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Ten Years Later: Eureka Seven Anime Series

Eureka Seven

Spend a significant chunk of the first episode of a series on its petulant fourteen-year-old protagonist complaining about how much his life – and everything associated with said life – “sucks” (a word used in this episode more than you’ve likely ever heard) and you might not guess that you’ve begun one of the most incredible journeys in the past decade of Japanese animated television series. But there’s a good reason Eureka Seven opens its story this way, and it’s more than just gaining sympathy for your proxy in this world. Young Renton Thurston is introduced as a generic at best and irritating at worst main character to further accentuate just how staggering a transformation he experiences by the end of his adventure. This is a theme that runs through every aspect of Eureka Seven, and as such many of the early moments may feel a bit trying on the first viewing. The titular female lead Eureka (that’s e-u-re-ka, pronounced as the reading of the katakana that Romanizes the same way we write our favorite epiphany-indicating exclamation – not confusing at all, right?) is a similar case, coming to us as a blank slate with seemingly little cause to care beyond the inevitably plot-centric air of mystery, and Renton’s sense of puppy love for this girl he knows nothing about can feel rather vapid. Left to their own devices, perhaps these two never would’ve changed. But this story has a lot more in store for them, and first glimpses can never prepare a new viewer for just how much they’ll be forced to change as they trek through it.

Ten years is a long time, and the idea of looking back a decade in this context generally implies seeing how much has changed. But while both seasons of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex had already aired and innovated enough that Eureka Seven didn’t have a whole lot to add, and in unheard-of native HD and 16:9 no less, it’s still one of the first series to generally feel like it came from our current era of TV anime. Bones started producing anime at the beginning of the 2000s and displayed a high standard of quality right away, but half a decade in was the point at which the formula for flawless polish was perfected, and a full-year anime-original series couldn’t have illustrated that better.

eureka-7-tyl-01Bones mecha veteran Tomoki Kyoda followed up his RahXephon work with his first (and, strangely, only) new project putting him in the director chair from the beginning, bringing along a Satō or two to round out the main staff, specifically one Dai and one Naoki. The former already had one of the most impressive screenwriting resumes in the business, having written a substantial number of episodes of timeless masterpiece Cowboy Bebop and its two successors, Samurai Champloo (Watanabe) and Wolf’s Rain (everyone else from Bebop), as well as both seasons of the aforementioned innovative landmark Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but had never been the chief writer in charge of series composition, and he made sure to make an unforgettable first impression in Eureka Seven. His presumably unrelated musical counterpart is at least as important in making Eureka Seven what it is, as even the story and characterization may not exhibit as much impact as the immersive and eclectic musical score of the series.

What this ambitious team creates most definitively in this original anime series with so much time to explore is style. This may not be Watanabe-level fare, but Kyoda doesn’t miss a beat in depicting the varied narrative techniques that Dai Satō finally has all the resources in the world to explore, and Naoki Satō delivers orchestral swell (I managed to find an excuse to use that word) as deftly as intensely catchy techno jams. What else would you expect from a series in which giant robots battle while surfing (on surfboards) in the sky? Although some chunks of its first half may feel largely like filler, the world and its concepts have enough stylistic intrigue to make every episode a worthy watch.

Perhaps the most telling sign of music’s importance in the series, especially as it pertains to the overwhelming sense of style, is the list of episode titles. Nearly every single one is the name of a song, similar to Cowboy Bebop but going even further in its mission by delivering at least 48 such references within its 50 episodes. Like Bebop, the writing manages to always make the title relevant to the plot at hand, and may even inform some of the episode’s own musical choices. Many characters and concepts are named after musical people, groups, or songs as well (which shifts a little more toward JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure territory), though not as consistently as the episodes.

eureka-7-tyl-02In general, the series is all about Western influence for naming conventions and the like, specifically drawing nothing from the Japanese language other than pronunciations and never using the language in-universe, only for necessary on-screen text and title cards, even those all being katakana renditions of English titles until the final episode. Perhaps unintentionally this makes watching the series in English feel a lot more natural than it does for many series that are heavily steeped in very Japanese elements. That’s not to say that there’s no Asian influence in the series at all, and in fact some of the core themes of the series are bursting at the seams with Buddhist symbolism (if you’re interested in more about that, I’ll just point you to Crispin Freeman’s interviews on the US home video releases, as those offer more on the matter than I could ever hope to provide). It’s simply a very worldly series, like Bebop but using its foreign influences a bit more abstractly and often purely for stylistic extension.

Beyond even the unique, fascinating aesthetic of the series proper, technical facets like title cards, eyecatches, and merchandise all share a very distinct design aesthetic, utilizing stark contrasts, usually black and white to depict plain text with equally minimalistic decoration and movement evoking a strangely comforting sense of the mechanical and computerized. The spoken “to be continued” at the end of each episode is remarkably meaningful, encapsulating the emotional ranges and connections explored by Renton and eventually Eureka at each stopping point throughout the series. No two are quite the same, and it’s a greatly understated, clever device for expressing nuance as an aspect of serial structure.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re back to when this series started, but still doing ten-year retrospectives for anime series. It would be just as easy to discuss many of the same points: the fourteen-year-old male lead ready to undergo his coming of age, the seemingly emotionless mystery girl that inspires him to begin piloting giant robots that are clearly more than machines, the abusive leader that pushes him around as he tries to accept his new life of working for the ungrateful combative force of initially unclear agenda, the alcoholic older women who uses her feminine wiles to tease him past his comfort level… and these are not only superficial elements, but ones that are relevant within the very first episodes of the series. Yes, this series has a lot in common with Neon Genesis Evangelion. The things I just mentioned are only added to as the series progresses (eventually the enemies might as well be Angels), and all of that doesn’t compare to the religious symbolism or psychedelic, psychoanalytical dream sequences, some of which even occur as a result of Renton experiencing phenomena not unlike some of the Angels. But a groundbreaking series will always inspire tropes that subsequent entries in its genre will borrow, and no series worth watching is wholly original. Anno certainly wouldn’t have progressed as he did had he never watched Gundam, after all. What matters is how Eureka Seven makes these tropes its own with the quality of execution that should keep it from being dismissed as a clone that one needn’t watch if they’ve already seen Evangelion, or any other similar series. Obviously the influence is clear enough that it warrants mentioning, but it’s not a detriment.

eureka-7-tyl-04It should be clear by now that Eureka Seven is almost as thematically complex as it is stylistic. No theme is more prominent or perhaps more important than that of racism and racial acceptance. The entire plot is in fact predicated on this theme, and beyond the macro issues that set the final stages of the story, the main pair of the series represents this theme in all of their interactions and developments, making for a natural transition when Eureka becomes the focal point of not only our story but the progression of the world around it. Revelations regarding what Eureka is, and how that ties into both the bigger picture and Renton’s own familial relations, shock Renton and Eureka alike, and through this they both grow all the more, painfully at first, but in a way that draws them closer together and makes them stronger people as they mend the understandably immature, reactive nature of their psyches and face the forces that fear the integration that the alien species of the series so desires.

Religion is regarded in a similar fashion, as humans are still oppressed for their religious practices and, like most everything in this series once the big reveals are made, this also ties in with the parallels regarding race/species, and further brings up issues of environmentalism as it pertains to the unusual species that we slowly learn more about. There are some moral ambiguities to be had in several aspects including the damage that the alien race poses, but the religion element is surprisingly straightforward, as the religious practices amount almost exclusively to positivity. Mecha series have dealt with war going back to classics like 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam, but Eureka Seven approaches the issue more directly and viscerally than many, transposing real (and current, at least at the time) war environments into its fantastical but raw setting as unflinchingly as its explores a variety of real subcultures, also rare for anime even though it’s relatively innocuous. For a show with not-really-robot robots flying around on surfboards while they fight, Eureka Seven is very, very real, often uncomfortably so.

From a particularly intense depiction of the horrors of war comes not only a major insight into Eureka’s character of the past, present, and future but also an unusual element of parenting for young teenagers. Battling through his own turbulent coming of age, fourteen-year-old Renton is suddenly thrust into the role of surrogate father, helping ease some of the immense burden Eureka has carried with her since she was first shocked into understanding the atrocities she was engaged in, but as ill-fit for the position as someone of that age is, it forces him to grow up a little faster and gives a lot more meaning to his bond with Eureka than simply that of a kid who decides he’s in love with a cute girl. Having lost most of his own family to circumstances that reveal themselves over the course of the series, Renton creates a new family in a way that’s genuinely good for all involved, and puts in the work to show that he’s serious. When things work out, you don’t just feel good because you’ve been following Renton; you know that he deserves it, especially as the series is never afraid to throw undeserved hardship his way.

Even with all the universal themes it explores, Eureka Seven has so many original concepts that even an astute observer may want to watch the series several times to fully understand all of its intricacies. The level of world-building it achieves is awe-inspiring in its scope, and even with everything going on, even with all the downtime of sorts, the series makes amazing use of its 50 episodes in constructing a truly immersive setting full of concepts as interesting as its characters.

eureka-7-tyl-03There are many more things to discuss when it comes to Eureka Seven (I’ve basically only mentioned two characters of the massive cast, including the dynamic ensemble of Gekkostate and the main pair’s parallels and next most important, or least most interesting, characters, the fascinating Anemone and her unfortunate Renton equivalent Dominic Sorel). But looking back at a series after ten years in a single article demands focus on the big picture: Renton, Eureka, the overall journey, the movements of the world at large, and the thematic weavings of the storytelling. For the rest, I’ll just have to advise anyone who hasn’t seen the series to go do themselves a favor.

I first saw Eureka Seven during its initial run on Adult Swim almost exactly one year after its Japanese broadcast, and it was one of the most interesting anime I was watching at the time. Bandai released it on DVD at the time and along with being able to watch it again, I greatly enjoyed the wealth of extras from both the Japanese and English cast (both phenomenal casts, by the way, and Tony Oliver did as excellent a job directing his English cast as he always does). Bandai is of course no more, but FUNimation has since brought the series back, extras fully intact, on Blu-ray and even with a lovely artbox. Adult Swim has since rerun the series as part of the new Toonami, hopefully exposing more fans who will appreciate the experience as much as I did some six years prior.

Oh, and you may see some sources indicate that there’s a movie and/or a sequel series. Pay no attention to them. Eureka Seven is a fantastic 50-episode series and it would be a shame if something tarnished that. There’s no movie, and there’s definitely no sequel series.

Kestrel Swift has been an anime fan since 1999 and has been getting himself deeper into that fandom ever since. Today he is especially passionate about the titles he considers the absolute best. He has been active on the Fandom Post since it started in 2011 (you may know him as GingaDaiuchuu on the forums) and began writing for it the next year. He has been one of the only constant members of the site’s podcast, Fandom Post Radio (also available on iTunes, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher, Twitter, and Facebook), since it started in 2017.

Kestrel Swift – who has written posts on The Fandom Post.

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