Setting the stage: the start of a hero’s journey

I want to compare Eureka Seven‘s opening episode to its sequel’s opening episode. But first, some perspective: one episode alone cannot decide the fate of a series. Having said that, the start of a story sets the stage, and if we’re comparing and contrasting just the first episodes, Eureka Seven is to Eureka Seven: AO as A New Hope was to The Phantom Menace.

Yes, I realize that I make too many comparisons to Star Wars, but that saga is so culturally ubiquitous in our contemporary society that it just makes it easier for me to illustrate my point. And what is my point? Early on in their respective stories, Renton and Luke Skywalker both embody a hero yearning for journey and adventure, and this same embodiment of a monomythic hero is, I feel, missing from Ao.

Monomyths identify a common thread in our storytelling, and the concept serves to explain how mankind can find certain tales so relatable. I realize that I’ve just vastly simplified a complex thesis, but for the purposes of this post, the definition above will suffice. And in Renton’s case, we can see how the start of his journey bears a lot of similarities with Luke’s journey.

They are both hopeful and reckless souls yearning for a life outside the confines of their domestic trappings. Early on, we see Renton grimace as he suffers through another boring day of class; likewise, Luke whines about having to stay another year on his uncle’s farm when his buddies have all moved on with their lives. Renton idolizes a counterculture figure he sees in his air surfing magazines; Luke wants to enlist in the Imperial Academy and see the galaxy. Even though they both exist in an exotic world much unlike our own, we can nevertheless relate to Renton and Luke. The first episode of Eureka Seven thus ends on a perfect note as our hero charges off on his own to realize his dreams. He has wanted to take flight all episode long, and now, at his grandfather’s urging, he will enter the larger world he has always dreamed of seeing.

In a lot of ways, the Eureka Seven sequel tries to emulate its predecessor. Like Renton, Ao is without either of his parents. Like Renton, Ao is haunted by a past he knows little about. Renton has to live in his father’s shadow and Ao is judged for whatever his mother has done. The difference, however, lies in how they see and challenge the world around them. Renton yearns; he wants to escape. We get none of the same characterization from Ao before events set his fate in motion. In fact, we know little of Ao’s personality as much of his time onscreen is bantering with Naru, a female friend.

“Big things come from humble beginnings,” so goes the saying. Eureka Seven is a long story full of twists and turns, but it adopts a simple approach in how it introduces Renton as just a kid who wants to fly through the air. From there, the plot can balloon into something complex, but more importantly, it can do so organically. I have no idea how long Eureka Seven: AO will end up being. And to be fair, Eureka Seven‘s plot seemed strained at times in its attempt to fill up its fifty episodes. Nevertheless, the sequel’s first episode feels impacted as though too much is happening at once; we are introduced to too many characters at once. As a result, it’s not as character driven as its predecessor.

Immediately following the Scab Burst, a seemingly pivotal moment in Ao’s life, the episode jumps to different locales (one of them being a command center; see the screen cap above) full of different characters despite the fact that the plot has yet to establish an immediate goal. Although Renton’s initial goal, i.e. to take flight, is fulfilled pretty much by the predecessor’s second episode, it is nevertheless a goal that frames the first episode adequately.

Within a story, there are sub-stories each punctuated by climactic moments. Renton charging off on his own is the end of one sub-story, whereas I can hardly discern if a sub-story has even begun in Eureka Seven: AO. By opting to cut away from the main character, we instead get to see countless talking heads drone on about countless things we yet know nothing about. I’m sure that the anime is dispensing pivotal plot information, but said information carries with it no meaningful weight when we have yet to form an emotional investment with any of the show’s characters. I’m instantly reminded of how The Phantom Menace, a prequel to A New Hope, decided to open with a dispute with a Trade Federation. Eureka Seven: Ao‘s execution isn’t quite as bad as Lucas’s colossal failure nor is the series already doomed, but the first episode is a definite misstep when held up against the original series.

One of the greatest scenes in Eureka Seven would occur in just the second episode. Having just jumped off a cliff to join the action in the skies above him, Renton initially struggles with his resolve. He fights through it, however, and it almost seems as though his determination summons a Trapar wave. He takes flight and Storywriter kicks in, creating any early climax in, at that point, a young story. This very scene only has emotional weight by establishing Renton’s character as a hero yearning for journey in the first episode. Perhaps an analogue of such an event may occur in Eureka Seven: AO‘s second episode, but it’s hard to imagine that the scene will carry the same energy and exuberance considering Ao’s characterization or lack thereof in the first episode.

It’s all very early, and as much as I love how Eureka Seven started, I felt it really stumbled near the end. Likewise, Eureka Seven: AO may not have cleanly left the starting blocks, but it could get better. Nevertheless, the execution in each series’ respective opening episodes is staggering.

On a less serious note, “Days” pretty much gets you amped up for Eureka Seven. Why is there no OP for the sequel’s first episode?

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13 thoughts on “Setting the stage: the start of a hero’s journey

  1. thoughtcannon

    Eh, I was initially off-put as well but then I came to terms with the notion that E7 Ao is not E7 and Ao is not Renton. I mean if they started off exactly like E7 did wouldn’t the complaints be that it’s too similar to its predecessor? It knows that everyone will hold it up to E7 so they intend to go in a different direction. And yeah, no that thesis doesn’t serve because it assumes that Star Wars monomyth is the archetypal monomyth. The call to adventure portion of the monomyth does not always has to have a willing and eager hero, many of them begin with the hero being thrust into adventure. In that case our identification would come from disruption of normal life, not from identifying with the hero’s desire to strike out on their own.

    You like to make your comparisons to Star Wars and I like to my comparisons to A Game of Thrones. Both the novel and the television series tosses plot points and characters at you rapid fire. It’s all about setting the stage and it challenges you to keep up.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I came to terms with the notion that E7 Ao is not E7 and Ao is not Renton.

      Yeah, I think that’s simplifying my position quite a bit. I didn’t ask for Ao to be Renton nor for the sequel to copy its predecessor. I merely used Eureka Seven as an example of how it gets you to relate with the main character first–to give him a motive–before thrusting him into action. Ao doesn’t have to be willing or eager; he just needs to feel like he’s the main character, and right now, he’s only one by default. He’s the main character by the sole fact that the camera is on him, not because he has a goal we might want to care about. He happens to be at the scene when things happen and has yet to really react to any of it. He doesn’t have a goal, which should have been provided by the first episode.

      our identification would come from disruption of normal life

      Disruption of life is pretty flimsy for identification. Every other person in the show just had their life disrupted as well so this doesn’t distinguish Ao as a hero.

      it challenges you to keep up.

      Challenging the audience to keep up assumes that the audience cares. My point is that we have no more reason to care for Ao than any of the other characters we see on the show.

      Reply
      1. thoughtcannon

        Oh, sorry I was not intending to simply your position. I was just relating a feeling that I had as I initially watched the episode and thought you may have experienced something similar.

        Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Having very much enjoyed the original series, I had mixed feelings when I heard of the sequal. There didn’t seem to be any need for it and I was worried it would focus on typical bones flashy animation + “airbording robots” rather than the strength of characters which I felt made the original great. I’ve read your blog for some time, but you touched on something very interesting to me in this review so I thought I’d comment.

    I have previously shown Eureka 7 to friends of mine only to have the start of the show called slow with an unlikeable main character. However, when I first watched Eureka 7 I was so happy with how the show was paced, especially at the beginning. Motivations for the characters seemed plausible. Renton was likebale and relatable, even when obnoxious. His short sighted view of the world, and his failings were all believable.

    It seems like there is some big push now to have the first episode of X show be so action packed and full of whatever theme the show wants to put forward that in terms of treating it as part of the series, it may as well be ignored… I hope that isn’t the case for AO, because it can easily invalidate a lot of the aspects of a show which could have been good, if developed well.

    And, since you brought up the intro theme – if an anime wants to impress its viewers with how flashy it is going to be, do it in the intro – not by destroying the first episode!

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I have previously shown Eureka 7 to friends of mine only to have the start of the show called slow with an unlikeable main character. However, when I first watched Eureka 7 I was so happy with how the show was paced, especially at the beginning. Motivations for the characters seemed plausible. Renton was likebale and relatable, even when obnoxious. His short sighted view of the world, and his failings were all believable.

      Yeah, I hope I didn’t make it seem as though a character has to be relateable to everyone. We all have different tastes, after all. Even so, the slower pace, as you mentioned, allowed the original series to establish an initial goal. Even if you may not like Renton, you at least know what he’s trying to do at any given time. I’m not sure what Ao wants to do. He’s just a bystander at the moment, which seems odd for a main character at the start of a story.

      It seems like there is some big push now to have the first episode of X show be so action packed and full of whatever theme the show wants to put forward that in terms of treating it as part of the series, it may as well be ignored…

      Oddly enough, things happen, but it didn’t seem like the episode was all that action packed.

      Reply
  3. Marow

    As I finished re-watching the original series not too long ago, I have to say that I feel a lot of people have forgotten how it was. The first three episodes of Eureka Seven were the intro, and I feel that the same thing will happen in AO, and therefore I wouldn’t make any assumptions just yet.

    The only difference, really, is that AO so far is much faster paced. I mean, otherwise, I just believe a lot of people feel alienated because it’s different. The world has changed, there’s new characters etc… I mean, even I feel that slightly, but I accept it, because this is something new.

    Though, I still wonder why the heck a sequel was necessary.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      As I finished re-watching the original series not too long ago, I have to say that I feel a lot of people have forgotten how it was.

      I rewatched the first few episodes of Eureka Seven just to write this post so I find it hard to imagine I forgot anything about it.

      The first three episodes of Eureka Seven were the intro, and I feel that the same thing will happen in AO, and therefore I wouldn’t make any assumptions just yet.

      But… I just explained how the first episode of the original series had proper characterization and the first episode of the sequel didn’t? I was explicit in saying I was only judging one episode.

      The world has changed, there’s new characters etc… I mean, even I feel that slightly, but I accept it, because this is something new.

      I don’t know where you got the impression that I don’t like it because it has different characters. I don’t like it because it doesn’t have a single meaningful character. At least in the original, you had a meaningful character by the end of the first episode–one that distinguished himself as the hero character. Ao is flat. He may not be flat by the end of the series, but he is right now.

      Ah, forget it.

      Reply
  4. appropriant

    Interestingly enough, I made a lot of comparisons to Xam’d: Lost Memories when watching AO (kind of helps that I haven’t watched the first E7 yet). As such, I don’t have too many problems with AO starting off the way it did, and I’m going to wait until it finishes presenting itself before I seriously weigh in as well.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Interestingly enough, I made a lot of comparisons to Xam’d: Lost Memories when watching AO (kind of helps that I haven’t watched the first E7 yet). As such, I don’t have too many problems with AO starting off the way it did,

      I would have felt the same way about E7:AO regardless of whether or not I had seen the original series. I merely thought E7 would provide a decent frame of reference for the problems I saw in the sequel. Whether or not the sequel ultimately measures up to its predecessor is unimportant to me; I just don’t think it did a very good job of putting forth a hero either way.

      I’m going to wait until it finishes presenting itself before I seriously weigh in as well.

      I did qualify that I was only judging the first episode.

      Reply
      1. appropriant

        Of course, that isn’t to say I didn’t have problems with Ao’s introduction if he is to be the hero of the story. Regardless of whether you base your criticism on the successes and failures of E7, I still think your complaints are valid when just given the first episode and given the literary framework you have compared it to. We can only hope that such issues will be properly addressed and resolved in the following episodes.

        And yeah, I know you’re just talking about the first episode. That was more of an indicator of my status on this episode rather than an evaluation of your opinion. Qualification accepted, either way you look at it.

        Reply
  5. alsozara

    I watched about three episodes of E7 some time ago then gave up. My memory of it is vague, but what I remember goes something like this: Obnoxiously young protagonist, a lot of unexplained jargon, surfing in the air, and Giant Mech implied to run on the power of love. There was some vague intrigue about the protagonists parents, a big explosion after a fight, and maybe some political intrigue? I really don’t remember much besides finding it to be not so much boring as aggressively awful.

    However, you have yet to speak well of a series I have found to be undeserving, so I can only assume it got a lot better. Do you think I should give the original series another shot?

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, I didn’t really speak well of Eureka Seven and I didn’t mean to give off that impression. I spoke well of its first episode (and a little of the second). You might not like Renton, and not everyone will, but the anime set him up well to be the main character. On the other hand, Ao’s purpose is sort of vague, and I don’t get that. Sure, later episodes will flesh his character out more, but why wait till then? Isn’t that the first episode’s job?

      Anyway, regarding Eureka Seven as a whole… the story sort of spiraled out of control after a while. In my younger days, I was more romantically-inclined; I would actually watch most high school romance series. In other words, I wanted to see how Renton and Eureka would pan out so I watched it all the way to the end. I don’t really think too fondly of the show nowadays. I mean, it’s not a terrible show, but it has some serious execution problems. I think another commenter (wanderer) gets into it far better, but personally, I ended up not liking how some of the characters were developed, I thought the story took too long to get anywhere, and the final turn of events rather disappointing. Y’know, all the problems that tend to plague most Bones series.

      Reply
      1. alsozara

        You might not like Renton, and not everyone will, but the anime set him up well to be the main character.

        Oh, I’m not arguing with you on that one, although my memory of the show is vague, I don’t at all disagree with your thesis. Great post, whatever my opinion of the original series.

        You seem to approach anime from a perspective I can wholly identify with, so I was just trying to work out whether I ought to give E7 another shot, and thought it would be interesting to hear more of you opinion of the first series.

        Reply

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