When I initially opened the Current Projects, er, project, one of my biggest concerns was that everyone having their own favorite shows would mean I’d end up watching a whole bunch of solitary first episodes, which as a general rule don’t tend to give you a solid impression of a series. I’ve largely avoided this issue so far by skipping between the most consistently funded show and smaller self-contained projects, but with Hyouka support slowing down a little, I’ve decided it’s time to skip around a bit and charge at some of those first episodes head-on. So how does Eureka Seven pan out?
Well, it may not be the best show to have started with.
Eureka Seven’s first episode is the ur-first episode. It is Shounen Adventure, it is Coming Of Age, it is Boy Heeds The Call. It’s quite polished and fairly enjoyable, it has a strong visual aesthetic and a fair number of neat flavor ideas, and it occupies a beloved spot in anime history – but dang if it isn’t the most first episode first episode to ever first episode.
As first episodes (or coming of age/fantasy stories in general) often do, Eureka Seven opens with a brief glimpse of the fantastical life to come. As a side character talks about the connection between media and memory, the heroic Holland dances across the sky in a surfing robot, dodging an veritable circus of missiles before sighing about the mission to come. That cuts directly to our hero lamenting his dreary life prior to the the call to action, as the adolescent Renton sighs that “it’s already been 14 years since I was born, yet nothing has happened around me.”
Eureka Seven’s first scenes are all this, with Renton forming the classic upbeat but boyishly world-weary centerpiece of a story that’s so far lifted far more by polish and detail than unique storytelling. As Renton is told that he can’t air-surf because “he doesn’t believe in the waves” (knock off another first episode bingo square), I find myself more caught up in the lovely backgrounds of Renton’s city, or the myriad tiny details of the trailer full of air-surf paraphernalia. Unlike his idol, Renton can’t even do a Cutback Drop Turn; sure, that’s fine, but I’m more interested in the fact that this is a ‘60s rocker-influenced world where the inevitable world-shifting cataclysm is referred to as the “Summer of Love.”
The energetic execution also lifts Eureka Seven’s material in a variety of ways. The sound design is strong (lots of appropriate rock tunes), and the shot transitions are both energetic on the whole and given smart repetitive motifs, like the dropping of a mechanical piston that emphasizes the repetitive nature of Renton’s days. There’s good expression work throughout, fine animation, and many individually evocative shots. There’s strong character and costume design, and an overall sense that this is a production given a lot of polish and love. Archetypes exist for a reason – archetypal things can be very good, as long as the nice details and execution are there.
Which is good for Eureka Seven, because boy howdy is the second half of this episode just as archetypal as the first. From the Naota-esque lines about Renton’s “dead-end city where nothing happens,” to the fact that Renton’s father was a war hero and his idols are criminals (and his sister left after promising he’d be able to find her if he just believed), every note here is the note you’d expect. Renton is given solace by the bluff he uses to practice surfing, but that bluff is destroyed by the callous military. Renton’s grandfather wants him to take over the mechanic shop, saying his family will no longer help the military and that “those who believe in dreams and ideals are all idiots!” Renton’s call to action coming when a mysterious robot smashes into his home, complete with a beautiful blue-haired girl. And finally, Renton’s grandfather handing Renton the critical artifact, pushing Renton out into the wider world with a last “your father gave me this.”
It’s basically impossible to discern a single thing about Eureka Seven from its first episode. It has an overall polish and confidence that’s inherently appealing, and I like the little surf-rock aesthetic details giving it some personality, but essentially every beat of the narrative is one anyone who consumes anime, movies, or books will have seen a hundred times before. From Renton’s heroic lineage to his mysterious connection with the “Gekkostate” organization to his curmudgeonly but well-meaning grandfather to his new blue-haired muse, this is That Story, The One Story, You Know The One. It’ll obviously gain personality and texture over time – not only does this happen with almost every story that starts out this way, but Eureka Seven in particular is also a much-loved anime that people still deeply care about. So I know it’ll get there. It’s just not there yet.
That leaves me a bit at a loss as to where to go with this one. The show’s fifty dang episodes, and is clearly more of a classic shounen driven by story than something like Hyouka’s “every moment is worth discussing” artistry-fest. Episodic reviews seem inappropriate – so perhaps Eureka Seven should go in the “notes and a final writeup” category then, where individual episodes are only $20 and actually getting through a long series seems feasible. In light of that, I’m going to toss $20 people have donated as general support towards Eureka, jam through another episode, and see where we’re at both for myself and to see if readers enjoy that structure. It would certainly help us get through a lot more shows! Don’t worry Eureka Seven, there’s hope for you yet.
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