Damn – now that’s anime!
OP: "Escape" by Hemenway
So any pretensions at impartiality aside, I can talk about everything I loved about this episode (which was pretty much all of it). Last season Mondays were embarrassingly good, this season (as has more often been the case) it’s Thursdays. We have the NoitaminA block with two potential classics, Sankarea, a stylish and sexy update of Lupin III, and the hilarious and underrated Shirokuma Café. And now it’s clear we have another knockout in Eureka Seven AO, which represents everything I loved about anime when I became a fan. It looks fantastic with almost no CGI, it has a great soundtrack, iconic imagery, the characters are already engaging, and it has scope and scale. This is what made BONES one of my favorite studios, and what we haven’t seen much of from them since Xam’d – though there was just a hint of it in Towa no Quon. Based on the first two eps, AO has a chance to be one of the best BONES series series.
I’m not still sure how this story connects to the original series, but frankly I don’t really care enough to obsess over it the way some fans are. As long as the show is this good that’s all that matters – whether it’s a direct sequel or an alternate retelling, whether the original happened 20 years or a Century or a Millennium earlier, it’s all good. I’m happy to wait and find out with the rest of you. What we know for sure is that Ao is definitely Eureka’s son, as she made an appearance in his dreams, still voiced by the lovely Nazuka Kaori. She’s seen briefly, removing the turquoise from her hair – and the message as it relates to Ao and what he’s endured on Okinawa is clear. Of Renton there’s no mention yet, but it seems obvious that Eureka saved Naru from The Secret 10 years earlier, then disappeared (and event which seems to have given Naru the ability to see the future through her dreams, unless she possessed it already).
Whatever the connection to the original series, what’s clear is that we have a very interesting and edgy plotline that isn’t afraid to tackle some issues that are hot-buttons in Japanese politics. We have an ugly struggle between the Okinawan independence movement and the government of greater Japan, with a sport of post-UN international force as a third player in the local politics. There’s some rough language here – Okinawans referring to the Japanese as “Japs” – and a very messy entanglement in the personal side of the story. Naru’s father is a militant in the independence movement for starters, a hard-liner – and this group clearly blames Eureka (and by extension her son) for the misfortunes of the island over the last decade. The courage shown by Fukai-sensei in raising Ao is clear here, as he’s brought suspicion and prejudice on himself by doing so. Gazelle and his cohorts Pippo (Sakai Keikou) and Han (Fujita Yoshinori) seem to be independence-minded as well – but they’re not above trafficking with “Japs” as part of their smuggling operations. Their ultimate loyalties are still to be determined.
At the heart of what makes this series so great is Ao, who’s presenting one of the most likeable and plucky main characters in many a season. Ao is a tough little bastard – he doesn’t seem to be afraid of much of anything (or rather, he doesn’t let his fear paralyze him) and he acts quickly even when he’s not 100% sure what he’s supposed to do. Honjou Yuutaru is absolutely doing a bang-up job here, both with Ao’s tiger-cub GAR moments and his emotionally vulnerable ones. When he goes screaming into battle on the Nirvash, his voice cracking in a way no adult actor of either gender could fake, you know BONES made the perfect call with the casting. For a series that makes you feel like a 14 year-old while watching it, it’s wholly appropriate that a 14 year-old should be the star.
I can’t imagine any fan of Eureka Seven not getting a thrill out of Ao jumping into the cockpit of the Nirvash (known as the “Mark One” to the denizens of this world) and surfing the trapar into battle with The Secret – and kicking its ass. That was pure E7 gold, thrilling to watch in glorious traditional animation as Nakamura Koji’s jackhammer musical score rose up in the background. All of the big set pieces were beautifully animated, fully in the tradition of E7 but looking even better. Equally impressive though, both in terms of direction and acting, was when the focus narrowed down to Ao, hiding his newly turquoise hair under a baseball cap and in hiding himself. Only Naru knew where to look, and Ao was prepared to have her recoil in disgust like the other Okinawans had done, and his relief when she embraced him was a really strong emotional payoff after only two episodes. I don’t know who “Takeyoshi Kakuto” is – a real newbie writer, Satou Dai or Kyouda Tomoki undercover – but he’s got some serious writing chops on display so far.
The story is clearly ready to move into the next phase now, with Pied Piper’s “Generation Bleu” pretty girl pilots squad arriving on the scene. They’re quite curious to know what’s up with the boy pilot who made their old Mark One do things they couldn’t, but Fleur Blanc (Ohashi Ayaka) seems kindly disposed towards Ao. Also on the team is Elena Peoples (Omigawa Chiaki) and Rebecca Hallstrom (Nakamura Chie) with the three of them under the command of Ivica Tanovic (Gotou Tetsuo) who feels to me as if he may be a link to the old series in some way. I can foresee Ao being caught up between Pied Piper and Gazelle’s group on a personal level, with the Okinawan, Japanese and International forces each trying to use him for their own ends. It has the makings of a fascinating political struggle but I hope AO doesn’t get too caught up in that side of the story, because the personal side looks to be a powerful one – Ao’s struggle to be accepted, and to find out more about his past.
I confess I had a rooting interest for this show going in, as I was a dissenting voice against the many proclaiming it a failure before the first frame had aired. But that aside, I think even an objective observer would have to admit the series is off to an excellent start – and even to a biased one like me, it’s exceeded the high expectations I had for it. I’m not going to claim victory after two episodes of a 24-episode show, but when you have a Grade-A main character, superb old-school production values, and you’ve managed to lay the groundwork for a compelling story without even needing to use the original show as a crutch, you’re off to a fantastic start.