Andrew Osmond kicks it old-school with giant robots
Eureka Seven AO is one of the first giant-robot anime to get a British release following this summer’s Pacific Rim. While that film’s success was mixed (see here), it’ll have knock-on effects on the robot genre. For starters, lots of ambitious young anime directors will be anxious to show that Japan is still the Number One big robot purveyor, able to beat Hollywood imitators! Moreover, Pacific Rim opened a new gateway to ’bot sagas for youngsters, and for oldsters too. They’ll see del Toro’s film, learn how much he was inspired by Japanese cartoons, and then check out the originals. If they choose Eureka Seven Ao, they’ll find elements also seen in Pacific Rim, embedded in a very different show.
The series was screened in Japan in 2012, so it’s not a reaction to del Toro’s film. For anyone wondering, Eureka Seven Ao is the successor to a previous anime called Eureka Seven, but you don’t need to have seen that, though there are bonuses if you have. Like Pacific Rim, Eureka Seven Ao is set on a world assailed by mysterious alien entities, wreaking destruction on humanity. These entities include “Scub Coral,” giant exotically coloured growths which mushroom like something out of a J.G. Ballard apocalypse novel; giant funky pillars of light and circles hovering in the heavens; and zooming UFOs with abstract designs.
Protecting us, naturally, is a team of youngsters taking the fight to the monsters using giant robot machines. The hero is Ao, a twelve year-old boy who lives on one of the islands of Okinawa prefecture, to the south of the Japanese mainland. He’s not chosen by the military. Instead, a series of accidents leads to Ao climbing into one of the robots – the primary robot, as it turns out – as his homeland comes under alien attack. Weirdly, the machine all but embraces him, flashing up the mysterious message, “Welcome home Eureka”. It might – okay, it does – connect to the boy’s mysterious parentage. Eureka is Ao’s enigmatic mother who, he’s told, just dropped from the sky, though she vanished long ago and is blamed for the alien attacks following her arrival.
A richly-coloured, lavishly-animated show, made by one of Japan’s best anime studios (see below), Eureka Seven Ao operates on two levels. One is as a down-the-line traditional adventure, using plot ideas enshrined for decades. The adolescent Ao finds his other half in a terrifying, massive robot body where he can prove his manhood week after week. Like Pacific Rim, Eureka Seven Ao is proud of doing what previous anime have done since at least the 1970s, and focuses on making its version look as splendid and dynamic as possible.
The show follows other traditions. There’s a “mascot” cute character, a clingy sloth (one scene showing its runaway antics seems inspired by news incidents like this one). Ao’s fellow robot pilots are a bevy of cute girls – he also has an ailing girlfriend back home – though some of them are following very odd story arcs, well outside harem tradition. Ao also offers fan service in the form of cheeky meta-gags. The lad complains that his robot’s control systems aren’t as easy as the ones in anime; another character makes random jokes about Evangelion and One Piece. Later, there’s an increasingly freaky subplot about a strange female pop singer, with shades of the old Macross franchise (where pop songs saved the universe) and the split-identity classic Perfect Blue.
Beyond such homages, Eureka Seven Ao has a heck of a lot more plot going on, in line with previous epics by its studio. That’s Studio Bones (profiled here), known for big, thematically chewy stories. The apex was Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood which mixed sword’n’sorcery, steampunk, and some disarmingly contemporary themes about war, nationalism and the chance of reconciliation. Eureka Seven Ao’s subjects include the status of foreigners in Japan (Ao is a social scapegoat); the resentments between generations who see each other as failures; the possible political breakup of Japan (envisioned in the recent invasion novel From the Fatherland with Love); and a very strong anti-American slant. Anyone interested in anime politics should pay attention to part ten, which offers a revisionist take on Eastern European conflicts that will disgust some viewers and make others applaud (Noam Chomsky would love it). Either way, it’s fascinating to see it here, in a genre stereotyped as antithetical to thought.
And for viewers who have seen the first Eureka Seven series, there’s a mystery – how does Ao relate to the original? From the start, they share names and elements – Scub Coral, trapar energy, a big robot called the Nirvash. Ao’s mum seems to be the title heroine of Eureka Seven, though how she’s got here is the question. Ao’s near-future world, with flying cars and a Thunderbirds-style organisation defending Earth, is different from those of the Eureka Seven series or the alternative film. Ao’s mum isn’t around to explain the backstory, and none of the other ‘old’ characters are in evidence, at least in the show’s first half.
Is Ao a reboot with echoes of its ancestors, like many incarnations of the mighty robot franchise Gundam? Or is it a disguised sequel with a cunning non-sequitur plot to confuse us, like Code Geass R2? Well, you’ll have to be patient, and look for clues. We won’t say everything is made clear by the end of the first set, but it ends with a mighty big reveal…
Eureka Seven Ao, part one, episodes 1-12, is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.