By Andy Hanley.
Reimagining a TV anime series – particularly one that’s well over a decade old – as a series of new films can be a tricky business. Do you retool the story and its depiction to cater to a new generation of fans? Or do you staunchly give the existing fans of the franchise everything that they want, at the risk of alienating new viewers? Or perhaps you do both and run the risk of pleasing nobody at all.
This dilemma is very much at the forefront of Eureka Seven’s journey to the big screen. Having found television success in the mid-2000s, which was followed by an all-new theatrical outing and TV spin-off series that failed to recapture that initial magic, it was back to the cinema director Tomoki Kyoda went for a new trilogy of movies. Subtitled “Hi-Evolution”, its title serves as an acknowledgment of a desire to evolve its already all-encompassing tale of love and growing up in the face of a cataclysmic climate disaster in new directions.
The first film in the trilogy struggled with the questions that we set forth in the opening paragraph. Its opening half hour was a loud, brash welcome home for existing fans, depicting the so-called “Summer of Love” that began the events of the TV series for the first time. After that blaze of sound and colour, the rest of the film struggled to fill in the gaps for newcomers, recompiling (and occasionally recontextualising) footage from the show as it cherry picked highlights of Renton’s story.
Thankfully, if there’s one thing that Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution: Anemone proves, it’s that it learned an awful lot from the harsh lessons of its processor.
As its title suggests, Anemone is the star of the show – although if you’re familiar with the important (and popular) character from the original series, then you may want to leave most of your assumptions at the door, as looks aside this is a decidedly different character than the one you know. The film opens with a montage of our protagonist as a young child, enjoying everything about her life and watched over by her doting father – an important lead-in to the revelation that he was killed by the scrub coral which took so many lives as it spread across the planet.
We next see Anemone as a teenager – gone is the pure, childish joy we just witnessed, instead replaced with an adolescent assuredness mixed with a thirst for revenge against the cause of her father’s death. A handy desire it is too, as we come face-to-face with the scrub coral mass named Eureka 7, already responsible for so much damage to the Earth’s populace.
Now, this is where things get weird – as fighting against the scrub coral directly is futile (a point highlighted by another of the franchise’s stellar, destructive action scenes), the only possible way to destroy Eureka 7 is from the inside. This is performed via a kind of virtual reality headset, which transports Anemone’s “soul” into the heart of its mass. What she finds there increasingly baffles her the more missions she undertakes, as she consistently encounters a girl named Eureka, hearing her incessant cries for an unknown person named “Renton” …
Throughout all of this, Anemone is served by her loyal and trusty assistant, Dominic. That is, her loyal and trusty Artificial Intelligence assistant, Dominic. Again, for long-standing fans of the franchise, this should raise some eyebrows, and serve as another of this film’s key mysteries as it progresses.
In many ways, the framing and twisting of its story and characters can be seen as reminiscent of the Rebuild of Evangelion films, starting out as a relatively faithful retelling of a familiar story save for one or two tweaks and changes, before accelerating off into entirely new and unexpected territory. The real genius of Eureka Seven: Anemone is in the way that it incorporates footage from the original TV series, taking Anemone’s actions and reframing them as the battles her disembodied “soul” fights within the dimension of Eureka 7’s inner workings. This not only allows the film to directly toy deliciously with the differences between the TV series and this film’s narrative, weaving it into the core of the movie’s mystique, but it even allows its visuals to toy with the leaps between 4:3 aspect ratio TV content and new, widescreen animation as a core tenet of its visual language. Anemone even has the sheer bravado to play with the “Play Back” and “Play Forward” motif employed in the first film, and often regarded as the symbol of the issues with that initial attempt to kickstart the trilogy.
On that note, there are very few attempts to play back footage from the TV series here – at least 70% of Anemone is new footage, which will doubtless also come as a relief to those frustrated by the relative lack of new content in the first film.
Another interesting point of note in terms of the film’s presentation is its use of CG, with all of the flashback scenes depicting a young Anemone making a very deliberate shift to 3D rendered animation. This seems incongruous at first, but stick with it, as it’s very much a considered ploy which pays off in the film’s final act as things fall into place in an unexpected yet intense fashion.
Fascinating is probably the key byword of Eureka Seven: Anemone – there’s no denying that the way it twists its footage pulled from the TV series is a minor work of genius, and the directions it pushes this new trilogy provides an almost insane yet oddly compelling roller coaster ride, punctuated by spells of terrific animation courtesy of BONES at their action-packed best and wonderful character moments. Even as a standalone film, Anemone potentially has something to offer those unfamiliar with Eureka Seven – as a tale of a girl with simple aspirations caught up in a maelstrom that threatens the entire world, it still works in its own right as a mind-bending film anchored by some very human emotions.
The film ultimately also serves as a tantalising lead-in to the final film in the trilogy – much like the meaning of Anemone’s name in flower language, it leaves us with the return of a forgotten love for Eureka Seven, while also providing excitement and anticipation for what is to come.
Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution – Anemone is screening in Edinburgh at this year’s Scotland Loves Anime.