After a slow start to this series which held plenty of promise, the previous volume of Fantastic Children finally started to up the tempo, allowing the show to start living up to its potential. Now that it's gotten into the groove, can it keep things ticking along nicely in volume four?
After the shocking revelations made to Helga (or should we say Tina?) by the Children of Befort in the last volume, the first episode of this volume takes a trip back in time on a couple of fronts. On one hand, we learn more about Professor Gherta, and how she came to embark upon her current course of action, while on the other, a visit to some very old haunts brings back memories of just some of Helga's past lives as an artist and the like, all of which seem to be tinged with a rather hefty dose of sadness.
After this brief foray into the past of a couple of the characters, the series takes an entirely different turn for the remainder of this volume, as we find ourselves moved to the planet Greecia to be treated to the entire back story which led up to Princess Tina's transferral to Earth.
Unfortunately, these changes in both time and scenery disrupt the momentum that Fantastic Children had finally begun to build as a series, and tips the balance back to its former slow and plodding pace at times. In particular, the volumes opening episode is really rather ponderous, and while there are clearly some important points to link parts of the story together held within it you can’t help but feel there is also a fair amount of chaff which could have been cut from the wheaty goodness of the main plot.
The move to Greecia is a slightly more difficult progression to judge from this volume alone. The change in scenery makes for what is almost an entirely new anime, with a whole host of new characters aside from the handful we already know, and the story of how Princess Tina’s misfortune came to pass certainly has plenty of interesting (if slightly clichéd at times) twists and turns. In isolation, it's also actually a pretty decent storyline in its own right, so I can't be too harsh in my criticism of it, but once you begin to consider the wider plot of Fantastic Children you start to get a feeling that you already know about everything you're seeing, and the eventual climax to this part of the plot has already been explained, so why go through it all again in greater detail? Indeed, the last three episodes on this disc would have had far more impact to my mind had the true nature of Helga/Tina not been revealed earlier - As it is though, the current Greecia-based storyline is simply fleshing out the tale we've already been told. Not a bad thing in itself, but it almost has the slightest tinge of the dreaded 'filler' episodes that send dread into the heart of any anime aficionado.
At the end of the day, I really don't want to slate either the series as a whole or this volume - Taken on their own merits, both the overall plot and concept and the individual parts which make up the story are fascinating and well worth keeping up with. I just can't quite shake the feeling that this series should have been made shorter and faster moving, and it's that 'dead wood' in the story telling that does the entire entity a disservice by making it unnecessarily ponderous. If you've made it this far through the series however, I get the feeling that Fantastic Children will be well worth sticking with until the bitter end, and I really hope that I'm proven right on that hunch.