I have to say that AO is working on pretty much every level for me, but what really impresses me – all the more so given the uncertainty about the writer going in – is how the series seems so carefully and skillfully planned out. There’s no sense of improvisation or uneven pacing at all – every episode has felt perfectly self-contained, and the overall impression is of a series that was carefully crafted start to finish before the first episode ever aired. Whether that will continue for 24 eps is an open question, of course, but this ep – like the ones before – absolutely flew by. The slider on MPC seemed to be be moving faster than the Nirvash in battle.
Speaking of battle, we had plenty of it, as was expected based on the staff list. But again the balance was excellent, with an action-driven first half giving way to a thoughtful and emotionally true second. There’s just nothing like a really good non-CGI explosion and this episode was loaded with them, including that of the G-monster itself. I think the interplay between Ao and the GenBleu girls was on target, as he tried to muddle through on minimal knowledge and a little help from the Nirvash (I thought “Easy Mode) was a little insulting). GenBleu was a little offended at having to babysit the newbie, but not too proud to accept the help of someone who could pilot a machine more powerful than theirs. The notion of a bunch of idol pilots isn’t my favorite element of AO on paper, but I like these girls so far – they’re honestly protective of Ao while showing just the right level of irritation at his ignorance of what they do. And Ivica is fast becoming a standout in the cast as he shows the commitment he has to protect the children in his charge – and even the boy who officially isn’t, yet.
With Ao’s help (and a very funny NGE reference from Elena) the G-monster is eventually destroyed, and Ao vey nearly with it – he ends up unconscious on a beach, where a kindly disposed local takes care of him. As it has consistently, AO is diligent in showing both sides of each of the competing political forces at play, and here is a positive face for the Okinawan side – a man who was saved from a G-monster as a child by someone flying an IFO that looked like the Nirvash (Eureka, presumably) and sees Ao as something of a hero for doing what he does. He shows Ao (and us) the modern side of the Okinawan State for the first time – a gleaming modern metropolis built on money from trapar mining – but here too there’s disagreement. There are protest rallies complete with hip-hop DJs and Gekko State logos (whether that’s foreshadowing or just self-reference I can’t say yet – nor do we know what the “Johnson Scriptures” are) demanding independence in the Capital every day, and the locals are clearly split. Even within families we see the good and the bad, as Ao’s savior has a sister with a ramen-ya, who would gladly sell Ao out to the International Forces for a chance to buy her way to America.
There are really several stories playing out here, subtly but elegantly interwoven with each other. The political and the personal are hopelessly entangled for Ao, as his desire to stay and protect the island he loves in spite of everything seems no longer possible for now. As he’s a target for the selfish desires of every side, his best option for now seems to be to join Generation Bleu, where at least he’ll be under the watchful eye of a commander who will try and prevent him from becoming either a child victim or a tool for selfish ends. This means giving up his home, and saying goodbye to Naru for now – and also to Toshio, who disapproves of Ao becoming a pilot because Eureka flew her “Mark 1” (in familiar colors) into a scrub burst ten years earlier, and never returned. Depicting simple unconditional love is a lot harder than it looks, and I really admire the way the feelings Ao, Toshio and Naru have for each other have been so effortlessly brought to life in these first four episodes. I’m certain that both of them still have major roles to play in this story.
The new information we received this week certainly beggars some interesting questions. If Eureka did indeed pilot the Nirvash into the scrub burst, what is the IFO that Ao is piloting now – the one which said “Welcome, Eureka” on his first trip to the cockpit? Is the Gekko State logo in the protest meaningful in any way? We know from Ivica that all the GenBleu IFOs are derived from the Nirvash design, because they were able to replace the arm that Ao dropped into the ocean (his slightly embarrassed reaction at doing so was spot-on for a kid his age). There are a lot of theories flying about, but I’m still holding my cards close to the vest. Some sort of alternate world scenario still seems most likely – a “sequel but not a sequel” – and that would likely mean that the Eureka that’s Ao’s mother isn’t the same one as the original E7 Eureka, and that Renton (despite Ao’s appearance) isn’t 100% confirmed to be the father.
For now, it’s a new direction, as Ao’s mindset shifts towards following in his Mother’s path and catching up to her somehow. Several new characters will be introduced next week, though for familiarity’s sake we’ll still have Gazelle, Pippo and Han – who stowed away on the Triton as part of Ao’s new harem. I want to belatedly credit the wonderful Kiuchi Hidenobu (Darker than Black’s Hei), who’s playing Georg, the Triton’s computer system. It’s one of the most charismatic I’ve heard since the peerless Gilliam II from Outlaw Star. It’s also interesting to note that the pre-order interest in AO (as measured via the imperfect but usually predictive Amazon “stalker points”) is excellent – this may just be a rare case where quality and commercial success go hand in hand. If the show continues at this level of excellence and proves a strong seller, I’d be very surprised if BONES didn’t add a second series within the next year or so the take AO to the same episode count as the original E7.