Eureka Seven AO and the Curse of the Sequel
December 2, 2012 1 Comment
Sequels can be tricky things, and while the idea of a sequel may at first seem good; many of them inevitably turn out to be worse than the original. There are two distinct types of sequel, those that follow on from previous series and are a simple continuation of the story, and those that try to build upon what has happened in previous series and expand the themes and ideas. Of course, suggesting that there are only two types of sequel is a little flawed as there are numerous sub-divisions and subtleties with these series, although they inevitably fit into these two broader categories. Eureka Seven AO fits into the second category, with the series using existing themes from the original series but attempting to build on them and expand the universe. Considering how great the original series is this might sound great, unfortunately there is one problem with it, the series is rubbish and does absolutely nothing to the franchise other than rip apart everything that was good about the original.
Eureka Seven AO falls into the same trap as the recent Last Exile sequel, it tries to continue the franchise while appearing to believe that it doesn’t need to continue using the themes that made the original so much fun to watch. Part of the problem is that sequels are inevitably better than any sequel (although there will always be exceptions), however, by ignoring what made the original such a good series these sorts of sequels will inevitably fail. AO lacks the multi-dimensional and varied cast that Eureka Seven had, something that is made worse by the apparent uselessness of certain key characters. Last Exile Fam suffered from a similar problem, with Fam, Giselle and Millia never living up to the brilliance of Claus, Lavie and Alvis. The characters feel inconsequential, as if their actions have no meaning or purpose. Ao, Fleur, Elena, and Naru are all lacklustre characters lacking the essential elements to allow them to drive the story, Naru in particular often seems to have no real reason for being in scenes other than to utter cryptic lines and then disappear. Naru has the image of a new age hippy, preaching about coexistence one moment, and then fighting Ao and Generation Bleu they next. Elena is equally as guilty of character inconsistencies, starting out as a slightly bizarre otaku only to switch to someone with serious mental and emotional issues halfway through.
Eureka Seven AO lacks consistency, with certain characters seemingly changing the way they act and view the world each episode. One of the great strengths of Eureka Seven was its diverse cast and how the characters interacted with each other and the wider world within the series. It was a series without clearly defined roles and a significant amount of ambiguity surrounding notions of good and bad. While the enemies for the first half were the army, it became clear that they might not actually be as bad as it would first appear. Holland in particular was a fascinating character that would ultimately turn out to be one of the main antagonists of the series along with Dewey and the army. Watching Holland go into a blind rage and begin beating up Renton helped to demonstrate the complicated nature of the Gekkostate and their relationship with the army and in particular Dewey. By blurring the boundaries between right and wrong and demonstrating that regardless of what you might think is right someone else may think otherwise the series managed to blur the boundaries and thus demonstrate the complicated nature of its world.
The cast of AO on the other hand was lacklustre at best, with numerous characters seemingly having no real part to play in the narrative. Naru for example made no sense as a character, there was no flow to her actions or what she said, and instead we were presented with a character that changed so frequently it became impossible to really work out why she was there to begin with. Having said that, it was also relatively clear that she was trying to protect Ao, but was doing it in such a roundabout way and constantly changing how she talked to him that even that wasn’t entirely certain. Furthermore, we have a cast that at certain points was almost exclusively made up of children, something that has been done before of course, but never really worked in AO. The idea of children piloting robots is not new, with Evangelion, Rahxephon and to a lesser extent Full Metal Panic all having this theme. However, all of these series pull it off, in part by showing the trials and tribulations that the characters go through, and in the case of Evangelion the psychological destruction that all the Eva pilots inevitably succumb to.
Eureka Seven was an outstanding piece of work, a series with such a wide scope and grand ideas that it often got lost in its own little world and occasionally lacked a clear direction in its narrative. But, it will remain one of my all-time favourite anime series, partly because of this grand scope and ambitions that were arguably never realised. Being introduced to Renton and learning that he was the son of the man who saved the world automatically singled this character out as someone who would achieve great things in the series. One of the major flaws in Eureka Seven AO is the lack of scale; it tries to be conservative as opposed to the originals ridiculously large hopes and aspirations. There were some interesting political elements, but it lacked any overarching theme that could bring these characters together. Part of the problem was the setting itself, with Eureka Seven AO set in an alternate reality, thus removing all outcomes and links to the original series in an attempt to start anew.
Furthermore, the setting of Eureka Seven leant itself to a grand adventure with Renton leaving his home to discover more about the world by travelling with the Gekkostate. By making the main base a ship constantly flying from place to place we are provided with this grand setting, one where the landscape and places change from episode to episode. This gives the series a brilliant feeling of adventure with Renton finally discovering truths about his world that had been hidden from him. Eureka Seven AO on the other hand is static, with the central base a metallic monstrosity protruding from a mountainside and imposing itself on the landscape. While Ao and Generation Bleu do travel from place to place it is only to fight their monster of the week, and because of the format that the episodes take it lacks the feeling of a grand adventure that the original series had in spades. Ao lives in a self-contained space where everything is controlled and regulated and even his ability to pilot the Nirvash is severely limited. It lacks the freedom and grand scope of the original with the main purpose for travel centered on destroying Secrets and collecting quartz from the Scub Coral.
By setting the series in an alternate universe, AO lacks the fascinating elements of the original world that made it so much fun to watch. Also, because of this setting, everything that happened in the original is effectively negated, as if it never existed in the first place. The main theme of coexistence that Eureka Seven worked towards throughout, with the final act of Renton and Eureka’s love etching the moon is lost. Instead it is replaced with a story about the destructive nature of the ‘other’, in this case the Scub Coral, with Renton appearing at the end focussed entirely on destroying it. The messages here are mixed and muddied, with this sequel trying to forcibly destroy any remaining trace of the original by superimposing its current message over the originals with the use of Renton (this time voiced by Fujiwara Keiji who voice Holland in the original) and his quest to save Eureka. There is no subtly in the series, with the writing woefully inadequate to convey any of its messages. Yes there may be a fascinating political subtext focussing on ideas of political and economic freedom, while also skirting the issues of Anpo, but this isn’t enough.
Alternate realities or vast time jumps aren’t inherently bad, with numerous sequels using them to great effect. Aquarion EVOL for example works because its universe works in 12,000 year cycles, thus allowing for a completely different set of characters and even setting to be used while still maintaining its thematic links to the original series. The Macross Universe also works in a similar way, with each series focusing on one set of characters and one Macross fleet or area rather than the universe as a whole. If used correctly these differences can allow a series to build upon existing material and expand the universe and setting, but AO does none of them. Instead, its as if everything that was good about the original was dumped and all we have left is a few robots and some Scub Coral. We are left with dull plot devices, mecha and characters that appear to have little effect on the world they live in. As a series it doesn’t seem to understand where its going and why, this lack of direction and consistency in the plot and characters creates an almost schizophrenic story that constantly bounces from one extreme to the other.
AO tries to push its political subtext without having a solid narrative framework and solid characters; this results in politics without meaning and certain potentially fascinating sequences seeming dull and lifeless. The original series managed to mix a fascinating plot that incorporated elements of politics; philosophy and 1960s counter culture to create a series that could be enjoyed on multiple levels. It also managed this through its cast and the use of ambiguous characters and settings. The Gekkostate were key to the success of the original and acted as the center of the series with everything else revolving around them and their aims. What was so fascinating about the Gekkostate was the ambiguity that surrounded them, at times they were good, but many also carried dark pasts and self-destructive tendencies. This group was originally set out as the protagonists, the ‘good guys’, but throughout the course of the series it became abundantly clear that they could be as bad as Dewey and the army. In fact it was precisely because of this ambiguity surrounding the entire cast that forces us to question who the good guys really are, assuming there were any to begin with.
Without depth in the story and characters these subtexts are lost, and in many respects appear to be used to cover over glaring plot holes and problems with the narrative. It was a shock to discover that Eureka Seven Ao’s script was written by Aikawa Shou, the writer credited with writing the scripts for Rahxephon, Kidou Senkan Nadesico (Martian Successor Nadesico) and UN-GO. For someone who can clearly write a good story it seems odd that he came up with the frankly appalling story and plot for this series, one with so many holes and problems that it would probably sink if you ever tried to put it in the sea. AO’s ending was sloppy, with the alternate universe used to justify the actions of Eureka, Renton and Ao, and even suggest that the thoughts and feelings from the original series were flawed and led to self-destruction. The changes that we see in both Eureka and Renton are particularly ludicrous, with their characters completely different from the original and essentially invalidating all the hard work and progression that went into these characters in the first place. The use of this alternate universe to justify its story and destruction of everything that was good about the original is a metaphorical kick in the teeth for those who loved Eureka Seven, and appears to demonstrate how little the staff really knew or cared about the original series in the first place.
BONES is an excellent studio, but they produce only two kinds of series, the absolutely excellent, and the terrible. They seem incapable of creating anything in-between these two extremes, and while Eureka Seven was excellent and may be one of the best series ever made, AO is most certainly not. It is badly written, poorly set out and has no real story or characters worth noticing, and arguably should have never been made. It succumbs to the curse of the sequel through its attitude towards the original series. It is as if everything that was good about Eureka Seven was taken out and put in a pile, leaving only the basic elements of Scub Coral and LFO’s. Eureka Seven AO lacks all the subtleties, and complex characters of the original, instead of learning from this first series mistakenly tries to rewrite the universe thus belligerently ignoring everything that was good about Eureka Seven. The cynic in me says that this series was made to capitalise on the continued popularity of the original despite its current ages. Admittedly I was cynical about this series from the very beginning and unfortunately it seems that all my fears and problems turned out to be true. If you want to watch a series like this watch the original, it may look a little dated in places (although this is partly due to the ratio used and certain elements of its presentation), but it is a wonderfully animated series with a complex set of characters and fascinating story, truly one of the best made.