Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Mind & Spirit" -> Eureka 7

Okay, I'll admit it. I fell for Eureka 7, and it has become my favorite anime. Now, it is ended for me, which makes it all the better.

To understand why I like Eureka 7, and the fact that it ended, is to understand why anime stands up so well as an artistic medium.

A good anime does something that no American television can do. It is designed to have a birth and a death. Consider American television. In American TV, We start a story, but we have no idea if the series will be a hit or not. Therefore, the series starts off tentatively, only hoping to get the right ratings so that it can continue. If a show looks to be solid, the show may develop multistory arcs. Maybe these arcs will have a couple of twists, but the real conflicts will never be resolved.

In American television, the major couple will never get together (because it breaks the tension), or the major issue will never be resolved (for example the characters on "Lost" are rescued), or the major mystery is never fully solve (where is Battlestar Galactica's place to settle). You might say, "Yes, they do get resolved, on the very last show."

And that is the point of American television. We only end something when there is no other option.

And what drives this last show? Slipping ratings. The term "jumpinq the shark" is well known, as it describes a series desire to regain slipping ratings. Although it is well known, I'll relate the etymology of the phrase. In September of 1977, the television show "Happy Days" was starting to see it's ratings slips. Therefore, to get better ratings, the show started to create more and more outrageous situations. The pinnacle of this work is when the ubercool character Fonze wore a leather jacket and swim trunks to waterski jump an open pen holding a man eating shark. The best thing about this was that it was a cliffhanger.

The show had deteriorated to a shadow of itself.

Not only is the lack of knowing where the end lies before beginning a problem but the very medium of real actors makes yet another challenge.

The second problem is the power of the actor to hold the show captive. I really liked the show CSI because of the main character Grisham played by William Peterson. However, Peterson felt stiffled in his roll. So exited the main character. CSI lost a major part of itself due to an actor's desire, and not the writer's intent.

But in anime, the writer runs supreme. The characters are nothing more than drawings. Drawings cannot quit. They cannot strike for higher wages. And the beauty of Japanese anime is in the drawings. As I've scattered a few through this post, you should be able to see the creative flowing lines of a good anime.

Anime, for the most part, never has to jump the shark. When a main character is dropped, it is because story development needs it, not because the actor wanted something different.

Anime tells a story with a beginning and and end.

Often movies can do this also. They look to be self contained. However, movies are 2-3 hours at most at average. Maybe, if they know a movie will be driving a sequel, they will extend this to 2 movies, or at most, 8 with the Harry Potter movies. But even with the Harry Potter movies, they are spaced so far apart that we grow old with the wait.

Contrast this with Eureka 7, which has 50 episodes that are roughly 22 minutes long. So we get 20 hours of story telling. Yet this length show only goes 1 year in production. Having 20 hours, knowing that you must end the anime in 20 hours, gives you enough time to do character development. In 20 hours, you can make a real emotional impact.

So, why do I like E7, as it is often called by it's fans?

Superficially, it is just a dumb giant robot story. A little bit like the movie Transformers, only in a cartoon fashion. But this is just skin deep version of what we have. Of course, it does have the future version of surfing called "reffing." Reffing is a lot like surfing, only you do it on light.

Eureka 7 has the themes that we love. A 14 year boy, Renton Thurston, who is just turning into a man. Anime often picks on the 14-16 year old. Why? Because this is the age of change and discovery. This is the time when you make the decisions that will impact the rest of your life.

Into this life, he has his heroes landing literary in his front yard one day. The adventures that come from here are wild and varying. Some of the adventures pan out, some don't. However, all build toward an eventual climax.

You will see Renton struggle with a group of people know as the Gekko State. He begins to unstand that it is unclear if they are his friends or simply a bad influence. You will see him on both sides of a battle. Unclear about who is the right people to side with. For those of us with a Christian faith, it beckons to choices that we make in our own life. "Choose this day who you will serve," is a famous phrase from the Bible.

Into this frame work, we also find our young man captivated with a young girl called Eureka. For me, on a personal level, this is a touching issue. In the anime, we believe that young Renton has never been kissed, and to see him struggle with an admiration of a young woman reminds me of my own relationship with my wife. Is Renton only have a young infatuation, or is there something more than can grow here?

For me, while I had a couple of girl friends before my wife, my wife had basically none. From my perspective, not having anybody else in your life before your mate brings a clarity and deepness to your relationship. For all practical purposes, I have only loved one woman in my life. My wife has clearly only loved one man. And I love her more today than when I first met her. The question for me, in the entire series, is if this young man and young woman would find each other.

But if the story merely stopped there it would be pleasant. However, the story goes well beyond that and talks about family, war, sacrifice, and the acceptance of others. It has the wild villains and the courageous heroes, that often have problems of their own. While the large messages are strongly there, it is often the littlest things that grab me. In the course of the story, the young girl is involved in something that gives her scars on her face. When it comes to later section of the story, she is offered a miraculous chance of having those scars removed. Without a hesitation, she smiles and declines. See the scars are there to remind her of what she went through. To others, they are a deformation of a beautiful face. To her, they are a diary of past events.

We find through this anime that family can be blood, and blood can be family. However, we also find out that family can be friends and it can be adoption. Just because you are an orphan, does not mean that there is no place for you.

One of the interesting twists in the story is uncovered very early in the series, when young Renton gets to see Eureka with her crew mates. It is a shock to him to see three very young children run up to meet Eureka, and they call her "Mother." It is told quickly in the series that these are not her real children. However, how she came to adopt them is a twist that you'll remember for your life time, and I won't spoil it here.

The artwork is wonderful, with a smooth flowing anime style that is such a strong mark of the Bones studio. The drawings seem both new and old at the same time. It carries much of the traditional anime drawing style but with a coloring that seem new.

Top this off with an absolutely superb OST (Original Sound Track) by Sato Naoki, along with a single from Supercar, you have a emotional impact that will live with your long after the anime is done. If you cannot be touched by "Sorrow" by Sato Naoki, you cannot be touched.

As I finished the series, I read other people's interpretation of the events. One common theme was "it over, and I'm bummed." People got so involved in the journey that they didn't want it to end. But that is the point. The reason that we look back on the anime so fondly is that it did end.

And the ending made the journey all the sweeter.

For those of us that understand that our journey will end in not the distant future, we also look fondly at this journey we are on. Our ending will make our journey all the sweeter, also.

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