「スティル・ファイティング／secret operation」 (Sutiru Faitingu)
It’s completely natural for a very good show to have a letdown after an episode as flawless as last week’s edition of AO. The fact that this show suffered no such letdown is an awfully good omen for its future.
I never expected last week’s episode – quite possibly my overall favorite in an outstanding season of anime – to be a fluke. Hell, the premiere was damn good in its own right. But I wondered if everything the team had went into that episode, to make it just perfect, and if the series would level down and settle into a groove a notch or two below. Well, not so far. This week E7 delivered another knockout – a more thoughtful, less blisteringly paced effort to be sure, but a knockout nonetheless. This was a week for the writing and the cast to shine, and so they did, delivering again and again with believable scenes that had me totally wrapped up in the story from start to finish.
I’ll repeat what I said last week – I don’t know who credited head writer Takeyoshi Kakuto is (there was some buzz on Twitter as Aikawa Shou and Koyoda Tomoki shot down a couple of rumors, but confirmed it is a pen name) but they’re damn good. That, or Shou-san is leading the effort himself, as he’s clearly capable of work this good. So far, AO is more coherent and logical than the original E7 ever was, and just as much fun. The story is easier to follow, and the main character is both more sympathetic and more decisive (and this coming from someone who liked Renton as a male lead). We have a complex and interesting political story playing out, with Okinawa wanting independence but mired in corruption and incompetence at the highest levels, and Japan and America each wanting to ensure their interests aren’t compromised (not to different from the way things are now, the be honest). And everyone wants to use Ao for their own purposes, even the ones who hate him.
What’s impressing me most of all about the premise is that no one is being set up as entirely good or entirely evil, and no punches are being pulled in the way these issues are being discussed. Example: Pippo’s comment when told that the Americans and French had helped “build” the Nirvash, “It’s fat, wants to surrender and has bad teeth.” It’s admittedly a hilarious (and audacious) line of dialogue, but in one fell swoop it manages to poke fun at every nation involved – including the Okinawans for their parochialism and bigotry. And while the story is set in Okinawa and clearly has its share of sympathy for the culture and cause, it also depicts the generation of Okinawans in power as small-minded, vengeful, cruel and incompetent – blaming all their problems on a small boy they persecute, the Governor doing karaoke with a member of Generation Bleu in his office. No one gets a free pass here, and everything is assigned their share of criticism for the state of affairs that exists.
Given the many poles of interest in the story, it follows that affairs are as complicated on a personal level as a political one. Turns out Gazelle’s name is Jiro and his father Kinjo Kazuyuki (Kusumi Naomi) is a leader in the local community and well-known musician, and Pippo’s father Niigaki Teruhiko (Tetsuo Komura) is in the SDF high command. Naru’s father helps Gazelle’s father kidnap Ao with the intent of using him as a bargaining chip, and he’s taken to the man’s studio. As the old man sits playing his Sanshin, he offers Ao a despicable and cowardly non-apology for the way he’s been treated – not only is he a coward and a bigot, but he doesn’t even have the balls to admit he’s one openly. Just as Tanovic shows up to take Ao into GenBleu’s custody, so does Gazelle, with Pippo and Han in tow – and they take Ao away. Gazelle’s resolve to try and right the wrongs of his parents’ generation is clumsy, but at least it’s honest – and when Ao refuses to pilot the Nirvash again and asks to be dropped at Fukai-sensei’s house, they do what he asks.
As last week, it’s Ao who really shines brightest among this cast. He finds Toshio’s house on fire and the old man trying to save as much as he can, including a picture of Eureka and baby Ao. It’s the work of hate, frightened and suspicious locals who blame Ao for everything that’s happening – yet Ao resolves in the face of that to once more pilot Nirvash and save the island from the enormous G-monster that looms over it. He has very valid reasons not to want to do so – sure he’s scared, but even more he doesn’t want to continue to be seen as an alien, and to be hated and feared. In spite of everything Ao wants to be accepted by the very people who hate him, and even Gazelle is surprised when he sees that rather than hardening Ao’s opposition, seeing his house in flames has cemented Ao’s will to fight. The boy says simply, “I don’t want to pilot it. But if I don’t, I’ll regret it later.” This sort of scene could have been rousing in a fairly routine, GAR-wannabe sort of way, but what makes Ao especially likable is that he has all the same worries and doubts a normal person would – but he does what has to be done anyway, without making a fuss about it. And that’s what makes Ao, taking to the sky in The Nirvash, “WELCOME AO” on its control panel, much more GAR than a run-of-the mill action hero.
Still largely a mystery in this story is GenBleu. We see the girls in their relaxed moments – updating a blog, downloading music – and we have it more or less confirmed that only children can pilot an IFO. The girls clearly have their status as idols as well as a sort of independent rescue squad/paramilitary Secret-fighting brigade, but it’s Tanovic who’s most intriguing at this point, admitting to Ao that he knew (or knows) Eureka – who was apparently taken away by the Americans after a scrub burst ten years earlier. It’s still impossible to piece together how this fits with the original E7 chronology (if indeed it does, and this isn’t some sort of alternate timeline) but it’s clear that Tanovic is a key link, as speculated here last week. Ao and GenBleu are certainly going to end up working together, and possibly Team Gazelle too, maybe as soon as the current G-monster is dealt with.
Judging by the legions of BONES giants in the credits for next week’s episode, I think we can look forward to a blockbuster – lots of big set pieces, glorious non-CGI mecha combat and another script by Aikawa Shou. Is it possible this series – and this season – could actually get better? I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation, but I know that on every scene change this week I kept thinking “It can’t be over yet, can it?” I wanted this ep to keep going and going but it felt as if it flew by, and that’s a sure sign that everything is clicking. With a setup this interesting, a MC this good and a beloved franchise that’s still being held mostly in reserve, the potential for Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean seems almost unlimited.
Author’s Note: I want to take a moment and be selfish here, and let my RC readers know that Lost in America is participating in this year’s Aniblog Tourney. It’s my first time competing, and LiA’s first-round matchup is Saturday, April 28. If you happen to be a visitor to LiA and feel it’s worth supporting in the tourney, I’d certainly be grateful if you cast a vote on my behalf.