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'The Orbital Children' pairs space survival with philosophical musings

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Posted at 4:43 PM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-01 16:43:58-05

"The Orbital Children" is a two-part film series written and directed by Mitsuo Iso recently released on Netflix.

As of writing, all we have is the first film, which has been chopped into six 30-minute episodes for easier consumption.

While you may not know Mitsuo Iso, fans of science fiction anime will undoubtedly know the shows he has worked on.

From some of the classic "Gundam" series of the late 80’s to "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Ghost in the Shell," Iso has been involved either as a writer, director, or animator on several iconic shows.

"The Orbital Children" marks the first time he’s done it all, directing, writing, and even doing key animation.

Because of that dedication and singular vision, you can tell what "The Orbital Children" labor of love is.

This first set of episodes (or the first movie, if you prefer) focuses on a group of children trapped on a Japanese space station and forced to use their problem-solving skills to survive increasingly dangerous situations.

Three of the children were lucky winners of a trip to the station, and two others were born on the moon and are a kind of enigma; among the first “space children."

Politics, technology, and survival all come into play as this rag-tag group battles the growing threat of a powerful AI, a group of terrorists using a previous AI’s Nostradamus-like predictions as the rallying cry for a mass depopulation event, and the harsh realities of space.

To say this anime feels like it was made for me is an understatement.

You rarely get a complex sci-fi series dealing in not just scientific but philosophical concepts, and putting it into a (mostly) single-setting film gives "The Orbital Children" a quaint, "Star Trek" quality.

But the setting doesn’t mean it’s hamstrung by only looking at events on the space station. Political intrigue comes from Earth’s UN2, a second attempt at the United Nations after the first failed.

And from the moon comes the children and the implants in their brains, built by an AI called Seven, known by earthlings as the Lunatic, because of its predictions on the direction of humanity.

This all feeds into questions of humanity's connection to the internet and machine intelligence, the role of determinism in how humans craft their lives, and existential questions as to whether AI’s are gods and humans have the potential to become gods themselves.

Which is pretty heavy for a show that seems focused on precocious, naive kids.

But at the same time, I appreciate that while we are dealing with immature people, they’re allowed to discover themselves through situations that even adults would have a hard time wrapping their heads around.

On top of the plot and navel-gazing, I love the near-future technology.

The design of everything is very realistic and doesn’t go too far into the fantastical.

I especially enjoyed the idea of a kind of glove phone, a screen projecting from the hand and arm (by implants or some other tech, I’m not entirely sure).

There are genuine hard science fiction concepts here that make this a show for anime fans and easily accessible for anyone with an appreciation for the genre.

Probably the weakest part of the movie is the characters. While they’re all likable, none are well-developed beyond maybe Mina, a live streamer who has to have a personality just because of what she does.

I grew to like her, but the others, especially her nerdy brother, didn’t make much of an impression.

Aside from that, the animation is gorgeous, the music is good, and the American dub is great for the most part, making "The Orbital Children" a well-rounded package.

If you’re looking for a high-concept science fiction series that never lets up on the adventure and thought-provoking ideas, "The Orbital Children" is going to satisfy.

If you enjoyed films like "Gravity" or even "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Orbital Children" will satisfy your need for a zero-G jaunt into the beauty and horror of the final frontier.

Rating: 4/4

"The Orbital Children" is streaming exclusively on Netflix

Sean Newgent tries to survive watching anime on his website
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