Anime Reviews: Eureka Seven
Eureka Seven aims to impress with its bold aesthetics, apocalyptic storyline, and colorful cast, though its high peaks come paired with long, dragging valleys.
Title: Eureka Seven a.k.a. Eureka 7 a.k.a. Koukyoushihen Eureka Seven a.k.a. Psalms of Planets: Eureka Seven a.k.a. Symphonic Psalms Eureka Seven
Series Length: 50 episodes
Air Dates: 4/17/2005 to 4/2/2006
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Long ago, mankind left Earth and began to populate a new, similar planet. Over thousands of years, man has learned about this new planet and its phenomena--the most enigmatic of which is referred to as Transparence Light Particles (or "Trapars" for short), ionized particles that energize the atmosphere, for which man eventually created devices and machines that could interact with them to facilitate low-energy flight, including boards that could surf the skies in a sport that would become known as Lifting. Now, ten thousand years after mankind's migration, 14-year-old Renton Thurston is an avid fan of both Lifting and a group of anti-government rebels known as the Gekkostate. Though he's been told all his life his father was a great hero who saved the world, Renton toils the days away as an assistant to his mechanic grandfather--that is, until an emissary of the Gekkostate lands on the Thurston garage in a mysterious white mech known as the Nirvash. The pilot of the Nirvash is a lovely young girl Renton's age, and as Renton begins to fall for her, he soon finds that he's been swept up in the biggest adventure of his life.
The Good: Rock-solid aesthetics; intriguing setting; attaching characters and compelling story; goes out with a bang
The Bad: Plot lacks focus and drags its feet much of the time
The Ugly: The fact that, due to...reasons, Eureka spends nearly half the series without eyebrows
If there's anything that bugs me more than a bad anime, it's a good anime that grossly misuses its time, especially when it's already demanding a lot of it by sheer virtue of its episode count. So that, I guess, is the digest version of the review, but I feel some more elaboration is in order, since it took me so long to finally get this one out to all (three) of you. But before we dive in, a history: Eureka Seven is one of the many anime that have been featured on Adult Swim, but around the time it aired, I was just getting into college and I spent a couple years not really watching many new anime, and I certainly couldn't say up until midnight like I could get away with in high school, so this series just passed me right by. Honestly, the only reason I picked it up a decade later is pure chance--I was just browsing some of the more popular anime on MyAnimeList, and as I was scrolling through, I found Eureka Seven and thought, "Y'know, this aired on Adult Swim, and I completely missed it. And it's got a good rating, so maybe I should check it out." And so, here I am...way later than intended, but I'll get to why soon enough.
First of all, being a Studio Bones production, it's no surprise that Eureka Seven looks nice, especially for being a decade-old show from the infancy of digital animation in anime. The mechanical designs are deliciously 80s, but with a late-90s twist--giant mechs that look like they came from the Gundam universe, but in addition to their jet packs, they fly around in the sky on metallic surfboards, using the setting's ionized atmosphere to create electrical lift. That's cool, man! The characters themselves are quite varied in design, in both clothing and skin/hair color, from the relatively normal-looking Renton to Eureka's crazy turquoise hair and everything in between. In a surprise twist in a Japanese series, the main cast consists of no less than 3 black characters: Matthew, Hilda, and Gidget. You just don't see diversity like that in anime! Nobody can criticize the Gekkostate for not being an equal-opportunity employer, that's for sure!
Of course, the designs are neat enough, but it also helps that Bones is very good about making the vast majority of their shots clean and pristine while also occasionally pulling out all the stops in the action scenes. If you love the scenes in classic mecha or space anime where one ship is surrounded and bombarded by hordes of missiles, you will love Eureka Seven, because your soul brother is apparently one of the main animation directors. We also get fistfights, tactical stealth battles, ship-to-ship shootouts, and even some monster action later in the series, so if you like your drama peppered with some well-animated action, you've come to the right place.
With regards to the setting, while we only see bits and pieces of it, is full of neat valleys and mysterious caves and derelict cities--the place absolutely feels real, like people and animals really live there. Industrial wastelands overtaken by tall weeds, jagged canyons, mysterious salt formations...there's always something new Eureka Seven has to show us. You certainly can't fault the guys at Bones for lacking creativity.
The series also places serious emphasis on music--especially given that each episode's title is the name of a song--so it would be amiss for it to not also have a great soundtrack itself. Luckily, a man named Naoki Sato provides just such a soundtrack. I can't say I'm familiar at all with the man or his work, but at least I can say that he gives Eureka Seven a fittingly grand and eclectic sound of its own, fusing rock instruments with electronica to great effect during the action scenes. Naturally, being a Bones anime, we're also treated to a veritable smorgasbord of opening and ending themes! Personally, my favorites are the rockin' first opener "Days" by FLOW, and the more soulful fourth opener "Sakura" by NIRGILIS. Fans of R&B and hip-hop will be pleased to hear that those genres are also represented (though YouTube is being stingy about them), so don't feel left out!
Where Eureka Seven truly pulls its weight, however, is in its characters. Fresh off the heels of Fullmetal Alchemist, it's no surprise that Bones developed a talent for creating diverse and colorful casts when the time came to work on this series. Renton is a very well-done child character, as he has the earnestness and stubbornness of adolescence while also reminding us that, yes, he's just a kid and more often than not, he's thrown into situations he neither can change nor understand, and so as his arc develops, he grows up in an organic and believable way. Eureka is, by all appearances, a child soldier, and so, watching her also grow up and become more open to human emotions and explore who she is, her arc is likewise very enjoyable. The time we get to spend learning more about the Gekkostate leader Holland, his right-hand woman Talho, the support crew of Matthew, Hilda, Moondoggie, Gidget, Ken-Goh, and so many others about the ship, and even antagonists like rival mech pilot Anemone and her handler Dominic, is truly a worthwhile experience. Eureka Seven works its magic in subtle ways, as I never felt like I liked some of these characters that much, but as soon as their lives are in peril, I suddenly found myself caring a whole hell of a lot, the sneaky minx.
And finally, I must make mention of the story itself, as it is both one of the best aspects of the show as well as its crippling flaw. As you would expect from a sci-fi adventure series like this, we start off small in a rural village and conclude with a literal earth-shattering finale that puts the fate of all mankind in jeopardy, but because the setting is so compelling and the characters so likable, it transcends being just another end-of-the-world scenario and becomes dang near impossible to peel your eyes away in the final stretch. The series' main antagonist, General Dewey Novak, is a deliciously devious schemer, and watching his plan unfold and how our heroes try to counter him every step of the way is genuinely exciting. But, as I said, the very same plot that generates such excitement can also shoot itself in the foot spectacularly.
Especially early on, the series impresses upon us that Gekkostate--while a rebel force that opposes the world's main governmental force--is still, nevertheless, a ragtag band of nobodies who have to scrape by. By itself, this is little more than a neat facet of the plot, but it brings with it a recurring problem: downtime. In the first half of the series, I've lost count of how many times the story tried to rev up its engines and take off, but was forced to cut the power a few feet from the starting line because the crew needed to stop somewhere and resupply yet again. And we get started again, but then something happens to Eureka and we're stuck waiting for a few more episodes. Rev the engines up again, but this time Renton decides he's gonna run off and hold the series hostage for another 3-4 episodes. Eureka Seven feels less like a streamlined narrative and more like a really freakin' old car with a bad transmission that stalls dead on the road every 5 minutes. And also early on, the series doesn't even know what it wants to be! Does it want to be a rousing action-adventure story, or does it want to go full-on hard sci-fi? Does it want to be a romantic comedy, or does it want to be a gritty war-is-hell story? I don't know! You tell me, Eureka Seven!
Though the fact remains that the series has major issues getting itself off the ground in its first half, those who stick with it will be very much rewarded with a satisfying and epic finale. I mean, I would've rather it be more consistent so that I didn't keep taking breaks in the middle of watching the series when the series itself took a break and take 4 months to watch the damn thing in full, but it's too late for that now. For what it's worth, I consider my time with the series to be well-spent, and I give it a solid recommendation if you're a fan of adventure-filled sci-fi anime. Just remember to pace yourself--it's a long series, so you'll be in for a long haul.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10. The series' pacing can be frustrating to deal with, but it can't overcome the fact that Eureka Seven is filled to the brim with memorable and likable characters that populate its unique and visually-engaging world.