Speaking only for myself, this might have been the most “Eureka Seven” episode Astral Ocean has offered yet. – complete with a massive plot bomb, much of which was incomprehensible to my feeble brain, at least so far. I guess it isn’t really E7 till you don’t know what the hell is going on, so welcome to the machine. Of course it wasn’t only that. There was an overall feel to this ep that recalled the first show for me – iconic imagery featuring Ao (not) and Naru, a quick-cutting visual style that felt very much like the old Kyoda-sensei – but it still retained the somewhat darker and more nuanced feel of AO. It’s an interesting mix.
Among the many things we don’t know yet is just what the deal is with The Truth, but what I can say for sure is that I’m glad he’s played by Inoue Kazuhiko. There are very few seiyuu that bring what he does to a role – the confidence, the swagger, the insouciant humor seemingly always lurking under the surface. Kazuhiko’s roles vary as much as anyone, as befits his incredible range – but they usually reflect a character who carries a great deal of light and darkness in him simultaneously. In a role such as Nyanko-sensei we can even observe his performance modulate over time as the character slides further towards one end of that continuum, but that’s a character we lived with for four seasons – I have no expectation that The Truth will have any such journey. Still, despite his brutality we can sense this character is operating on a different plane of awareness than those around him, and that “good” and “evil” as we know them probably don’t exist in his vocabulary.
One character I haven’t given much thought to is Stanley (Sawaki Ikuya) who appears to be Christophe Blanc’s deputy (and also takes temporary command of Goldilocks). I don’t know if he’s playing the Kozou Fuyutsuki role here, necessarily, but it’s now apparent that there’s more to Stanley than meets the eye. He’s keeping secrets from his boss at the very least, and in concert with Rebecka. When The Truth attacks GenBleu headquarters it’s Stanley who’s making plans for worst case scenarios, including telling Rebecka to destroy “that” – hidden under the HQ – if things should really go sour. I suspect “that” is this, which the Allied forces Commander Tanaka (I find it very interesting that the Allied Forces are locally led by someone who’s apparently a Japanese-American) tells his bosses is “still underneath Gen Bleu’s HQ.” I don’t know what “that” is, but based on what we can see in the hazy photograph – sharply angled features, triangular head – it looks very much like type the END.
Now that, Friends, would certainly be an interesting turn of events, pregnant with story implications to say the least – but for now, it’s a guess. And given some of the other tidbits The Truth throws our way, even more so. He tells Ao that this is an “erroneous world”. He also tells Ao that while he’s interesting because he’s flying “That Woman’s” machine –all the more so as her son – Naru is even more interesting. Why is Naru so interesting to the Truth, this blue-haired entity who wears a cat bell and thinks nothing of killing humans as if they were ants? Ever since the concept art came out, I’ve always thought Naru bore a certain resemblance to Anemone. Could just be the Yoshida Kenichi character designs of course – but then, it might not.
Possibly tying all this together is the magical mystery tour in the middle of the episode, a strange series of events that occurs after Ao flees Gen Bleu in The Nirvash only to find The Truth standing on his hood, unperturbed. It’s an interesting and delicate piece of animation by BONES – all of a sudden we’re back on Okinawa, the colors are queer and unsettling and Ao and Naru are together again. Ao’s acting strange, though, and he appears to cure Naru of her breathing difficulty – and even give her the ability to fly. Turns out of course, that this is not the true Ao but The Truth – but Naru recognizes his shadowy avatar as “My Sea Giant”, the creature she encountered during the incident as a toddler when she lost her health. And she spurns Ao to go with him. When he wakes up he’s at Gen Bleu and the world looks normal again, but he’s been out three days – and the Truth’s abduction of Naru is all over the nets. It wasn’t a dream, and Ao is (naturally) crushed.
The episode title “No one is innocent” really makes a lot of sense, because the theme is clearly that no one is who they appear to be. The Truth discards identities like old tissues, Rebecka and Stanley are secretly colluding for unknown ends, even Elena is apparently playing at her idol alter ego of “Miller” – it was certainly Omigawa Chiaki doing the voice – and is oddly unperturbed when The Truth finds her. Even Gazelle has a taste of this when his father who always called him a “worthless prick” wants him to return to Okinawa to help his Quixotic independence battle. This is an episode where no one is trustworthy and Ao can’t even trust his own senses, as The Truth bends his reality. This question of identity is key to everything – who is Naru, really, and just what is The Truth? We’re no closer to a direct answer, but his interest in Naru seems to be our best clue.
As bewildering as this episode was in some ways, I think we’ve been building up to it because it played right into what seem to be core themes of Astral Ocean – deception and generational betrayal. Ao and Gazelle are both at the center of this in different ways, but for both what’s significant is that the adults of this world – Okinawan, Allied, Japanese, American – are making an utter mess of things. Ao especially finds himself in an unenviable position, a tool in the hands of many powerful people with their own agendas, and I think he’s going to learn some hard lessons about not giving his trust away too easily. The connections to the original series are just beginning to show themselves now, not just plot-wise but thematically too – and in the end of that series, it was really all about Eureka and Renton putting their faith in each other’s hands, almost literally becoming a universe of two. Despite the events of this week, it’s Naru who’s the one Ao can really trust – I’d bet the ranch on it – and I expect their painful story to be a direct spiritual descendant of Renton and Eureka’s.