Anime Review: The Orbital Children (2022)

TL;DR – when debris from a comet damages a space station orbiting earth, a group of children become trapped. Using what technology they have available, their wit and intelligence, they seek to survive and make their way to the escape area. However, the vacuum of space and oxygen supply are not their only threats, working together has its own challenges and the comet is more than what it seems.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The Orbital Children (aka Chikyuugai Shounen Shoujo) throws us into the year 2045 where humanity, suffering from overpopulation, has sought to build beyond Earth’s boundaries. Technology has also advanced to the point where we live with artificial intelligence, drone helpers, and gloves called “Smart” that replace smartphones.

Events in this anime series requires you to piece together quickly historical events. The key events you need to know are as follows:

  • An AI known as “Seven” achieved a level of intelligence that was considered the highest in human history. It developed technologies that advanced society and humankind’s ability to colonise outer space. However, it reached a point where humans were unable to control Seven, and this led to a number of human deaths. This became known as the “Lunatic Seven” incident. Eventually Seven was euthanised.
  • Prior to its death, Seven released a string of equations and symbols that no one could understand. These have since been analysed and certain groups believe its translation tells of a prophecy. This prophecy is known as the “Seven Poem”.
  • Prior to the Lunatic Seven incident, humanity managed to build a city on the moon. Fifteen children (known as “moonchildren”) were born, but it was soon discovered that they could not survive through infancy. Seven developed implants that would allow the moonchildren to survive. Of the fifteen, only two survived – Touya Sagami and Konoha Nanase. After the Lunatic Seven incident, children could no longer be born on the moon.
  • Anshin is a commercial space station that orbits earth and is known as a space hotel. It has shopping centres, restaurants, internet and playgrounds, and is controlled by Sagami (Touya’s uncle) and two others who oversee the station’s operations in conjunction with an AI called “Twelve”.
  • Twelve is the AI host on Anshin space station. It has “intelligence limiters” that prevents increases in AI intelligence. As such, Twelve has nowhere near the intelligence capacity of Seven.
  • UN2.1 is the United Nations that seeks to prevent any future AI events such as the Lunatic Seven. They are the agency that created the intelligence limiters and ensures a limiter cannot be removed without their authorisation.

The story revolves around Touya and Konoha who live on Anshin and are visited by three more children – Taiyo Tsukuba, Mina Misasa and Hiroshi Tanegashima – who have come from earth after winning a promotional competition.

When an incident with a comet results in damage to Anshin, our group of five, along with adult nurse Nasa Houston (yes, that’s actually her name) and Anshin mascot Anshinkun (the man inside the giant pink rabbit outfit is actually named Kokubunji and he was the chief designer to Anshin), fight for their lives (and among themselves) to survive. Through each episode we learn there is more than meets the eye with our main cast, and we also discover that UN2.1 tried to alter the comet’s course because it was going to collide with earth by shooting it with nukes but the explosion caused debris to rip through Anshin.

Turns out the comet is an ‘AI comet’ meaning humanity had sent AI technology to take control of it and mine its ice for water. The AI technology was Seven’s technology and thus Seven has survived by propagating itself using micro machines over the comet.

This aligns with the Seven Poem, which predicts that a third of the Earth’s population needs to die in order for humanity as a whole to survive lest they become extinct due to overpopulation and draining all of Earth’s resources. The comet (being controlled by Seven version 2.0) is set to hit an area of Earth that will fulfill this prophecy.

By series end, things get quite surreal as prophecies, philosophical ideas, technology, and the actions of Touya and Konoha convince the Seven comet to not wipe out a third of humanity. And while the ending is a positive one, I could not help feeling how convoluted it all was.

Perhaps things got lost in translation and the subtitles did not properly convey the Japanese dialogue, but when Touya starts unlocking the implant in his head so he can think in the “11th dimension”, I knew things had gone far away from any logical, coherent story-line. Both the characters and the AI start conversing about the difference between “humans” and “humanity”. And the Seven Poem mentions the word “FitsZ” that is meant to represent a future that Seven was unable to predict. Neither the “11th dimension” nor “FitsZ” is explained by series end, so I found myself feeling flat. Like the writers wrote themselves into sci-fi knots and solved all the puzzles by animating a surreal exchange between Touya, Konoha, and the Seven comet in an in-between dimension.

Bizarre and unfortunately undoes a lot of the excellent build up in the middle episodes. The animation is top-notch, but that’s not enough to carry a story and characters that you lose both understanding and empathy in equal measure.

5.5 out of 10

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