Today Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean offers us a case study into why time travel and alternate realities make writers kinda lazy and why a sequel needs to be written by someone who was present during the previous series. Come with me on a journey into the flawed hallways of Eureka Seven's sequel series, Eureka Seven: AO.
Now, purely hypothetical (not really), imagine a series that is supposed to continue the story of another series but only has peripheral setting links to it. Now imagine that this series not only drastically alters a few parts of the setting already, but it also completely goes somewhere else with its story. Now, finally, imagine that this series chucked out one big thing that first series had going for it, a meaningful connection between the main character and another.
That bad huh?
First things first. Like its predecessor, Eureka Seven: AO has excellent animation quality; I would even go as far as to say that it is superior to its predecessor. The characters are designed well and the new Nirvash is cool. The whole set of outfits and IFO suits that the cast use feel both unique and well conceived.
The story in Eureka Seven isn't that bad really, but it gets ruined later on by repeated hackneyed attempts to bring the plot of AO into line with Eureka Seven's. The overall story focuses on an international organization (Generation Bleu) that uses human-like mecha to destroy enemies called "Secrets" when they enter our world. The whole plot is basically a new form of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and for the most part I'm fine with that. It isn't that similar, so I'm not chafed nearly as bad as I could be.
The story follows Ao (Get it? Eureka Seven: AO and Ao? I'll shut up now), an orphaned child in an alternate timeline of Earth. Over the course of the story he tries to find his mother (the previous series' Eureka) as she repeatedly appears in the world only to vanish again. In the process, he joins the aforementioned international organization.
The series manages to be great in the themes it attempts to employ. Instead of a repeat of Eureka Seven's, it opts to magnify the family theme from the original series. Because Ao is essentially a lost child, much of the series tries to show us how the people at Generation Bleu attempt to stand in for his family. It was oddly poignant when coupled with the rampant themes of acceptance and proliferation of discrimination.
By making Ao look different than people around him (due to his mother), the series uses it as a door into the world of acceptance and discrimination. For most of his life, Ao has been seen as an outsider and nearly no one has ever given him the love or friendship that most of us have enjoyed in a family. This makes his desperate need to find his mother all the more relatable. In spite of this, the series shows us that some people are actually capable of overcoming this and accept Ao as a friend.
In accordance with the story of family, the majority of the main cast (the members of Pied Piper) were great. I loved them for all their flaws and they did indeed feel like Ao's family many times.
This complex mix of themes is rich with parallels to an increasingly interconnected world we live in. Despite being different, Ao manages to find his place in the world alongside Generation Bleu, saving everyone he can so he never has any regret later... even if they don't care for his help. That right there is a powerful theme in our world today and one that I haven't necessarily seen explored.
In sum, Ao's journey in the series is characterized by deep themes (if somewhat unrealized) and a variety of very well-done character evolutions.
Unfortunately for Ao's character evolution, Eureka Seven: AO has huge drawbacks.
This is a sequel series that oddly seemed to use the predecessor solely as a way to avoid exposition, as it seems to chuck out whatever it can't use and rewrite it. One example is how the Scub Corals now function entirely different than they did in Eureka Seven.
This gets particularly grating for certain viewers when you realize that almost no time is paid to any of the characters from Eureka Seven besides Eureka. So this series would probably better be described as a spin-off rather than the advertised sequel. It is perplexing that the writers felt the need to try and toss in bones for the Eureka Seven fans even when it seemed to make little sense to do so. The most obvious ones that come to mind were the Gekko showing up, TheEnd showing up in Generation Bleu's headquarters (one of many unexplored plots), and pretty much everything relating to the Eureka.
Speaking of Eureka... God. Damn. Time. Travel.
This show goes to weird town when it starts introducing time travel. The mere act of doing so made this series start to fall apart. It starts to confuse the viewer by offering half-explained answers to many of the questions had been accumulating over the series. In addition, it gets difficult to justify why this had to be here. The quartz gun (think time gun) is a massive offender in the crazy deus ex machina arena. The ability to wipe things out of existence is just weird and barely has a reason to exist.
Furthermore, though the initial story is kinda interesting, it gets the "they changed it and now it sucks" treatment. The whole secrets-vs-scub coral plot line is so tangled and boring that it is just unforgivable by the end. The themes and potential are all there, but the execution is just all sorts of bad.
As if to insult us further, the final episode is all kinds of insane. The main character begins doing things that make little sense at all. I found myself asking out loud, "How exactly did he know that would work?"
And why not mention the fact that the most prominent part of Eureka Seven is absent here? In Eureka Seven, the relationship between the main characters is a big selling point. In Eureka Seven: AO, this is absent. You get shades of this subplot with Naru and Fleur, but it never goes anywhere and it fails to use it for character development. For some reason though, during that accursed final episode, they decided to make Fleur basically do the equivalent of admitting her feelings... only for it to go absolutely no where.
I couldn't justify making this a Good/Great addition, but the theme music for both openings were pretty good:
As someone who did love Eureka Seven on its merits, this utter lack of anything from Eureka Seven is infuriating. What it managed to get right could have been better done in a standalone series without a connection to Eureka Seven, and that's the problem.
It is difficult to technically "recommend" this series to anyone. Many Eureka Seven fans won't like it, but non-Eureka Seven fans will be confused without having seen the original. If I had to say, I'd recommend this only to people are looking for a plot about family and discrimination. That is hard to envision, but it is certainly the strongest point of the series. If you're looking for visual eye candy, then you'd probably also want to jump in for a bit of fun.
I claim no ownership to the images herein. That is the property of Bones.
This is part of my Anime Review Marathon that I began in October 2013 to record my thoughts as I watch a variety of anime on my ever growing backlog. These reviews won't come out on a persistent basis, they'll come out when I feel I have seen enough of a series to pass a judgement on it.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner by using the "Dex's Corner" tag.
I don't really know what's next on the agenda next time. I have a couple of choices, we'll see.