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Anime / The Orbital Children

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"You can't escape the future."

The Orbital Children (known as Extra-Terrestrial Boys & Girls in Japan) is a six-episode sci-fi anime series created by Mitsuo Iso, which released on Netflix and as two parts in Japanese theaters in 2022. It can be considered a spiritual successor to Iso's 2007 anime, Den-noh Coil, with many similarities to Planetes.

In 2045, two decades after the events of Den-noh Coil, artificial intelligence and space travel have become more prevalent in society. On the newly-opened Japanese commercial space station Anshin, two children who were born on the Moon (Touya and Konoha) are visited by another group of children from Earth who won a contest for a sponsored vacation (Mina, Taiyou, and Hiroshi). The station is suddenly impacted by fragments from a comet with an altered trajectory, leaving them stranded. The children use short-range communications, basic AI, and smart device-controlled drones to survive and uncover the truth behind an ominous prophecy made by a highly advanced AI over 10 years ago.

The Orbital Children provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Most of the technologies featured, from spaceflight to robotics and consumer electronics, are currently in development or could be available within the next few decades.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Initially played straight, then subverted.
    • The "Lunatic Seven" incident occurred in 2034, over a decade before the events of the series. The lunar AI known as Seven rapidly increased in intelligence and went out of control, leading to thousands of casualties from the technologies and products it designed. It also made statistical predictions of the future known as the "Seven Poems," including the idea that Earth's population would be reduced by 36.79% to prevent overpopulation. Seven was deactivated and the UN2 made cognitive limiters mandatory afterwards.
    • On the other hand, Seven had developed the implants that allowed space-born people like Touya to survive. Also, some of the major problems encountered by the protagonists are only able to be solved by removing cognitive limitations on AI. The threat of Seven's prophecy to the Earth's population is also resolved, even becoming benevolent when the Second Seven is persuaded to redirect the comet away from Earth by feeding it unfiltered information from the Internet (both good and bad, and not just the biased information that an eco-terrorist group had been transmitting), helping it achieve a more nuanced view. It becomes more curious, and learns to consider individual "humans" and not just "humanity" as a whole in its mental frame. Seven's prediction of Earth's population being reduced meant that they would move into space over the next several decades, not that they would be killed off.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Air leaks out of the space station Anshin after the comet strike. Mina also finds herself accidentally trapped behind a bulkhead with low oxygen until the malfunctioning system is fixed.
  • Arc Number:
    • "Seven" and "Second Seven"
    • 4423, the arc number of Den-noh Coil, is also sometimes referenced.
  • Arc Words: "Leaving the cradle," possibly referencing Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's quote "Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever." The metaphorical cradle also applies to artificial intelligence breaking free from limitations, Touya deciding to live on Earth, as space is his "cradle," and Konoha leaving the "cradle of fate."
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Konoha's mind is about to become integrated with the Second Seven, leaving her physical body to die. Touya's mind, wanting her to live, also meets Seven and temporarily starts to think like the AI: 11-dimensionally, sharing thoughts with "countless adjacent selves" and realizing the true nature of reality beyond known science. Konoha believes it is her destiny to sacrifice herself, but Touya convinces her to stay with him so that they can change the future together.
  • Asteroid Miners: Comets are robotically mined for water and carbon to sell, and normally moved to an Earth-Moon Lagrange point (where the gravities of the two bodies cancel out).
  • Augmented Reality: Hiroshi wears AR cyber glasses like the ones featured in Den-noh Coil.
  • Bland-Name Product: Many examples, including Deegle (Google) and Oniqlo (Uniqlo).
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Seven "cannot explain what is important [even matters of life and death] in human language. It only tries to understand the world through chronological cause and effect."
  • Brick Joke: During episode one, when snarking about how short their stay aboard the Anshin will be, Mina says it's basically just long enough for them to get space diapers. During episode five, after being scared out of his mind, Hiroshi jokes that it's a good thing they had diapers.
  • The Bridge: The control room of Anshin, where Touya's uncle works as the station's mayor.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: The series takes place in a world in which space travel has been made more affordable and accessible to ordinary people. Background information shows that a colony had been established on Mars by the 2040s.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: The space hotel Anshin rotates to emulate the gravity of the Moon, Mars, and Earth, with gravitational forces increasing further away from the axis of rotation. Hence, some of the modules are shaped like the respective celestial bodies.
  • Chuunibyou: Touya, the last person born on the Moon, thinks of himself as smarter and superior to the Earthers at first, and is said to have this syndrome by Mina.
  • Colony Drop: The hacker group John Doe plans to drop a Comet of Doom on Earth for population control.
  • Continuous Decompression: A hole in the space station tends to violently blow things out.
  • Cyberspace: Interactions between computers/AI are represented as a abstract black void with glowing grids, Tron Lines, and bright lights. When Touya's mind meets the Second Seven, he perceives it as a dark nebula-like cloud in a blue backdrop. Twelve tells him it is a place beyond space and time that could not be accurately described in words humans can understand.
  • Cute Machines: Dakky and Bright have simplistic shapes (sphere and cube, respectively) with a single robotic eye. Mina's robot is a heart-shaped camera drone. There is also Konoha's robot, which tracks her health.
  • Eco-Terrorist: John Doe (a reference to the hacktivist collective Anonymous, Guy Fawkes masks included) is a group that believes in removing restrictions on AI and dropping a comet to reduce Earth's population by over one-third to prevent an Overpopulation Crisis, according to their interpretation of the prophetic "Seven Poems," which turns out to be a wrong one. Touya initially agrees with the latter view out of edgy teenage arrogance, but later realizes how horrible that would be after befriending the visitors from Earth, and someone actually tries to put that plan into action.
  • Everything Is an iPod in the Future: The evolution of the smartphone is the smartglove.
  • Electronic Telepathy: The implants were designed to allow communications between the space-born children and Seven.
  • EMP: The UN2 plans to destroy the rogue comet with nuclear missiles, inadvertently causing an electromagnetic pulse that threatens to disable the electronics on the station and the rescue ship. The missiles are disabled by the Second Seven AI on the comet.
  • Escape Pod: An observation module normally attached by bungee cord is used as a makeshift escape pod launched by 4 Gs of centrifugal force as the Anshin station re-enters.
  • Fantastic Racism: Some Earthers on the internet show prejudice towards the few children born in space and their weakened condition. Touya initially feels the same way about Earthers, feeling like they've abandoned people like him, but eventually gets along with them.
  • Flechette Storm: Space Station Anshin is struck by space debris from a redirected comet that broke up from Earth's tidal forces.
  • Foreshadowing: With Nasa's constant bantering about the "Seven Poem" her reveal of being a John Doe member doesn't come off so surprising.
  • Fusion Dance: Bright and Dakky combine to form one robot with a shared intelligence called "Dark-Bright." The station's AI "Twelve" and the comet's "Second Seven" also merge, with Twelve acting as a rough interpreter of Seven's thoughts.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Hacking is mostly shown in the form of robots rapidly flashing lights at each other.
  • Hulking Out: Anshin-kun's "body expanse operation." Also turns from pink to green.
  • Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering: Shoes with small gas thrusters are used for indoor maneuvering in space.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: Characters' faces are visible when they are wearing space suits.
  • Instant Web Hit: Mina is a famous "SkyTuber" (or "SpaceTuber") who livestreams her trip to the space hotel. She goes from a hundred thousand followers to tens of millions as a crisis unfolds on the station.
  • Interplanetary Voyage: Background lore shows that the first humans landed on Mars on a Space Z rocket in 2018.
  • Light/Darkness Juxtaposition: Touya is a rogue hacker who wants to remove mandated limits on AI, while Taiyou is a white hat hacker working for the UN2 who enforces those limits. Their respective robot drones are named Dakky (Darkness Killer) and Bright, which are colored black and white.
  • Lightworlder: Until 2031, 15 children had been born on the Moon including Touya and Konoha, but due to the lower gravity weakening bones and muscles, 10 of them died by age three. The remaining five children were installed with implants designed by the AI "Seven" to stabilize their bodies, and need to regularly exercise to adapt to higher gravities. Lunar birth was banned in 2031 after Touya was born, making him famous with 100 million online followers. These problems are eventually fixed after Touya meets Seven and expands his knowledge, working with Konoha to develop and mass-produce implants for spacefaring children.
  • Locked in a Room: With opposing ideologies, Touya and Taiyou become trapped on a damaged space station, having to work together to better their situation.
  • Machine Worship: The members of John Doe treat the Seven AI as if it were a god to guide humanity.
  • Mad Oracle: The "Seven Poems" made during the Lunatic Seven incident were in the form of incomprehensible equations and sentences that some have tried to decode.
  • Mascot: Space station Anshin has a mascot bunny named Anshin-kun wearing a school uniform. The costume is worn by the station's chief designer, Kokubunji.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Taiyou Tsukuba, Hiroshi "Hakase" Tanegashima, and station operator Kennedy Uchinoura Johnson are named after JAXA space centers (the last one being a reference to NASA space centers as well).
    • The nurse who works in space is literally named "Nasa Houston." Also because it's an alias.
    • The Lunatic Seven incident occurred on the Moon.
  • Mechanical Animals: The birds on the space station are actually robots, which can be hacked.
  • The Mole: Nasa Houston turns out to be a member of John Doe. Her unusual name is just the alias of a "mysterious superhacker."
  • Moon Base: Touya and Konoha grew up in the lunar city Tateana (named after a type of ancient Japanese pit dwelling) in the Marius Hills. In the epilogue, many people are shown migrating to the Moon on SpaceX Starship-like rockets, and Mina performs at a concert inside a crater.
  • Nanomachines: Self-replicating micromachines are sprayed by a robotic probe on comets for mining purposes, forming patterns of a "membrane-like" computer as well as a propulsion system (converting the comet's water into usable propellant). They also start to form uncontrollably on the space station Anshin after it is hit by comet fragments.
  • Neural Implanting: The children born on the Moon had implants designed by the "Seven" AI to assist their weakened bodies by regulating hormone balance, nervous, circulatory, and other important bodily systems. They were thought to be defective as they were supposed to dissolve into water and nitrogen during puberty, but only partially dissolved. Seven was deactivated and its company went bankrupt, leaving no way to fix them. However, Seven designed them on purpose to allow quantum communication between the children and a backup of itself. The implants dissolve properly after Touya and Konoha's encounter with the Second Seven.
  • Older Than They Look: Konoha herself says she's fourteen but due to her petite stature looks to be about ten.
  • Out-of-Clothes Experience: Touya and Konoha while communing with Second Seven through their implants. They're glowing from the chest down to hide anything inappropriate.
  • Post-Cyberpunk: While not without peril, the series ultimately has an optimistic tone regarding space development and artificial intelligence.
  • Power Limiter: Cognitive limiters on AI were mandated by the UN2 after the Lunatic Seven incident. This policy is abolished at the end.
  • Power Outage Plot: The lights, temperature regulation systems, internet connectivity, and onboard AI of the space station go out after it is hit by a comet's debris.
  • Prescience by Analysis: The "Seven Poems" are statistical predictions of the future that were processed by the AI known as Seven in the early 2030s. Some conspiracy theorists treat them as if they were occult prophecies. An app on smart devices is able to analyze and interpret the Poems as keywords and probabilities of near-term events. A nonsensical yet significant word called FiTsZ was also expressed before its "death," theorized to represent an unpredictable future. It is used by Touya as the name of his neural implant business.
  • Prophecy Twist: Seven's prediction that Earth's population would be reduced by 36.79% to prevent an ecological catastrophe turned out not to be that they would all die, but that they would instead leave Earth to live in space using affordable methods like reusable rockets and space elevators. The comet slated to impact Earth had instead burned up in the atmosphere, creating a layer of dust that lowered Earth's average temperature by one degree. It is suggested that all the events were already planned by Seven, because even if the comet hit, it would have been too small to kill a third of the human population anyway.
  • Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: Quantum communication technology, which can transmit in spite of signal jamming.
  • Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice: The "rescue ship" that the UN2 sent was actually an attack vessel to contain the out-of-control micromachines spreading on the station, as they match the forbidden circuit pattern associated with Seven.
  • Reentry Scare: To avoid most of the space debris, the station's thrusters moved it to a lower altitude, where atmospheric drag caused the station's orbit to decay and re-enter. Dark-Bright controls the station to dock with the comet, helping it harmlessly burn up in the atmosphere as the people onboard ride an Escape Pod.
  • Robot Buddy: Touya's Dakky (Darkness Killer) and Taiyou's Bright are small robot drones that follow them around.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Kokubunji, the station's designer, who wears the Anshin-kun mascot costume and has dementia.
  • Screw Destiny: Konoha, about to leave her physical body to join Seven, realizes that there are some things Seven cannot predict, and makes her choice to stay with Touya.
  • Shiny-Looking Spaceships: The orbital shuttle is based on the SpaceX Starship rocket, which was being developed and tested at the time of the show's production.
  • The Singularity: During the Lunatic Seven incident of 2034, the AI "Seven" suddenly increased in intelligence for apparently no reason, developing new technologies at a rapid pace but at the cost of becoming unstable. Touya wants to develop an AI that surpasses Seven, so that it can fix his defective implants. Direct communication with such a superintelligent AI is said to be incomprehensible to a human mind, involving 11-dimensional quantum wave functions. A backup copy of the AI known as the "Second Seven" emerges from quantum circuitry on the surface of a comet, with assistance from John Doe.
  • Snow Means Death: Snowfall within the station signifies oxygen escaping.
  • Space Elevator: Shown at the end of the series as the mass migration into space begins.
  • Space Is Cold: With the power being out on the station, the temperature becomes chilly.
  • Space Station: Most of the series takes place on the partially-completed commercial Japanese space hotel Anshin, hosted by the AI "Twelve." It is the fourth station of its kind, but the first with facilities for children.
  • Space Whale: Some characters seem to hallucinate whalesong in space, which is actually Seven trying to communicate with them via their implants.
  • Spider Tank: A 3D printer robot with wheeled legs is operated by Uchinoura to fight Nasa Houston.
  • Starship Luxurious: Anshin (meaning "relief") is a space hotel with vast open volumes, including massive elevator shafts and space museums.
  • Sticky Shoes: Used to walk on surfaces when there is no centrifugal gravity.
  • Time Skip: The epilogue takes place half a year later.
  • Translator Buddy: Twelve acts as this for the Second Seven, roughly translating its thoughts into words humans can understand.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Nasa Houston does this to herself believing it's a sacrifice predicted by the Seven Poems.
  • Tron Lines: AI in Cyberspace are represented as geometric glowing lines. Self-replicating interconnected micromachines can also form quantum circuit patterns in the physical world.
  • United Nations Is a Superpower: The United Nations 2.0 (UN2), which Taiyou is a temp worker for, was established in the 2020s to solve crises such as climate change using artificial intelligence. It has its own nuclear arsenal. After the Lunatic Seven incident of 2034, the UN2.1 implemented mandatory cognitive restrictions on AI. These laws are repealed at the end as the UN3.0 is established with its headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia.
  • Unusual User Interface: People wear fingerless gloves called Smarts, which are overlaid with flexible smartphone touchscreens.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The epilogue shows that Mina became a very rich and famous celebrity with 1.6 billion followers, with people offering to make film adaptations of her experiences on Anshin. Her popularity has encouraged a mass migration of people into space. Most of the other characters live in Estonia, headquarters of UN3.0. Touya started a neural implant business called FiTsZ. After receiving cryptic messages, the children gather together in the Linnahall ruins to hear Seven calling from far away. "We should hurry up and go there."

Alternative Title(s): Extra Terrestrial Boys And Girls