Anime in general has developed a lot of standard storytelling conventions -- things in a story that are consistent across different titles -- and for "giant robot" anime this is even more true. And although conventions can make a show comforting and familiar, they can also make it tedious, predictable, and just downright boring. But every so often a show comes along that tries to weed out those conventions by either twisting them into something more original, or by intentionally breaking them. Eureka Seven -- for better or worse -- is one such show.
Renton is your average 14-year old boy living in the backwater pillar-city of Bellforest. He enjoys surfing the sky on his "ref board" and dreams of living a more exciting life with his idol Holland aboard the rebel air-ship Gekkostate. Renton gets more than he ever hoped for one day when a giant robot called an LFO -- which also surfs on a giant ref board -- crashes on his grandfather's house. A beautiful girl pilot named Eureka emerges from it and asks Renton's grandfather to help make repairs. Renton immediately falls head-over-heals for her and dedicates himself to being with her forever. Oddly enough, she is a member of the Gekkostate! So when Renton gets permission to become a member of the ship, he's elated. But his love for Eureka has greater implications than just a simple boyhood crush -- implications that could save or destroy the entire planet! (No pressure.)
The story has almost all of the elements of a giant robot anime, like the angst-ridden teenage boy who's father is a legendary military leader and who falls for a young female pilot of mysterious origins; and, of course, the semi-sentient giant robots that are developed from alien technology. But in Eureka Seven these elements are treated a tad differently. For instance, in most anime, the giant robots fight against the very aliens who developed the robots' technology. This show has that element too, but the vast majority of the show concentrates on the robots fighting against each other in a Gundam-style rebel-vs.-military storyline (although I've watched very little Gundam, so maybe that's not an accurate description). Most shows also have a few mysterious metaphysical events with dark undertones thrown in to give the story an epic-but-pessimistic feel. Eureka Seven has that too, like the "Seventh Swell" and the "Amita Drive", but it's not quite as dark or moody. If anything they have more of an bright, uplifting, even optimistic tone to them.
Renton and Eureka's relationship also deviates form the norm in a few ways. For instance, when Renton sees Eureka for the first time, he immediately falls in love with her and tells her so right away. That's a refreshingly honest change of pace from your average romantic anime, where the lead male character will fall in love with the lead female but he will be either too shy or just too scared to admit it to himself, much less to the girl.
Not long after Renton expresses his feelings, Eureka says that she loves Renton too, but follows that up by saying (something like) "I love all my children". By "children" she's talking about the three kids that live aboard the Gekko and call her "momma" even though she's not their real biological mother. This whole idea of Eureka having children adds another element to the relationship because it brings up the whole notion that love not only involves infatuation and romance, but responsibility, which is something that Renton has to learn if he and Eureka are going to be able to stick together. By the way, if all this talk about "relationship" and "responsibility" makes you a bit queasy, they you'll best stay away from this show. Because, although there is some cool action and visuals, "love" is a major theme and is what really drives most of the story.
Now, as much as I like how the show deviates from the standard giant robot anime stereotypes, there are a few things about it that really annoys me. For starters, the first episode really starts the show out with a bang and really got me excited to see the rest. But for the next 15-20 episodes, nothing happens -- or at least nothing that moves the plot forward. It's mostly just Renton doing a bunch of goofy stuff to try to fit in to the Gekko's crew, or the Gekko going and doing some freelance work to earn money. I understand that those episodes are trying to build characterization, but as a result they seemed like filler material because they did little to advance the plot and at the time I couldn't help but wonder if anything of consequence was ever going to happen. Luckily the plot does start to pick up around episode 20 or so, but those initial episodes really tried my patience.
Another thing that really annoyed me was the English voice acting. I usually prefer to watch the original Japanese, but since I watched it on Adult Swim, that wasn't an option. I did, however, watch the first two or three episodes subtitled back before it was licensed, and comparing the two, in the dub Renton sounds whiny and Eureka alternates between sounding too perky or too breathy. Overall the whole English dub makes the dialogue sound really cheesy. That's not to say that the dialogue isn't cheesy anyway, but the English voice actors made it 10 times worse and ruined a lot of otherwise intense moments.
Annoyances aside though, the show's ending was great. Whatever misgivings I had for the rest of the series, the ending made up for it. It was a good dramatic climax and generally tied up all of the loose ends. I still don't get a few things -- like what exactly is the "Seventh Swell" and the "Summer of Love" and how did Renton's dad play such a vital roll in saving the planet -- but that may have just been because I didn't play close enough attention (as is often the case) or because I simply don't remember.
The show is animated by Studio Bones, which has always been consistent in making quality animation, and this is no exception. There's something about Bones' animation style and designs that really softens characters and makes them especially likable and sympathetic. The robot designs are pretty original too. I loved the whole "surfing" robot concept -- at least at first. But as the show moved on and the novelty wore off, the surfing concept started to look a little corny, especially when the plot starts to get a more serious.
The music fits the story in general, but it's not something that I would rush out and buy the soundtrack for. There were three sets of opening and ending animation sequences, but I only really liked the first OP and ED.
So, in summary, although I'm far from being in love with this show, I do have to tip my hat to Studio Bones for making an anime that subtly pushes boundaries while keeping all the elements that make for likable characters and an entertaining story. I'd recommend this show, but only if you are prepared to put up with a boring first half, and are ready to deal with a story that is more about relationships than about action. And definitely only if you are willing to watch it subtitled.