Yes, my brain hurts – but it’s a good kind of pain. I haven’t been this unsure of a story since… Well, probably since Eureka Seven. Or maybe it was Rahxephon? There’s one very obvious commonality between those two shows and this one, of course, and it’s the glorious BONES mindscrew – which has been sadly missing from most of their work for the last few years. While AO continues to surprise and confound me at every turn, I’d still argue that while the original E7 too often felt random and disjointed, AO has a more ordered and logical feel to it. The progression of events holds up to scrutiny, and most of the revelations actually make sense in hindsight, and that wasn’t always the case with E7 and to a lesser extent, Rahxephon. Of course, Aikawa Shou and Kyouda-sensei still have the biggest challenge in front of them, crafting an ending that maintains this structural integrity.
In addition to the cornucopia of information we received in the episode, we also have an OP and ED to dissect this week. Setting aside the artistic merits of each (OP: a homage to the original E7, ED: light and breezy with dark subtext) here are a couple of things that stood out:
- OP: Most obviously, the presence of a character who should most likely be Renton. His back is to us so it can’t be confirmed (his clothes look more like Dominic’s) but he’s framed with Eureka and Ao, so… We also have a shot of what looks like a retrofitted Gekko-Go.
- ED: We got a montage of scenes of Ao, Fleur and Elena on what appears to be the beach from the E7 ending (we know Elena has seen it in flashback already) and Eureka and Renton’s moon makes a cameo in the ep itself.
There’s really too much here to try and make sense of all of it and still leave time for impressions of the episode itself, so I’ll stick to the highlights for the most part. To me the most obvious question is the one that sprang forth from Eureka’s smiling “My baby is a girl!”. That shakes up the world (both for poor Ao and ourselves) pretty good. I can see three theories springing to mind here – Eureka’s baby is Naru, Eureka’s baby is Elena, or this Eureka is from a different timeline altogether – and one where she had a girl instead of Ao. My problems with the Naru theory are many, but the most immediate is age – as Naru and Ao are both 13, that would either imply a very quick turnaround or that the two of them are twins. Possible, but we’ve seen no foreshadowing of that as far as I can tell. It’s possible this could be a different Eureka altogether and not Ao’s mom, but if that’s so, we just don’t have the information at our disposal to say one way or the other.
That leaves us with “Elena is Ao’s older sister’ – and IMO this one passes the Occam’s Razor test of being the least unlikely option we know of. It would explain Elena’s “otherness”, her hostility towards Eureka (abandonment issues – “Are you leaving again? You’re not getting away this time!”), her memories of being with Eureka as a little girl, and there’s nothing in the existing timeline that precludes it. Elena might reasonably be said to have shown a “sisterly” attitude towards Ao too, though that’s a bit soft and fuzzy to nail down and she probably wouldn’t have known the truth in any case. If anything the possibility that this is a straightforward time-travel scenario seems more likely to me than it did after last week’s episode, and the Elena theory fits neatly with the time travel theory.
The information was thicker than trapar in the air this week, though some of it – like that spouted by war-hungry Nakamura – can’t be trusted on its face. He suggests that the Coralians are mankind’s enemy, the true “aliens”, and that The Secrets are actually the equivalent of our reality’s white blood cells. He uses this information to confuse the world powers long enough to make a power play on Iwato Island, capturing Ao and Naru and forcing the scuttling of the Gekko-Go by GenBleu. Some information seems rock-solid – like Fukai-sensei telling Ao that Eureka said Renton was “fighting for her and her child”. Equally solid is the data (supplied by a traitorous doctor) showing that Naru is indeed part scub coral, and the implication here is that all of the children who fly IFOs have Coralian in their system – and that’s what allows them to do so in the first place.
With each answer, more questions – and with each theory solidifying, another solid theory is put to the test. After last week the general assumption was that Truthie was a humanoid secret (the subtitle of next week’s episode) but in fact, he’s very much allied with Naru – and it seems all but certain that she’s a human-coralian hybrid. So either The Truth not a Secret at all despite the visual evidence of episode 13, or the Secrets and Coralians aren’t (necessarily) enemies. I vote the latter – and Naru’s role in the story has never seemed more in flux than it does right now. It seems as if Truthie and Eureka are pulling her in different directions, and I found her comment to Ao – “I wanted to fly with you, not just be embraced by you” – an interesting one. Some will likely see her as rejecting Ao but I don’t see that – rather, I think she sees herself as doing everything she does to try and help him, in her own way. Naru is trying to push Ao to see the truth of the world as she now sees it, but until he gets their on his own their paths will take them in different directions. Likewise interesting was Truth’s “Why do you hate me so much?” to Eureka – again, the implication being that he’s frustrated at those he sees as logical allies not seeing the same reality he does.
For our main character, we’re left in what seems a fairly dark place. He sees Eureka return to her world in what appears to be the RA272 Nirvash that he himself pilots (the one presumably built by Renton). Although he shows great maturity in helping her leave despite it breaking his heart (as pointed out by Pippo) Ao has effectively lost his mother for the second time. And he seems to have lost Naru, too, as she chooses The Truth’s path for now – and though I think their paths will intersect in the end, he can’t possibly know that now. For all his maturity and courage in and out of battle Ao is still (barely) 13, and he’s experiencing an awful lot of heartbreak for a boy so young. Ao remains one of the best combinations of realistic childlike vulnerability and uncommon courage and integrity I’ve seen in a child character, and one of the best things about Astral Ocean – and it’s easy to empathize with Ivica when the reality of the lives his kids are forced to lead creates so much angst in him.
ED2: “Iolite (アイオライト)” by joy