The reason why we started this Anime Attempts series is because there is a surprising lack of reliable criticism when it comes to anime. People outside of the anime subculture tend to ignore it altogether, or are unfairly critical of it just because it’s anime. On the other side of the coin, people from within the anime subculture tend to over-glorify anime without acknowledging it’s shortcomings. I’ve had “anime people” unironically tell me that Rosario+Vampire is quality programming. It’s not. It’s softcore pornography.
I like to think of myself as someone who inhabits the rare middle ground between these two extremes: I’m on the fringe of anime culture, but I’m not necessarily part of it. Anime doesn’t appeal to me nearly as much as it did when I was an adolescent, but I still respect it as fruitful medium. I feel as though I’m close enough to anime to realize its potential, but distant enough to judge it on somewhat objective terms. I just wanted to let y’all know where I’m coming from before I start throwing around my unsolicited opinions.
With all of this in mind, the series that I decided to review for my first Anime Attempts article is an old friend: Eureka Seven (pronounced EH-OO-REK-AH, not YOO-REE-KA; if you say it fast, it kind of sounds kind of like “Erika”).
Eureka Seven (Kōkyōshihen Eureka Sebun or Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven as it’s known in Japan) tells the story of Renton Thurston, a fourteen-year-old boy dissatisfied with his boring life. After is war hero father dies saving the world from a cataclysmic event known as the “Summer of Love” and his older sister vanishes in pursuit of her father’s research, Renton is left alone in the little town of Bellforest under the care of his grandfather, a curmudgeonly mechanic. When he’s not failing out of school, he spends his time lifting (the hoverboard equivalent of surfing) and daydreaming about Gekkostate, a freedom-loving counterculture commune led by Holland: a legendary lifter and Renton’s personal idol.
Renton’s boring existence is shattered one day when he meets Eureka, a member of Gekkostate and pilot of the Nirvash TYPEZERO, the mysterious prototype of all LFOs (the show’s giant humanoid mechas; it stands for “Light Finding Operation”). Shortly after, Renton’s grandfather gives him the Amita Drive, a device capable of releasing an enormous dormant power locked within the Nirvash known as the “Seventh Swell Phenomenon.” Because the Amita Drive only seems to react when he’s around, Renton is invited to join Gekkostate as a mechanic and co-pilot for the Nirvash. He gladly accepts, not only to join the commune he’s always idolized, but also to get closer to Eureka, whom he has fallen deeply in love with. It doesn’t take long for him to discover that the Gekkostate isn’t as glamorous as it appears in magazines, and is in fact a fully functioning anti-military guerrilla faction.
Before we get into the review, I should tell you that I have something of an emotional attachment to this series. When I first watched it on Adult Swim back in 2006 (around the same time I was entering my freshman year of High School), it blew my fucking mind. I had seen plenty of anime before this, but nothing had ever affected me on the same emotional as Eureka Seven. Before Eureka Seven, I had watched almost exclusively shonen series like Naruto and Dragonball Z, and had never experienced anything that could speak to themes other than “I’m going to punch you really hard in the face and then we’re going to be friends.” Eureka Seven had such a profound impact on my friends group at the time, that it grew into an obsession for a while. We even began referring to ourselves collectively as the Gekkostate; we made membership cards and everything.It’s been a long time since I first watched this series, (seven years exactly if the date on my Gekkostate card is any indicator) but Eureka Seven has always had a special place in my heart. I don’t think I would consider myself biased, but for the sake of transparency I thought I should clue you in to my particular personal history with this series.
But enough about me, let’s talk about Eureka Seven. After spending the last few weeks re-watching the fifty-episode series, I can say that Eureka Seven manages to avoid many of the trappings that are common to this particular type of anime. It focuses in on the things that we actually care about and gives its audience a real emotional anchor to latch onto. However, it does stumble into a few of its genre’s pitfalls, and when it does it falls hard.
One such pitfall is the problem of worldbuilding. Eureka Seven takes place in a completely constructed world, meaning that in order for the audience to fully understand and appreciate its story, they must first acquire a working knowledge of the fictional setting. Just to give you an idea of how different the world of Eureka Seven is from ours, here is a list of terms that you’ll need to familiarize yourself with if you want to stand even a remote chance of understanding the plot:
- Compac Drive
- Amita Drive
- Pile Bunker
- Ageha Plan
- Desperation Disease
- Kute Class
- Command Cluster
- “Summer of Love”
- “Seventh Swell Phenomenon”
- “Limit of Questions”
- “The Great Wall”
- “The Zone”
Keep in mind that this list doesn’t include the names of characters, locations, or the specific names of ships and vehicles. This is a lot a lot to ask of the audience, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself. If the show is able to properly explain its world without being confusing or didactic, it shouldn’t be an issue.
However, this is where Eureka Seven falls flat on its face. It does not help its audience at all to understand the elements of its world. More times that not, terms that are crucial for understanding the plot like “the Summer of Love” or “the Ageha Plan” are mentioned off-handedly without any kind of explanation, as if we are expected to already know what they mean. When the show does finally get around to explaining itself, it does so sloppily in long, episode-spanning exposition dumps that the audience can only vaguely understand. What’s more, most of these big reveals don’t come until around halfway through the series…some coming as late as the last five or six episodes. This means that you’ll most likely spend at least twenty-five episodes wondering what the hell is going on and trying to figure out the motivations of major characters like Holland and Eureka. This is especially true of the main antagonist, which to be honest, I still don’t fully understand his motivations or his master plan.
I did eventually manage to piece together most of what was going on, but only after reading forum posts, scouring the Eureka Seven Wiki, and re-watching earlier episodes after their relevant terms had been explained later in the series. However, by that time the emotional impact was long gone, and I felt robbed of what might have otherwise been a pretty interesting plot.
However, this isn’t to say that Eureka Seven is bad. Like I said before, the show blew my mind back when I was fifteen; when I presumably had even less of a capacity to understand the plot than I do now. No, the reason why I’m willing to call Eureka Seven good despite its obvious storytelling issues is because of the way it handles its characters. Unlike many anime series (especially those in the “giant fighting robot” genre), the major characters in Eureka Seven follow very distinct and interesting character arcs.
Renton is an uppity self-centered brat when he first leaves Bellforest at the beginning of the series, but slowly matures into a caring and responsible young man as he becomes aware of his place in the world.
Holland, the enigmatic leader of Gekkostate, initially comes off as an aloof badass, but as the series progresses we see that he is actually plagued by a strange combination of ego and self-loathing. He’s haunted by his guilt-ridden past, frustrated with his own inadequacy, and jealous of Renton for being the hero he couldn’t be. Once he learns to accept what he can do rather than dwelling on what he can’t, he grows into the heroic, self-sacrificing leader that he appears to be in the magazines.
Talho, the pilot of the Gekkostate’s ship and the cover girl of ray=out (their self published magazine), starts off as a bossy, self-righteous know-it-all at the beginning of the series but grows into a mature mother figure and a respected leader by the end.
I think I was most impressed with Eureka, who starts off just like every other light-skinned, blue-haired, pink-eyed, emotionless girl with a troubled past and a giant robot that we’ve come to expect in anime.
Eureka begins as a blank slate with no emotions or character of her own, but unlike Miss Ayanami, she slowly develops her own personality based on her interactions with other characters. She acquires a sense of bravery and levelheadedness from Holland, a motherly instinct and a sense of guilt from Maurice, Maeter, and Linck, and a capacity to love and be loved from Renton.
These changes in character progress in such a natural arc over such a long period of time, that it’s difficult to point out specific instances of dramatic change. Even when characters like Talho and Eureka make sudden physical changes, they seem more like logical extension of their character rather than a simple costume changes. After skimming through the first couple of episodes again for the sake of this review, I was surprised by how different all of the characters felt compared to the end of the series, and how unaware I was of the change throughout.
But at its heart, Eureka Seven isn’t about individual characters, it’s about relationships. Unlike other anime series, which thrive on unresolved sexual tension and last minute hookups, the romantic relationships portrayed in Eureka Seven form naturally and progresses in a way that is both realistic and thematically meaningful.
The innocent love story between Renton and Eureka forms the emotional core of the experience; and the show never forgets that. The arc of their relationship develops naturally from the adolescent swooning of a one-sided crush into the warm beginnings of familial love, and matches every beat of the story along the way. No matter how confounding or incomprehensible the plotline gets, Renton and Eureka’s relationship serves as the common thread linking it all together and provides the emotional punch behind many of its biggest movements.
This is seen most profoundly through the relationships of the other characters, which serve to highlight and inform the protagonists’ romance. Holland’s relationship with Talho magnifies the importance of honesty, trust, and mutual support as the two help each other to become better people. The relationship between Dominic and Anemone, two soldiers fighting for the enemy side, acts as mirror that is both equal and opposite to Renton and Eureka’s arc.
I’m even willing to make a case for Gidget and Moondoggie (two minor members of the Gekkostate) whose slightly older, more physically intimate relationship serves as a contrast to the innocent, adolescent love shared by Renton and Eureka.
In fact, a lot can be said about Eureka Seven’s use of tertiary characters. Of the eighteen members of Gekkostate, only Renton, Eureka, Holland, and Talho really matter in the grand scheme of things (I would say that Maurice, Maeter, and Linck also matter, but they matter much more as “the kids” than they do as individual characters). However, each minor character is given enough to do that they never fade completely into the background. Their personalities come through in their unique designs, the interactions they have with the protagonists, and the little character moments sprinkled throughout the series. It gives them just enough personality to contribute to Renton and Eureka’s arc without being distracting or overplayed. The secondary characters are used to inform the primary characters without ever drawing the focus away from them.
All in all, Eureka Seven is an interesting exploration of character buried in a confusing, and oftentimes incomprehensible plot. If you typically roll your eyes at confounded anime plot lines, Eureka Seven probably won’t do much to change your mind. However, if you have the patience, and don’t mind tabbing over to the Eureka Seven Wiki every once in a while, you’ll find that the series portrays characters better than most, and delivers on a truly beautiful story about the optimism of adolescent love.
Generally Liked It
I’m somewhere between a “Generally Liked It” and a “Liked It” for this one, but ultimately I’m leaning closer to a “Generally Liked It.” Eureka Seven does a lot right. It’s exploration of themes and characters is certainly “Liked It” levels of good…maybe even “Loved It” levels, but I can’t ignore the major faux pas it makes with its storytelling. What it’s saying is interesting and poignant, but a lot of the emotional gravity of the series is lost when you’re struggling to understand what’s going on. Eureka Seven is an unfortunate case of a good story told poorly. For what it’s worth, it’s better the second time around.
Little Things I Didn’t Get To:
+ The animation and art direction are both top-notch. The show looks and feels great even for a series that is almost nine years old.
+ The dub voice cast gets the job done. You can’t go wrong with a core of Johnny Yong Bosch, Stephanie Sheh, and Crispin Freeman.
+ The show is really good about showing the effects of the main conflict on the general populous of the world. It gives the conflict a certain level of emotional weight that it wouldn’t have otherwise.
– The plot drags at certain points, sometimes for four or five episodes at a stretch.
– Some important plot elements are revealed during a clip show episode. You just don’t do that, man.
– It may just be the English translation, but the dialogue can be cringe worthy at times.