Friday, September 27, 2013

Fantasista Doll

Uzume Ono is a young student and former champion of a trading card game competition. She is trusted with a special device containing six powerful Fantasista Dolls. These dolls are sentient virtual beings who reside in cards which are now controlled by their new master, Uzume.

Taking an initial look at a series such as Fantasista Doll, one may simply place it within the realm of yet another franchise series that is more popular for the elements surrounding it rather than the animated series itself. With a rather ambitious scope that stems from a manga series and continues through multiple novels and even a smartphone game, the animated adaptation also includes the acclaimed director and writer Goro Taniguchi of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006) fame taking creative producing credit here with Hisashi Saito taking the helm. While the high expectations for the animated series was established well before it came out, it is safe to say that Fantasista Doll is a series that succeeds in many respects.

Considering the nature of the material itself - with its focus on doll-based combat mixed with elements of the magical girl genre - Fantasista Doll is surprisingly well versed in focusing on its story over sacrificing it for the sake of fanservice. The idea of fanservice within a series such as this is often a no brainer in order to garner viewership, but it surprisingly refrains from eliciting much, which is refreshing considering the direction that the content could have gone if it did. The character designs are very eye catching and creative though, which makes the series easy to enjoy from an aesthetic viewpoint. The production values for a series such as this are rather high as well, which definitely helps in making the series watchable. With animation from Hoods Entertainment, a studio that is not exactly well known for their work outside of in-between animation, they provide the series with visuals that match the cutesy charm that the series exhibits, in turn making it definitely the most noticeable elements of the series.

As for the its narrative, Fantasista Doll does follow many of the tropes of the magical girl genre, which is not a negative aspect in the slightest. Even though Taniguchi is creative producer, one should not expect the series to be another Code Geass, instead offering a simpler narrative that is easier to follow and without many sudden plot twists. With the series delivering a nice mixture of elements from the magical girl genre, a rather attractive cast of characters, and a card dueling atmosphere similar to Pokemon, Fantasista Doll mostly plays it safe by sticking to familiar material we have seen in similar series before it. What this produces is a series that is focused more so on the bonds of friendship that the characters share than telling a grandiose plot.

Similarly to the likes of Sailor Moon (1992), Fantasista Doll's characterization does well because practically all the characters within the series are likable in some fashion. This is particularly seen in the emotional growth by Uzume, which throughout the series is expressed through her interaction with the five dolls that help her throughout her life. Whether this is shown in moments where they help her in school, to her simply making new friends, each doll gets roughly their own episode to showcase their development as a character.

The series also has other doll masters that Uzume faces as well, which is where the action of the series comes into play. I was pleasantly surprise to see that the series handles the concept of artificial beings who materialize from cards held by the doll masters to be a unique idea despite sharing qualities from countless other "monster collecting" series before it. I liked how the series dealt with the aspect of losing a card battle, in which the victor gets to remove cards from the losers deck, again working with the idea that the relationships that the dolls form with their masters can easily be broken if they lose. It provided some emotional depth and leverage to the battles themselves, especially since losing meant the loss of some one close to a doll master and an abrupt ending to the bond they had formed. It works because we see that these character genuinely feel for one another and view each other as friends, which again is what the series is seemingly striving to highlight.

While Fantasista Doll is not exactly a series that will make anyone take a second look, its sincerity is what makes it succeed. Its charming nature produces a very enjoyable view experiencing, and combined with some very pleasant looking animation, makes for an overall series that one can appreciate for what it is worth despite being a somewhat common foray into the magical girl genre. While it certainly will not grasp the immense scope of some of Taniguchi's previous works, Fantasista Doll does a great job in expressing many of the elements within the magical girl genre - and doing them so well - even if it does not surpass them.
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