The year is 2045, and AI and the internet is technology that is possible even in the cold void of space. When a large-scale accident happens on a brand new space station orbiting Earth, leaving a group of children from Earth and the Moon stranded in space, they are forced to use their own knowledge of internet, AI, social networking and drones to survive, hoping for rescue. But was what happened to their station an accident, intentional, or foretold? And what can these naïve children possibly do on a highly complicated piece of machinery orbiting the Earth?
The Orbital Children is a film series that began airing on Netflix in two parts; the first released on January 28, and the other on February 11, 2022. Produced by new animation studio Production +h, and created, written and directed by Mitsuo Iso (Dennou Coil, RahXephon), The Orbital Children is something that I think is another show that’s suited for Netflix. Right now they are still experimenting with releasing shows episodically, and so with this ‘film series’ being 12 episodes long, splitting the release into two parts is an interesting move. To be honest, I wasn’t actually that familiar with Iso’s work; I had never seen Dennou Coil before, and I don’t even remember the story for RahXephon anymore. This meant that I had to go and check Dennou Coil for the first time, which Netflix decided to put up shortly before releasing part 1. And having seen it now, there are just so many things we can see here in The Orbital Children. Iso has been a key animator in so many shows in his career and yet when it comes to directing itself, the work he puts out really gives us the impression of an auteur at his best.
Curiously, The Orbital Children was initially going to be produced by Signal.MD (Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop, Platinum End). Instead, an entirely new studio was created by Fuminori Honda, who used to produce at Signal.MD, as well as the more established Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East). In fact, it is thought that this studio was even created with the sole purpose of creating the show. As well as this, the original English translation was Extraterrestrial Boys & Girls, so why Netflix decided on the name change is something I don’t think we’ll know. I mean, it’s just as fine a show title name, no?
Touya Sagami and Konoha Б Nanase (a Cyrillic letter, pronounced ‘be’) are 14-year-olds born on the Moon. They are having physical therapy on the newly built space station Anshin, so they can emigrate to Earth. We don’t get to see much of Konoha from the start, but we develop an opinion of Touya straightaway. He is an arrogant and self-centered little brat with eighth-grade syndrome who believes space is the only place people can live. Seeing him in episode 1 alone made me want to slap him. However, it is only through these experiences on Anshin that make his character evolve. He may say all these outrageous things about Earthlings on his popular social media accounts, but when it actually dawns on him that these children onboard might die, he jumps in to help without even knowing them.
As for these Earthborn children, they are pretty unique themselves. Taiyo Sukuba is a UN employee and white hat hacker. Mina Misasa is a live streamer who is terrified of space, and yet we get the impression that she only signed up for the space project to gain masses of followers on her channel. And then there’s Hiroshi Tanegashima, the youngest of the group, who is a massive fan of Touya’s own channel, and so it comes as a real shock to him that he’s far from the character he portrays here on the space station. And so added with Touya’s teenage edgelord tendencies, it can get very amusing how these kids throw petty insults at each other, despite being in such a perilous situation.
From the beginning, we are given a lot of background information about the world built in the film series, and it’s something that is eerily familiar with what is being designed and built in this era. Corporation logos like Google, Tesla and Coca-Cola are renamed (for the purpose of not being sued) and placed everywhere; even the spacesuits they wear are by Oniqlo, an obvious take on the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, infamous for their very plain designs. We’re drip-fed details about ‘John Doe’ and ‘Seven Poem’ as well. The first being a controversial hacker group believing they are on some mission of social justice (just like Anonymous are), and the second being a collection of indecipherable sentences and posts that some, including Nasa Houston who is the only adult in the group (yes, that is her name…), revere as some kind of revelation or prophecy. The world-building in The Orbital Children is something I don’t see as perfect, though, and the reason for that is a little complicated to explain.
As the film series starts off, we are bombarded with all sorts of science and technology that, while it’s something very possible in the future, can still be extremely overwhelming for the viewer. Thankfully, the more we get to know these characters and the more the story develops, the more it grows on us. I bring up the story as while it can get very complex at points, it’s something that can be quite thought-provoking. One example being that both Touya and Konoha have been given implants in their brain by a mysterious AI (which I won’t spoil as that’s another story entirely). As a result of these implants, the two of them are the only surviving children left that were born on the Moon. And with the film series giving off the sense that this can be technology that comes sooner than we think, it can send a real shiver down the spine.
The animation in The Orbital Children is absolutely gorgeous. The bright colours of the space station and all its corporate brands meld very well with when the group find themselves in cold and dark areas of the station and the bleakness of space. The story itself is slow-paced somewhat, but is something that really grows on us; as mentioned, that bombarding of technological jargon is something we get used to and enjoy. We’re also given plenty of tense situations where the group have to think on their feet when things begin to break and there’s a chance an airlock might fail or a piece of debris tears a wall open. The film series definitely has a lot to give us, and so I think my only worry here is whether some viewers may be put off from the science we see itself. But not so much that is too futuristic, but instead is something that can be possible and can terrify us. Catch the second half of the film series and you’ll see exactly what I mean. But there is something else too.
The Orbital Children is also trying really hard to send a philosophical message to the viewer. Whether it be seeing technology that could be possible in the not-too-distant future, space travel to the Moon, or even discrimination between those born on Earth and on the Moon. It makes me think of the show The Expanse, which I really adore. In that, people from Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt all fight and bicker and quarrel over who should really be in charge of the solar system. These philosophical messages in the film series aren’t unwelcome at all though; on the contrary, in fact. It’s a really refreshing change to any other anime shows and movies set solely in space, where characters are on their own, have to make do with everything they have, and thus go on a journey of self-discovery and ask themselves what they have really done in life.
The English dub of The Orbital Children is very good, with some experienced voice actors chiming in (Cassandra Lee Morris, Abby Trott, Coleen O’Shaughnessy). If I had to give one criticism, it would be that the Japanese and English voices for Touya are like fire and ice. Natsumi Fujiwara gives out the voice of a cranky edge lord far better than Griffin Burns, who sounds a little generic and even unemotional at times. I’m really liking how Netflix brings in dub groups who actually give a damn about putting out good voices for their characters; nothing like what it used to be, where we’d end up getting a lot of monotones. There’d sometimes be points where there would just be direct translations from the original Japanese script.
The theme song is “Oarana“, written and composed by Vincent Diamante and performed by harusaruhi. Here’s the Netflix trailer for The Orbital Children/Extraterrestrial Boys & Girls:
These children are stuck in a very perilous situation and have to work together to find rescue, whether they like it or not. While the story premise is nothing new, the execution of it here in this show has been done very well. They began as extremely naïve adolescents, and become far more responsible and caring people. The fact that the technology we see in the film series is something that is very possible in the coming century terrifies us some more. Heartless mega-corporations taking over space, rogue AIs running rampant and even humans being born on the Moon…it’s really something.
I just don’t understand why it wasn’t called Extraterrestrial Boys & Girls instead. Nothing wrong with The Orbital Children; it’s something that really got me scratching my head on why the name change was necessary.
This is a sci-fi film series that gives us this deep and philosophical story about children overcoming fear and uncertainty in life-threatening situations and asking themselves the meaning of life. In a world where the science and technology is so close-to-home that it becomes worrying, The Orbital Children is a very fascinating watch, not just for its story but its characters and animation.