It is so interesting to write about this one after finishing Dennou-Coil. (Yes, that series will get its own post very soonish by Mechanical Anime Review standards so don’t worry. Just watch it, it’s on Netflix right now.) There are some connective threads that are interesting in their ways thematically, the way technology is used by people, and ideas. Obviously the mind behind them both, Mitsuo Iso, is why. The guy seems to have a grasp on where technology is at that point they work on something, with some cool drones, and has a vision on where it could be at a future date and I find that fascinating. Some children are more connected to it than any adult would like. That is the trouble of kids in the sky. Not the story itself, but how big of troublemakers the kids are.
Orbital Children is a two film series, or six thirty minute episodes if you go directly with the Netflix model of ideas, that focuses on selling Japanese Commercial Station named Anshin while visiting the two children who are stuck in it for now named Touya and Konoha. Three gifted children are sent to it for a cool promotional event to sell it to citizens of the Earth. I don’t think the events sell it that well. Mina, the very into social media vlogger who streams everything who should be a meme right now, Taiyo a junior UN2 official, and the young boy who is Mina’s brother, HIroshi get a ride to it. Of course, every plan falls when an asteroid appears.
The first part (or movie) of Orbital Children is a pretty simple survival scenario. It establishes its cast well in a case where the station is simply falling out of orbit and failing completely. The simple characters set up in the beginning are pushed even further by other characters which causes friction against each other while simply trying to survive. For instance, the hate that Touya has for the Earth because of his experiences with Taiyo’s very earth grounded thought patterns who knows nothing about space slowly changing their opinions about both in the pretty classic gundam way that Isio must love playing with in his own way.
For instance, this cast is well crafted to perform roles and create so much believable human drama. Why wouldn’t Touya hate the Earth? He has literally been screwed up since birth from the experimental implants placed in him and he isn’t anywhere as bad as Konoha who is literally dying throughout the series. This is all he knows. The addition of Mina puts some good comedy in when the tension gets too high while also being the person who needs the most help to survive so she is that real human connection. Hiroshi is that in-between who is young enough to learn from everything around him and he is smart enough to soak up everything like a sponge.
I love the way all of this world just sells everything so well from that experience. It is believable because everything is sponsored in a way that somehow makes sense. Of course that universe’s form of google is everywhere, it’s everywhere in our world too. Same with how gravity works and the station was supposed to work when the air was leaking out, now it’s failing to do those things. Sure, there are some complicated terminologies in the technology and how they are used, but they are explained by how the characters interact with it. They have to get to safe places, or they die and that is great. Isio knows how to work with it all in human ways.
If the first half was a singular movie and was by itself, it would be one of the coolest thing that we would get up to that point. Almost no notes, very cool and honestly the perfect bit of realistic science fiction that we haven’t had in this world since Planetes or some of the Universal Century gundam if you want to go that far. But the second half took things in the 2001: A Space Odyssey or Interstellar direction. A direction that is a bit of a tonal whiplash as the realistic physics and tale of survival is quickly dumped for something supernatural and saving humanity. If this was a two cour long series like Dennou-Coil, it is possible to make that shift work better as more dialogue is shared over time, but pushing it into a singular 90 minute film sucks the air out of the experience a bit.
I say this as a person who usually loves stuff like 2001 and Interstellar. I love all those weirder elements of science fiction where humanity can be examined under a microscope in some fascinating ways by nth dimensional aliens. I say this mentioning that both of those series went as hard with realistic effects as they could for their own time periods too. The difference is that these two films were about what the strange dimensions and other things were the entire time and slowly built up to those ideas in innovative ways. The Orbital Children did a bit of the same thing, but it isn’t as connected through its narrative and themes as those two movies.
The implants Konoha and Touya had are suddenly the saviors of the Earth as the code from aliens. A very Dennou-Coil sort of thing but lacking in a lot of things. I don’t like ever saying that “the writers could have easily written that out”, but maybe this could have been spread through three movies to make the transition smoother or the stakes could have been lowered a bit. This movie is like a stage play that takes place in a small space, yet the world is at stake. It never feels like it because the world of the series is never felt outside of where the characters are. You know, even with social media and follower accounts being a thing. Digital followers don’t have the same effect.
So where does that put Orbital Children for me? Somewhere between ok and good. It wasn’t bad and I did enjoy it so automatically it was not a waste of time. I haven’t had something like this to sit back and enjoy for a while. I mean really, realistic science fiction series are not created very often these days. That in itself makes The Orbital Children special even if it’s lacking a lot of things. It stands out from the field of seasonal anime and films easily on a platform that other people can easily connect to. But that doesn’t mean anything the series is short on can be hand waved or pushed aside. It fills a niche, yes but it isn’t as good as it could be at all and that is sad.