To what I’m sure will be the great disappointment of the throngs who declared this series a disaster before they’d seen a single frame (I’m sure they’ll say they predicted this all along – that, or insist it actually did suck), Eureka Seven Astral Ocean didn’t suck. In fact, it decidedly did a lot better than that – it was excellent. It looked, sounded and felt like Eureka Seven – much more than the “Pocket Full of Rainbows” movie did. I can’t say I’m surprised, because I never felt the same unease about this sequel that I did in the lead up to Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam. I can’t say why, exactly, but there was something in the promo art and the manga chapters and the short descriptions that felt more true to the spirit of the original to me than “Fam” did.
Of course part of that might be that I hold Last Exile to be a true masterpiece, a half-step above E7 to begin with. That said, though, I have a love for E7 that transcends the serious flaws the series had (and trust me, it did). There was just something about E7 that captured everything “anime” to me – when I was first becoming interested in this art form, E7 was somehow exactly what was in my imagination when someone mentioned the word. it also encapsulated everything that was BONES in its glory days – huge and sometimes indecipherable hard sci-fi plot, iconic characters, an earnest and even naïve world view, gorgeous visuals, and very sugoi mecha. E7 was BONES and anime in its pure form – a grand boy’s adventure with metaphysical overtones and superb production values.
BONES has been in a bit of a slump lately. They’ve hard some good shows in the last couple of years, but nothing in their classic mold – UN-GO is my favorite of the recent batch and it’s about as un-BONES as any BONES series could be. Eureka Seven AO signals to me that BONES is (perhaps a little desperately) trying to reconnect with their roots, and thus far, they’ve succeeded. This doesn’t feet like an E7 cover band – it feels like the real thing. This is BONES’ A Studio, and most of the staff is back from the original, including director Kyoda Tomoki. Character designer Yoshida Kenichi appears to have contributed designs for main characters Ao (14 year-old Honjou Yuutaro) and Naru (Miyamoto Kanako) while stepping back from day-do-day involvement, and most of the army of mecha designers is back, too. Notably absent is writer Satou Dai, though veteran Aikawa Shou (who adapted Oh! Edo Rocket) has signed on, and brilliant composer Sato Naoki is sadly gone, but I’m happy to report that well-known guitarist and songwriter Nakamura Kouji has done an admirable job with the BGM.
As to the plot, there’s some controversy in the fanbase as to whether this is a direct sequel to the original E7 – but BONES says it is and I’ll take their word for it. We begin in a ruined Tokyo in 2025, in a world divided into super-nations where private security companies seem to have a pretty free reign, including “Pied Piper”. The scene soon shifts to Okinawa, where 13 year-old Ao is racing through the skies in what looks like a flying VW microbus. Ao rendezvous with best friend Naru for a trip to the wooded hills above town, where they pick up a sloth Naru calls Noah (that’s the second sloth I’ve seen in an anime today). Naru appears to be a sickly girl, as she needs an oxygen mask at times, and curses how “inconvenient” her body is.
Here’s what we know, and what we can piece together. Okinawa is apparently still – as now – full of locals none too keen to be part of Japan. A local gang of couriers led by Gazelle (Kirimoto Takuya) appears to be involved with some smuggling business with the American/International forces anchored at sea in their warship. Gazelle’s vehicle malfunctions while they’re about to deliver goods stolen from the Japanese army and Gazelle almost hits Ao as he crashes his vehicle on the beach, and in the confusion Ao picks up a turquoise-colored bracelet that later appears to be very important to the Americans. There’s a scub coral entity on the island, too, and the residents are used to dealing with the dangers this offers, when another entity called “The Secret” (which Pied Piper seem very interested in) seems to attack the coral and cause all sorts of kerfuffle on the island, disrupting the entrance ceremony for Ao’s first day in middle school. Gazelle and his gang come looking for Ao in the confusion, correctly believing that he might have the bracelet. But at that moment it begins to glow, and appears to be sending a message directly to Ao, and he’s none too willing to give it up…
The $64,000 question, of course, is how all this fits into the big E7 picture – and that’s not fully clear yet. To be honest one of the weak points of the original for me was that the plot was hopelessly confusing, so I’m not expecting a full grasp of events after one ep here. It seems certain that Ao is Eureka’s son – the bracelet confirms that – and one look at him should confirm that Renton is his father. We have the coral of course, and I suspect we’ll be seeing the Nirvash very soon (ED spoils that if you didn’t know already), and somehow, there’s a line that connects the ending of E7 with the beginning of AO – we just can’t fully see it yet. There are a lot of parallels between Renton and Ao, starting with the fact that both live with a kindly old man – in this case Dr. Fukai Toshio (Hori Katsunosuke) who seems to love Ao despite not being a blood relative, and the fact that Ao seems much-disliked for being a “foreigner”. That’s surely connected with his mother, and she (and Renton) live on in his unusual appearance, which doesn’t help. Ao for his part seems feistier and more self-confident that Renton did when we met him.
If AO ends up with a coherent and fascinating plot, I’ll consider that gravy because as with E7, I’m in this for iconic characters, mecha and hand-drawn 2D action sequences – and the premiere delivered all that splendidly, along with Nakamura’s terrific soundtrack. Giving Ao’s role to young Yuutaro is a gamble, but it pays off as he and Miyamoto actually sound like a pair of young kids, and not adults pretending to be. You may remember Yuutaro-kun from Xam’d, where he played the important role of Yango – it’s clear BONES did. The most important thing for me was that the look, sound and feel of the premiere was all spot-on – and what I enjoyed the most was seeing so much action and scale in hand-drawn animation. There was hardly a drop of CGI to be found here, and I didn’t miss it – great traditionally-animated action is the anime equivalent of using real stuntmen instead of CG and real locations instead of blue screens. You just don’t see much sci-fi anime made like this anymore – the animation is old-school, and I suspect the story would be considered old-fashioned by some critics. But all of that is why I’m here, and why Eureka Seven AO was at the top of my list going into an already strong season. That’s the BONES I know and love, and the style of anime from when I became a fan of the medium. It’s great to be back.
Note: It was confirmed today that Eureka Seven AO is going to be 24 episodes, plus an OAV. It’s not 50 like the original, but should be plenty of time to tell a compelling original story.
ED: “Stand by me” by Stereopony