Interview: Tomoki Kyoda, Director of Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolutionby Mike Toole,
Tomoki Kyoda lives and breathes Eureka Seven. The accomplished director has, at various points, been directing Eureka Seven for over a decade. The series, an exciting, idealistic, and funny tale of hip heroes trying to save the world from their older (but not wiser) adversaries, has become Kyoda's signature work over the years; he doesn't always hit the mark squarely, but Kyoda's steady hand has always managed to make new installments of Eureka Seven, be they movie retellings or sequel TV series, feel fresh and exciting. We linked up with Mr Kyoda to learn about the world of Eureka Seven, the challenges he's faced bringing Renton and Eureka back to anime fans, and what might be in store in his new Hi-Evolution movie trilogy.
The first Eureka Seven episode aired in 2005, and here we are 12 years later celebrating the premiere of a new movie. How did you end up steering this franchise for over a decade, what keeps you coming back to the world of Eureka Seven again and again?
The motivation for continuing is something that I have to find every time there is a new production, but for this project, I stumbled upon it rather easily, since there are nuances that deviate from previous Eureka Seven stories.
Episode one of the original series begins with an interesting quote, that the true value of media is tied to memory. Instead of remembering what movies and music are about, you tend to remember how you felt when you first experienced them. How did you feel about the characters and story of Eureka Seven when you first directed it compared to now?
That's actually the exact same dialogue that screenwriter Dai Sato, character designer Kenichi Yoshida, and myself had when we got together to remake Eureka Seven. We talked about the fact that it's been over ten years, and some of the staff and original cast members are deceased. Life has changed for all of us, so we can't go back and do the exact same thing. Just as it was mentioned in the opening monologue to episode one, the decision to go back is not about recreating the exact setups but to work on something that we remembered feeling strongly about.
One of the strengths of Eureka Seven is how far it goes to establish a world. We learn so much about different factions, relationships, and cultures. Do you think that level of worldbuilding is important in your productions?
When we were working on the original Eureka Seven, we had very little pre-production time compared to other anime. We couldn't have more time to build the story, so instead we came up with all the details of a world that could be the main trunk of a story. So for the production process, the worldview and detailed designs of everything were very important, but that just becomes flavor for the viewer.
Eureka and Renton have always been a really fun couple. In the TV series, they had this goofy awkward charm. After seeing the first movie (HI-EVOLUTION1), their dynamic seems different because it's a little more serious. Is their relationship going to be different in these new movies?
Yes, I think the relationship will be taking off in a different direction. The reason for this is that when we were making the original Eureka Seven, we considered Renton to be like us, we identified with Renton as the point-of-view character. But now that it's been ten years, a lot of the staff members have gotten married and had children, and now we see Renton not as ourselves, but as parents who watch over children, so it's almost turning into a story about our children. I don't know if that's good or bad, but that kind of perspective is definitely going to influence how we tell the story.
Do you think that fans of Eureka Seven will feel empathy for these new versions of Eureka and Renton?
I do think so, yes. The way the characters are depicted may be different, but the core natures of the characters are still the same. The way this story is told, I think old fans can still recall and identify them as Eureka and Renton, and new fans who may not have been around or mature enough to watch Eureka Seven at the time can still identify with these characters themselves.
Surfing is an interesting way for the mecha to travel in Eureka Seven. How did you arrive at that motif, and would you try something different if you were making Eureka Seven for the first time today?
I do think that air-surfing, what we call ref boarding, is integral to Eureka Seven, so we couldn't have the show without it, but just having ref boarding would lead to monotony, so you can expect to see new ideas starting with part two of the trilogy.
A lot of mecha anime is about that fraught journey from childhood to adulthood, and Renton's story certainly hits on that. What do you think sets his story apart from other famous mecha anime?
One of the core concepts behind the original Eureka Seven was to do our takes on the various tropes of traditional mecha anime, so it certainly fits into the genre with its coming-of-age theme, but if we were to ask ourselves if that imitational aspect is integral to Eureka Seven, I think it's actually not. The very concept of having children ride mecha into battle requires a convincing context to be realistic, so I have certainly used familiar tropes to hide what's required for that context under a more compelling story, but I am starting to think—especially in a modern context—that in order for the show to be meaningful for children now, that I need to break out of that mold going forward.
Eureka Seven is also about the younger generation resisting authoritarianism, and later on in the story, we learn that some of these characters settle down to become part of the system they used to fight against. Do you think that the idea of a younger generation rebelling against their elders is inevitable?
If you look at Japan today especially, you do see a lot of entitlement amongst the youth, so I do think that some rebellion might be a little more meaningful for them. But at the same time, I don't think that all youth generations are required to rebel, they need to have some kind of principle that motivates them, be that oppression or whatnot. I don't think that age is necessarily a requirement for this pattern, because it could happen regardless of age.
The characters of Eureka Seven are really dialed into color schemes, like Eureka has that turquoise hair and purple eyes contrasted with Renton's red-and-white jacket, for example. How much thought goes into deciding these color schemes?
The original concepts of what color schemes to use came from designer Kenichi Yoshida and myself, but then we passed on the basic concepts to the colorist Nobuko Mizuta, who implements the actual color schemes into the anime models. So basically our demands must get translated from raw concepts to reasonable execution, because if you just apply those raw colors, nothing would look that good. So we do put a lot of thought into those color schemes.
The 2009 Eureka Seven movie was an interesting spin on Renton and Eureka's story, so these new movies aren't the first time you've tried to tackle this story from a different angle. What drove you to tell the version of Eureka Seven that's seen in "Pocket Full of Rainbows," and will you be implementing any unused ideas from that movie in this new trilogy of films?
I would say we are not using any of the details or designs from that film. There were certainly ideas that were not implemented in Pocket Full of Rainbows, and some of those unused concepts we planned to resurrect predated that movie. There will only be superficial similarities because they do share the source of the original TV animation. But there is no direct lifting from the 2009 movie.
Fans know going into these movies that they're going to be revisiting the original setting, but can we expect anything related to Eureka Seven AO to come up in these movies?
At this current point in time, I think it would be best not to reveal whether any references will be made to AO, but in the studio, there was a lot of direction that made reference to the methodology used in that series, for example lighting effects pulled from our work on AO.
Most of the works you've directed have been science fiction. Do you feel most comfortable working with sci fi, or is that just how your career has turned out?
I originally aspired to go into the anime industry with Akitarō Daichi in mind as a role model, and I wanted to make anime like him. I was also hoping that I would get to make a robot show once in my career, but it just so happened that when I was at BONES, Yutaka Izubuchi was making a show called RahXephon, and I was enlisted to help on that project. That show had a lot of great creative staff on it, so I thought this would just be a great memento that I could put on my resume, but because of RahXephon, I ended up getting all work that was science fiction and robot-based. At this point in my career, if I were to look to my past to make something that resembled the work of Akitarō Daichi, I would say that I can't do it. That's just the result of how things happened to be, but I do have a certain amount of pride in the work I've done and must admit that I do like science fiction as a genre. I like reading science fiction novels, science fiction manga, and watching science fiction movies.
There's bound to be some viewers who walk into this new movie without knowing anything about Eureka Seven. What do you think they might get out of seeing the film?
I think that this new movie is not as "anime" in style, and the composition is rather complex. So that's one hurdle for the audience to overcome. One of our team's intentions was for a younger generation to discover Eureka Seven for the first time and see this as their own story of Eureka and Renton. So that's actually one of our goals.
Eureka Seven is full of little references to music and pop culture, like in character names and episode titles. Fans around the world recognize these pretty quickly, so are you creating these stories with a global audience in mind?
The majority of these names and references weren't originally made with an overseas audience in mind. They were just ideas that we always loved, like the main character of Trainspotting, Renton, was a goofy guy, and we wanted to create someone who would resemble that kind of character in his style of goofiness. So as the tentative working name, we just put Renton in the pitch, but when we got the green light, the higher-ups said "do not change this guy's name." So that's how we ended up with that character's surname being the first name of our main character. Basically, we put all the influences we felt from all the overseas media we were fond of into Eureka Seven. So it wasn't intentional, but if anyone discovered it, we wanted them to get a good laugh out of it.
With these new films, do you expect Japanese and Western audiences to draw different conclusions about the story and characters?
I was watching the reaction of the audience at this screening, and one difference that I saw was that there are intended spots for comic relief which must be conveyed just through the text onscreen for an English-speaking audience, and the audience did not hesitate to react to them. They were very open to reacting with laughter. I expect the Japanese audience to be much more subdued and not as expressive. That's a difference I'm actually looking forward to observing.
I'm glad you mentioned the labels for everything onscreen. That felt like it was deliberately overdone for comic relief to me, like how labels got used for classic shows like Space Battleship Yamato. How did you arrive at the decision to do that?
There is one technical issue with the film that revealed itself when we were going through the rough cuts, which was the bumpiness in the continuity of the story. So the overuse of text was one way to bluff our way through the roughness of the edit and increase the amount of information conveyed to the audience.
Through all of the Eureka Seven media you've made, can you think of one absolute highlight? Do you have a favorite moment of the series or your favorite memory of working on it?
In terms of favorites, I am fond of every single aspect of production including even the helpless and bad parts of Eureka Seven, but in terms of best results, I would bring up episode one as the best manifestation of our intention, with the best result of the best visuals and best storytelling.
What's the one thing you hope Eureka Seven fans get out of seeing these new movies?
I'd like those who have been fans of Eureka Seven for the past twelve years to be rewarded for all the time they invested, and also for new people to become fans and be rewarded just as much in discovering Eureka Seven for the first time.
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