Like most otaku, I lie awake at night and come up with my perfect anime series. During the late nineties it was Neon Genesis Evangelion as done by Studio Ghibli. Two things caused me to recently revise my dream team: Miyazaki hadn’t returned my calls in close to ten years and Full Metal Alchemist turned up on the scene with its perfect mix of action, character and cerebelum-rattling, ‘good guys on the bad guys’ team’. Disturbingly then Eureka 7 almost matches my dream criteria perfectly. It’s produced by Studio Bones, the makers of Full Metal Alchemist and it features giant robots. Add to that all the trophies Eureka 7 took home from the 2006 Tokyo International Fair and I thought I’d died and gone to anime heaven.
Eureka 7 certainly isn’t short on ideas. The first episode kitchen sinks you with a raft of mysteries and characters: what is the truth behind the heroic death of Renton’s father? Where is Renton’s sister? Who is that shadowy political council? What are the motivations of the rebel group the Gekkostate and its leader Holland? Why are they being pursued by the military? It’s not short on techno-babble either: LFO’s, Amita Drives, Monarch Project, the Sage Council, Swell Effect – frankly the show needs a glossary and a research assistant.
Then there’s the hook for Eureka 7’s mecha. The robots ride (or ‘Lift’ – there’s a term I missed) the air currents on high tech surfboards. To compliment the surfing motif the landscape resembles cresting waves. To be honest this comes across about as well as it does writing it.
Once you get out from under the plot and used to the surfing mechs, Eureka 7 has a lot of great things going for it. Director Tomoki Kyoda, having left the bombast of RahXphon in his other suit, directs Eureka 7 with a light touch. The humour is fresh and the indignities faced by Renton match his age perfectly (his concern at having achieved nothing by the age of fourteen is delivered irony free). There is also a nicely understated exploration of the fact that a bunch of hippy surfers are the best pilots for the LFO’s – something the military recruitment must be horrified at the thought of.
Cashed up after Full Metal Alchemist, the characters and backgrounds from Studio Bones are rendered in gorgeous detail. The character designs themselves from Ghibli mainstay Shoji Kawamori are glorious. His lanky, loose-limbed adults recall Samurai Champloo and capture the surfer mold perfectly. Eureka is all otherworldy and seemingly obtainable cuteness while the gangly Renton is nicely balanced on the edge of adolescence and adulthood.
What really makes Eureka 7 – its relationships – is only beginning to be explored in episode 5. The laconic surfer attitude of the Gekkostate’s crew members is refreshing without ever feeling stereotyped. Kyoda captures a group forced to live in close proximity to one another from the familiar, shorthand nature of interactions to the sub-surface intimacies that tend to be kept out of the public domain.
Eureka 7 does not yet have the pitch perfect balance of cerebral gratification and kick-ass action of Full Metal Alchemist nor the Jungian angst and biblical portent of Evangelion. The first five episodes makes some interesting points but really take the long way round to get there. Me? I am going to stick around because there are too many good mysteries and too many strong characters to make the journey anything but compelling.