The Orbital Children is one of those things that snuck up on me. I was like, yeah, kiddie sci-fi, I’m going to like that (sarcasm), but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. To give you some idea, I watched it three times through across two days.
And they built it out of really simple parts.
I don’t want to give too much away so I will stay away from revealing plot twists and outcomes and such, except in broad terms, and I don’t think they are needed anyway. As a story it’s nothing especially special.
What did they do that made it work?
First, they kept it short.
It’s only six episodes long and they built enough conflict into the cast that as long as the writers kept the plot going they could keep the pace going. There are moments where the action slows down to allow the characters to have a breather (and the audience to relax), but they are there just to let the characters explain motivations. For the most part the action keeps on a’comin’.
Second, the plot was appropriately twisty.
Bearing in mind that there was a large cast – six main characters at least five of who mattered to the story; that’s a lot of action that arises naturally from the characters – they picked out what amounted to an action-adventure plot and put only two big twists in it. They didn’t need more. All they had to do was get to the end of episode six, not keep the thing going for, I don’t know, 160 plus episodes.
They couldn’t NOT have ANY plot twists. Without any even a quick, dense series would be unsatisfying because we would have seen the end coming.
At the same time, though, you can’t have too many plot twists because you already have a bunch of characters. I mean, they can’t all be secret traitors or something. That would change it into … I don’t know. Did you ever see the old Rock Hudson movie Ice Station Zebra? About mayhem and shenanigans on a nuclear submarine? It would have been like that, and sucked as bad.
Third, they built a cast with a lot of conflict between characters.
Conflict is GOOD. It creates tension between the characters, allows them to reveal their personalities and motivation, threatens to derail the gang’s ultimate success (even though it’s an anime and we know the gang is going to succeed).
And conflict should arise naturally as a result of character. “Organic” is the magic word.
This is why I like trope-based relationships, like the Mind-Body-Soul trio, right? Here’s a problem, whatever it is. One character sees it as an intellectual challenge. One character wants to punch it in the nose. One wants to empathize, to share feelings with it. They fight about which approach to try, right? Until they arrive at some kind of synthesis, the story’s not over.
You’ve SEEN that, right? Sing along with me: “Fighting crime/Trying to save the world/Arriving just in time/The POWerpuff Girls.”
So we have six main characters:
Toya is a popular vlogger born on the Moon
Konoha is his friend, a cute, medically challenged girl, also born on the Moon
Taiyo is a UN (actually UN-2) official even though he’s 14. Born on Earth
Mina is a less popular vlogger, born on Earth
Hiroshi is Mina’s little brother, born on Earth
Nasa Houston is their adult minder. Born on Earth, too, although it doesn’t matter
Okay, let’s get some conflict up in here:
The Moon kids are kept alive by special implants that are failing. Konoha is in particularly bad shape, so she is a trope: Poor Little Sick Child (think Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol) and Toya is fighting to keep her (and himself alive) by breaking UN-2 rules
Taiyo is a trope: Junior G-man, you know, an inexperienced cop. He knows all the laws; he doesn’t know when to look the other way.
Mina wants to be as popular someday as Toya, or moreso. If she was younger than Hiroshi she’d be a classic trope: Bratty Little Sister; she’s certainly a brat and as dumb as a sack of bricks.
Hiroshi is a classic trope: Nerdy Younger Brother. Typical of his trope his function is to point out key science-y things at key moments.
And Nasa is a trope but I can’t tell you which one without giving away the story.
Don’t get me wrong, Toya’s a trope, too: Rebel Without a Cause, except that he has a cause, keeping Konoha alive. His hatred for Earth people disappears as they fight together for her; it was only there to make him an … I can say it … an asshole at the start of the series. That allows him to have a redemption arc; he’s a pretty good guy by the end.
And here’s how the conflicts work:
Nasa hates kids. BOOM. Conflict. That was simple!
Oh, and Toya hates Earth kids. BOOM. Conflict. That was simple.
Oh, and Taiyo has to arrest Toya. BOOM. Conflict. That was simple.
And they all have to fight Death to keep Konoha alive. BOOM. Conflict. That was simple.
All the characters are tropes, all chosen to a) create conflict that they can b) easily overcome by the denouement. But the conflicts between them keep the story going. Toya versus Taiyo runs all the way to the story’s climax; Mina’s brattiness makes her a Princess in Peril at times. Konoha’s physical weakness is matched by the strength of her personality. The only one that really doesn’t do anything conflict-wise is Hiroshi, and he serves the function of keeping the plot moving by making science-y discoveries.
So there’s a lot of stuff to work out between them PLUS the plot, and they have to get it all done in less than three hours. BOOM. That means the story has to keep moving, moving so fast that you don’t even notice when THEY FORGET THE PHYSICS.
Yeah, I didn’t even notice they FORGOT THE PHYSICS, and I speak physics. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I noticed that they FORGOT THE PHYSICS.
But that’s what happens when you build up a plot and cast like a wind-up doll: You wind it up and then let it rip. And the story runs on its own. Like The Orbital Children.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.