Episode 48 of Eureka Seven is arguably an episode-long opening to a final battle, the final clash between Nirvash and theEND, Holland and Talho and Jurgens’ last charge against Dewey’s fleet. All the ingredients, and all the visual language, of a truly epic battle are set forward. An immense enemy armada protecting a superweapon, heroic ace pilots going on against impossible odds, and the final showdown between the two experimental units – the two mecha that have fought each other to a standstill every time they have clashed. Yet as it progresses it is very clearly not an action climax in any traditional sense. The episode is the culmination of Anemone’s plot, of Dominic’s journey of moral awakening, and an intensely personal thing within an epic framework.
One of the frequent criticisms of Gundam and its similar series is the inability to fully commit to an anti-war message in a series full of hyperbolic pacifist rhetoric. Pacifism is to be found via just warfare, and the wars come from two diametrically opposed standpoints about what this comprises. One can, and should, bomb for peace because the only way war can be prevented is through some orthodoxy of thought that it is bad. In the Universal Century, this is the forever out of reach Newtype dream, the idea that some enlightened ubermensch should come from space to enlighten the lessers on the Earth. Gundam AGE had a piratical character whose job was to prolong a war of attrition to force both sides to sue for peace. Turn-A Gundam’s ultimate villains are a militaristic political faction and a greedy industrialist who want to prolong a war born from misunderstanding into one of conquest. Gundam 00 had a faction who would kill indiscriminately to prove that war is futile. Yet for all these ponderings about why one should not fight, the series exist to sell war paraphernalia. Audiences love the action, the rivalries and the war machines, and so peace must be the endpoint of an exciting war. It is only War in the Pocket that really commits to any deeper message by having the audience surrogate, a child who thinks soldiering is cool, see his best friend brutally killed for no good reason while the war of importance ends without anyone knowing until it is too late.
A key part of the Gundam-pacifist-message, and a narrative canard I have harped on repeatedly in the course of this series of articles, is the humanising death. The hero meets a charming, tragic, waiflike woman. She dies, maybe by his hand, just as he realises he loves her and she realises fighting is bad. War is bad because people die who don’t deserve to and cute women get shot and fade to white. Everyone cries. Eureka Seven has Anemone, a woman who on the surface fits this role. She is the experimented-upon, abused, unwilling soldier. Dominic feels sorry for her and has his moral awakening. If Eureka Seven was a lesser series Anemone would die, and Dominic would change sides and Renton would be sad. Instead, Anemone criticises Dominic for trying to “save” her for what she perceives as his own selfish desires – using her as his point of conscience rather than seeing her as a victim of a cycle of systematic abuse that needs to be broken. Dominic then changes sides in order to save her, in order to help break the cycle.
Thus episode 48 comes, offering closure. Dewey attempts to destroy the Control Cluster with his satellite laser Oratorio, and fails. He dispatches theEND and Anemone to finish the job, and the opening sequence of carnage is set to Anemone’s inner monologue about how she is sick of war, broken by the abuse and reduced to nothing. As Holland moves to fight Dewey, it seems like heroes and villains are being paired off – Renton will have his showdown with Anemone, Holland with his brother, and the world will be saved. Then Dominic sets off to save Anemone, and the episode becomes interesting. The “fight”, such as it is, between Nirvash and the END, is a dynamic war of evasion. Anemone has no stomach for fighting and simply wants to complete her mission and live – to drop a homing beacon on the Control Cluster for the Oratorio to fire again. Renton does not want to kill, specifically, but to protect the Earth and stop Anemone achieving her goal. The “Itano Circus” is the real highlight of the battle – theEND’s laser barrage being evaded by the Nirvash in a high-speed chase that lasts most of the episode, the sort of back-and-forth and tension that ordinarily would be both parties trying to kill each other with everything they have. Yet the Nirvash does not even attack, only defends. It is an apocalyptically powerful unit in every sense – the Seventh Swell devastates countries, it has the capacity to outfly and outfight anything in the sky – and yet its final battle, its dramatic climax, is it defending itself and the Earth against a foe it does not want to kill.
The payoff is worth it. Dominic, nearly dying in his efforts to save Anemone, is rescued after theEND undergoes metamorphosis at Eureka and the Nirvash’s power; it changes from black to white, becoming, truly, the Nirvash’s brother. It saves Dominic and Anemone as they are falling to their deaths. It shelters them from the Oratorio’s blast, and is destroyed in the process. This is an ending of a series-long rivalry where everyone lives, where Anemone is the one to save Dominic, where there is no humanising death, only humanising love. If this is not a better evocation of a robot series’ pseudo-pacifist potential than a one-on-one duel to the death, I am not sure what is. The refrain of the robot pilot is that one can protect 平和, 正義, 青い星 (peace, justice and this blue and pure earth) and so on and so forth only with the power of the ultimate weapon. This is done by killing a lot of people and occasionally feeling sad about it. The sacrifices of others are what motivates one to fight on. In Eureka Seven the hero is driven by a very real desire to protect, and as a result his machine absolutely does end its rivalry with peace and justice. The love-confession does not come as the woman dies, but as the happy couple are saved by their machine.
Episode 48 of Eureka Seven, despite its strangely underwhelming (compared, say, to Char and Amuro’s duels, or Suzaku versus Kallen, or any of the other ace fights from robot anime one may like) action, is one of my all-time favourite episodes of mecha anime. It is one of the few – with I would say Rahxephon coming closest – that really commits to the idea that the responsible use of heroism and mecha is protection. It ends with redemption, with love given a chance to live even among enemies, and a newfound determination to save the earth. Yes, there is still a war to win. Yes, the series is still showing a world where war has become inevitable. But it is framed in a way that is something beyond the usual lazy depiction of a just war. One man has overstepped his bounds, and must be punished. The hero’s motivations are not even specifically for the sake of one ideology or policy, but for ecological reasons. The ideological conflict is not the liberation of the colonies, or borders of nations, but between the desire to destroy the earth via exploitation and the continued existence of all of humanity.