Eureka Seven is an unusual franchise. It failed to set the world on fire on its original released in the UK back in 2005 by Beez, or when it was briefly reissued as a budget release in 2010 shortly before the company folded, and has been out of print ever since. Nonetheless Manga Entertainment saw fit to release the Eureka Seven film Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers back in 2011, and now they bring us the sequel series Eureka Seven: AO a mere eight and a half years after the original series debuted here.
The series focuses on Ao Fukai, a 13 year
old boy living on the Okinawan island of Iwato Jima with a local Doctor
following the disappearance of his mother ten years earlier. The political
landscape has led to Okinawa becoming an independent nation from both Japan and
the US, with much of its independence owing the the 'scub coral' that exists off
its coast. The scub coral is a mysterious rock formation of unknown origin
which emits Trapar energy - a type of electromagnetic wave that can be harnessed
for lighter-than-air travel - and is mined extensively for rare minerals and
useable technology. However, Scub Corals are a bit of a double-edged
sword. When they first appear they draw strange alien creatures known as
'Secrets' to them, and if the Secret makes contact with the Coral they initiate
a Scub Burst - an explosion of huge destructive power. To stop this from
happening an organisation called Generation Bleu exists to combat the Secrets
and stabilise the Coral, and they are called into action when a new Scub Coral
appears off the coast of Iwato Jima. Ao is not from the island and is
treated with mistrust by the other inhabitants, but when a Secret appears and
lays siege to his adopted home Ao finds himself in a position to defend it when
he is forced to fly a mecha known as the Mark 1. Using it he is able to
hold the Secret at bay until Generation Bleu appear but in doing so makes
himself a target, both for the islanders who think he is somehow responsible for
the attack, and for Japan and the US who want to obtain the Mark 1. With
few allies Ao is offered an olive branch by Generation Bleu who seem to know
something about his mother, but do they really want to help him or do they have
an ulterior motive?
There's always a danger when a sequel to an older series is released, especially when the original series is no longer readily available, that it will alienate new viewers. To be honest though it's something that doesn't affect Eureka Seven: AO too much, in fact the series may make less sense to fans of the original than to new viewers. Despite being a sequel the series is set far in the original's past, with a new cast and only a few references to characters from the original. This makes it very difficult to pin down chronologically, and
ensures that if you're a fan of Eureka Seven the new series will not just be more of the same. The biggest issue for new viewers is that the series doesn't explain things like Trapar energy or Scub Corals straight away, you have to pay attention to build up a picture of what they are so for the first few episodes it's easy to get a little lost. However, though Ao you slowly learn more about the world in a way that doesn't seem forced. The series learning curve is pitched just about right, allowing the story to build over the course of these first 12 episodes, and there's still plenty of questions left unanswered at the end to leave plenty to happen in the second half.
Eureka Seven AO is a bit of a
throwback but not in a bad way. In the wake of Neon Genesis
Evangelion in the late 1990's mecha sci-fi anime saw a bit of a
renaissance, with a mix between straightforward action titles and some
more high-concept titles that boasted some dense plotting and intriguing
ideas. Eureka Seven fell into the latter category and
deserved more attention than it ultimately received, and it's good to
see that this sequel follows a similar style. Although it largely
ditches the surfing aspect of the original series it retains the balance
between action and drama, with several high-stakes mecha battles
peppering an intelligent story that covers some difficult themes.
The series has political intrigue and touches on racial intolerance, the
fear of being different and the pain of loss, characters who seem quite
flat on their first appearance develop through the course of these 12
episodes, bearing their souls through the events that occur to and
around them. On top of these the action is fast paced and
exciting, whilst the animation is bright, colourful and suitably
impressive. In fact it's a shame that the series is not being
released on Blu-Ray, as it would have looked excellent in HD.
If there's a real criticism it's probably that the series is a little too similar to Evangelion. Whilst the original series had its own identity this one sets itself up in the same way as the Gainax series, with a sullen lead character reluctantly taking on mecha piloting for a mysterious organisation alongside two female pilots. They fight against strange alien beings using barely understood technology, and the organisation they work for may not be all it seems. There are many parallels as the series proceeds, including the arrival of a mysterious
adversary for Ao who's more than a little reminiscent of Evangelion's Kaworu. However, this enemy - named Truth - actually elevates the series and takes it in a new direction. He's powerful, dangerous and ruthless, but also charismatic and mysterious. He's got an interest in Ao but it's not clear why or even where he's from or how he has the powers he has. The series is interesting before he appears, but he really adds an extra edge to it, giving Ao a humanoid rival instead of the faceless Secrets and providing him with a reason to fight.
Eureka Seven: AO Part 1 is a bit of a grower. To start with it's somewhat confusing, both for new viewers who will only start to grasp much of the terminology and technology towards the end of the volume, and for existing viewers who will wonder why the hell everything seems to have gone back in time. However, the story is well constructed, introducing an engaging new cast who develop as the series progresses, and a complex, high-concept plot which is thematically strong. The best aspect of the series so far is undoubtedly the creepy and enigmatic adversary Truth, and it will be interesting to see exactly what he's after and how his rivalry with Ao develops over the second half of the series. Its main problem the series has is that it does feel a bit too Evangelion-ish in places, and it has yet to really step away from these comparisons and establish its own identity at this point. However, this type of mecha sci-fi is a style you don't see too often nowadays, it's the kind of anime that got me interested in the medium and when watching this you do wonder why there's not more of it. Eureka Seven: AO is ambitious, action-packed and engrossing, boasting a storyline that grows over the course of the series and a cast you want to learn more about. It's one you have to pay attention to and there's precious little anime like that now, it may not be perfect but it's certainly a great sci-fi action series and one that's well worth checking out.
A good selection, the discs include clean opening and ending sequences, trailers, commentaries for episodes 5 and 10, commercials and a short documentary focusing on the dub recording. Decent stuff.