He’s still eeeeeeeeeeeevil.
All of my favorite series in this outstanding season are carving out a special niche in my viewing consciousness. With Sakamichi, it’s sheer awe at watching a true master do his stuff. With Tsuritama, it’s pure, unbridled joyousness and a seemingly impossible amount of smiles (mine, and the characters’) crammed into 22 minutes. And with E7: Astral Ocean, it’s that damn slider on MPC – it keeps malfunctioning every week, telling me these 5-minute episodes are 22 minutes long. It has to be a fault – there’s no way 22 minutes could move that fast. I’m ordering a full diagnostic.
Of course, that this was true again this week (for me, at least) when BONES gave us effectively a world-building episode is a tribute to the stellar writing of this series. I know some disagree, but I love these world-building eps in multi-cour, SF/Fantasy shows because they’re essential both in grounding our understanding of the world and in making the characters into three-dimensional figures. I loved them in Seirei no Moribito (many didn’t), I loved them in NGE, even some of them in the original E7 – and this was an excellent one. It was important for us to get to know Generation Bleu – how it operates, what the daily lives of the pilots and crew are – and also to begin to flesh out the other pilots, especially Pied Piper. BONES’ attention to detail in GenBleu’s mountaintop HQ was impressive – the konbini, the kissaten, the transportation – it’s mostly unnoticed but that kind of structural support makes everything in the series feel more real.
Several things stood out for me this week, plot and character wise. It’s fitting that BONES keeps throwing meta-humor from classic anime (this time is was Madoka Magica) at us, because this is beginning to feel more like a sequel to BONES’ (and beyond) overall sci-fi catalog rather than just E7 itself. I think this is shaping up to be more of a genre updating with E7 connections than a true sequel, and that’s fine with me. My initial reaction is that Fleur and Elena are being somewhat cold towards Ao (who’s apparently 12 – not 13 as the series info had suggested), considering he’s more or less been dragged into this and given very little choice about it. Ivica is clearly a caring and paternal figure (we’ll see this theme echoed later in the episode) but the girls are basically petulant teens, with that haughty dismissiveness towards a boy younger than them that feels very much like real life. They (Fleur especially) certainly understand the game they play is life and death, and there’s real worry about whether the newbie will screw up and they’ll be left holding the bag. But there’s also a very human but petty kind of coldness there, perhaps born of envy or perhaps of something else – a hint of a past we’ve not been made privy too yet.
We get our first real look at GenBleu’s Swiss HQ (made of pieces of Coral) and the people who live there, among them Christophe Blanc (80 year-old Naya Rokuro) the President of GenBleu and still an ambiguous figure. I’m operating under the assumption that he’s a capitalist first, and that seems to drive some tension between he and both Ivica and his daughter. Blanc’s interaction with the Ao’s stowaway fanboys is an interesting one. They’re mostly being played for laughs for now, but close observation reveals that these guys are not idiots – especially Gazelle, who’s first and foremost a survivor. He’s a guy who looks for any angle he can play, and the angle he takes to sell his worth to Blanc is that of an information broker, a guy who knows where to look and what to look for. Blanc’s offer of employment is no doubt provisional but I suspect Gazelle will prove his worth. I also think there’s another element to this – part of the reason his group tagged along, I think, was out of Okinawan pride. I sense that Gazelle sees Ao as representing his nation’s hopes and part of him didn’t want Ao to feel that he had no one who understood him at GenBleu.
Another important new addition to the cast is Goldilocks, another (read: rival) pilot team even younger than Pied Piper. They consist of three girls, the youngest being 11 year-old Chloe (10 year-old Matsuura Ayu, Rin from Usagi Drop, completing the Yin-Yang circle of this week’s cast) and a burly leader named Bruno. Bruno (Shimaka Yutaka) seems even more paternal than Ivica, and he has a fascinating first meeting with Ao at the café, where the runaway Noah (fastest sloth ever) ends up on his head. After introductions, he sweeps a startled Ao up into a bear hug and tells him he should go home right away, otherwise he’ll make those close to him very sad. I’m not sure what Bruno knows but his motives seem to be pure kindness – and that makes the strong hints that Goldilocks into was a head-fake – seemingly kawaii and humorous but actually a transition to a darker mode for the series – all the more painful.
I see a lot of familiar themes developing here. I think we’re seeing an interesting amalgam of NGE and E7 elements, with youngsters being drafted into a battle for humanity’s survival that only they can fight, but at the same time being forced constantly to try and figure out which adults are truly their friends and which are not. As with E7, that distinction is going to prove very difficult I suspect – and made no less so by the strong corporate presence here, adding greed as a major plot element. I sense the sentiments of AO are anti-establishment generally, and as Ao learns more of GenBleu (as with GekkoState) the uglier elements will start to reveal themselves. And through it all, of course, is the thread connecting Ao to Eureka and AO to E7 – one which Ivica clearly knows more of than he’s letting on. I fear for Ao here – I think there are those at GenBleu (perhaps even Ivica himself) who won’t hesitate to use Ao’s curiosity to string him along, and the hope of learning about his mother to keep him tied to GenBleu when his instincts might tell him to flee.