The return of Eureka Seven in movie form is fraught with too many disjointed footages and a poor arc to be a welcome watch for long-time fans.
Title: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1
Genre: Action, Mecha
Publisher: Bones (JP), Funimation (US)
Release Date: September 16, 2017 (JP), August 12, 2016 (US, World Premier)
Note: Seen at Otakon 2017.
At this point in time, the Eureka Seven franchise has had a truly odd and disjointed release schedule. The original TV series, Psalm of the Planets aired in 2005, the alternate retelling movie Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers, was released in 2009, and the sequel to the original TV series, Astral Ocean, ran during 2012. Even if there were new episodes of AO mysteriously released onto YouTube earlier this year, 2017 seems like an odd year to release a new, compilation film.
In simplest terms that is what the first Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution film is, a roughly two-hour film where perhaps 20% of the film is new footage. While much of the original staff has returned, such as the character designer, this new footage still makes for a grating contrast to the rest of the film, which uses footage from the 2005 series. This older footage is used in a maddeningly style of flashbacks, there are twelve of them in the first hour alone and twenty or twenty-four in the entire movie depending on how you count them (a large chunk of the audience started groaning by flashback number seventeen).
The movie opens with new footage from about ten years before the main timeline, showing the “Summer of Love” offensive against the antagonistic coralians that humanity has been battling for years. The sounds of battle drown out the series’ usually trademark soundtrack, the military uniforms look sleek and shiny in a way that is totally at odds with the series’ rather goofy civilian outfits, and there is such a focus on the battle that it seems almost over-animated. The instigator of the attack (and father to our main character), Adroc Thurston, seems to have had some change of heart right before the final weapons are unleashed and takes titular Eureka along with him to try to stop the attack.
This is where things already begin to become confusing: it seems as if the attack (not the TV show’s legendary Seven Swells Phenomenon, but a weapon called “Silver Box” which opens up to reveal a garish laser and light show that would look far more at home in the Macross franchise) is malfunctioning and it seems as if the characters somewhat forgot what Adroc was doing since he ends up saving the world in the process of disabling the weapon. Adroc perishes, the military members who will later defect to form the rebel group The Gekkostate are left feeling uneasy, and then the movie cuts to current day Renton being chased by feral dogs and introducing himself as Renton Beams.
At director Tomoki Kyoda’s focus panel, oddly enough held before the Hi-Evolution screening, he mentioned that he and the staff wanted to make a movie that was equal parts about Renton and about his father, Adroc Thurston. After seeing this movie I snippily thought “of COURSE a group of men rapidly approaching middle-age would want to make a movie starring a man like them with struggles that they could relate to, even if it meant completely ignoring the dynamics of the original show!”
Eureka Seven: Psalm of the Planets was a story about contrasts and this was most obvious in its choice of Renton as its lead character. Renton is only 14 and while he’s too young to understand just how little he knows about the world he’s certainly old enough to call out the adults around him for being shitty and not really understanding what they’re doing to the world. He’s both childishly petulant and dragged by his jacket collar to grow up and form a bond with the one person who can understand how abandoned he feels by his father, Eureka, The relationship the two of them form ends up being strong enough to save the world from the mess that the adults have perpetuated, further feeding into the series’ theme of contrasts. The TV show could pull this story off because it had 50 episodes, nearly 25 hours to pull off some rather involved character development for both the main and side characters, and time is not something the movie possesses in spades.
If the entire movie had been reanimated footage then it’s possible that this first movie could have done a much better job navigating Renton’s first few big character turning points. But alas, by completely relying on stitching together older footage the story just doesn’t have the nimbleness to bring together many different elements.
Take a small subplot in the film that I had completely forgotten about in the TV show, Renton meeting a comatose and nameless Vodrac girl and desperately trying to keep her alive. I remembered the general Vodrac subplot from the show, that they were a persecuted minority group (that drew allusions to real-world Tibet) and that the group became more vital to the central story later on. I had completely forgotten that Renton’s fruitless attempts to save this girl’s life, without being able to ask her what she wanted, closely mirrored some of Renton’s experiences with Eureka. I could see why the creators chose to include that subplot, it really reflects how Renton is stranded in this space between the child and adult worlds (having good reasons to want to help others but simply being unaware of many larger implications).
While that idea comes across well the context for these scenes (the terrorism that preceded the event, the Vodract people) come completely out of left field. This subplot also highlights just how little of Eureka there is in this movie, I’d say that she has only about 10 minutes of actual screen time and even if her character only blossomed later in the TV series this still feels like the wrong call. In fact, Kyoda said that they thought of this movie as “Renton 7” during production which I don’t feel was the best call for this series.
In general, focus was something this movie was lacking. Telling the story effectively backwards (“3 days earlier” followed by “8 days earlier” and then eventually “23 days earlier” etc) did the movie no favors and it left out so many details that I’m genuinely not sure about some key points. Despite Renton introducing himself as Renton Beams, the flashback material makes it look like Renton did grow up in Bell Forest, not with the Beams (and Renton’s missing older sister was a big plot point in the TV show), but the entire movie is so convoluted that I honestly can’t be sure. This is not a movie that someone unfamiliar with the TV show can watch and easily follow and that’s bad, I want to say that the audience for this film is existing fans but being an existing fan and having seen this movie I’m not sure this was for me either.
After the movie there were some brief comments by Kyoda and he mentioned that this is the first public showing of the movie and that the audience reacted very differently than the industry audience. I can’t say I’m surprised at all — before the movie the MC asked if the audience was familiar with the original series, the movie, and AO and AO was met with outright boos from the audience. After Hi-Evolution I felt like that I frankly understood the idea behind Eureka Seven even better than the creators. To point: after the credits there was a small teaser trailer for the second movie, which Kyoda thought of as “Anemone 7” (who doesn’t appear at all in this film) and it shows, of all things, the soccer filler episode being re-animated with the mechs being used to play soccer and Anemone (along with possibly a few of the AO girls) appearing in a flashy magical girl sequence! Kyoda admitted that they aren’t quite sure if the entire film will take that tone, a film due out in 2018 I might add, and I was left feeling more confused than ever. Few people liked Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers and fewer still enjoyed AO. Every person I spoke with thought this movie was a mess.
So how can the creators consistently have such a different opinion of their own work?!