One of my favorite things about anime is the ability to tell a deep story about growth, fear, and uncertainty through children. Netflix Original Anime the Orbital Children does just that. The series is produced by Production +h, directed and written by Mitsuo Iso, and features a rousing score from Rei Ishizuka.
The Orbital Children takes place in the year 2045. While it may be the near future the technological advancement of AI and the internet has made it so that anyone can travel into space. With that ease of travel, children have been born on the moon, but rely on implants to help them thrive in the environment. The tech and ease of travel bring together children born on the moon and children from Earth on their way to the Japanese-built Anshin space station. Following a massive accident at a space station, the children are left alone to save themselves and eventually Earth. Using narrowband and SNS, low intelligence AI, and smartphone-controlled drones, the group of children pushes themselves through fear and uncertainty to overcome the odds.
At just six episodes, the series manages to pull on nearly every emotional string, process the fear of death, and the future in a way that feels real. Through the children’s eyes, The Orbital Children confronts questions about the place technology and AI have in our lives and how it changes our concepts of mortality and the divine. There is care given to situating the narrative from the perspective of a child, including all the assumptions and mistakes they make instead of an adult one told one mapped onto them.
Now The Orbital Children doesn’t go into unexplored science fiction territory. Namely, we see the danger AI poses in human life and potentially the harm it can cause when it and the people engaging with it draw the conclusion that humanity needs to be saved from itself. Instead, though, the conversation about showing AI all of our bad as much as our good is shown to the audience by mapping it onto how children process information.
“Can children really grow up to be good if they’re only shown information that’s been edited and handpicked? And if they’re only shown an unedited world just as it is, does that mean they’ll grow up to be bad?” That simple premise is one that acknowledges the importance of showing children the truth and mapping it onto AI. Children are smarter than we give them credit for, and the truth is always more important.
While the mini-series does have a number of adults, it’s how the children solve their crises with curiosity and compassion that allows them to grow individually as characters as well. The most dynamic character is Taiyo. Deadset on never moving to Earth and ensuring that space is the only future for him and others, he’s forced to confront his own bias and learn empathy along the way. Taiyo evolves from self-centered to the person willing to risk everything to save those he’s never even met.
Now, the film’s story is one that grips you in the last three episodes, but its slow pace makes the two halves of the series seem like a completely different series. That said, even with shifting tone and pace, a constant that ties it all is the emotion that is crafted through the series’ music. Ishizuka manages to pull emotion even without dialogue with a score that rises to meet the action and pulls the viewer down into fear when it needs to.
Finally, The Orbital Children is gorgeously animated. The stark contrast between outer space in the backgrounds and in reflections the visors against the sharp outlines of the animated character helps craft a wonder that isn’t easily described. The awe with which the characters view space and the future is how the audience is pushed to view it as well. Beautiful and dynamic, The Orbital Children’s design and animation is top-notch.
with Netflix Anime expanding its offerings, seeing more small science fiction series on the platform like The Orbital Children and Eden are some of its best. Heartfelt, adventurous, and a wonderful look at humanity and technology, The Orbital Children is a great series to watch.
The Orbital Children is streaming now exclusively on Netflix.
The Orbital Children