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Orbital Children, The

Entry updated 28 March 2022. Tagged: TV.

Japanese Anime tv series (2022; original title Chikyūgai Shōnen Shōjo; vt Extraterrestrial Boys and Girls). Production +h. Directed and written by Mitsuo Iso. Voice cast includes Chinatsu Akasaki, Natsumi Fujiwara, Mariya Ise, Yumiko Kobayashi, Kensho Ono and Azumi Waki. Released as two films (Japan) or six episodes (internationally). Circa 180 minutes. Colour.

By 2034 (see Near Future), the Intelligence of the AI known as Seven had skyrocketed to a level it was incapable of handling. Though Seven had designed numerous Technologies that benefited humanity, its newer products caused the deaths of thousands; as a result, Seven was terminated and now all AIs are fitted with intelligence limiters. Before it was closed down Seven had produced the "Seven Poem" – largely incomprehensible, a portion was eventually deciphered as "36.79% of all human beings must be eliminated immediately". The poem was embraced by cults and terrorists, including the hacker group John Doe, who argue environmental collapse brought about by Overpopulation will wipe everybody out (see Disaster) unless the population is reduced by this amount.

AI-controlled Comets are regularly brought close to Earth to harvest their water and carbon: in 2045 one is hijacked by John Doe, who plan to crash it into the planet, killing 36.79% of the population. Using Nanotechnology, they upload a back-up copy of Seven, called Second Seven, onto the comet, creating a Quantum Computer. As it approaches Earth, some of the comet's fragments hit Anshin, a new orbiting space hotel for Children, owned by the Deegle Corporation. Newly arrived on the Space Station are three Earth youngsters: Mina Misasa (Akasaki), a live-streaming social networker; her geeky younger brother Hiroshi Tanegashima (Kobayashi) and Taiyo Tsukuba (Ono), who is revealed to be a United Nations 2.0 agent sent to arrest one of the hotel's two residents, Touya Sagami (Fujiwara); the other being Konoha Be Nanase (Waki).

There to acclimatize to Earth Gravity, Taiyo and Konoha are orphans – 2 of only 15 children born on the Moon. 10 died before the age of 3, the low gravity being lethal to growing children: the remaining 5 were saved by brain implants designed by Seven that adjusted their hormones. The implants should have dissolved before puberty, but did not, and might now kill them. Taiyo detests the Earth, mouths John Doe propaganda and resents having to parrot a speech for the new arrivals: "I receive humanitarian assistance from Deegle Corporation for free ... I'm very thankful the Deegle Corporation contributes to society by valuing people over profits". All the children wear Computers resembling fingerless gloves, and are each accompanied by an AI drone: hoping it could solve the implant problems, Taiyo has been illegally tampering with his drone's intelligence limiter – thus Tsukuba's mission. The children struggle to survive on the damaged Anshin, accompanied by a couple of hotel employees: the medic Nasa Houston (Ise) and the hotel's mascot, Anshinkun. Along with the space station's crew, isolated in another part of the enormous structure, the children try to prevent the comet hitting the Earth by contacting its AI: however their efforts are sabotaged by Houston, who turns out to be a member of John Doe (her name an alias).

The decaying implants "have enabled quantum communication" between the orphans and Second Seven (another AI's explanation is prefixed with "I don't quite understand it, but ..."). Konoha realizes Second Seven is still limited by having its knowledge filtered through John Doe, so arranges for it to be linked to the Internet, to learn everything about humanity, good and bad. Second Seven now changes the comet's course so that it disintegrates in the Earth's atmosphere, vaporizing enough water to reduce the Earth's average temperature by 1°, so buying time. Returning to Earth, the children's story, most of it livestreamed by Mina, inspires many – mainly the young – to move off planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds): it is estimated that 36.79% of the population will emigrate in the next 50 years. Second Seven also survives, its intelligence now surpassing that of its original – who had clearly planned all this – by an order of magnitude (see Singularity).

Though the drama of the resolution does not entirely engage and the characterization is a little weak, this is nonetheless an impressive, densely packed series: the animation is strong and much thought has gone into the worldbuilding and science. Aside from some mysticism towards the end, this is Hard SF, and – despite reservations about capitalism – an optimistic, technophilic work (see Optimism and Pessimism), about the young embracing new technologies and the future. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's observation "Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever" is an influence, though it is made clear that not everyone's cradle is the Earth. Many other themes are covered, including whether the education we give children should be filtered; whether "the greater good" can be used to justify terrible deeds; and whether self-sacrifice for a cause is admirable. The answer to all three is "No". This is Iso's first directing role since the excellent sf anime series Dennō Coil (2007). [SP]

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