「ステップ・イントゥ・ア・ワールド／heaven and earth」 (Suteppu Intu A Wārudo)
“Step into a World”
Now that’s how you deliver a game-changer in spectacular fashion.
I can’t help but think there are going to be a lot of viewers happy about the turn AO has taken in the last two weeks, and especially in this episode. That’s great, especially for someone like me who was depressed about all the abuse the show was taking from fans. I’m much happier as a fan (and E7 is one of the rare series where I fully slip into fan mode, with “viewer” and “blogger” taking a back seat) when the fanbase is happy, too. But I feel the same way about AO as I did when I heard complaints about the early eps of Seirei no Moribito and Tsuritama – that those episodes were vital to creating the scenario and developing the characters, and they were the foundation that the later eps needed in order to succeed. I think that proved true in those cases, and I think it’s proving true here. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but it isn’t always the preferred narrative route. Sometimes you have to turn off the GPS and let the characters drive the story, not the other way around.
Let me state up front, I don’t know what’s happening here. A lot of voices are being raised from people who claim they do, but they’re only guessing – I have my theories, just like they do, but they’re still only guesses. I’m still confused – but it’s a wonderful kind of confusion where the possibilities are constantly shifting and evolving, and the world Aikawa Shou and Kyoda Tomoki have created is beginning to solidify. It’s Aikawa’s nature as a writer not to connect the dots for the audience, but he always gives you a fair chance – the clues are there, along with some intentionally misleading blind alleys. And as is his way, he tends to raise more questions with each one he answers. Here are a few moments from episode 12 that stand out as potentially significant for me:
- The Truth tells Naru that she “has a scub growing inside her”.
- He then tells her that the two of them are “parts of the same being”.
- The Truth is the adopted son of a disgraced scientist named J. Johannson, who was apparently the first one to use The Truth’s line about this world being “incorrect”.
- Ao can “see” trapar, quite literally – his eyes are genetically built to do so.
- Hannah, the leader of the heretofore unseen Team Harlequin, is apparently a believer in Johannson’s ideas (prophecies?)
- Hannah quite specifically refers to Ao as “an alien” and says that she didn’t want him to fight because in fighting (against The Secret, presumably) he “might be fighting against his own kind”.
I’m deeply, deeply suspicious of Hannah Bester, better known as “Mama” (Kato Yuko) and of Team Harlequin (
and let me express a rare note of disappointment that they seem to be an all-girl crew, like the other teams – I hope we get an explanation for that eventually, otherwise it’s a bit of a cliché EDIT: Not only is the boy, Rajkumar Nair, that I (and Elena) took for support staff a pilot, but he’s played by 15 year-old seiyuu Hatakeyama Kosuke, who was so superb as Nitorin in Hourou Musuko. So not only great to see Harelquin is a co-ed team, but Hatakeyama getting another major role. But how come he’s serving tea and cake and helping out in the infirmary?). Their role seems to be as a kind of deep space specialist team, but Elena and Fleur both speak of strange rumors, of “Seven Days of Fire” which Harlequin would survive even if everyone else died (as I’m also highly suspicious of Stanley, I wonder if he and Hannah are in cahoots). I fail to see the reason why Pied Piper was summoned for this mission at all unless Mama had ulterior motives involving Ao. We see what almost amounts to a custody battle between Mama and Ivica over Ao, with Mama presenting herself as the caring figure, wanting to keep him out of the fighting. And she seems likely to get her way, as Ao is initially spooked by his inability in space to his his trapar-vision to guide him as it does on Earth.
But Ao, as usual, gets past his initial doubts and tackles the task at hand, which is a good thing considering just how much the new few minutes rocked the Astral Ocean world. I think the key question is just who wanted what to happen next, because the feeling I had was that everything was being manipulated to produce a desired result. The Truth seemingly prodded his Japanese ally, Nakamura, to use a Japanese “railgun” on board a satellite to break up the orbiting scub coral after Ao had defeated The Secret, with the result being that the laws of physics leave Ao plummeting into the atmosphere along with the remnants. But The Truth is also the one who seemingly saves Ao, opening up a hole in space that appears on the scub fragment on which Ao is trapped, and inside which he finds a very familiar looking ship and LFO. And was it me, or did Ivica not seem very surprised when all that happened?
So did The Truth engineer all this to get Ao into that very position? Here’s what we can say for sure – the ship is indeed the Gekko-go, legendary vessel of E7 fame (it even has the right damage from events late in the run of that series. The woman who emerges from that familiar LFO is indeed Eureka. Or at least, she looks like Eureka and it looks like the Gekko-go. But whoever she is, I don’t think she’s Ao’s Mom – or at least, not the one from his timeline/dimension/reality. She doesn’t look old enough, and in fact, she looks as if she might be pregnant – in theory with Ao, as weird as that sounds. That should be heartbreaking for poor Ao, who no doubt thinks he’s reunited with his own Mama at last.
So who is she, then? I’ve seen every theory in the book for what’s happening here, with some sort of “Matrix” styled scenario currently in vogue. I don’t know, but my best guess is still that the entire “reality” we’ve been watching for 11.8 episodes isn’t real at all, but a construct – and that most of the people inside it (say, for example, everyone with “normal” colored hair) are NPCs, or artificial beings of some sort. I don’t think they know that’s what they are, and I think that reality feels “real” to them – but I get the sense they’re part of a science experiment (including Fleur, sadly). So – whose experiment is it? The Coralians? The Secret (I doubt that)? Some people can see the truth – Johannson could see it, and whatever The Truth is, he can see it. And people like Ao and Elena are seemingly outside this reality too, even as they feel like part of it. When Hannah calls Ao “alien” this is what I think she really means – though she probably doesn’t understand it that way.
The part that doesn’t fit neatly here is Naru, who by all physical appearances seems to be a normal human girl – but clearly, she’s not (The Truth verified it, if it needed verifying). Perhaps the reason The Truth and even Naru seem so unconcerned about the lives he takes are because they recognize that these aren’t true humans and they don’t have “lives” per se – though if they feel fear and pain, does it matter? Naru even calls Truth “kind” even as a factory full of workers has just been blown up by him – kind, because he hasn’t killed Ao. The Truth believes that Ao will come to see “reality” as he sees it, and The Truth seems to exist outside the reality of those first 11.8 episodes and is able to manipulate it. Perhaps Ao could manipulate it as The Truth does, if some latent awareness inside him is awakened. This is all very comfortable territory for the BONES of E7 and Rahxephon, and for Aikawa-san as a writer – the fallibility of perception is a favorite theme for both of them.
It’s great to see all the heavy lifting the early episodes did paying dividends so handsomely now. It was necessary to build all that detail into the world, and for the character drama to have real power it was necessary to take the time to establish the characters as people, not just plot drivers. This is the luxury of the multi-cour series, though impatience is always going to be a problem. With 50 eps, the original E7 perhaps had a little too much time to tell its story, but with 24 episodes AO seems on-target to deliver a blockbuster second-half as the connections between the two shows become clearer and clearer. We could have gotten the Gekko-Go and Eureka making their grand entrance a few episodes into the series, but something essential would have been lost if Koyama and Aikawa hadn’t done the hard work to establish Astral Ocean as a series in its own right first.