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!


Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – "Listen to me, you fucking furry"

This episode confirms it; Gurren Lagan is made of all kinds of awesome. The first 10 minutes… I’ve been sitting here for 20 and I still can’t articulate everything that’s so good about it. I’m talking about the knife fight. The way the characters move, the way they talk, the art, the fluidity of animation, it’s all just perfect. A jaw-dropping and perfect distillation of everything that I love about shonen anime. The mecha battles too. They are grandiose in execution; the explosions from their missiles could almost be mini-nukes for way they cover the screen with violent, multi-coloured mushroom clouds.
Often I feel like there a knowing wink at the audience from Gainax, almost as if they know they are exploding the world with this show. The rock music in the background is a definite sign that they are just absolutely rocking out while animating this. Gurren Lagan is something to watch if you want a big smile slapped across your face for 24 minutes. This episode confirmed it for me; it’s the best show in a good season of anime by a long way. Now for some dialogue from this episode:
“Listen to me, you fucking furry”, “I’m the Gurren Brigade’s Lord Kamina, who’s name quiets crying children!” “Mens souls, uniting with passion”, “Who the fuck do you think I am?” and finally, “DABBU DABBU DABBU DABBU DA!!!”. Best. episode. ever. What a rush!


Big and dumb mecha show, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

In a word, the 2007 spring season has been AWESOME. So much so, I’m already fearing the potential back-log of episodes. Of the 7+ new shows I’m following, my favourite right now is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. It’s hard to know what to expect from Gainax these days, but I had great fun watching this. I love that it’s just a big and dumb mecha show, splattered with colour and full of life. Everything moving so fast and looking so exciting; especially the characters, who are hyperactive and without regret.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi and his “sugar rush” style is stamped all over the show. His directorial debut came with 2004’s seizure inducing Dead Leaves, but where that was extremely vulgar, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is pervaded with a liberating, almost heart breaking, sense of discovery and freedom. My favourite moment from the series so far is in episode two when Simon and Kamina, having lived underground all their lives, are gazing upon the glimmering star-filled night sky. It’s a nostalgic scene, combined with the soundtrack, that really emphasizes the feelings of wonder and adventure surging through the characters upon seeing something so endless and beautiful for the first time in their lives.


Gunbuster – I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness

Putting aside the hyperbole and the fandom that seems to hold hands and religiously scream about every post-digisub series (myself included), the majority of newly crafted anime is objectively mediocre and creatively flat. Realizing this, yet still hopelessly attracted to spending an inexplicable amount of time rooted in front of the stuff, it’s about time that I took charge of my senses and sat down with some anime that sticks with me for longer than 23 mins.
Gunbuster has been around since 1988 (that’s nearly 20 years, people!) and otaku are still talking about it today; sadly, it’s been festering on my hard drive for nearly as long, so rather than plow through a brain hemorrhaging 5 episode marathon of D.Gray-man (*shudders*), I resolved to try out Gunbuster instead. 6 episodes and Diebuster later, I feel like an idiot for waiting this long.
So for the uninitiated, what is Gunbuster? Sad Girls in Space, of course!
Literally subtitled “Aim for the Top!”, Gunbuster’s heroine, Noriko, is an ambitious teenage girl who dreams of piloting mecha and defending Earth against Uchuu Kaijuu (reads better than the pulpy translation “Space Monsters”). Similar to the archetypal Shonen Jump lead, Noriko makes up for a profound lack of natural talent with “hard work and guts”, her unwavering drive relates to the recent death of her Space Admiral father. At least, it is with Noriko’s colourful personality that Hideaki Anno begins to paint Gunbuster’s dramatic tapestry.
Indeed, I did just name-drop Neon Genesis Evangelion’s revered creative maestro. There was once a time when otaku respected the talent of Hideaki Anno without needing to append a disclaimer to their opinions. It’s worth mentioning that Gunbuster was his directorial cherry popping and even here, his unique artistic quality is stamped all over the series. For example, consider that the final (sixth) episode is almost completely drawn in monochrome (black and white), the animation would occasionally degenerate into black and white stills and the plot is borderline obsessed with applying hardcore, believable science fiction to what, in the end, will always be an anime about mecha and space monsters; no doubt, applying such rigid scientific rules to Gunbuster proved to be Anno’s masterstroke.
My favourite moments are almost exclusively related to the science of Gunbuster’s (and essentially, our) universe. During much of episode 3, Noriko is falling in love with a fellow male co-pilot by the name of Smith Toren. That he dies is no surprise; these days it’s a fairly typical plot device in anime to quickly develop a secondary character only to kill him off for emotional effect (see Full Metal Alchemist), it’s more the way Smith dies that is disturbing. Adhering to “Alien“‘s memorable tag line, “In space, no-one can hear you scream!”, Smith’s radio goes dead and that’s it, he is gone forever. The feeling of desolation and helplessness is chilling.
The desolation of time and space are the heart breaking truths at the centre of Gunbuster’s moving drama. Due to advances in space travel, lightning speeds can be achieved, though at a considerable cost; months spent in “space time” are equivalent to years on Earth. Noriko’s struggles are hard enough without having to deal with the devastation of her old life; her friends and family slipping away with every passing minute. Some of the saddest moments come as Noriko hesitantly reunites with old class mates, seeing how they’ve grown up, made families and settled down. The quiet and reflective tone adopted during these moments twists Gunbuster’s emotional complexity, tinging Noriko’s heroism with an inevitable sense of loneliness. It’s obvious from where Makoto Shinkai cribbed his ideas, especially “Voices of a Distant Star“.
Of course, with a name like Gunbuster, one must be expect some ripping good mecha action. GAINAX delivers, apocalypto style. Clearly influenced by his involvement with Nausicaä, Anno has the universe “rejecting humanity” in the Miyazaki fashion by sending some mind bogglingly huge insect-looking monsters after us, in their billions. Mankind’s only response is to create “buster machines”; mecha and/or weapons with incomprehensible god-like power. I could call it “epic” but that’s such a cliche word to use these days; let’s just say the final episode involves the destruction of Jupiter. Planets gets explodes. Enough said.
The animation by GAINAX is wonderful. Carefully hand-drawn, beautifully fluid and dotted with overwhelming detail, it is a story that springs to life on screen, constantly moving. Like the best anime from the 1980s, there is an overriding sense of spirit and enthusiasm pulsing through this, almost as though someone ripped out their soul and trapped it in Gunbuster for all to see. I hope more of you do, I can confirm it’s better than D.Gray-man.


Past, present and future

To quote rubbish rockers Staind, it’s been a while. Of course I haven’t stopped watching anime, I just don’t have much to say. I could write boring episode reviews, but you know, that’s boring! More than anything I seem to rely on inspiration to write and the feeling now is that I’m either burnt out or just couldn’t care less.
Death Note was great, but it’s fast becoming a weak parody of itself; Light and L locked together – it’s like some stupid sitcom. Code Geass is superficially exciting and features some colourful animation, but it’s mostly just absurd, camp trash; a retooled Gundam for the motaku generation.
Red Garden is one of the few shining lights to emerge from the horrendous winter season. A novelty for TV anime these days; it has a story to tell, it has female characters with integrity and it doesn’t look like it was animated for pedophiles. Score!
Eyes then turn to the spring ’07 season and hope springs anew. I better not be the only one looking forward to Bokurano; imagine an alternate version of Evangelion where Shinji and his giant robot accidentally squish Father Ikari (and his car) underfoot, while Asuka’s a child prostitute and after every victorious mecha mash up, the pilot curls up and dies. As long as the production values are up to scratch (we’re depending on GONZO here, so it’s a flip of a coin really), Bokurano will stun, surprise and shock anime fans not prepared for such cold, hard brutality.
It’s nice to see a couple more TV shows from Studio BONES are gearing up for launch too. I do enjoy dark science fiction and as far as I can see, Studio BONES are up there with the best. “Darker than Black” (with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack!) and “The Skull Man” may sound corny, but coming from the brilliant animation house behind the likes of Wolf’s Rain and Kurau Phantom Memory, expectations are sky high.


Again the fate of the world is in the hands of 14 kids (Bokurano)

Its been a while readers, 7 days to be precise, and as we all know, 7 days on internet may as well be a lifetime. I won’t labor you with the details, but suffice to say that this gradual slow down in blogging is sadly down to cliche reasons; I have found a new job that forces me awake by 6:30AM- an ungodly and surreal time to be conscious when to my horror even the moon is still mockingly pinned up in the night sky.
Being too tired to watch much anime I’ve still found the time to maintain a heathly staple of Enel-flavoured One Piece and even discover a brand spanking new manga series to read; Bokurano.
I’m not a regular manga reader by any means, but there were a few things that forced me into checking this out – an anime adaptation has just been announced and will be directed by Studio Ghibli’s up and coming Hiroyuki “The Cat Returns” Morita, further more it’s a story penned by Mohiro Kitoh; the man responsible for inflicting Shadow Star Narutaru on unsuspecting Pokemon fans – in Kitoh’s Narutaru, the Pokemon kill, are killed and torture their innocent trainers; in other words, the author is pretty twisted, unpredictable and has a real nasty streak. By now you should have picked up that I enjoy horror.

Bokurano continues his favoured trend of throwing kids into bizarre and horrific situations. The story is basically that 14 children, who think they are simply signing up for an elaborate video game, naievely agreeing to protect the Earth against a force of invading aliens. In these regards Bokurano is very similiar to Neon Genesis Evangelion; the aliens, who attack one by one, are giant monsters with extremely variable fighting styles. The kids fight in a giant robot.
Set against what they at first brush off as simply a game, the 14 children begin to die off either in battle or straight after. Then once the fighting is finished, they return to their every day lives to face up to devestation left behind; in one such city-centred clash, 40,000 civilians were killed (most likely squished) in the carnage.
Ultimately the kids are going into each battle knowing that one of them will die and that along the way thousands of innocents will perish too – if they refuse to fight, the world will end. As they say – no pain, no gain.
From the very first few pages I’ve been in love with Bokurano. At once a heart breaking drama and compelling sci-fi mystery, Mohiro Kitoh’s refusal to pull punches makes this a shocking and captivating read that gets better with every chapter. Indeed it is giant robot manga, but given its ultra realistic take on both the characters and the consequences of giant mecha combat, Bokurano feels fresh and exciting. It will be a massive hit as an anime series, so get in now on the ground floor and discover Kitoh’s twisted drama nice and early, I’m looking forward to be able to say “the manga is better”.


Giant Robo – Man-size anime

Ably piloting his nuclear powered giant robot (sensibly dubbed "Giant Robo"), Daisaku Kusama is a brave young kid charged with the every day fate of saving the world. We join his story with his team mates in the internationally renowned "Experts of Justice" jumping (and teleporting!) from country to country fighting off the monstrous terrorists in Big Fire. Like most evil organizations, Big Fire desperately hanker after world domination, and the only people big and brave enough to stop them are Daisaku and his super-powered buddies.
Giant Robo is all about size. "The Magnificent Ten," "The Experts of Justice" and even "Big Fire" – it’s designed from that very first dot of ink to be a breath taking epic that heart racingly sweeps over cities, countries and even Earth itself. Depending on whether or not Daisaku ultimately triumphs, the fate of the world is hanging by a thread.
Begun in 1992 and finished in 1998, this 7 episode OVA is gleefully reminiscent of the pulpy fiction you would often find filling comics in the 60s and 70s; a time before sarcasm was invented and prentention was needed – I really love that about Giant Robo, it’s so clear about everything that all there is left to do is to sit back and watch the story explode with sharp, inventive action and heart-felt theatrical melodrama. And explode it does; giant robots clash amidst packed cities, ninja and samurai take to the skies and do battle, mystical priests and insane scientists are hell bent on their own idealistic ideas about scientific progress – it is a thoroughly delightful distillation of a fanboy’s dream and an exciting collision of Japan’s traditional and fantastical culture"¦ That and it has giant robots!

Editorials Reviews

Neon Genesis Evangelion – Why is it classic anime?

Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered by many critics to be a “classic” anime series. Loved and loathed in equal measure, its polarising reputation for invoking a distinct reaction from its viewers endures (inside and outside fandom) even today- an impressive feat being as it is a decade on from its Japanese TV debut. But what defines “classic” anime? Why is Evangelion still as relevant today as it was back in 1995?
“Classic” art direction
Art direction and animation fluidity are two separate entities. Neon Genesis Evangelion never had a huge animation budget, but its unique visual style still strikes a profound chord with its viewers. Unique and iconic, the colour scheme is exciting and suits the raging mood perfectly, strange bio-mecha designs and (if albeit redundant) religious symbolism top off a visceral presentation that instantly burns itself into memory.
Emotive characterization, world-wide accessibility and relevance
People either empathise with or passionately denounce Evangelion’s main character, Shinji Ikari. He is the ultimate “average” kid from a broken home, frustratingly shy and painfully reluctant. He isn’t a hero, just an awkward geek. The other characters are all breaking down in their own personal ways; Asuka’s fear of rejection and Misato’s desperate loneliness. These are close to the bone universal human emotions, characterised in realistic, painful circumstances and directed with an almost sadistic lack of warmth, relevant to every generation.
Sophisticated, controversial story teller
Under a slicker director, Evangelion would be another RahXephon; efficient, exciting and romantic but ultimately lacking any true sparks of originality. Hideaki Anno put his heart and soul into these characters and placed them within the confines of a mysterious plot to end the world, refusing to compromise on showing the unpredictable uglier sides of human nature. We’ve all been unhappy with ourselves or others at some point in our lives and what if at this exact moment, you were given the chance to save the world. Would it be “OK! Let’s do it!” or “Why me? Feck off!”.
Although I don’t consider Neon Genesis Evangelion a personal favourite, I accept it as a classic anime series. It took the formulaic mecha genre and transformed itself into an extremely potent mix of visceral art, controversial drama and symbolic science fiction. From what I’ve learnt, a “classic” movie or TV series is defined by global accessibility, (current) relevance and sheer impact; Evangelion is as popular today as it was 11 years ago.