Sunday, August 12, 2012

Eureka Seven AO 15: War Head

Note: While I'm generally working off the official Funimation subs, I'm going to be using the original episode title, as Funi in their infinite wisdom has seen fit to replace the trippy musical reference episode titles (already in English, nonetheless) with rather generic ones, and I just can't abide by that.

"War Head" is predominated by the revelation from Eureka in the last episode that the Secrets which have thus far been the monster-of-the-week villains of Eureka Seven AO are in fact the planet's natural defense system from the alien scub coral.  This has everyone in a tizzy in this episode, and debating whether or not the theory is true.  Eureka offers up no real evidence (although we'll have some quickly) but seeing as how there's no real other explanation for why the Secrets do what they do, it's a compelling idea.

Taking a step back, though, this revelation hardly seems to matter.  No matter what the Secrets' motives or purpose is, they still cause mass damage and chaos, and their "cleansing" mechanism is responsible for massive nuclear explosions.  There have been a couple signs that the scub coral is less than benign, such as mentions of its health effects on the surrounding area, but they seem like much less of an immediate threat than the entities that would seek to erase them.  But everyone in the episode is taken up with the idea that, quoting Eureka, "the Secrets are not your enemy".

Revealing halfway through that the enemy which the heroes have been heroically crushing up until now is not the real enemy but in fact a potential ally is a fairly common storytelling technique for mecha anime.  The first time I saw this (I think it was Gundam SEED... hey, don't judge) I was blown away, but at this point it irks me more than anything.  The ubiquity of this twist probably stems from Japan's postwar pacifism, and the previously-described tension between abiding by those values and delivering an exciting action series.  This tension is usually born out of the best motives, even if by this point it's become de riguer, but I'm not so sure about the ultimate implications of this twist in Eureka Seven AO.

The original Eureka Seven was essentially a story about accepting the alien, as embodied in the relationship between the human Renton and the Coralian Eureka.  The series suggested that the scub coral were a new form of life, and that accepting difference was not just a nice thing to do but the key to progressing as a species.  The villains were characters who viewed the scub coral as enemies because of their foreignness.  In AO, we have a battle between two aliens, the Secrets and the scub coral, with humans frantically trying to intervene.  We can see this in the difference in design between the two -- the colourful, fluid outgrowth of the scub against the dark angularity of the Secrets.  They are not just opposites but atomic opposites, matter and antimatter, such that when they meet everything explodes.

If, as Eureka suggests, the Secrets are not the enemies, then the question arises: who is?  (There could simply be no enemy, but it would leave the following 11 episodes a little devoid of conflict.)  The most likely suspect is the government, which always seems to be the real enemy (and rightfully so), and AO has already made a couple jabs in this direction.  But if we accept that the Secrets were acting benevolently, doesn't that make the scub -- the alien -- a legitimate danger?  Aren't the Secrets acting on the same rationale as Dewey and the rest of the original series' villains?  Is this a counterpoint or a betrayal?

"War Head" poses these questions directly through the captured Secret subjected to questioning by the Japanese government.  Japan is a kind of ambivalent power in Eureka Seven AO, simultaneously acting as the regional bully to the now-independent Okinawa and being bullied in turn by the United States and the international organs (i. e. Generation Blue) it controls.  It has its own rogue agenda, which Ao (standing in for the series at large) can't agree with, but isn't comfortable with violently opposing either.  In this case, they're the first to jump on the possibility offered up by Eureka's words, quickly producing evidence to support her [1].

There is, then, at this point a certain ambiguity to accepting the Secrets as allies.  The Secret that Japan holds is the most human one we've seen yet, and is even identified as "human type", allowing for a level of anthropomorphic identification that would have been impossible with the more geometric Secrets.  But its design still suggests something jagged and hostile, essentially mechanical instead of living -- which is an interesting contrast to the mecha, which are anthropomorphized machines and which we can identify with much more.

But for all the sympathy for the devil, at the end of the day there's still fighting to be done.  After a fairly talky episode there's another Secret attack, and the piedpiper team feels as though they have no choice but to fight it.  This is, however, a battle where we no longer know what the stakes are.  And this would seem to lead to the downfall of the conventional action narrative -- instead of coming up with a cunning plan to defeat the Secret, Ao is crushed and hospitalized, without putting up much of a fight.

As evidenced by my previous entry on it, I'm currently re-watching Martian Successor Nadesico, and in its second half it poses a question similar to the one being considered here.  It's easy to acknowledge a change in the situation, but how do you change the way you narrate the world around you?  In particular, how do you change from a combative, warlike narrative to something more constructive?  This is a question that the characters have to face as well as the viewers. I've mentioned before that this shift of enemies is a common mid-series plot twist, but what separates the wheat from the chaff is whether this is just a changing of the gaurd, with a new ultimate evil to prove oneself against, or something more thoughtful.

The battle against the Secret does not go as planned.  Ao does his usual heroics, but instead of saving the day he's crushed and hospitalized.  The scene is shot effectively enough that, even though it's episode 15 of 26 and his name's in the title, I momentarily thought Ao might actually be dead.  Later, we learn that this kind of one-on-one combat is becoming outdated.  Generation Bleu has gathered the Quartz in their satellite and is clearly preparing for a massive winner-take-all battle.  The closest paralell would be the shift from the "heroic" wars of the 19th centuries to the industrial-scale carnage of World War I.  The old narratives, it appears, will not do us any good.

Still, despite both the work in the first half of the episodes to make the Secrets more ambiguous and my general misgivings about the series, when Nirvash is flying through the sky and that triumphant music starts playing, it's hard not to feel drawn into the battle.  Action scenes are propaganda at their finest, transfiguring violence into spiritual uplift.  And that's ultimately what makes transitions like this so difficult.  How can we create new narratives when the old narratives still seem like so much fun?

Next week: "That's a lot of flannel to be choking down, even for Bigfoot."

[1]I don't usually comment on things like this, but the speed with which the translation device was built and its perfect functionality stretches plausibility even for a very soft SF show like this one.

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