It is one thing to fall in love; it is another thing entirely to choose to love someone.
The former is often simple enough...we see or meet someone who appeals to us at our most basic, perhaps even primal level. Call it love (or more likely lust) at first sight, call it instant attraction, call it infatuation or a crush or what you will, but suddenly we can't see straight and our thoughts are consumed with The Other for the majority of our waking hours. Flaws are ignored and reason topples over the fifth floor stairs. This kind of love sometimes can last days, months, and on rare occasions -- if it's actually reciprocated -- a lifetime. But if we look at it honestly, most of the time it's just our hormones getting the better of us, and we move along soon enough.
But the latter is something different. To choose to love someone else requires us to look at them for who they are, both strengths and weakness, accepting not only the dinners with fine wine and candles and soft music but also the nights with leftover Chinese and that annoying habit of your sweetheart picking her teeth with your fork. Frankly, choosing to love someone is the better way, the more honest and sacred way, if we can accept it. A marriage based on "falling in love" alone might make it, but a marriage built by two people who have both fallen in love and then, of their own free wills, having chosen to love each other has a far better foundation.
I probably have you wondering if this is an anime review at all or just my own mindless pontificating. Admittedly, I had a great deal of difficulty framing my thoughts about Eureka Seven at all. It's the kind of show where a letter grade is almost worse than useless, and the only way I could truly explain myself was through this analogy. Because Eureka Seven is not a show that I found immediately irresistable. It has moments of incredible beauty and sections of pure delight, but it also has deeply annoying flaws and several missed opportunities. I deeply enjoyed Eureka Seven, but it's a show that ultimately the viewer must decide to love...ironic enough, since this theme is central to the program.
Renton's life sucks, as he tells you several times in the first few episodes. He lives with his cranky old codger of a grandfather who runs a mechanic shop. His dad died saving the planet...but this still makes him fatherless. His sister, who was once his best friend, has been gone for a long time. Renton is, for all practical purposes, alone. He reads the underground rag Ray-Out and longs to be cool like the guys in Gekko State, who ride ref boards on trapar waves that make them into something akin to air surfers. But he is not cool. He is a 14-year-old who's barely reached puberty and has the immaturity to show for it.
This all changes when he meets a green-haired girl named Eureka (pronounced something like "air-WRECK-ah" for the uninitated). She is the pilot of the Nirvash, a stunning piece of mecha heaven, and she stops by the mechanic's shop for repairs. This visit doesn't go quite as planned, and it turns out Renton's grandfather knows more about the Nirvash than he probably should. But that doesn't really matter to Renton...not only is he dazed and confused by Eureka's beauty, but she's part of Gekko State. Invited to tag along, Renton joins the crew of Gekko State and quickly learns (after being hazed unmercifully) that they aren't quite what they appear to be in print. For one thing, the government is after them. For another, Gekko State seems to be more involved in mercenary activity and shady dealings than refboarding. Renton really questions what he's gotten himself into, though he continues to find himself drawn to Eureka.
But if Renton finds the actions of Gekko State erratic at first, he has no idea what's in store for him. Mysteries begin to compound when Gekko State switches sides on a mission involving the Voderac, a religious group hunted by the government. As Renton starts to learn more about the backgrounds of his new friends, they head off to encounter a gigantic windstorm known as a Corallion. At first it seems just a good way to catch some great waves, but the Corallion holds secrets that will impact the entire planet. As the story unfolds, Renton will deal with his growing attraction to Eureka, his tenous relationship with Gekko State's leader Holland, the truth surrounding the planet he calls home, and the violence that threatens to envelop them all.
Eureka Seven does several things very well, and the first one of those is relationships. The unfolding love between Renton and Eureka is the heart of the show, but there are several others that add layers of complications onto the proceedings. Holland and his girlfriend Talho have a strongly conflictive bond that grows over time. The children Eureka cares for must figure out how Renton (who they despise at first) fits into the picture. Even a doctor on board the Gekko State must deal with her ex-husband, a grotesquely fat but brilliant scientist who is still very much in love with her. Just like real relationships, not all of them go the ways you might want; sometimes, they are naive, other times sappy, still other times driven by misunderstandings and bad circumstances. But learning to love someone for who they are despite their mistakes and fears is key to the whole show.
In a similar vein, Eureka Seven really shines in avoiding the expected. Unlike the vast majority of shonen heroes, Renton is not the perfect mecha pilot out of the gate. In fact, his first few times in the Nirvash, he is as likely to throw up as he is to do something extraordinary. Similarly, people's choices have serious repercussions that play out over time. Renton is totally freaked out the first time he realizes that he may have killed a man. At another time, Renton attempts to help a Voderac child only to learn that his well-intended actions might have made things far worse. All of these lead to the growing whole of his character development. Time and again, stereotypes show up only to be blown apart, which I welcomed.
Eureka Seven also does a great job in a total unrelated area -- mecha battles. Maybe it's from growing up with the missle swarms of Macross, but I like wild mecha action, and Eureka Seven has plenty of it. At the same time, while the action is exciting and furious, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Battles are important, but there aren't special finishing moves or other shonen tropes. In fact, they can be quite tense without straying into cliche. They are also spread out through the series, so while a mech-head might be a little disappointed, the core plot isn't interrupted by having to have yet another battle sequence.
But speaking of plot...that's one place where Eureka Seven doesn't always deliver. The overarching story, which has enough revelations that I'm not going to spoil them, is intriguing. I was always interested in where it was ultimately heading, and the core narrative kept me interested through some dull spots. It makes some key mistakes, though, such as never fully explaining vital core concepts that come up like the enigmatic "Limit of Questions." It exists within the post-Evangelion world where explanations are seen as "giving away too much"...but it comes across as lazy scriptwriting and an inability to deal with true plot holes. The story also gets sidestepped at times for standalone episodes that are unnecessary or that could have been condensed. For example, we get through nearly 80% of the show and are ready to head into the final cataclysmic arc...and then we are thrown an episode where the Gekko State must learn to work together by playing soccer. Really? It struck me as poor planning. In reality, Eureka Seven could have been a nearly perfect 39 episode series without all the filler. And while I would have been all for condensing some sections, others could have stood to be longer. The final episode is jam-packed, and the two minute epilogue that plays during the credits could have easily been expanded to its own episode. Better planning could have made this show truly great.
There are also a few technical issues that thoughtful viewers might find bothersome. The artwork and animation themselves are just fine, belonging amongst the top tier of television anime. The music is also captivating. But in a fifty episode series, surely people could wear different clothes! When you watch a military show, having everyone stay in uniform throughout isn't hard to believe. But the members of Gekko State wear halter tops and basketball jerseys, and so the lack of clothing changes is distracting. It's impossible to believe someone like Gidget, Gekko State's airhead fashion plate, would be caught dead wearing the same outfit twice. Perhaps it was a lack of funds to afford third-string inbetweeners who could work with new models; maybe it was a lack of forethought. I don't know. But other minor technicalities like this did bother me in a show of this length.
There are a couple of other problems that pop up. One is the series' inability to give us compelling villains. Not every show has to have a larger-than-life antagonist who staggers around making bold speeches and cackling with glee at others' misfortune. However, most of the time, the villains are rote and, frankly, a little boring. What makes it worse is that, at almost the exact middle of the series, we finally do get a couple of characters worth their salt that aren't exactly on Gekko State's side. They are in every way the best opponents our heroes face. But for reasons I can only guess at, their story arc finishes up far, far too quickly.
One last thing...and for some, this will be make-or-break...the show isn't always certain of its audience. Especially near the beginning, Renton is going to get on the nerves of anyone watching over the age of about 16...and if he doesn't, the little kids in Eureka's care certainly will. Jokes about bodily functions factor a couple times within the opening episodes. Those bits, along with the occasional sappiness of Renton's affections for Eureka, might make you think the show is intended for a younger audience. But by the time we're through the series, we know that's not the case. A few episodes feature people getting graphically ripped apart, certainly not something for the pre-teen crowd, and others deal with concepts that aren't appropriate for kids. It's hard to judge a show for not finding its footing immediately, but where it starts is nowhere close to where it ends. (Hate to say it again, but it's the legacy of Evangelion returning to bite us on the backside.)
I don't normally write 2000 words about any show...it's too easy to lose my audience. Hopefully you've stayed with me through these ramblings and have some understanding of what you'll be getting yourself into if you take on Eureka Seven. If you're wanting a long TV anime that's completely entertaining from beginning to end, you might be better off checking out Fullmetal Alchemist first. You might find more compelling romances in the anime canon; you can certainly find some that are easier to digest. It's not an easy show to love; it is simply too flawed for that.
But I will think fondly of Eureka Seven for some time to come, and that's because what it gets right, it does so very well. Very few anime are willing to tackle the themes found here, from the bond of family and the choice to love others who are different from us to the ability of unchecked power to destroy us while we cheer. At a more basic level, Renton and Eureka are a great anime couple, one that you feel you really know by the end of the series. It isn't the best anime I've seen by any measure. Yet it has gotten under my skin. I invite you to enter into this series fully prepared, knowing it contains both wonders and mistakes, and I think you'll find yourself loving it too.
Eureka Seven -- violence (occasionally graphic), brief nudity, profanity, adult themes -- B+