“Chance Encounters Change People, As Do Farewells” (Episode 42 of Eureka Seven)
Were Eureka Seven’s 42nd episode to be the beginning of its immediate end, the setup to a resolution of the whole plot in episode 43, it would be a fitting and powerful ending. As the introduction to a longer final arc it is just as powerful, and definitely the point where for all its superficial resemblances, the series moves far away from Gundam via a damning exploration of the same themes. It is – in a series built on build-and-release moments of emotional intensity – a long-deferred moment of emotional power for every character, not simply a barometer of Renton’s maturity or Holland’s coming to terms with his past, but absolute closure for plot threads which have been running for 41 prior episodes. Emotional release – the climaxes of past arcs, the moments of revelation and resolution that have preceded this point, implies a build back up, a temporary moment of clarity from which lessons are learned and the next conflict will build on. The whole focus of episode 42 is on moving on in the most physical sense, driving forward and looking to definitively close the past off.
Having spoken to Sakuya, Eureka (now recovered and back to her old self) returns to Norb and Renton just as Dewey begins his attack on the Voderak city. This episode is the point where the war plot and the spiritual plot – run since their introduction as diametrically opposed plans of action – finally intersect. Previously the Gekkostate have been unable to intervene in Dewey’s actions because they are too weak to challenge a leader with popular support and sizeable armed forces. Similarly Dewey has not hitherto focused to any great extent on dealing with Holland; it is as if he does not consider the Gekkostate a threat. Yet now, as Renton and Eureka stand on the verge of actually preventing war with the Coralians, he acts and it feels like he is acting in fear, bringing his full force against a foe he has previously crushed on a philosophical level. Norb claims the attack is “the work of a man who doesn’t want you on the other side of the zone,” seeing through the political posturing to show awareness of the real situation – Dewey has gained support for his actions by arguing other plans will not work, but now for whatever reason – doubt, his grudge against Holland, fear of Renton’s success – he is making sure to destroy all opposition, even that he has crushed. In a way, he embodies the series’ philosophy – that espoused by the Gekkostate of “getting it by your hands,” taking self-reliance and running with it to get things done.
But what Renton and Eureka have to do is unclear; all the steps of the process are easily understood, but what it actually means is something else entirely. Norb claims “people always meet others very suddenly, but those chance encounters change people, as do farewells.” Renton must travel away from the Gekko, away from Norb and Earth itself to go beyond the Great Wall and reach out with Eureka’s help to the Coralians. As Norb failed in the past, Renton has become the most important person in the human race, and the only way he can apparently save it is by running away from the world and its wars. Dewey may be killing indiscriminately, the Gekkostate might be fighting a losing war for good reasons, but none of this can matter because the real route to peace, the real resolution, must come from Renton and Eureka and the Nirvash running away from it all. They may be running into the Promised Land, heading towards the divine to argue for humanity’s right to survive, but this is an impossibly vast request and an incomprehensible sacrifice set against the very real bloodshed of mechs, battleships and antibodies above the Voderak city.
Eureka Seven has an idealistic teenager meet a mysterious girl and pilot a powerful robot against a tyrannical government. An outnumbered but not outgunned rebel force stands up for what is good and right against the forces of the oppressor. This is Gundam, this is mecha animé through and through. Dewey is a twisted idealist, a perverse, exploitative response to Char Aznable’s charismatic antihero nature, and he must die – he has been painted as such a cruel villain that it is hard not to want him to die. The parallel is even stronger now it is revealed Holland is the Sayla analogue here, the sibling of the villain who has given up trying to make him see sense. But Renton and Eureka must not fight this final battle, they must simply survive and escape, head somewhere away from the whole affair and fight their own ideological battle for the survival of humanity – seek forgiveness, it is implied, for mankind’s warlike nature.
Gundam posits that through war, through the conflicts between earth and space and through sacrifice of innocents, mankind will evolve, become a New Type of human so to speak, better-equipped to spread a message of harmony to the “lesser”, unevolved people. War – and the process of abandoning Earth – will create an era of peace as humanity fights to rise above fighting. This is an almost hypocritical antiwar stance, caught in tension between war being cool and the protagonist being a soldier and the need to sell the view that humanity should rise above “adults and their lies” and pointless fighting. Eureka Seven, if it is to be held as a creative response to Gundam, removes this tension. It presents only a strict antiwar position – the rejection of combat and a spiritual search for enlightenment – as the route to peace. It is a spiritual position, but an areligious one. Religion by this point is irrelevant to the philosophy because – as is poignantly shown by the Voderak faithful being eaten by Coralians just as readily as Federation troops – God has made his presence known, and does not care for superstition. Militarism, and fighting for “right”, stands in the way of truly finding peace. This commitment to peace that is needed – more than the almost platitudinous stance against fighting to a backdrop of swordfights that Gundam loves – is difficult.
It is not shown to be an easy route for idealistic, “pacifist” teens. Renton has to accept the Nirvash will take him away to somewhere he may not return from, somewhere that changed Sakuya in her failure to reach it, and as he does it he must watch the Gekkostate sacrifice themselves to make it happen. They must fight so he can reject fighting. And that he fails, that his idealism that he has fought against Holland over throughout gives way to doubt, is human. The climax of the episode is him rationalising in his mind that he must let his doubts go, trust in others’ survival and go through the Great Wall – shown via a montage of everyone who has shaped him as a character from Axel through Ray and Charles, Holland and the Gekkostate and Norb and Sakuya. And the scene is framed via Anemone, having easily defeated Holland, watching powerless and in tears as Renton and Eureka pass through the Great Wall. Her – and Dewey’s – plans have failed. They might have damaged the Gekko and destroyed the 909, but it has achieved nothing.
There is a very good fight in this episode that runs together in a constant barrage of action; Holland versus Anemone, the Gekkostate’s LFOs versus the Coralians, the Gekko versus the Coralians and the Gekko versus the Federation fleet as Dewey launches missiles at the Voderak. The first section of it – Holland and Michael’s rendezvous with the Gekko, Holland’s boarding the 909 in freefall as Talho attacks the Federation carriers – is the sort of mass action that a mecha series’ climax should have. Kengo, one of the Gekko’s crew, is fired up with the heroic aphorisms that a ship’s officer needs in this situation. But the music quite undermines this. Track 21 of Eureka Seven‘s soundtrack is entitled Gekko-Go, and is the heroic flourish that absolutely sings with a sense that for all their failings, the Gekkostate fight for something good against someone evil. That track does not play until Renton makes his run at the Great Wall. Instead, the whole of Talho and Holland’s fight against the Federation is to the strain of I’ve Got It, a droning, almost melodyless ambient electronic track that pays no heed to the flow of the visual action but simply proceeds; it is almost anti-soundtrack, incidental music that sounds like it should be diegetic but instead takes the tension out of the fight in its non-diegetic nature. Without the expected musical cues, without the trappings of robot combat, Eureka Seven is actively undermining the expectations of the audience – and as the situation worsens, it switches simply to silence.