I wasn’t sure if AO could possibly have an encore that would live up to the expectations created by the blockbuster ending of last week’s episode. But it did – amazingly it exceeded the sky-high expectations and delivered an episode that succeeded on every level. It connected the new series with the old, it shed light on many of the pressing questions AO has raised while at the same time opening new possibilities, and perhaps best of all it offered some of the finest character interaction of either series. I’ve never wavered in my love of this show and never doubted that it knew exactly what it was doing, but it’s still exciting to see long built-up events realized so gloriously.
The true introduction of Eureka and even more her first on-screen meeting with Ao were probably the most anticipated events for the first cour of the series. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the results. I thought every scene between Eureka and Ao was spectacular, and a lot of the credit goes to the seiyuu – it’s great to hear Nazuki Kaori’s familiar tones again, and Honjou-kun once again shows he was a brilliant casting decision to play Ao. I found these scenes really moving, especially as you consider them from Ao’s perspective – this is his first time meeting his mother in ten years, and she doesn’t know him. Yet, she’s the same kind and loving woman he vaguely remembers, and she acts like a mother towards him even if she doesn’t know he’s her son. Eureka, obviously, was always inclined to take lost little birds under the protection of her wings, and whether she suspects Ao’s identity or not, she clearly sees such a lost boy in him.
The writing and the performances get these scenes just right. Ao’s eagerness, held in check by shyness as he tries to get closer to Eureka and understand who she is – it’s really heartbreaking stuff. Imagine Ao’s reaction when he saw Eureka was pregnant. Initially, he probably thought this was a younger sibling, then came to realize over time that it was most likely he himself – or some version of him – that was six month’s along in Eureka’s womb. And all the while, he’s under orders from GenBleu to try and win Eureka over to their side as combat ships from all sides converge on their location. How is a child supposed to deal with all that emotionally, exactly?
The question of just who is “this” Eureka is of course fundamental to everything. There’s a very interesting dynamic here in the role reversal with Eureka and Ivica: during her appearance ten years earlier, she know who he was (as well as Japanese officer Endo (Sasaki Satoshi)) while he didn’t know her, but during the “current” appearance it’s he who knows Eureka while she doesn’t know him. The implication of course is that she’s from another time, and the Eureka with the two year-old Ao remembers the current visit we’re watching unfold – and that Renton was building the Nirvash Ao currently pilots during that visit two years into her future. This seems to set up a fairly straightforward time travel scenario – indeed, Georg identified the Gekko-Go as being from 12,005 AD. Eureka is from the future, and has the ability to appear at various points in the past due to scub bursts – seems simple enough.
But you know, that just doesn’t feel right to me – or at the very least, it’s not that simple. The two words that keep coming to mind when I watch events unfold in this world are “ant farm”. I can’t shake the feeling that this reality is a science experiment, and periodically someone shakes the box to see what the ants will do. The Truth’s shouted “You cannot change, this world, Ao Fukai!” could be his own way of saying, “What are you doing in there, Ao Fukai – you’re not an ant!” It seems very likely the The Truth is (or is very strongly connected to) The Secret that Eureka did battle with during her visit ten years into this world’s past but two into this Eureka’s future – the one she “took with her” as a last resort to save that world. But we also have another Eureka, appearing to Ao as an apparition (not a hallucination, as Gazelle sees her too) telling him that something very bad is going to happen soon, and that “The Secrets are not your enemies”.
There’s no question that a lot of stuff happened in this ep – a brain-bruising amount of stuff, so much that there’s no wonder there was no time for an ED (a wise sacrifice, though as we’ll likely get a new OP/ED next week I was hoping to hear it one more time). But I feel that moment with the spirit Eureka was uber-critical. Apparition, spirit, whatever else you call it – another possible term for what Ao saw might be “astral projection”. The implications of that are obvious enough. The relationship of these worlds is deeper and stranger than merely a gap of 10,000 years in time, I’m sure of it – and Eureka’s ability to move between them is at the heart of the mystery. And we seemingly have mother and son poised to do battle, in twin Nirvash, with Truth. If you’re curiosity isn’t piquéd now, you should probably drop Astral Ocean because you’re probably immune to its charms.
Why this all works for me – as usual – is character, and how much I care about the ones here. This episode did so much to deepen our understanding of both the old cast and new. This exchange between mother and son jumps out at me:
“We were like children back then. He was a crybaby too, and kind of useless…”
“You didn’t love him?”
“Nope – I did. Every bit of him.”
What a wonderful recollection of the original E7 that was. And equally great was Ao’s reaction to it – relieved, a little embarrassed – and the fact that he was wearing what looked like Renton’s jumpsuit when the conversation took place. There were great character moments all over the place here – Fleur’s frantic worry about Ao. Ivica’s true motivations revealed – his dismay about taking Ao’s mother away from him, and his resolve both to care for Ao and prevent more children from losing their mothers. Even new character Endo’s determination to keep his promise to Eureka and protect her child. In the end it’s the character moments that make AO a great show for me, and since as much as anything AO is a show about a lonely boy who misses his mother, to see their reunion brought off so brilliantly marks one of the highlights of the year in anime.