Friday, April 27, 2012

Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean - 03

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It’s completely natural for a very good show to have a letdown after an episode as flawless as last week’s edition of AO. The fact that this show suffered no such letdown is an awfully good omen for its future.

I never expected last week’s episode – quite possibly my overall favorite in an outstanding season of anime – to be a fluke. Hell, the premiere was damn good in its own right. But I wondered if everything the team had went into that episode, to make it just perfect, and if the series would level down and settle into a groove a notch or two below. Well, not so far. This week E7 delivered another knockout – a more thoughtful, less blisteringly paced effort to be sure, but a knockout nonetheless. This was a week for the writing and the cast to shine, and so they did, delivering again and again with believable scenes that had me totally wrapped up in the story from start to finish.

I’ll repeat what I said last week – I don’t know who credited head writer Takeyoshi Kakuto is (there was some buzz on Twitter as Aikawa Shou and Koyoda Tomoki shot down a couple of rumors, but confirmed it is a pen name) but they’re damn good. That, or Shou-san is leading the effort himself, as he’s clearly capable of work this good. So far, AO is more coherent and logical than the original E7 ever was, and just as much fun. The story is easier to follow, and the main character is both more sympathetic and more decisive (and this coming from someone who liked Renton as a male lead). We have a complex and interesting political story playing out, with Okinawa wanting independence but mired in corruption and incompetence at the highest levels, and Japan and America each wanting to ensure their interests aren’t compromised (not to different from the way things are now, the be honest). And everyone wants to use Ao for their own purposes, even the ones who hate him.

What’s impressing me most of all about the premise is that no one is being set up as entirely good or entirely evil, and no punches are being pulled in the way these issues are being discussed. Example: Pippo’s comment when told that the Americans and French had helped “build” the Nirvash, “It’s fat, wants to surrender and has bad teeth.” It’s admittedly a hilarious (and audacious) line of dialogue, but in one fell swoop it manages to poke fun at every nation involved – including the Okinawans for their parochialism and bigotry. And while the story is set in Okinawa and clearly has its share of sympathy for the culture and cause, it also depicts the generation of Okinawans in power as small-minded, vengeful, cruel and incompetent – blaming all their problems on a small boy they persecute, the Governor doing karaoke with a member of Generation Bleu in his office. No one gets a free pass here, and everything is assigned their share of criticism for the state of affairs that exists.

Given the many poles of interest in the story, it follows that affairs are as complicated on a personal level as a political one. Turns out Gazelle’s name is Jiro and his father Kinjo Kazuyuki (Kusumi Naomi) is a leader in the local community and well-known musician, and Pippo’s father, Niigata Teruhiko (Komura Tetsuo) is in the SDF high command. Naru’s father helps Gazelle’s father kidnap Ao with the intent of using him as a bargaining chip, and he’s taken to the man’s studio. As the old man sits playing his Sanshin, he offers Ao a despicable and cowardly non-apology for the way he’s been treated – not only is he a coward and a bigot, but he doesn’t even have the balls to admit he’s one openly. Just as Tanovic shows up to take Ao into GenBleu’s custody, so does Gazelle, with Pippo and Han in tow – and they take Ao away. Gazelle’s resolve to try and right the wrongs of his parents’ generation is clumsy, but at least it’s honest – and when Ao refuses to pilot the Nirvash again and asks to be dropped at Fukai-sensei’s house, they do what he asks.

As last week, it’s Ao who really shines brightest among this cast. He finds Toshio’s house on fire and the old man trying to save as much as he can, including a picture of Eureka and baby Ao. It’s the work of hate, frightened and suspicious locals who blame Ao for everything that’s happening – yet Ao resolves in the face of that to once more pilot Nirvash and save the island from the enormous G-monster that looms over it. He has very valid reasons not to want to do so – sure he’s scared, but even more he doesn’t want to continue to be seen as an alien, and to be hated and feared. In spite of everything Ao wants to be accepted by the very people who hate him, and even Gazelle is surprised when he sees that rather than hardening Ao’s opposition, seeing his house in flames has cemented Ao’s will to fight. The boy says simply, “I don’t want to pilot it. But if I don’t, I’ll regret it later.” This sort of scene could have been rousing in a fairly routine, GAR-wannabe sort of way, but what makes Ao especially likable is that he has all the same worries and doubts a normal person would – but he does what has to be done anyway, without making a fuss about it. And that’s what makes Ao, taking to the sky in The Nirvash, “WELCOME AO” on its control panel, much more GAR than a run-of-the mill action hero.

Still largely a mystery in this story is GenBleu. We see the girls in their relaxed moments – updating a blog, downloading music – and we have it more or less confirmed that only children can pilot an IFO. The girls clearly have their status as idols as well as a sort of independent rescue squad/paramilitary Secret-fighting brigade, but it’s Tanovic who’s most intriguing at this point, admitting to Ao that he knew (or knows) Eureka – who was apparently taken away by the Americans after a scrub burst ten years earlier. It’s still impossible to piece together how this fits with the original E7 chronology (if indeed it does, and this isn’t some sort of alternate timeline) but it’s clear that Tanovic is a key link, as speculated here last week. Ao and GenBleu are certainly going to end up working together, and possibly Team Gazelle too, maybe as soon as the current G-monster is dealt with.

Judging by the legions of BONES giants in the credits for next week’s episode, I think we can look forward to a blockbuster – lots of big set pieces, glorious non-CGI mecha combat and another script by Aikawa Shou. Is it possible this series – and this season – could actually get better? I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation, but I know that on every scene change this week I kept thinking “It can’t be over yet, can it?” I wanted this ep to keep going and going but it felt as if it flew by, and that’s a sure sign that everything is clicking. With a setup this interesting, a MC this good and a beloved franchise that’s still being held mostly in reserve, the potential for Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean seems almost unlimited.

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11 comments:

  1. At the end of the episode I was like ''wtf? the episode is already gone''?


    Anyway Enzo, to vote on that thing you just have to go to their site?

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  2. Seriously, that was bloody hell good.
    I dropped E7 because Renton was quite angsty for me, but with Ao we have one of the most likeable characters in his age group in anime for a while. GE, Ao isn't shining, he's become a supernova.

    Maybe we should name Thursday something special in this and all the other great shows airing within a few hours of each other.

    BTW has the voting started, how do we vote?

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  3. Just go to the aniblog tourney website. As I said, voting starts on 4/28.

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  4. Thursdays just have an insane amount of good anime this season. I kind of wish it was spread out a bit more, haha.

    I think the Pen Name now makes a lot of sense. There's 0 punches being pulled with this series, storytelling wise. You don't tackle Japanese Xenophobia in the most Japanese of mediums, anime, without massive balls. So "Writer Ambiguity" helps everyone a bit. At least until we get past this section of the story.

    Still, this series is hot on the hells of Sakamichi for best of the season. That I simply didn't expect. I expected BONES to make it solid, but they kind of went "the main staff has gotten better in the past 8 years, we can do better". It's rare sight, that's for sure. I also think it helps they had a good idea, which is the biggest key here.

    Mama Eureka, with dark hair, looks so much like Talho. I probably should have expected that, if you go back and look at the TV series' designs, but I was a little surprised. She looks good and got a few happy moments, put on screen. Which, given what her character always goes through, was very nice to see.

    It would appear that Mama Eureka's flight suit was from Generation Blue. Screenshot 12's symbol looks mostly like the GB symbol. So that's likely how Tanovic knew Eureka. Tanovic should give us most of the world back-story, likely hints how this series ties in and workout tips. The dude kicks down doors and just shrugs off two guys trying to move him. He's also probably around 6'4" or 6'5" but crouches a lot. Should be really interesting. This definitely has a full cast of characters to work with. (I'm really hoping for someone like Moondoggie as well, but that might be a tall order. Moondoggie is about as unique as they come in anime)

    On the first TV series: quick point about Renton. Renton & Eureka are Shinji & Rei given a chance. But you get to watch Renton grow. The early parts of the series he is a whiny crybaby, but you would be to (if you weren't a shell of a person) given his situation. But he keeps fighting and goes through one of the most thorough character progressions ever put into an anime. The most hilarious of them is Holland and Renton realizing that they've taken on something of a Father/Son relationship and how much they butt heads.

    A lot of the problem with watching Eureka 7 comes down to our expectation of character stagnation. The entire cast progresses over the course of the series. Episode 49 Renton is almost completely unlike episode 1 Renton, yet it's still Renton. The character has progressed, grown and gone through hell and back, yet he comes out a Man at the other side.

    Also, I know it's really hard getting from around 19 through 24, but you have to get to the Charles & Ray arc. It's possibly one of the best written story arcs you'll ever come across. It's worth the trouble to get there. While it might be the high point of the storytelling in the series, the rest is still quite good. Especially once the World Story kicks in high-gear.

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    1. I absolutely love the Charles & Ray arc, and agree it's the best of the series. I do think the comparison of R & E to Shinji and Rei is a bit overdone and I don't think they're all that similar apart from the obvious superficial commonalities, but also agree that Renton had quite an arc in that series. I suppose the risk for Ao is, if you start out that awesome, does he have anywhere to go from here?

      It's definitely true that E7, like AO, has a bit of the anti-hero vibe. Gekko State are good characters, but it's a stretch to call them good guys - they do some pretty questionable things, especially Holland, and I like how that turns audience expectations on their ears. The problem comes from the series getting bogged down in an avalanche of murky plot complication, in classic BONES fashion. Early returns indicate they may have learned their lesson.

      As for the politics, perhaps this is the reason for the nom de plume - but I didn't see anyone on UN-GO's staff (including Shou Aikawa) hide their involvement and that was against the normal xenophobic political bent of mecha/sci-fi anime. BONES has, historically, been on the left wing of the anime spectrum when they venture into politics overtly, so what we're seeing here isn't entirely surprising. It makes a nice change from the nationalistic tone that's dominated anime lately.

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    2. Renton & Eureka pretty much start out as Shinji & Rei/Asuka (something of a merger). The catch is that is all that ends up being the same. They're different characters and as much of an alternate take on the Archetype.

      They're not quite deconstructions as Shinji was a deconstruction of Amuro. The characters are Kyoda & Satou going "we can do better". And I think as Characters, they handled them a lot better. I wouldn't want to start an argument of Eureka 7 being better than NGE, as that would attract a firestorm, haha. (I will say E7 is more enjoyable!)

      I will say that Eureka 7 is the standard by which all "human boy/alien girl" series are now judged by, which is really what the story was about, which ended up being rather different than what NGE was about. So while Eureka 7 borrowed the archetypes, they reconstructed them in a way that's wholly its own. It's still a great watch, even now. If you haven't seen the first series (to random people reading this), please do watch the whole thing. It stands up to anything in this season, which is saying something.

      I haven't watched UN-GO, so I can't really comment on that one/the pen-name issue directly there. But I will say there's a difference between an original series and a Eureka 7 Sequel, especially given Kyoda's own comments about the Movie/writing process. Plus, the naming ambiguity allows, if things go badly, to displace a bit of blame as well, lol.

      On the Hero/Anti-hero parts of Eureka 7 and AO, I think it's more of a "there's real life and it's messy" type approach. The only really "pure good" people in the first series were probably William and Martha. There's even an argument that Dewey wasn't completely evil. Deranged, yes, but he figured out a way to end the Scub Coral problem. The series has never been willing to descend into "Oh look, Hilter!" storytelling. Something that's appreciated.

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  5. Hi all. I'm afraid I may be setting myself up for some abuse but I wanted some opinions on a few things. Let me start by saying that I loved the original and I do like what I'm seeing here so far, just not as much. I may be in the minority, but for me so far it's only OK. I don't find myself drawn to the characters like I was from the get-go in the original. It may be that E7-AO is missing one of the biggest assets E7 had - Eureka herself and, in turn, Eureka's and Renton's relationship. The rest of E7s characters were very likable. Even the baddies. But it seems none of the original characters seem to have made it into this series (except for the occasional flash back where we get glimpses - teasers really - of Eureka). Also, I don't agree with the premise that this installment is easier to follow than the original. So far nothing has been explained. Not Ao's circumstance, how he wound up in the care of the Grandpa, who is the girl who appears to be his best friend, the mysterious group that battles the Secrets/G-Monsters, and the rest of the supporting cast are all a mystery. I'm sure all this will get resolved but I long for a bit more character development before we're thrust right into a melee of giant mechas going at it. One other thing that bothers me is the apparent total discard of the alien world from the original story. This series is taking place on Earth, and in spite of perhaps less than 20 years having elapsed from the original, it seems like this society has been firmly entrenched for quite some time. It almost seems like an alternate story rather than a sequel. In any case I will keep watching since A7 is one of my favorites and I'm interested to see how they connect the two.

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  6. Having not watched the original Eureka Seven, my main issue with this series is that when it comes to Coral Scubs, Scub Bursts, and G-Monsters, I just don't fully understand everything. I feel that the writing can be very expository at times. It's still a good watch, though.

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    1. when it comes to Coral Scubs, Scub Bursts, and G-Monsters, I just don't fully understand everything.

      Now you know how those of us who did watch E7 feel!

      I think you can find enough background on the coral, LFOs, etc. via a wiki. I get the very strong sense that AO is going to have an interesting enough story to stand up under its own power anyway.

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  7. great episode; love how this series is givingits viewers bits and pieces of the plot and allowing the viewers to speculate as to wat could have pssibly happened in between the first series and its sequel; that's what a well-written show should do.But besides that, i feel as if people are missing one piece of crucial information. At the end of the first series, old man ganji (hope im spelling that right)said that half of the scubs from the first series universe would stay there while the remaining scubs would travel to another universe to continue the path of evolution and co-existence with human life form. This series must be the other universe that the scubs were transferred to and are trying to co-exist this race of human beings. If anything, Eureka probably travel to this alternate universe to observe this new co-existence and unfortunately was not met with great reception. Again scubs are having problems co-existing with humans it seems.

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  8. This would make this series a sequel, not a alternate storyline

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