There are, really, two approaches to discussing the comparatively unpopular Episode 39 of Eureka Seven. One can either focus on what actually happens and talk about it as a sports animé, or one can discuss what it “means” within the framework of the series. It is ultimately a very silly episode, filled with visual jokes and cartoonish visuals, and its characters even admit themselves it is entirely superficial to the plot – yet it at the same time is so blatant and explicit in its exposition of the series’ themes it can be seen as clever in its stupidity. The plot is entirely incidental, and pure super-robot fluff; Holland, on orders from Norb, decides the Gekko’s crew must play a game of football before continuing with their mission. It is reminiscent of the strange training regimes of Gen Fudo in the later series Genesis of Aquarion, a series which is only really memorable for those episodes (which variously entail cross-dressing, characters parodying each others’ mannerisms, running foot-races and, in one case, playing football) and has the same heavy-handed way of delivering a “message” (in Aquarion‘s case it is usually punctuated with a suitably-themed special move for the main robot.)
This article also includes discussion of the plot of the serial Nearer My God To Thee (Abnett, Harrison, Parkhouse), printed in 2000AD issues 1883-8.
As the episode explicitly lays down its apparent themes, it also – in places – touches on a more subtle one. Eureka Seven‘s relationship with religion has always been fascinating; it is fair to call it a story of a world suddenly discovering the existence of God in a form that is not what anyone expected. Organised religion is set against brutal, rational science and often comes off depicted worse – the Voderak refuse medical treatment out of tradition, have odd ceremonies and at first are even derided by Holland (who apparently only helps one of their number because helping someone in need is the right thing to do) – but in time this has been reversed as the core theology is proved to be true, and yet not quite as expected. Co-existence with the Coralians is vital – and Dewey’s scientist approach of worshipping military force and human will, the belief that bombs and robots will solve the God problem once and for all, is very clearly one that will lead to terrible results. Yet at the same time, the deity that humanity is offered is not precisely the deity that religion offers – it is a living creature that must be dealt with reasonably, with its own emissary in Eureka. It is quite possible, in this science-fiction world, to accept the existence of God while being unreligious – because only one of those two things has been proven to exist.
Usually science-fiction takes a more blunt approach to proofs of the existence of God; it is the core “issue” of the plot, and it is a route to conflict. A good example is the recent 2000AD serial Nearer My God To Thee by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrison and Annie Parkhouse; it is in some ways similar to Eureka Seven in its depiction of an alien entity as a “deity,” but less ambiguous. It focuses on the arrival to Earth of a massive alien ship, which alarms the numerous extraterrestrials currently living there; the aliens claim it is a deity, but also one that is highly destructive. The “God-Ship” is a planetary-scale predator which consumes worlds after appearing as a deity – not so dissimilar to the Coralians’ position in Eureka Seven. The Coralian, as the long speech of episode 37 explained, is not sentient – it is an animal intelligence, which retains order and whose actions are not specifically intended to be worshipped but instead are so inscrutable they appear divine. Yet Nearer My God To Thee – if it is to be compared to Eureka Seven – ends with a victory for Dewey’s mindset. Humanity approaches this pseudo-divinity and blows it up with a nuclear bomb to solve the problem. It is a strong ending for the story Abnett tells, but is at the same time perhaps a symbol of simplistic uplift-versus-superstition stories. God is a predatory alien intelligence that dupes species and destroys their planets, but it is an alien intelligence that can be killed with bombs. Humanity’s selflessness and technology and fighting spirit save the day (in some ways the comic’s ending is equally reminiscent of the earlier OVA Big Wars, which has a similar idea of “Gods” as alien entities).
The Coralian cannot be bombed or destroyed as Dewey’s orchestrated massacres show – and at the same time its motivations are not as straightforward. Even Mischa and Egan cannot fully understand the Limit of Questions but Eureka, as arguably (if one is to take a religious angle here) the Christ figure in being a human-form tabula rasa sent to judge humanity, shows that it can be reasoned with and convinced not to be destructive. The Gekko is, in fact, headed to the Great Wall to do just that. This is, really, where Episode 39 begins; apparently before this mission can take place, the crew must play football because Norb, the religious leader whose understanding of the situation is the most nuanced, says so. A running thread throughout the episode is the crew trying to work out why – they are convinced Holland has been tricked by Norb into doing something pointless, and the conversation in which they raise these concerns is a subtle look, one could argue, at this theme of religion. Holland’s reasoning for doing this is communicated by repeating that it was Norb’s idea, and Norb is important and authoritative. The Great Wall is a Voderak site, so the Gekko must follow the orders of the Voderak to do its mission properly.
To the more cynical crew like Stoner, this does not add up; the mission is to challenge the Coralian, certainly – something that both the religious leaders and the scientists agree exists – and the Voderak religion is effectively an adjunct to this. Religion as a concept – the uniforms, ceremonies and traditions – almost appears more superstitious in the face of a real and indifferent deity – none of what Norb’s followers do has any real effect on the Limit of Questions compared to what Renton and Eureka will do. Thus something as un-spiritual as football seems something to be cynical about. They are ultimately right, and Holland’s being revealed as being tricked (in a fashion) is the comic thrust of the episode; Norb wants to use the match as a chance for the crew to prepare themselves for the mission and be in the right frame of mind to do it, and friendly competition on the football field is the best way to do this.
Thus the match itself; the religious themes discussed above are really only tangentially mentioned in the first two minutes of the episode, with almost all the remainder taken up by football. It shows up Renton’s inadequacies – those that remain after the development he has had, and those that his development and adolescence have brought on – in an almost direct parallel to the main robot story. He is shown to be exceptionally skilled at doing tricks with a football, but an awful player with no concept of teamwork – which somewhat sums up the Nirvash. It is powerful, but only against an opponent who does not expect one unit to do so much. Against a prepared foe, like The END, it is easily stopped. Renton had to learn self-reliance and self-confidence, for sure; now he must balance it with teamwork and sport offers a quick way to state this. The match which forms the climax of the episode, against a mysterious team Norb has brought along to bring the Gekkostate together, is a shambles of sports animé and sports fiction altogether; it comprises caricaturish players, impossible physics and an underdog team fighting to score one goal from a 34-0 position after the first half.
Of course, they do score – and it is Renton and Eureka acting in tandem (almost evocative of Evangelion‘s memorable Dance Like You Want to Win episode) that do it, showing Renton has finally learned to play as part of a team and the Gekkostate can work together to beat a powerful foe. As soon as they do, the “dream” or “lesson” is over; LFOs chase the players off, the Gekko takes off with no fanfare, and it is time for the episode’s moral – Norb himself providing a wry reminder to a viewer who may well have been as confused and frustrated as Stoner and Hilda by this sudden obsession with football of what happened.
“All is well if you learned something about yourself… and besides that, it was fun.”