Eureka Seven AO
Building on an existing storyline isn’t an easy thing to do – especially when the ending of the original tale has a degree of finality to it. That doesn’t stop people making the attempt though, and nowhere is this more prominent than in the world of fanfiction. This rather odd realm of amateur (and not-so-amateur), writers is filled with continuations, alternate retellings, character side-stories, non-canon additions, and a host of other works that reflect the fan’s passion for the source material. Although they often lack the quality and direction (and sometimes the logic and common sense), of professional pieces, they’re generally imaginative yarns that can sometimes lead the reader to new insights about the original work.
That said, there are occasions where the story has been created not out of love, but simply because the author feels that they can do better.
Eureka Seven AO (which stands for Astral Ocean, but is also the name of the lead character), is the sequel to 2005’s extremely popular Eureka Seven – and with director Kyoda Tomoki at the helm again and Bones producing both shows, it’s easy to see why fans of the original would be excited. Written by Kato Yuichi, the new story focuses on Fukai Ao – a 13 year-old boy living with his grandfather on the island of Iwato Jima in the independent nation of Okinawa. Considered an outcast by the residents who blame the disaster that occurred ten years before on his mother Eureka – who has been missing since that time – his life changes when an accident delivers a strangely familiar bracelet into his hands, which in turn brings him into contact with a mysterious robot called Nirvash.
The tale begins in relatively familiar territory and progresses at a decent pace for the first few episodes, but as the series continues more things are added to the plot until it grows into a ponderous, shambling behemoth of ideas and concepts that simply don’t go anywhere. In addition to this the storyline degenerates into a mediocre monster-of-the-week narrative for a good portion of the show, and elements of the original series have either been left out, crowbarred in, or completely altered – sometimes for no logical reason at all – creating some major continuity issues. The problems are further compounded by the addition of time travel and alternate realities, all of which lead to a rather lukewarm, confusing, and decidedly unsatisfying ending that lacks the catharsis of the original series.
Eureka Seven AO takes many of its visual cues directly from its parent, and Bones have worked hard to maintain the style while updating the design. That said, there are some odd decisions about clothing (Ao’s school uniform resembles a costume used by male strippers), but some good animation and effects work balances the strange outfits. Much of the aerial combat is fluid, and although there are some minor issues the character movements are handled in a reasonable manner. In addition to this the mechs – which are clearly influenced by the original series – have a definite “man-made” feel that highlights the creator’s desire for Eureka Seven AO to be more than just a run-of-the-mill sequel.
The show features two opening sequences that serve as bland-yet-functional introductions to the story thanks to the use of the check-box approach (protagonist running, birds flying, people looking pensive/cheerful/heroic/constipated, [insert cool action sequence], [insert suggestive minor spoiler that may have no connection to the plot at all], rinse, repeat, end with cool and/or spicy action still featuring the protagonist (and his love interest – male or female, species is optional), adverts, etc). The first closing sequence is equally unimaginative (and ticks all the boxes), but the second is something of a departure as it adopts a “pop-art” style and relies on still images to suggest that Ao’s playtime is over.
“Escape” by Hemenway (the first opening track), is the type of bland rock song that seems to grace every major shounen title at least once, but FLOW’s “Bravelue” manages to capture at least some of the magic of “Days” – the opening theme from Eureka Seven. “Stand By Me” by the oddly named Steropony is a rather dull, brooding affair that doesn’t really fit with the formulaic closing sequence, while Joy’s “Lolite” is a poppy little number that works surprisingly well with the associated imagery.
Eureka Seven AO is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to overall audio quality, and the uninspiring opening and closing themes are reflective of the music throughout the show. The predominantly well-chosen background tracks often work within the context of a given scene, but there are far too many attempts at enhancing a humourous moment using a comedic tune, and many of these attempts fall short of the mark. In addition to this the diverse array of effects can be let down by a lack of care with choreography or poor production quality, and the issues are further compounded by a script that is sorely lacking in emotional intensity. With little to work with the Japanese cast are unable to showcase their talents effectively – resulting in performances that vary wildly as the voice actors struggle to breathe some semblance of life into their roles. Unfortunately things don’t get any better with the English dub as, true to form, the approach is literal and the scope is limited.
One thing that should be pointed out is the continuous inability of the Western license holders to find people with accents to play particular roles, and it’s painful to hear Sainty Reid as 16 year-old French pilot Fleur Blanc – especially when she macerates her way through terms like “maman” – the colloquial form of “mère” (mother). It’s unfortunate that her first serious role is one that really needed a specific vocal style, and the truly sad part is that in an era where talented people can be found under every rock, viewers are still being subjected to the idea that everyone in the world speaks English (with an American accent), as their native language.
The wastelands of anime are littered with the shades of forgettable characters, and the numerous problems with the storyline and script deal what could only be called a killing blow to Eureka Seven AO. The foundation of good characters lies in the logical development of the plot together with an organic approach to dialogue – both of which require time, patience, an understanding of relationships, and a healthy dose of criticism. The original series featured some good character dynamics that added personality to each role, making Renton, Eureka, and several others believable to a degree – but more importantly they became interesting and likeable. Unfortunately logic appears to have gone out of the window with this “sequel” – resulting in a set of bland “people” with few saving graces.
The decision to treat Ao in a manner similar to Ikari Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion has backfired, and although some attempts have been made to save him from the pit of obscurity, he stands at the head of a queue of unlikable, uninteresting, and excruciatingly dull characters – all of whom shove him steadily towards the precipice. Truth initially serves as a decent antagonist, but his development is sorely lacking as he is quickly relegated from that role – becoming little more than a force of nature whose actions serve no purpose whatsoever. As for Naru, her status as Ao’s love interest quickly loses all meaning once the plot shifts into monster-of-the-week mode, and like Truth her purpose in the story is ultimately rendered irrelevant. That said, there are some intriguing interactions between the supporting characters, but the approach to relationships is surprisingly lacking in emotional depth – becoming little more than background noises that are eventually swallowed by the confusing plot.
Eureka Seven AO is a strange, lumbering beast that struggles to maintain its balance before the weight of its collective flaws sends it careening into the realms of logical fallacy, but the odd thing is that nobody appears to have noticed any of the obvious problems during the planning, production, or ADR stages of the show – which raises quite a few questions. Kato Yuichi’s confusing, poorly written storyline has a mechanical feel that lacks emotion or passion for the original series, and in truth has more in common with amateur fanfiction written by someone whose ideas, imagination, and belief that they can do better are greater than their talent. The shoddy dialogue makes it difficult to like or believe in the characters, and fans of the original series may find this addition to the franchise painful to watch. That said, the show does feature some rather nice action sequences that can distract the audience from the mundanity, and there are some interesting aspects of the story that really should have been more prominent. If all the viewer wants is something to pass the time then Eureka Seven AO isn’t the worst show available, and if it isn’t examined too closely then the show may attract its own fan base.
The decision to make a “sequel” to a successful show is understandable (anime is a business after all), but Eureka Seven AO highlights some issues that lie at the heart of the industry – in particular the lack of understanding about what the wider audience wants and a serious need for quality control at all levels. The simple fact is that the series has broken under the weight of too many unnecessary straws, and aside from the visuals the show lacks the finesse and polish that one would expect from a mainstream title.