As the second movie in Eureka Seven’s Hi-Evolution series hits theatres, it’s time to take a look back at the first and ask, ‘is it truly as bad as the critics say?’ When Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution was announced in early 2017, I, like so many people, got very excited. This was Eureka Seven, a titan of anime, seemingly getting the Rebuild treatment that had opened up classics such as Evangelion to much wider audiences. More so, it was a chance to bring a new spin and, more importantly, fresh animation, to a now somewhat dated series, and I for one couldn’t wait to see what Tomoki Kyoda and Studio Bones had to offer.
Having re-watched the film several times, though, I’m still somewhat torn in my opinion of it. It’s certainly not a bad film, and I can’t say I’m truly disappointed; in fact, it actually has a wonderful message at the heart of it. The issue is that it tries too hard to be something its clearly not, and that’s what has left the fan base and I a little divided.
One of the most praised aspects of the film is it’s prequel segment - the opening 26 minutes dedicated to the franchise’s almost mythical ‘Summer of Love’ event. I won’t spoil any of the major plot elements, but there are a few aspects to this OVA (and let’s call it an OVA) that I want to reflect on. First, the ‘Summer of Love’ is not a small part of the Eureka Seven’s story - it’s the origin point for most of the characters’ interweaving arcs. So, in all honesty, I feel this should have been a three-part movie series in and of itself, capturing the nuances and events that lead up to where this prequel starts. For one, that would allow us to see for ourselves those more subtle, but important moments and connections that are only referenced in passing dialogue later on.
Wishful thinking aside, I think the OVA did a great job of squeezing in so much content and energy into such a small running time. The action is intense from start to finish, energised by the bombastic soundtracks that Eureka Seven is so well known for. We also get an epic sense of scale to the wider Human/ Scub Coral conflict that the franchise was sorely lacking. More so, the whole conflict is presented as a horrific but, nevertheless, vivid spectacle which, in hindsight, seems to echo some of the most spectacular elements from End of Evangelion. We get moments of uninterrupted carnage as two forces tear each other apart, psychedelic episodes as characters encounter alien and higher powers, all culminating in a cataclysmic event, with the end of all life seeming imminent. In fact, in that last case, the visual and thematic parallels to EoE are, well, pretty uncanny.
Additionally, we get some wonderful characterisation, as new and familiar faces are dragged into this conflict. Their interactions with one another present a wealth of new context - both for the relationships between those characters, as well as for their own personalities. To take just one example; Eureka’s relationship with Adroc wonderfully mirrors and gestures towards her eventual relationship with Renton. It also gently establishes Eureka’s struggle with rejection, and offers some welcome insight into why Holland, in particular, is so keen to shelter her from it.
Despite some of the obvious parallels to Evangelion (see if you can spot the Misato copy), I think the OVA is a brilliant addition. I still can’t shake the feeling that it should have been a three-part film series in and of itself, but I’m happy to settle for what we got - a spectacular rendition of the franchise’s most mythical event, and a platform for new and current characters to introduce a wealth of new context and appreciation to a well-loved series.
However, it’s the rest of the film that leaves me feeling torn.
After the prequel ends, which it does beautifully, the film begins what I sense was a really well intended notion; a thoughtful recap of Renton’s development into adulthood, drawing on the thematic (rather than narrative) connections between scenes to add depth and new insights. It’s a lovely approach, and it worked exceedingly well in Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions - Rikka Version, capturing all the charm and energy of the first series in a far shorter, but comprehensible, running time. Yet, here it doesn’t resonate as well, and it’s largely because the film tries too hard.
What made Rikka Version such a nice accompaniment to Love, Chunbiyo’s first series was that it was just that - an accompaniment. It took disparate, but thematically relevant scenes and re-presented them in order to portray a more concentrated message, which wasn’t diluted over 12 episodes of content. However, it never rewrote the story - and this is the first mistake Hi-Evolution makes. The recap part of the film (and apologies, but I will need to dip into a few spoilers from here) replaces several significant plot points from the series. Most notable is that, after the events of the prequel, Renton is actually adopted by Ray and Charles, who both knew Renton’s father in the military. As such, gone is the grumpy, but compassionate grandfather, who I missed far more than I thought I would.
Perhaps more profoundly, though, is that the Gekkostate is not an outlaw group in this film - it’s actually part of the Council’s ‘Guard Bureau,’ with a mission simply to restrain Eureka until the Council knows what to do with her. Even ‘Ray Out’ has been replaced by the somewhat more mundane ‘Wild Times’ - a publication widely seen as propaganda material from the Council.
Now, on paper, these sound like excellent grounds for a Rebuild-style film; one in which they completely upturn the foundations of the original series and explore things from there. You can probably anticipate, for yourself, some of the exciting ways the story could play out. Yet, despite reaching for a major retelling of the series, Kyoda and Bones oddly decided not to introduce any new animation. Instead, as soon as the prequel closes, we’re presented with pre-existing scenes, all in the original 4:3 ratio, trying to tell a story that is subtly, but also vastly different from the one we’re familiar with.
Over the course of almost an hour, we revisit major moments in Renton’s maturity - his meeting of Eureka and his (re)union with Ray and Charles. We also linger on the episode with the Vodarac girl, in which Renton learns the costs of projecting his own interests onto the lives and choices of others.
However, the tweaks to the plot make this exceptionally confusing. Why is Renton living in his grandfather’s garage when he meets Eureka, given his grandfather doesn’t seem to be a character anymore? Why did Renton leave Ray and Charles given that we watch him, once again, complaining about his terrible, boring life in Bellforest?
These inconsistencies reflect a much more frustrating battle that takes place over the course of the recap; a tug-of-war between this thematic re-presentation, which focuses on scenes about ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ in order to build upon our appreciation of the series, and this retelling, which wants to upend all of our preconceived notions about the series at the same time.
As a result, the film isn’t particularly adept at either approach. It even occasionally has to sidestep out of scenes to avoid the narrative falling apart under the pressure. For example, while briefly revisiting Renton’s and Holland’s confrontation over the Acperience in the mine, rather than explaining the context behind it (which, given the Gekko is now working for the Council, certainly wouldn’t make any sense), Renton simply ushers the words “You wanna know what that was about? Well, I don’t want to say.” Cue new scene. You could almost forgive the movie a little; sure the new narrative doesn’t make much sense, but the thematic links between scenes are actually quite poignant. Yet, unlike Rikka Version, which put aside any notion of a timeline to allow a purer focus on the message, Hi-Evolution introduces one of the most frustrating flashback mechanisms I’ve seen in a while - ‘Play Back/ Play Forward’. With almost complete spontaneity, we find ourselves jumping backwards and forwards, sometimes witnessing flashbacks upon flashbacks, in an effort to build some resemblance of a timeline to the events we’re seeing. It’s completely disorientating and, if I’m quite honest, absolutely meaningless in the context. Even if you could keep track of all of the temporal jumps, it doesn’t add any value to the film; it simply introduces a third rope with which to tear at our comprehension of what’s on the screen.
I could linger on how, structurally and mechanically, this film struggles, especially with it’s reliance on captions to convey some rather major details. Yet, this doesn’t actually detract from the substance of the film, which, I feel, largely succeeds in capturing the themes of ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ attached to Renton’s coming of age story.
By meandering through Renton’s frustrations in Bellforest, the Acperience with Eureka and the self-exile that follows, his (re)discovery of the Beams’, and the episode with the Vodarac girl, we witness a rapid development (a ‘Hi-Evolution’ if you will) of Renton’s character. Ultimately, we’re watching a boy, trapped in his a life not of his choosing, making choices to decide his own fate and coming to terms with the consequences of having such freedom. It’s almost a bit allegorical in it’s depth; Renton actually revisits Eureka’s suffering at several points in the film, each time presenting new perspectives into how choice, and freedom of choice, can expose us and those around us to harm.
It’s in the film’s final minutes, however, that its heartfelt message really resonates. Having truly discovered and understood the costs (sometimes gruesome) that freedom comes with, Renton is left staring into a stunningly picturesque sunset, all the more uplifting as the film’s energetic closing soundtrack, ‘Glory Days,’ kicks in. “I’m not running away. Not anymore,” he utters.
It’s a somewhat blunt, but overwhelmingly symbolic message; as the sun sets on the old Renton, one that would have been paralysed by his own insecurities and indecision, the new Renton sets off to chase his destiny. He runs towards those he cares about most - Eureka - confident that he can pay the prices such a choice comes with. More so, the scene complements the OVA wonderfully. We started the film by watching a father run from Eureka to secure a future for humanity; we end it watching his son run towards her to secure his own. “Hi, I’m Renton,” he declares to us. “Our new Monday starts right now”.
Despite its flaws, and there are many, I really do applaud this film’s intention - to re-examine Renton’s coming of age story, and to illuminate some of the more subtle, allegorical aspects of it. In many ways, I think it achieves this. However, its sequel has clearly gone for a much more radical ‘Rebuild’ approach to the character of Anemone, heavily teased in this film, and I can understand why some fans wish that the same had been done here for Renton (I could think of a few places to take the scissors to him... - Ed).
At the end of the day, the merits of this film lay in the hands of its two sequels - this could turn out to be a fantastic sequence of examinations into Renton’s, Anemone’s and Eureka’s characters, albeit in a mix of familiar and unfamiliar settings. I really hope it is.
But can I recommend this film on its own?
I think I can; the OVA and the closing scene alone almost justify the purchase price. What I think it comes down to, though, is this. Much like Renton, we’re presented with a spectacular and promising new horizon for this franchise; Anemone looks set to completely reshape our perceptions of not only her character but the franchise as a whole. Yet with this movie, and just as Renton does in those final minutes, we get a chance to pause, look back and reflect. We’ve come a long way with Eureka Seven, and seeing some of that in this movie helps us to appreciate what a great journey it was, and why we now need to run toward something new.
Looking back isn’t for everyone, though, and I can understand why some would want to just start running ahead now by fast-forwarding to Anemone. Yet, what this movie reminds us of is something we all know all too well - new Mondays can be exciting, but it helps to be reminded of the pretty good Sunday you’ve just left behind.