related to the main plot in one way or another, and are tied together in the last few episodes.
The plot is fairly complex and quite involved, but not to a point where it's confusing. The story is told in a way that it's pretty understandable if you pay attention to it. The story is full of surprises, twists, and secrets that will keep the viewer guessing and wondering what happens next.
The tone of the series is mostly serious. But there is room for some bits of humour and lighthearted fun. There are also a few philosophical questions subtlely being looked at, such as what makes us who we are as humans, is it our souls or our current selves? In terms of love, there are many types being explored: romantic, family, friendships, unrequited, and broken.
Even though it doesn't look like it at first, each character is connected to one another in one way or another, and that connection is revealed piece by piece throughout the series.
The Children of Belfort: This is the name given to seven mysterious white-haired, blue-eyed children who have appeared for 21 times in the last couple of centuries. They'd gather and run away from their homes when they turn 5, and never live past the age of 11. They search desperately for something before their time is up. The way they talk and act make them more like adults than children. At first, they seem cold and distant, and even perhaps malevonant. But as their stories and pasts are revealed, the viewer comes to feel compassion for them, and their mission. Each person has their own stories and own unique personalities that will touch the viewers' hearts.
Dumas: The mysterious white-haired boy who appears a few times at the beginning of the series. Appearance-wise, he seems to be one of the Children of Belfort, but he doesn't seem to be working with them. Who he is and his background story will be revealed later in the series.
Helga: She is an orphan who is kind, but seems to be always lonely. She keeps on drawing pictures of a mysterious place that she wants to go, and she would run away from the orphanage to search for the place in her memory. Her friend Chitto is determined to help her get there. At first she seems meek and timid and always in a daze, but as the series progresses, her inner strength is slowly unveiled.
Thoma: He grew up around the Islands, and knows them well. He meets Chitto and Helga by chance, and is drawn to help Helga get to the place she wants to go. He is a determined young boy who is open and shows emotions easily. Little does he know, he's more closely connected to the Children of Belfort and Helga than he realises.
Dr. Gherta: She is the director and doctor of the mysterious and suspicious organization Ged Group. A brilliant scientist, she's somewhat single-minded and almost obsessive with her project, which, for most of the series, is unclear and even almost malicious. But the viewer gradually sympathizes with her plight, especially towards the end when she has a few secrets of her own to unravel.
Detective Cooks: A detective who has been investigating the disappearance of these children, he got interested in them because his grandfather was involved with the children during his lifetime, and Cooks became curious of his grandfather's findings. As more of a spectator, his sidestory gives the viewer some background information and history to the Children of Belfort.
All of the characters are pretty human, and although they main characters are only children, the circumstances that they're involved in and how they react make them seem older, and thus even an older audience can relate to them. By the end of the series, the viewer is able to sympathize with all of the characters, even if at first they may seem unlikable or malicious.
The character design and art style is certainly unique, though not the prettiest; in fact, the designs could be said to be boring and quite simple. The children are designed more or less short and a bit stubby, and not a lot of details is given in the eye or hair area. The clothing design is also a bit boring, though it has a country-style flavour to it. However, the expressions for the characters are mostly well-done.
The background art is very beautiful, with lots of lush forests and unexplored islands. The setting has a sort of semi-tropical or Central/South American feel to it (the ruins of temples and statues remind me of the Aztec or Mayan ruins, but also has a sort of exotic island feel), or maybe with a dash of exotic Asian feeling too (with some of the statues looking a bit like Buddhist statues, and the colourful and busy marketplace of Middle East). The cities though, take on a more 19th century European flavour (even though the story is set in 2012), with cobble-stone streets and stocky buildings.
In general, the art is just different, and may take some getting used to. Instead of following the latest trend of shiny backgrounds, brightly coloured and detailed character designs, this series is going against the grain by looking back to the style of the older animes. The general colour palette of the series is kind of dark, with mostly grays and greens and blues, with a lot of scenes taking place during storms or at night; it's not neccessarily drab, but it's certainly not brightly coloured. There are a few exceptions with the scenes taking place in the forest on the islands, where the colours are contrasted sharply with the darker scences, using lots of bright greens and yellows. But I think this lack of shiny backgrounds and special effects, and simple character design does add to the sadness and longing feeling of the story. And rather focusing on the character designs (and fanservice), the simple art makes the viewer able to pay more attention to the story and character development.
The voices for this series is okay. It doesn't really stand out anywhere, but it is mostly ear-pleasing and suitable for the characters. And most of the actors do a good enough job bringing out the emotions, especially towards the end, the viewers can almost feel the characters sorrow or joy.
The music is one of the strengths of this series. The opening song "Voyage" by Inori, is dramatic and uplifting, but also gentle and calming, a perfect opening for the series. It is also used as an insert song for one of the episodes, but with a slightly different arrangement, it's slower, with piano and cello in the background, and adds a sense of sadness to the scene. The ending song, "Mizu no Madoromi" by ORIGA (who sang both of GiTS openings) is sad and nostalgic, as if longing for something, and very fitting to the theme of the series. I would definately recommend getting the opening and ending singles (it's one of the best I've heard).
The background music uses a combination of piano, cello, and a bit of flute. The theme for the Belfort Children is very memorable (with piano and cello), and a bit sad, like the fate of these children. The only downside is that this theme is a bit overused, being played in almost every episode. Helga's theme (which is mostly flute and cello) is also gentle and pretty, and suits her character well. The background music is mostly soft and sad, with a few upbeat songs for the tenser scenes. It uses raw traditional instrumental sounds rather then edited sound effects, which works well. And I'd recommend getting the OST "Memory of Greecia" as well.
The first half of the series takes place in the current world at the current time, mostly following the adventures of Helga, Thoma, and Chitto, as well as that of the Children of Belfort and the people around them. Then the next couple of episodes focus on the background story and history of the series. Then that last ten or so episodes brings the characters and sidestories from the beginning of the series and tie everything together.
The pace may seem a bit slow for those who are used to action right away and in every episode. Many of the episodes are used to tell the story and advance the plot, or explain the history and background rather than pure action. And because of the complex plot and how everything is weaved together, some parts of the plot may take some time to develop. But I found it interesting enough that it's not a boring explaination, and it does help to understand the plot much better. And worry not, there are plenty of action interspersed throughout. Personally, I find the pace okay, it's just that there's so much to take in and explain that it takes time. I find the plot to be interesting, and not too confusing to understand, and it did leave me wanting to know more after every episode. And in the end, all of the questions that I wanted to ask have been answered, so I find the ending to be satisfying.
Overall, it is an enjoyable series, and I'd recommend it. In fact, I think this series needs more love and attention.