Review of The Orbital Children (2022)
Seen in 2022.
In 2045, about 11 years after an AGI malfunctioned and proposed the death of a third of humankind, disaster strikes a privately owned new “space hotel” while three children make a sponsored visit.
As expected from the maker of Dennou Coil (2007), this is another good extrapolative near-future children’s SF drama. It flirts more extensively with the subject matter of harder adult SF, somewhat resembling Neuromancer (1984) with its corporate low-earth-orbit rogue-AI scenario. The visual representation of hacking owes more to Coil at first, but the last two episodes approach Gibson’s concept of an immersive and luminous Cyberspace.
Judging by wall panels in the background of one episode, the unexpectedly heavy worldbuilding is almost a retrofuture where commercial exploitation of Mars began in the 2010s and the last of 15 children born on the Moon are 14 years old in 2045, meaning that tens of breeding couples must have lived on the Moon at least from the late 2020s. This is too optimistic a timeline to be an extrapolation in a 2022 production. Maybe the original scripts are older, but more likely it’s just playing fast and loose like most cyberpunk. In that regard, the corporate-owned environments are impressively crass and drab without being dystopian, prioritizing substance over style. Compare Planetes (1999) where there are four children born on the Moon as of 2075.
The mood is more upbeat than the scenario suggests. The ending is almost religious in its approach to superintelligence, albeit less so than Count Zero (1986). Like the Prophets of Emissary (1993), rogue AGI in The Orbital Children is generally incomprehensible to humans not because it is hostile but because it finds a non-linear, in this case 11-dimensional perspective essential to the deeper comprehension of physical reality. This is not bad at all, but it makes for an unnatural combination with the very young central characters. They are all overachievers by necessity to stay relevant to the plot. The implementation sometimes flies too close to dumbed-down, sentimental predecessors like Stellvia of the Universe (2003) and, more so, Carole & Tuesday (2019). The latter also imitated fashions in social media at the time of production, wasting an opportunity to innovate.
References here: Big Bug (2022).