Authority, Experience and Redemption; Axel Thurston in Eureka Seven

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Dominic’s response to the attack of the Coralians in Eureka Seven introduced again the tension between authority and expertise – and the power of authority and rank – in the military drama plot which the series circles around. Yet the core story is often far from the military – even if the tension emerges when morality clashes with utilitarianism (as with Holland’s “kidnapping” of the Voderak woman early in the series, or Renton’s disobedience of Ray and Charles to do what he believes is right). The Gekko’s response – powerless as they were to really stop Dewey’s atrocities – provides this human focus.

The return to Axel’s workshop, after showing how powerless Renton and Eureka feel at having failed to save lives, can be seen as a bringing together of the two storylines; at its heart, despite all the humanising of the machine, the Nirvash is still a war robot in the tradition of the mecha genre. It needs upgrades and repairs, and if anything its unavailability – in the absence of the equipment which Axel is building for it – grounds the story and provides a reason for fallibility. Previously, it has been misuse of the Nirvash which has caused tragedy – Renton’s childish approach to war. Here this storyline is actually resurrected, as the children who hang around Axel’s workshop mention a suspicious person seen there. Axel is concerned that this will attract the Federation’s attention, and this in turn evokes past episodes – the Federation’s subtle power (in their air of paranoia and terror that led to Renton’s uncle’s arrest) is now supplemented by real, unaccountable military force. The girls at the workshop now take Renton’s place as the naïve, well-meaning types who do not properly understand the stakes of the world they inhabit. Using children as this kind of a foil, to both highlight the importance of adults’ expertise and also to provide a counterpoint for Renton’s process of growing up, provides an interesting development of the usual children-versus-adults conflicts in this genre. Traditionally, adult expertise (in something like Gundam) is harsh utilitarianism – purely depicted as what Holland is the most extreme example of. Indeed, at the beginning of Eureka Seven, this is well-established both with Axel as the world-weary strict yet ultimately distant parental figure and Holland as the undeniably cruel and hypocritical soldier.

What Eureka Seven is doing throughout the series is promoting, above all, compromise; all the characters fail to communicate and fail to appreciate each others’ skills; expertise is not specifically infallible, yet it is also not inherently untrustworthy. Even the usually cliché conflicts between “principle” and utility – in which principle is shown to be naïve and simplistic – tend to acknowledge both viewpoints and err more on the side of the “naive” worldview. This is perhaps most clear in the sequences where Renton’s ignorance of the religious divides in his world lead to him falling victim to prejudice – the supposedly “obvious” decision (often the cruel one) is only the “right” one if someone buys into prejudice. Renton’s naivete is properly idealistic – not a simple desire to do “good things” but a more general opposition to society’s divides. It is a different method of framing stock arguments of naivete versus expertise, and indeed in time Renton seems to encourage others to take his world-view. By episode 32, then, when the Gekko (clearly working to a strict deadline as the scenes with Axel show) stops to assist in the aftermath of the Coralian attack, the world in opposition to Dewey seems much more optimistic.

What follows is a semi-expository scene; one of the survivors of the Coralian attack is explaining it to Holland and in the process again presenting a less “expert” view. The scene reminds the viewer of Holland and Talho’s own position in relation to the plot, and places them much more firmly aligned with the viewer. In my other episodic blog, on Rahxephon, I mention how it is a series that makes how ignorant the characters and audience are – even if in different ways – a key plot point. Eureka Seven also toys with this (as with its two-part recap episode previously, where Dominic’s knowledge is compared to Renton’s) and here it is used to show how privileged and distant the Gekkostate really are. Holland and Talho know about Coralians, and Dewey’s superweapon – the civilians who have been affected by them do not. As the scene proceeds, and Renton sees the physical cost of the attack, his own personal crises are set in contrast. Again, the contrast between perspective and naivete emerges – Renton is unable to really respond to the stories of the refugees of children orphaned by the Coralians, but rushes to help Eureka when she falls down. This is only a very short sequence, but one which well communicates Renton’s continued process of maturity. His love for Eureka has driven him to mature as a person, but real, widespread suffering – the aftermath of war – is still incomprehensible. Eureka’s arrival also presents another facet to the Gekkostate’s elevated, unnatural position of influence; her eyes betray her Coralian birth and so – even before anyone makes any accusations – she feels herself responsible for the suffering she beholds. Again, this is a very subtle scene for a show of this genre; what is shown is Eureka’s response to a mute child seeing her eyes and becoming afraid, and rather than following this with a cliched angry mob and recriminations, she herself foresees their inevitability and perceives them as even possibly justified. After so much emphasis, then, on the humanity at the heart of the series, a return to Dominic’s conflict with the Ageha children as they plan to destroy another city for Dewey’s vision comes surprisingly hard.

This also sets a clock on the mecha element of the series – the Nirvash is shown to be the most powerful LFO in the setting, and so it may be expected to serve as a decisive weapon to save lives. Yet while events conspire to prevent its repair time is running out both for the second city Dewey is targeting and Axel’s own safety. Thus the episode becomes one of the frantic, tense action ones that are uncommon in the series, but more powerful as a result. The police arrive to arrest Axel, the Gekko is rushing to intercept the Nirvash’s new equipment before it is seized and there is the overarching threat of another Coralian attack. Axel has already been well redeemed as a character from his initial spiky introduction, but here, as the Thurston workshop is again destroyed and he – like Renton – flees Bell Forest with only a board in tow, he really comes into his own. The entire scene is almost a reprise of Renton’s first running away with the Nirvash’s power source in hand, as the truck with Axel hurtles towards a cliff with the Nirvash’s new flight board flying behind. Axel reflects on how Renton has developed from a child, but not yet into an adult, and the episode’s first half ends with him taking a leap of faith just as happened in the first episode. This is not a case of redemption through death, but of closure to a character arc; Axel has himself developed in Renton’s absence and now his journey ends as Renton’s began.

Yet with this act of humanity comes a return to inhumanity; it seems once again that Dewey has won. More missiles from the Ageha children’s ship are fired and a new Coralian attack seems inevitable. Dominic is powerless and restrained as the children force Anemone into compliance – at first it appears, before the entire picture is revealed, that it is the same fits she has been having before. However, this time, rather than Dominic’s actual humanity and opposition to her exploitation, all that is left is the Ageha children drugging her and forcing her to fight. The children mock Dominic’s powerlessness and humanity, presenting the traditionally adult cruel utilitarianism that the mecha genre so often features.

What follows is chaos; the Gekko still needs the Nirvash’s equipment, Eureka is suffering from the effects of the Coralians’ emergence, Anemone is under the influence of drugs and more worried about destroying the Gekko than anything else and the Ageha children have effectively assumed control of the Federation fleet. Yet in this chaos comes the first sign of real change; Holland listens to Renton’s plan and concedes that it is their only option. Renton and Eureka want to launch the Nirvash to both aid in recovering its board and also buy the Gekko time, even if that seems suicidal. Of course, the board arrives in a scene which is a charming homage to any number of mecha predecessors, where an unfinished machine must launch to buy time – but there is no fanfare immediately following. Instead the new Nirvash’s debut – proper debut, that is – is delayed. Anemone fires, it evades, and then the “proper” revelation of an upgraded mech occurs. The first theme tune, Days, returns, the Nirvash emerges from the smoke and to a chorus of incredulity a “proper” fight emerges. Renton and Eureka are acting as one, the Nirvash has mastered the Seventh Swell and probably the first thing in the series approaching a special attack occurs. TheEND is crippled in one blow from the new Nirvash and forced to retreat, but just as the scene should reach its glamorous conclusion there is a grim reminder – while Renton and Anemone fought, the Coralian emergence occurred.

The sequence ends with the resolution of Axel’s own leap into the unknown – he survived, and in a letter to Renton reveals how he has come to terms with the Gekkostate and Renton’s own life. He has emerged as the previously absent parental figure that really defined the early part of the show, his journey as a character complete. As mentioned above, it is not a simplistic redemption story; he began as an understandable, if unrelatable character and has developed by becoming more understanding on the assumption that Renton, too, will grow up. While the Coralians, and the fight with Anemone, seem to be the focus of the episode, arguably they are contributing factors in a more personal story.

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