Friday, April 20, 2012

Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean - 02

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Damn – now that’s anime!

OP: "Escape" by Hemenway
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I won’t lie to you here – I had a shit-eating grin on my face for that entire episode. I just want to throw words like “Awesome!” and “Cool!” and “Alphanumeric!" (geek check) around, but I’m too old for that – so I’ll hide my enthusiasm behind pseudo-intellectual babbling like I always do. In short, this episode was an absolute triumph – clearly better than the premiere, which was excellent on every level. In fact, I’d put this about on a par with anything the original E7 had to offer in 50 episodes – it’s right up there was with Ray/Charles Arc, which I think was Eureka Seven at its storytelling peak.

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.

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17 comments:

  1. Jesus, I can't do this anymore. Every single freaking anime episode has been awesome these past few weeks, there is no break. I went from watching Sakamichi no Appolon to Eureka Seven AO to Lupin to Tsuritama today.

    ANNND, this weekend there is Accel World, HxH(best arc yet incoming), Space Brothers and Aquarion EVOL.

    Anyway, great post Enzo, I saw the posts and all the pessimism of the fans, I'm glad they were completely wrong, this anime is awesome.

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    1. Seriously, how awesome was this? I feel 14 again, in a good way. What a fantastic episode. Not only is NoitaminA on top of its game, but BONES is the old BONES again.

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    2. Indeed, not to mention DEEN is actually doing a great job on Sankarea and Hoods an epic job with Nazo no Kanojo X. It's like everything that most predicted to be an disaster, turned out awesome.

      To top that, the line-up for noitaminA on the summer looks extremely good again. So last season was just an one-time thing.

      I guess Thursdays are the new tuesdays, huh? xD

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  2. what with this season anime, full of win.

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  3. I gotta say, when that last shot in the OP came up, I had the biggest smile on my face. This is fantastic so far and I really can't wait for more.

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  4. Welcome back, E7! It's getting hard to keep my fanboyism in check...

    The scene where Ao shows Naru his hair strongly reminded me of the scene towards the end of E7 where Eureka shows Renton her wings and is afraid of having become ugly.

    And some little details brought the biggest grin on my face, like the part A/part B division of the episode or the "Suzuku" at the end.

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  5. I really want to fanboy desperately with this one. It just brings that out in me.

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  6. Good BONES is back and it's FREAKING AWESOME! The scenes with Nirvash surfing the trapar into battle, the flashbacks with Eureka, that warm embrace from Naru, all sent shivers down my spine and in a good way. As you said, Ao's a great shounen lead, a tough little bastard but without being obnoxiously so. He knows what he has to do and tries his best to make things work. He also cries when he needs to but importantly knows how to get back on his feet. Sounds simple right? But such characters have become a rarity in animes these days and Ao's definitely a breath of fresh air amid a slew of neutered & obnoxious male leads.

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  7. I agree, Ao is a great main character. He actually handle the situations in a good and somewhat realistic way. And his voice actor is a great choice :)

    So far, this season is more action-orientated than the original, especially since Ao isn't as conflicted as Renton.

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  8. Man so much love for this ep...It was alright. I kinda wish that as a sequel, I don't have to see characters from the first season that I didn't like (please no Renton, please no Renton....). OP is good but relies too much on nostalgia, Ao definitely showed promise with the 'It's not lost! Pick it up!'. I'm definitely glad he isn't annoying like Renton and the romance is already established with Naru as opposed to endlessly dragging it out in the first series.

    Then again, i was 'meh' towards the first series I guess it's hard when 99% of the viewers tended to like the first E7.

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  9. Enzo you are so right; As soon as i finished with this ep I said to myself, "Damn, now this is how you do anime". Low and behold i begin reading your post and you say the same thing. I felt like I was back in those good ole days when anime felt creative and original, and yes bones is on its A game wit E7Ao. I loved the subtle details that were in the battle sequence from Ao's face being distorted by the momentum of being swung across the air to way the explosions are animated. And i gotta say the relationship between Ao and Naru is just sublime; you can really see the love they have for each other without the writers having to shove it down your throat. Now that's how you do a couple!

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    1. This is why my affection for the E7 franchise exceeds my critical appraisal of it. There are big flaws, but on some elemental level E7 is anime to me. It's big and bright and a little silly and over-complicated, which is also exactly what I think of with BONES.

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  10. I adored Eureka 7 when it came out, and now I'm loving Ao. It's one the series that really got me into anime, so I'm definitely as excited as you are about how this could play out. :)

    Starting to really wonder about the granddad looking after Ao though. The teary eyes as he looked at the Nirvash really made me wonder if he's connected to Renton somehow.

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  11. Hi Enzo,
    I watched couple of episodes of Eureka 7 on tv few years back and I didn't feel the connection, coupled that with the fact that I don't watch tv that often and too lazy to watch the whole season (and not to mention the movies etc). So you get the picture... but I kept reading how good Eureka 7 AO is and tempted to watch it.

    Will I be able to get a grasp of what's going on even when I don't watch the original series? Your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. So far there is nothing that requires prior knowledge. All of the terminology is displayed appropriately and the basic consequences are displayed in the first episodes. The only advantage of watching the first is knowing the backstory even further has there is pretty much 50 episodes devoted to exploring the world of E7.

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    2. 50 eps is a lot to catch up on. I think E7 is worth watching, but Snuckerpooks is right - so far, I don't think you need to. I'd real the character profiles on the E7 wiki and I think that's enough.

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  12. Many thanks for the replies! I'm going to think about it. But I will try and watch it because of BONES.

    FYI, I tried and watched Last Exile Fam when I haven't watched Last Exile because I read that it's a different set up/dimension... But somehow in the middle of it, there were characters from Last Exile being introduced, plus I found that Fam was very annoying, so I finished/completed watching Last Exile Fam with frustration.

    Thus I don't want this season to be yet another season of "oh-let's-try-watch-a-sequel-from-anime-series-I-have-yet-to-watch-the-prequel". Lol. Thanks again guys!

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