Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Blu-Ray - Part 1 [Limited Edition] + Part 2
In a boring town living his boring life is a boy named Renton. The son of a legendary hero who reportedly saved the world, Renton has been raised by his cranky grandfather to be a crackerjack mechanic. But Renton's real passion is "lifting," a sport in which athletes surf the skies on invisible waves called trapars. In particular he idolizes Holland and the Gekkostate, a group of wandering lifters he reads about in the counterculture zine ray=out. One boring day an LFO—a sky-surfing robot used by the military—crashes into Renton's house. In it is mysterious girl pilot and longtime Gekkostate member Eureka. Renton is poleaxed by love. After delivering an essential upgrade to her LFO, Nirvash, in a daring midair maneuver, Renton decides to follow her to Gekkostate. And thus begins an adventure that will span the globe, and a love story that will change the face of the planet.
Begin with Gundam's ship-on-the-run outline. Retain the action orientation, periodic tragedy, and unforgiving portrayal of the costs of war. Replace the military setting with a Bebop-ish assortment of counterculture misfits and the military missions with a combination of jack-of-all-trades odd-jobs and post-Evangelion plot knots. Fill the rest in with a shojo series' worth of pure-love romance. Add in a shonen-action epic's obsession with world-building and obscure terminology, tempered by a sci-fi novel's concern with speculative science and ambitious ideas. Flavor with the early 00s vogue for extreme sports. Now take all of that, dull its edges with a doggedly persistent lack of emotional grace, hollow it out a bit where its sense of purpose should be, and disguise its shortcomings with an ever-changing, constantly-moving plot. That, my friend, is Eureka 7.
Sound complicated? Well, it is. Eureka 7 is fifty episodes long and its great strength is how little of that space it wastes. It rarely dallies or repeats. It doesn't pad and doesn't stay in ruts; it alters course frequently, upsets the status quo regularly. So, yes, there's a lot going on, and a great many facets to its story as it wends its long, complicated path to conclusion. For its first quarter Eureka is mostly episodic: getting to know the extensive cast through stories about shopping trips gone wrong, elaborate pranks, kidnapping old ladies, and Renton dealing with Eureka's three adopted children. (Yes, despite being fourteen, she has an adopted family). Humor runs high, drama is kept below the surface, and the action is basically consequence-free.
That ends when Eureka confesses to an exceptionally dark past and the show's main plot grinds into action. A being called a Coralian shows up, which brings archvillain Dewey into the picture, along with his deeply screwed-up ace pilot Anemone and her keeper, the smart, sharp, and deeply smitten Dominic. The Coralian encounter strands the Gekkostate in a subterranean hide-out, where Renton and Eureka's relationship is tested to its limit. Things only get darker and uglier as Renton grows addicted to Nirvash's power and then runs head-first into the murderous consequences of his actions. The show jumps that rut by having Renton jump ship. It briefly becomes a heartbreaking portrait of a doomed family unit as Renton is adopted by a pair of loving mercenaries. It transitions to a journey of self-discovery as Renton tries to return and Eureka sorts out her feelings, hits a giddy emotional peak during their gloriously melodramatic reunion, and then plunges back into the depths of despair when Renton's former family unit meets its messy fate. This is Eureka as it intends to be: an emotionally vivid mecha epic, colorful and restless, with an active sense of fun and a ruthlessly hard edge.
Unfortunately, that's as close as the show gets to its ideal. After Renton and Eureka confirm their feelings for each other, the show loses the in-built drive of their romance. The second half tries to make up for it with epic conflict and unfurling mysteries, with Dewey's world-destroying stratagems and big ideas about metaphysical doom and dimension-tripping collective intelligences. But all that does is muddy the waters and over-complicate things, compromising the qualities that made the first half work (strong, clear emotions; elemental tragedies; swift, clean shifts in direction; good humor). The second half is too uniformly dark and dramatic, too bereft of humor, to blindside you with big emotions the way the better parts of the first half did. Instead it grinds away with nasty developments and evil reversals and the constant emotional hurdles thrown in Renton and Eureka's way. Given too little time to ply his humorous charms, Renton's frequent moping and emotional outbursts start to abrade our good will. Eureka becomes more passive. The plot and its turns cease to be driven by characters and their relationships and instead are moved by pseudomystical sci-fi and sociopolitical forces. They lose their clarity, their ability to move us.
Blaming our misgivings on the final half isn't entirely fair though. Renton's habit of throwing insensitivity grenades at his most valuable relationships reaches back into the first half, when he stomps all over Eureka's insecurities about her weakening bond with Nirvash. The show's habit of hitting us in the face with characters' feelings instead of allowing us to intuit them goes right back to the first episode. And that lingering sense that we're watching a show with great plot mechanics, polished technical skills, and nothing much underneath—no real purpose, no genuine affection, either for the characters, the story, or its audience... well, that's an affliction of every episode, from start to finish.
And ultimately, the murky, unsatisfying second leg does redeem itself. It nicely ties up all relevant relational arcs and properly resolves all long-running mysteries and conflicts, delivering a final act that is wonderfully apocalyptic in scale and satisfyingly bittersweet in conclusion. It relies heavily on its secondary cast for emotional impact, but Talho and Holland, Anemone and Dominic, and even a scruffy monk named Norb come through for it—with special emphasis on Dominic and Anemone. Dominic's discovery of Anemone's horrifying origins packs a sickening punch, and the episode narrated by Anemone is downright lethal, the hard-earned, lonesome lucidity of her inner monologue a blade that cuts deep, her ultimate fate unutterably sweet after the hell she's been through.
Eureka 7 is going on ten years of age but it looks pretty darned good for it. BONES threw a goodly budget at the project, and especially early on it's attractively detailed, sharply illustrated, and thrillingly animated. It does a fine job of communicating the alienness of Renton's world, with its mushroom landforms, dearth of wildlife, and waterless surfaces. Shoji Kawamori's mechanical designs are distinctive to the series (with maybe a little flavor of Orguss), and the idea of sky-surfing giant robots... brilliant. Kenichi Yoshida's character designs are expressive (though director Tomoki Kyoda takes the expressiveness too far at times, especially when Renton is wigging out) and everyone looks good, with a winning surfeit of visual personality (gotta love Gekkostate pilot Matthieu's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar look). Even amidst the uniformly handsome cast, though, Talho, Anemone, and Eureka are special. Yoshida's preference for lean jaws, clean lines, and sharp noses is especially beneficial to characters of the female persuasion, and Kyoda pays extra attention to how they move. They also get more, and more radical, changes in wardrobe and design.
As the series bogs down in the second half, the visuals suffer proportionately, growing messier and less controlled, stiffening up and losing detail, relying more on shortcuts and repeated animation. The downward slide is reversed for the finale, with its world-puncturing mega-tech and planet-altering spectacle, its alien organisms and gorgeously mobile super-robot destruction, but by then the effect has been irretrievably felt. Naoki Satō's score on the other hand is consistently excellent: big, beautiful and rife with superior rock interludes and haunting electronic-swathed vocals. By-the-by, the second opening song, by Home Made Kazoku, is one of the all-time greats.
This is a license-rescue by Funimation, so those familiar with Bandai's defunct releases are familiar with most of these sets' features. The dub is the same, with the same strengths (good flow, solid script, careful translation, Crispin Freeman's Holland, Johnny Yong Bosch's Renton) and weaknesses (Kate Higgins' periodically stiff Talho, Stephanie Sheh's underpowered Eureka) as before. Shigenori Yamazaki and Peter Doyle are equally awkward as Dominic, Kari Wahlgren nails Anemone's big episode... You know all of this.
Extras are the same as well, with extensive video interviews with Freeman and seiyuu Keiji Fujiwara (Holland) and Michiko Neya (Talho), and shorter interviews with Higgins, Bosch, Sheh, and seiyuu Yuko Sanpei (Renton) and Kaori Nazuka (Eureka). There are clean OPs and EDs, trailers, and a textless version of the final episode (in which the credits originally played over the beginning and ending). The big treat, though, are the 13 (13!) audio commentaries, proctored by a very comfortable Sanpei and Nazuka and featuring more of the Japanese cast and crew than I care to recount right now. If you want to get to know anyone who worked on Eureka, this is the way to do it. Curiously, the extras disc included in set one is a DVD. The fifty episodes are distributed over six Blu-rays, whose video quality, though far from pristine, is absolutely worth the extra dough. The limited edition of set one comes with a nice chipboard box to house the complete series.
The takeaway? If you want Eureka 7, there's no better way on the market to get it. As for whether you should want it... It's the kind of show that's better in the moment than it is in retrospect, so it can't be the classic we want it to be. It just doesn't have the staying power. All it is, is solid entertainment. Which is nothing to sneer at.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ A sprawling, entertaining mecha behemoth with some heart-slaying emotional highlights and all the high-flying, planet-puncturing mecha mayhem you could desire.
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