Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 30th 2006
DVD 1: Special Edition (w/Tshirt, CD, Manga)
14-year-old Renton Thurston, son of a deceased war hero, lives what he considers a boring life with his mechanic grandfather in a boring town. The only thing which gives his life meaning is “lifting/reffing” on Trapar waves (i.e. aerial boarding) and dreaming of joining the crew of the renegade Gekkostate and its leader, the legendary lifter Holland. Just such an opportunity literally falls into his lap when a special LFO (a transforming mecha that “lifts”) called Nirvash, a member of Gekkostate, crashes into his grandfather's shop. Thanks in part to his use of his father's Amita Drive to power up the Nirvash in a crucial fight, Renton is invited to join Gekkostate on board their mother ship Gekko, where he quickly discovers that the behind-the-scenes life of Gekkostate is hardly so glamorous or interesting as he imagined. But one thing makes it all worthwhile for him: the presence of Eureka, the mysterious and rather cute girl who pilots Nirvash.
Although its structure is fairly ordinary for a shonen mecha series, Eureka 7 does serve up one of the oddest variations on the genre: these mecha not only transform but go airboarding, too! This is, of course, an utterly preposterous notion which vacates any degree of common sense (even moreso than normal for mecha series) in favor of tapping into the “cool” factor of extreme sports, in much the same way that Vin Diesel's XXX movie tried to do a couple of years ago. But sometimes these crazy gimmicks actually do work, and this is one of those times.
The reason why the series works, at least in its early stages, is because it knows how to abuse its gimmick to deliver several rip-roaring action scenes. Rather than the fisticuffs, super-weapon, or guns-blazing approach most commonly seen in mecha battles, these are dynamic action sequences which emphasize mobility, graceful aerial maneuvering, and slashing or smashing enemy mecha in devastating high-speed passes when they must be fought directly. Sure, the enemy depends heavily on missile fire, but its use feels boorish compared to the elegance of the Gekkostate mecha.
The other big early selling point is Eureka, who isn't the main character even though her name's in the title. While Renton is a pretty normal male lead for a series like this, Eureka quickly shows that she's more than just the Rei Ayanami clone she might initially appear to be. In many ways she breaks the mold for teenage female anime leading ladies: she's calm, sensible, and soft-spoken but not necessarily shy, seems innocent in some respects but is also far more mature than her youthful appearance suggests, and is quite capable of showing joy, sadness, or earnestness without resorting to the exaggerated expressions and reactions so common in anime. Studio BONES' smartest move with Eureka was not giving her much of a figure, though. The well-endowed hottie/jailbait female mecha pilot has been done to death, and there are enough other female characters in the series with significant cleavage, so not giving her any just contributes to her uniqueness. She also seems to have some odd abilities and circumstances, although these are not explored much in the first five episodes.
Supporting Renton and Eureka is a quirky cast primarily composed of Gekkostate members, of which only Holland and Talho, his sexy girlfriend and main Gekko pilot, have been well-established so far. One can almost see the channeling of Cowboy Bebop going on here as the lot of them are portrayed as a bunch of laid-back rebels and fringe-of-society elements. Although the dashing action hero, Holland's also the kind of guy who walks around his ship in only his boxers, and Talho plays out well as the annoyed woman in his life who takes out her frustrations by ordering Renton around. Less welcome are the three brats who compose Eureka's “kids,” who behave a little too maliciously towards Renton to be fully credible as needy orphans. Exactly why they regard Eureka as their mother, and she seems content to act as such, is a mystery to be explained in a later volume.
One of the other charms of the first volume Eureka 7 is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's more concerned at this stage with using light drama to set up its action sequences and liberally sprinkles situational humor amongst its episodes, such as Hilda's shopping efforts in episode 5. Sometimes it tries too hard to be funny, and so frequently does this with Renton that he's practically a buffoon by the end of the volume. There are suggestions of greater schemes and mysteries and deeper character interactions present, but this is a 50-episode series so its writing is in no hurry to explore them. While this could be just a sign of pacing, it could also indicate that it's shorter on plot and character development than, say, Fullmetal Alchemist, a series of comparable length, target audience, and comedy/action/drama balance which was nevertheless much denser in its early episodes. Time will tell on that.
The artistry has everything you'd expect from a Studio BONES production: interesting and varied character designs, solid background art, and color and textures variations between foreground and background art which are significant enough that the artistry sometimes doesn't have a fully-integrated look. Studio BONES also continues to have problems here with character depictions which can look clunky when seen at range. Mecha designs, while sharply-drawn, are nothing special, but the series fares much better than most when makings its character look distinct from generic anime chaff. Renton's a very regular-looking anime 14-year-old, but he's the exception. Eureka, again, is the brightest spot here, but Talho is effectively sexy, Holland is effectively cool and studly, and almost everyone else effectively looks the part they're supposed to play. The animation is quality work in every aspect, whether it's characters viewed walking from an odd angle, aerial mecha battles and “lifting” maneuvers, or the great expressiveness of characters' faces.
Eureka 7 relies on a mix of throbbing techno beats and soaring, dramatic musical numbers to back its action scenes, while background music during the day-to-day affairs on the Gekko is often more playful. The effectiveness of its use varies. The opening theme “Days,” which is incongruous with its visuals, sound like something adopted from a late '70s/early '80s American TV series, while the string-backed closer is a more modern-sounding adult contemporary number.
The Bang Zoom!-produced English dub is a solid one overall, with most of the English cast members being particularly well-chosen for their roles. Although Stephanie Sheh is known more for her ADR script writing, a closer English vocal match to the seiyuu for Eureka could not be imagined, and Crispin Freeman feels like an excellent fit as Holland. The script also stays reasonably close to the original, and the original Japanese pronunciation of Eureka's name is retained rather than switching to the way it should be pronounced in English (“ur-eh-ka” vs. “yer-ee-ka”). The one problem spot is Johnny Yong Bosch's key performance as Renton, which unfortunately is a big problem since he has close to half the lines in this volume. Although Mr. Bosch has the tone, attitude, and delivery of the character down, he's straining too hard to pitch his voice right to match a performance originally done by a woman, which results in a whiny sound that may grate on the nerves. His performance would have been more palatable if he'd just given up on the pitch and let Renton sound a bit older. He's the sole reason I'm marking down the dub grade, though, so if you can tolerate him then you should find the dub to be a quite satisfying one.
Extras on this DVD include a clean opener, audio commentary for the first episode provided by the seiyuu for Renten and Eureka, and an interview with the same seiyuu. With five full episodes and a base price of only $24.98, that makes for a great value for the regular release. The Special Edition adds a brown T-shirt emblazoned with the Gekkostate logo on the front and the series name down the back, a double-disc OST with translated liner notes, and the first volume of the companion manga adaptation, which covers some of the content in the first anime volume and a bit that will be in the second volume, for an additional $35. Considering that these items would have cost an additional $45+ separately, and the T-shirt isn't independently available, it's still a pretty good deal for the diehard Eureka 7 fan.
Despite its silly premise, Eureka 7 gets off to a good start by offering up great action sequences, an interesting title character, a diverse cast, and excellent animation. It's a series specifically designed to be “cool,” an emphasis it has managed to pull off so far. This is only an introductory span, however, so whether or not it can maintain that emphasis once the story development starts fully kicking in remains to be seen.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Thrilling action sequences, interesting title character.
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