Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 11th 2012
Eureka Seven AO
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Twelve-year-old Ao Fukai lives on a rural island in the recently independent state of Okinawa. His life is changed forever when an alien life-form known as Scub Coral emerges on the island, attracting deadly flying invaders known as "Secrets" or "G-Monsters." When the military tries to intervene, Ao discovers a giant robot—the Nirvash—among their arsenal, and a mysterious bracelet in his possession awakens the machine. Even more mysteriously, the Nirvash was also once piloted by Ao's now-missing mother, Eureka. After fending off the threat, however, Ao is ostracized by the island's citizens, as it's assumed that he and his mother's foreign origins must have caused the alien attack. With nowhere else to go, Ao joins Generation Bleu, an organization that fights the threat of Scub Coral and Secrets. But do they truly accept Ao as a new recruit, or are they just after the Nirvash's firepower?
Eureka Seven AO, in its first few episodes, is strangely contradictory. The main storyline is simple enough to understand—but comes with all manner of subplots that make it unnecessarily complicated. There's enough carry-over from Eureka Seven that it helps to have seen the original—but the fresh, re-imagined setting means new fans can jump right in too. One area, however, is happily contradiction-free: the dazzling designs and slick production values. Those are undeniable marks of quality, and as a piece of sci-fi eye candy, this show is clearly a worthy successor to Eureka Seven. It's just the actual story that still needs time to prove itself.
Part of Eureka Seven AO's problem is introducing too many ideas right away. It isn't just about a boy who pilots a giant robot: it's about his friends and neighbors on the island; it's about the Scub Coral; it's about his mysterious parentage; it's even about political tensions between Okinawa, Japan and the U.S. (arguably the part that is the most complicated). These episodes constantly jump back and forth between different storylines, making it a chore of tracking everyone's current situation—even something as simple as where Ao last left his Nirvash. Worse yet is having to learn all the assorted jargon, like knowing that Generation Bleu is the parent organization of Pied Piper and Goldilocks (actual squads that pilot the IFOs—er, giant robots), or realizing that Secrets and G-Monsters mean the same thing, and recalling what "trapar" is from the original Eureka Seven. Why can't they just use regular words for everything?
But if this information overload seems scary, just remember that the series also loosens up for some incredible bursts of fun. Ao's missions aboard the Nirvash are what the mecha genre is all about: pushing one's skills to the limit, outwitting a superior enemy, and feeling the exhilaration of saving the world. It's just a shame that, because of the bloated storyline, he doesn't get to fly until Episode 2 and doesn't formally join Generation Bleu until Episode 5. Meanwhile, some light humor (usually involving an pet sloth) and likable characters also help to offset the confusing plot. Ao may be the typical naïve teenage pilot, but at least he's got a backbone—just look at how he hangs on to that all-important bracelet in the first episode, and how he thinks up his own strategies in battle. In addition, Ao's personal struggle to fit into a group, and some side-character drama in Episode 6, prove that the series isn't afraid to deal with matters of the heart.
But enough about what's happening on the inside. It's the outward presentation that really sells Eureka Seven AO, especially the way it works a a neon-bright color scheme into some serious, hyper-detailed mechanical designs. Between the Nirvash's lime-green trim, the pink and black of the Secrets, and other vividly colored vessels, there's no mistaking this for any other franchise. Fanciful technological flourishes don't stop there, either: this is a world of flying cars, flashy heads-up displays, and gleaming architecture. This creative outburst crashes into the wall of commercialism when it comes to the character designs, though—all of Ao's fellow pilots are teenage girls, which of course is justified by the vague excuse that "only children can pilot IFOs." (Real reason: you can sell more merchandise that way.) Fortunately, the rest of the supporting cast shows greater variety, with adults of all different ages and sizes. The animation itself is also just as skilled as the art and design, from soaring giant-robot dogfights to subtler moments where a simple gesture says it all. Bright lights and special effects are the attention-grabbers in battle, of course, but crisp camerawork and smooth, high-speed motion show that the animation gets the fundamentals right as well.
This shiny vision of the future even extends as far as the music, where certain battles are set to head-bobbing electronic dance tracks. This isn't just cheap synthesizer fluff—there's enough sonic complexity for the music to stand on its own. At other times, the series returns to something more conventional, with rich orchestral scoring that captures the thrill of taking to the sky ... or the quiet pain of trying to find one's place in life. This is a story that traverses many moods, and the soundtrack has enough variety to match them all. The theme songs don't disappoint either, with uplifting, melodic rock numbers for the opener and closer. Clearly, the spirit of adventure is woven into every aspect of the show.
Just because the spirit of adventure exists, however, doesn't mean it always comes across cleanly. Eureka Seven AO tries so hard to show off how great it is that all the different storylines and characters end up crashing into each other at the entrance point. Too much politics, too much jargon, and too many subplots crowd out the simple tale of a young boy piloting a robot and starting a hero's journey. When the series focuses on that journey, though, that's when the greatness comes out: gorgeously animated aerial battles (complete with Eureka Seven's trademark sky-surfing), the thrill of gutsy underdogs taking on an overpowered enemy, and all the emotional ups and downs that come with it. It's a ride worth taking, if you're okay with a little bumpiness at first. In these six episodes, the series is still figuring things out, trying to settle into a groove—much like Ao himself.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Slick animation, rich colors, and stylish mecha designs make this a visual masterpiece, along with thrilling battles and likable characters.
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