Hear the cry of the children of the stars
Review copies for both parts 1 and 2 were provided by FUNimation Entertainment
In 2012, Bones revealed a sequel season to their 2005 classic Eureka Seven (our writer Kaushik has voiced his opinion on both seasons). With a lot to live up to and coming off a very well-known mecha series, how well does Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean fare with its modern day sensibilities? (There will be a section with spoilers, so be sure to skip that portion of the review if it is a concern.)
Coming off the ending of the first series, AO takes place thousands of years in the past in 2025 in a completely different universe than the one the first series took place in, one that bears a striking resemblance to our world. Ao Fukai, the son of Eureka, one day stumbles upon the very familiar Nirvash and in all the political chaos, joins Generation Bleu, a corporation committed to fighting Secrets, the strange phenomenon that seem to attack humanity at every turn.
Much like the first series, the second season tackles a lot of current day issues from xenophobia, child warfare, disputed territory politics, politics of technological power, and the duty which a company must serve. With the cast hailing from all over the globe and many missions taking place in not just Japan or alternate-universe full of Scub Coral, the show has a very global tone. It feels like an expansion on the themes the first series tackled and broadens the view. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
The series comes off as very monster-of-the-week and pacing is a big problem. Lots of critical early episode time which could have been dedicated to the strong character development the first series was lauded for is somewhat squandered to move the plot along, and it’s not helped considering that the series is 24 episodes instead of 52. That said, most of the characters themselves are very likable and rather strong with the cards they were dealt. Ao takes a few cues from Renton when he’s trying to find his place at Gen Bleu, albeit not as sheltered, having to deal with racism on his home island of Okinawa. The Gen Bleu staff and pilots are all also very likable as well, from Ao’s Pied Piper teammates to all the way up the chain of command.
The first result of the pacing issue that comes up is that the character development time is indeed mismanaged. We don’t get into Ao’s head nearly enough compared to Renton’s. Fleur gets very little time to grapple with the issues she has with her father, and Elena’s own crisis is not well planned out and resolution felt more like a footnote in the middle of a more pressing matter. But she was still probably my favorite pilot though. Team Pied Piper, in spite of time issues, still sticks in your head and the development you do get to see is rather fulfilling. However, I wasn’t able to get behind Ao’s childhood friend Naru, whose story literally just got dropped along with the resolution to Truth’s character. Why? Well time to sound the spoiler alarm.
SPOILERS begin here
Naru fits into some space as a voice of the Scub Corals after Truth, the main antagonist, exposes her condition to even more of the Coral, and when she descends with an outfit resembling those of the Vauderac faith in the first series, you expect big things from her story. However, when Ao defeats Truth, who had his own share of problems, Naru is still mounted against Ao as if nothing really happened. Elena has a real mixed bag going for her, since the writers had us anticipating something big. Fans of the older series such as myself perhaps thought she’d be much like Anemone (pink hair, raised in a facility with a likely fabricated past) and while the truth turned out to be a great twist, its execution was rushed and barely left a mark. Plenty of other characters also switch sides but in the blink of an eye, return home where they should.
Though the character plot with the most problems is… The story of the Scub Corals! The first series made painstaking efforts to make Eureka and Ao’s kind out to be the soul of the planet that wishes to communicate and have a relationship with humans, culminating in the romance between Renton and Eureka. Unfortunately when Renton and Eureka came to the new earth, the Secrets–that universe’s defense mechanism–attacked the Scub Coral thinking them to be invaders and causing mass devastation across the new earth’s timeline. Moreover, since Ao is half-human half-Coralian, the proliferation of Scub Coral would kill Ao. So what’s Renton’s plan to reconcile both worlds and save his son? Destroy the Scub Coral, his longtime allies and, albeit misunderstood, friends of humanity. Even this would be acceptable if given enough time to wrestle with, but only a mere one-line apology is given to Eureka in the last episode. While this might be no big deal if you viewed the Coral as just a phenomenon and didn’t know the message of the first series, if you’re coming into AO right after watching season one, the stark contradiction presents itself irreverently.
SPOILERS end here
The second issue is that when you put time-travel into a story about alternate worlds, the result is messy; the pacing rears its ugly head again. I wouldn’t say it was impossible, but a lot of questions were left unanswered and immediately surfaced in the late-game of the show, much like the Amita Drive from the first season. However, to its benefit, the time-travel element was used very sparingly and in full knowledge of the Butterfly Effect that is often referenced.
While it’s understandable and refreshing to see a new take on the mythos of the first world, the result feels like a step back from the first series. For all those moments you see how Generation Bleu modified their base, which is a modified tower from the first series, there are stylistic choices that seem to ignore the initial foundation rather than put a new spin on old concepts. There’s very little Refboarding-style surf culture, and battle is missing that unique acrobatic high-flying attitude trading it in for more firepower. At least some of the initial themes are still intact, like the importance family, which we see in Ao’s interaction with the rest of Pied Piper and ultimately, his parents.
On the technical side, Bones did a great job animating the show. Everything looks and flows beautifully. The soundtrack has its own individual taste that sets itself apart from the first series but still takes its cues. And as for the voice acting, the cast lineup is strong. In the original, Elena is played by Chiaki Omigawa, who has her unique voice and even gets a certain scene in the OVA that pays homage to a certain other character she’s known for. In the dub, Funimation was able to get Johnny Yong Bosch and Stephanie Sheh to reprise their roles as Renton and Eureka, which was fantastic as no recasts were needed. The rest of the cast in both original and dub put great performances and it’s funny to see Johnny Yong Bosch and Micah Solusod in a show together, playing father and son, no less. The DVDs also come with trailers, the original commercials, several commentaries, and also a behind-the-scenes look at the dubbing process.
All said and done, I wanted to like Eureka Seven AO on an objective level through the lens of someone who remembered season one’s broadcast on Cartoon Network’s [adult swim], but ironic as it seems, knowing the first series got in the way of enjoying it completely. Depending on how close you are to the first series (or if you marathoned it for weeks as a refresher like I did) can color your impressions. I give the show a 3.5/5. It’s a mixed bag that missed opportunities but still tried hard. Join me next time when I serve ramen in a tracksuit.
– Great animation, soundtrack, and overall production
– Voice work is top notch and a good dub too
– Cast is largely likable with decent development
– Many pacing issues drag down other aspects of the show
– Many plot elements demote or contradict elements of the first season
– Quite a few characters miss out on going further in their character development
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