One question that has not been frequently raised in all of Eureka Seven‘s discussion of religion and godlike planetary intelligences is the matter of an afterlife; it is by now proven as fact that a planetary intelligence exists, and that its intention towards humanity is, in a way, peaceful. It has reached out with a messianic figure twice now and found a proper counterpart for Eureka in Renton. It is faced with humans led by Dewey who believe themselves superior to the divine, who would seek to enforce mastery over it. At the end of episode 47, Dewey claims that mankind will not bow down to, or live in fear of, an “unknown creature.” If God is supposed to be inscrutable, incomprehensible and omnipotent, then the line between faith and fear is – from this perspective – blurred.
Both the greatest strength and potentially greatest weakness of G-Tekketsu is its laser-focus on masculinity and the “expectations” placed on men and women in a fiercely macho, dog-eat-dog society. It has failed to go anywhere fast so far with its story of Kudelia’s move from naivete to competence as an activist or political figure, with her still – some distance into the series now – bemoaning her lack of competence. Indeed, it has perhaps become even more reductive in how it presents its women. There is a narrative justification for this – this is a ship of sex-obsessed children in thrall to a salacious polygamist’s apparent living the manly dream, and the story is ostensibly about the demolition of their masculine ideals. Yet this inevitable demolition – and the foreshadowing does still suggest it is inevitable – has yet to come in any concrete way.
This article was written for the Reverse Thieves Anime Secret Santa project.
Your Lie in April opens in a way that suggests it will be a very unremarkable handling of well-worn themes in fiction about musicians; the iconoclastic performer whose playing style disgusts the Establishment and enthrals audiences, the retiring prodigy who has lost their confidence, etcetera. This is not to its detriment; it may not shake the boat in how it tells its story but it nevertheless, in episode 2’s scene of Kao playing her recital piece in a violin competition, depicts in a relatable way the thrill of hearing familiar music in unfamiliar settings. The “different” classical musician, the one who makes a stuffy musical canon fresh and new again, is a real-world phenomenon primarily of hype and PR; artists like Charlotte Church, Vanessa Mae et al come and go, each bringing their own easily hypeable angle to a musical genre that the media wishes to claim irrelevant.
The 1990 TV anime Brave Exkaiser was the first entry in the Brave franchise, and while it is a highly generic super-robot series it is interesting to view it as laying the groundwork for ideas that the subsequent franchise entries would build on. Tracking the ways in which these ideas develop provides a way of looking at the franchise as a whole that in some way serves to explain its often interesting approach to a super-robot story. Central to almost all entries (the notable exception being Brave Command Dagwon) is a focus – often humorous – at the relationship between a young boy and some number of robot friends. In some cases this is heavily brought to the fore – Brave Police J-Decker runs with the idea by having a whole stable of robots all with human companions and even – in a tongue-in-cheek fashion – love interests. Often the intent is not to make a serious statement about the nature of machines and humans, but the shift from the child hero piloting a robot to a child surrounded by robots and aliens is an interesting angle which is often used for endearing comedy.
Concrete Revolutio is a series which is complex, holding the cards of its main plot close to its chest; eight episodes in it is hard to see exactly where the endgame will be despite Shin Mazinger-esque flashforwards showing some dystopian, uncertain future where alliances made during the main episodic plots seem inverted and the utopia that the heroes want to fight for has failed. It is clear from these main plots that the hoped-for utopia is based on a faulty premise, but there is the hope that the characters will realise this; each story has their faith in the world shaken a little more, but how this ties into a future where their actions are framed almost villainously is as yet unclear. This is fitting; it is a series about the people who control the image of, and perception of, heroism and justice. It is a series that calls into question the popular perception of justice, and it is perhaps for this reason I find myself comparing it repeatedly to Giant Robo.
The overwhelming theme of episode 46 of Eureka Seven is family and the ability of familial ties to overcome grief and disagreement. It is not limited to traditional familial units, picking up on the series’ emphasis on nontraditional families and family-like entities and exploring how within close-knit social and professional groups like military units a certain kind of familial piety can exist. It would be easy to say that it is examining friendship more than family, but the constant theme throughout the series has been how, for people who lack biological parents, these social groups become a new family. What matters more than blood ties is that there are dependable – even if they are flawed – people to offer advice and support if needed.
As G-Tekketsu proceeds into its seventh episode, it is a conflicting series; it hints at some very interesting ideas it has yet to satisfactorily develop, some other details have turned into a very interesting character study and it sits in an uneasy place between lazy formula and a genuinely interesting take on well-worn ideas. In my initial writing on the series I highlighted its subtlety and willingness to use body language and implicit bits of character development as strengths; it was setting up a contrast between a cynical and pragmatic yet ultimately ignorant hero, and an idealistic yet out-of-touch privileged woman trying to reach out to him. This continues for a while; during the series’ episodes on Mars, the protagonist, Mika, is shown to be illiterate and able to fight only by the muscle memory of his life as a tank driver – in time he admits this and tries to learn to write, but before then it is shown by his refusal to read manuals or instructions. Mika – and his superior officer Orga – remain the most interesting characters even as the series falls into a slump; their dynamic has become a strange inversion of the usual machismo of robot anime.
The opening episode of Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (abbreviated henceforth as G-Tekketsu) is particularly strong both as a franchise entry and as a piece of science-fiction television. While I particularly enjoyed the dense, confused mayhem of G-Reco, its predecessor, that series’ shortcomings became obvious in time; in trying to tell a story about characters uncertain of what they were doing, it was unable to tell the audience effectively what was happening. G-Reco was, in the end, about various groups of people unused to war finding their efforts at starting one went awry; in some ways a possible critique of the “chickenhawk,” the politician who talks big about militarism but has no stomach for blood. Yet in the end its concepts – of a number of insular, superstitious nation-states in space ending up embroiled in a pointless inconclusive war that ended up benefiting a small number of loudest-voiced people – were significantly more interesting than its status as a piece of fiction.
From the start, Rose of Versailles has a menace hanging over it – that of the French Revolution, constantly alluded to by the narrator and gradually brought into the main plot by the exposure of its privileged protagonist to the injustice of the world she fights for. The shoujo aspects of it – Marie Antoinette as the privileged adolescent involved in social spats with her rivals at court playing out like schoolgirl bickering – fade away through a move towards genuine threat. It goes from two women arguing about talking to each other to attempted fraud, efforts to undermine the monarchy and even assassination plots before the story as a whole pulls away from Marie herself to the possible downfall of the French nobility as an institution. Oscar is a confidante in this story, the woman in which Marie can put her faith as a friend, and yet this is set against her growing revulsion at the injustice of the system itself.
For several episodes the secondary plot of Eureka Seven, the increasing disharmony among the Federation forces around Dewey’s increasingly extreme plans, has proved more interesting than the main plot of Renton and Eureka as the emissaries to an apparently uncaring alien intelligence. This is perhaps indicative of the series’ wider difficulties; it is a particularly existential story at its heart, an expansive narrative that plays its hand very cautiously. Renton and Eureka’s non-courtship, their development, has played out over the whole series so far and now they are left in limbo, the preparations by definition inadequate. A human story – the mad genius trying to destroy the world to prove a point – is understandable. It offers a conflict that can be comprehended and fought with guns, the sort of thing a mecha anime wants. A story of metaphysical self-discovery, of discussion of the nature of humanity and of the nature of an alien deity, is alien, conceptual science-fiction. That Eureka Seven discusses this, and gives it space to grow and develop at the pace of uneasy first love as an allegory for first contact is its virtue, and yet at the same time difficult to write about on an episode-by-episode basis.