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Discovering Eureka Seven; subtext and pop culture

Unawares and unwilling, often the best anime passes me by. Deep down I think I always knew I would love Eureka Seven, but for whatever reason, like I said, it just passed me by. That is, until now. Maybe because it’s spring time; the grass is green and the leaves are greener, and I’m just looking for something fun to watch.
There is no denying it, I’m pulled to Eureka Seven simply because it looks like fun; surfing mecha, blue skies and open, swirling landscapes; a fantastic paradise for wind surfing hippies, and naturally, escapist otaku.

Actually, think again. I am writing this having seen up to episode 9; a particular instalment of this so-called "childrens anime" that involves ethnic cleansing. We see the main character, an innocent-enough young girl oddly known as Eureka, take part in the massacre of hundreds of harmless civilians (some of them kids) simply because those were her orders.
According to Dai Sato — chief writer — the story of Eureka Seven is intended to be a subtle allegory of Tibet, a country where the young people [12 to 16 year olds] have few choices — one of those few is to join the army. Since Eureka looks so nice, and yet, is capable of bringing down such horror, represents an interesting dilemma within herself, and a conflict within the viewer. Is she to blame for her actions, or rather, is it the fault of a system that is scraping kids off the streets and manufacturing mass murderers, because after all, Eureka is just a young girl doing what she is told. Does genuiene free will exist within the young? In many ways, these themes are very similar to the excellent "Now and Then, Here and There" (1999, dir. Akitaro Daichi), right down to how the previously emotion-less girl turned weapon-of-mass-destruction discovers a chink of hope in a plucky young hero; in this case, it’s Renton.

Often being brave is simply being optimistic, having the belief that tomorrow will be a better day. I really adore characters like Renton; you can’t help but admire his optimism, his blind hope and fumbling balance. Like everyone else, he has his doubts, but rather than curl up into a ball of crying emo, he’ll run head-on and jump off a cliff (quite literally). He is a punk rock kid; even named after the lead character from Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. Amusingly, his father’s first name is Adrock (Beastie Boys) and grandfather’s Axel (Guns N’ Roses). Some funky family right there!

The pop-culture references don’t stop with the character names either — for example, every episode is named after a song, episode one is subtitled "Blue Monday" (famous song by New Order). I think that’s really cool, and it shows how much fun the writers are having with Eureka Seven, attempting to create a lasting resonnance with viewers young and old by referencing eras relevant to many generations.
I’ve talked about how Eureka Seven is a show with serious subtexts, but the bottom line is that this is first and foremost just a fun, colourful and vibrant mecha-surfing anime. Renton’s fallen in love with Eureka, and most of the time, he’s just trying to get on her good side. The rest is purely collateral!

Comments

jldugger says:

Renton might be a young and optimistic person, but what exactly is it he’s fighting against? You might argue that Renton is willingly entering a world he’s personally glorified, without considering things like moral ramifications. It’s not really a focus of the show though. I wont say much more, but Eureka’s situation is as unique as her eyes.

I don’t think the authors are doing a good job of "connecting to the audience" by referencing obscure techno shows I have to look at wikipedia to find. Rather I think it’s a neat way for the authors to say that the music we listen to defines us, and create an avenue to tell people who they are.

I had sorta hoped the 60s theme had kept up, but instead it gets pretty hard core depressing. But hey, without that I don’t think some of the best parts would work nearly the same.

Ryan A says:

Hey, I’m a wind surfer~~~ lol

Eureka 7 was my #1 interest, in the recent past. There was something about it, and even though it tasted a lot like General Shounen, there were sticky, little, soluble details and defects that my emotional imagination munched up.

on the music titles:

New Order after Joy Division and Ian Curtis, but I believe they carried much of the same heart. The music, not that it is in the anime, but it stems from youth, isolation, melancholy, and confusion. I can see the inspiration marks; New Order is brighter, but it still comes from the haze.

The ride is great. Enjoy~!
^^

bateszi says:

@jldugger:
With regards to Renton, I suppose it’s not so much a case of what he’s fighting against, rather what he’s fighting for. And the obvious answer then would be that he’s fighting for Eureka, and his heroes at Gekkostate. Obviously though, idolising mass murderers won’t be all it’s cracked up to be! I suppose along side many other themes, the series is perhaps how a character like Renton is able to discover his own identity, whether he’s willing to just let everything slide or stand up for what he believes is right.

Interesting comment about the musical references, especially the bit about how what we listen to helps to define our personalities. I wouldn’t say the references were obscure though, I mean one episode is named after a Bon Jovi song.

I’ve heard it gets depressing, but I like that about the show, that it has this darker edge. And like you say, the happy feeling isn’t nearly as high without knowing how low there is to fall.

@Ryan A:
Yup, totally agree. I think it’s just that sense of belonging and comdery between the characters. There is a real sense that they are bound together, and it’s great to watch them interact. The dialogue and atmosphere is pretty realistic for anime, too. Well, as realistic as a mecha anime could be! :)

I’m actually a big Joy Division fan, so it was cool to see a New Order influence within E7.
"The music, not that it is in the anime, but it stems from youth, isolation, melancholy, and confusion. I can see the inspiration marks; New Order is brighter, but it still comes from the haze." Great comment!

Martin says:

I knew you’d like it! :)

Eureka Seven is one of my DVD favourites of the year: great characters, intriguing story and fantastic animation. Quite a few of the musical references go over my head but I spotted the New Order reference (yep, they’re a superb band although their Joy Division-era songs are pretty underrated) fits the feel of the show…for now at least.

I know it’s a long series but I really believe that it’s going to maintain this really high standard.

jldugger says:

Oh, the music references get very obscure. As far as I can recall, there’s only one or two episodes that aren’t references.

Regarding moral decisions, what I meant was Gekko state’s current goals. What are they trying to accomplish, and is the right action? That question won’t be answerable until the end. "The end can’t justify the means until the end," after all ;)

j.valdez says:

What originally drew me to Eureka 7 was the simplicity of the story and main character. Renton is just a kid and through the show (I’m at the early twenties) he doesn’t seem to mature all that much. It would seem he simply becomes less selfish. , which is a type of growth I’ll give you that.

The subtext and pop culture references, I missed completely. I wasn’t looking for them. I guess I was blinded by the giant wind-surfing mecha.

[shhh, don’t tell anyone I was here…I’m supposed to be studying…]

Equitan says:

Eureka 7 is an anime of two halves as far as I’m concerned.

The first 30 or so episodes are pretty good. No one aspect of the series is amazing, but as a whole, it’s very fun; those early episodes with the Gekko State crew playing pranks on Renton were particularly enjoyable.

And, IMO, the strong point of E7 *is* the Gekko State crew. I couldn’t remember at the time when I had last seen a series with such a nice, wide and varied cast. A bit more background to them all would have been nice (how’d they all end up in Gekko State?) but they’re a joy to watch as simple, fun, clear cut characters.

Holland is excellent at this stage too. He’s an asshole but it’s nice to see a character that can fluctuate between cool leader and immature young man so easily. It’s all very well having a super-cool amazing leader who can do no wrong (such as someone like Captain Nemo from Nadia) but it’s also good to see a character like Holland who’s a bit more three dimensional with his obvious failings.

Oh, and in an age of loli and moe, GOD, was it a pleasant surprise to see a woman like Talho on the scene. Where has that kind of female character disappeared to in anime?

Anyway, anyway, it’s after the episode 30-ish mark the series started to lose me. Some of it is too spoilerish to talk about, but generally I found the series became too serious and angst-ridden for its own good. The fun just seeps out of the series and what’s put in its place wasn’t much of a replacement for me. Don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s kind of like Slayers Try in that respect (Try just gets too serious for my liking and ruins what made Next so awesome). Certain other changes occur later in the series which I didn’t think much of but they’re more minor details.

As ever, it’ll be interesting to see what you make of it, and don’t let this comment fill you with a sense of foreboding xD

bateszi says:

I must admit I’m a little concerned about how depressing this could end up; I have really enjoyed the free wheeling fun atmosphere of the first dozen episodes, but there is no doubt there is something ominous lurking below the surface. Like how Holland has scribbled over Renton’s sister’s photo; something bad happened in the past involving her, I’m waiting for the tragic flashback. I just hope his grand-father survives! :) I’ve also seen screen-caps from the later episodes where Eureka looks seriously beaten up.

I’m expecting the worst now! :)

Michael B. says:

Though your post is about Euraka Seven, I’d like to bring up "Now and Then, Here and There," because as you mentioned, that is an excellent show, and easily in my top five anime shows of all time.

The power of N&TH&T is the very fact that from the start it portrays its world in a serious light. "Where the hell am I?" – this quote best demonstrates the stark contrast between "our world" and "their world" (Earth and the world where Hellywood exists). In fact, up until the point where Shu enters the other world (one episode), N&TH&T is actually pretty upbeat, even as Shu battles the Hellywood soldiers. It is not until he enters the other world that the mood alters dramatically, and with it, the utter realization of the seriousness of his situation.

Euraka Seven, and most other anime shows, don’t capture this feeling. The mere fact that N&TH&T portrays the civilized world and the third world in such a dichotomous light sets Daichi apart from others who have attempted to tackle the topic of child-soldiers, and the brutality present in under-developed countries.

Euraka Seven makes life in these areas seem carefree, even a little fun. Portraying life in this way is a disservice to the people who’s story you are supposedly trying to tell (and yet another reason why I feel that Dai Sato needs to take a break from script writing, to refocus). I won’t say that living there is hell, but living under occupation and in a perpetual state of war is anything but fun.

What I like most about N&TH&T is the ending. It concludes not only cleanly, but beautifully. Shu’s experiences capture the feeling of maturity that one feels after enduring hardship, and not only that, but a more endearing view of life. Lala’s appreciation of the sunset that is so beautiful, but so ephemeral, gives Shu a new appreciation of his own life. The world he returns to almost appears alien, from all that he has experienced, in its serenity.

"Because ten billion year’s time is so fragile, so ephemeral, it arouses such a bittersweet, almost heartbreaking fondness."

bateszi says:

Hi Michael. It’s great to hear from you, thought you’d disappeared from the blogging scene! How are you doing anyway? Watching much anime these days?

I can only agree with what you’ve said about NT,HT. The reason I mentioned it in comparison to E7 were the thematic similarities, though both are polar opposites is terms of actual follow through. I’ve only seen NT,HT once but some of the scenes are still so clear in mind – many of which involve the unfortunate Sara.
I love that it was directed by Akitaro Daichi too, it really goes to show his diversity as a director.

Ludami says:

The thing I really like about the music references is that they go beyond people and songs and actually into technology. For instance the GekkoState LFOs are called, in part, the TR808 and TR707 both drum machines and another one is called the TB303 Devilfish a reference not only tho the synth that birthed acid music but to a popular mod there of.

S.A. says:

Regarding the second half of Eureka Seven, it’s still the same show, its not as if its taken a 180 turn, pretty much everything brought into the picture here was built up previously. In the end, while there is a very dark undertone to the series as a whole, in the end it is still on the whole very uplifting and they do a good job of balancing that.

I do think it falters for a few episodes in the late 30s but in my mind the final ten episodes are so strong that it’s irrelevant. The final ten episodes are in my mind the best of the series and cement it as one of the memorable ones Ive seen in quite a few years. Well episode 26 alone cemented the show as an absolute success for me anyways.

I completely disagree with Micheal Bs opinion that the carefree nature of several parts of the series does a disservice to the story being told. If anything, I find it much more believable. The youths are sheltered and dont know much about what really happens in their society, the adults, products of war, try to escape their past and live under a false pretense of a fun life. In fact its made severly obvious at many times, that no matter how "fun" life in Gekkostate seems to be for Holland, underneath he’s miserable…he’s just putting on a facade. And while I love the works of Daichi that I’ve seen, I haven’t seen NTHT, but from what I know of the setting, it’s not exactly comparable to the setting of Eureka Seven. While I also agree Dai Sato should refocus on what he is trying to accomplish as a writer, I think this is the wrong series to level that complaint at. Of course Im talking about Ergo Proxy, which had a real problem on where and what it truly what it wanted to focus on. As a whole Eureka Seven is pretty consistently written and the themes and messages Sato and the director Kyoda wanted to convey from the start are delivered.

Michael B. says:

Thanks Bateszi, yeah every once in a while I still drop by your blog along with a couple of others to see what’s worth watching. I’m doing great, just graduated, and now I’m off to officer’s basic in a couple of weeks. The only series I’ve watched since I quit blogging is Mushishi (which you had been blogging for quite some time), and I really enjoyed it. Looking through your recent reviews I see a series or two that I’ll probably take a chance on. Hope things are going well for you as well.

bateszi says:

There are some good series airing at the moment. First and foremost I’d have to recommend "Seirei no Moribito" since it’s the full package in terms of action, drama, story telling, animation and soundtrack; basically, an incredibly assured series.

The other two that I’m compelled to recommend are Gurren Lagann and Bokurano. Where Lagann is just insane and fun, Bokurano is rippling with dread and suspense. Both are mecha anime, but basically approach the genre from polar opposites. Both are refreshing takes on an old genre, and Gurren Lagann has some awesome animation too (FLCL-style fluidity).

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