A Mixtape of Influences: Listeners

In a pre-recorded interview for FunimationCon, writer Sato Dai was asked how he came to work on the anime Listeners. His response: the original creator, Jin, specifically sought him out due to his work on anime like Eureka Seven. But for anyone who’s watched even a little bit of Listeners, that much is crystal clear. Everything about the series—from the heavy music references to the mecha to the boy-meets-girl-in-a-nowhere-town science fiction plot— attests to that influence. While I at first wondered why they would try to, in spirit, remake such a classic anime, it occurred to me that Eureka Seven is actually 15 years old. How time flies.

Echo, a teenage boy, lives in the town of Liverchester, where people are taught to be content with staying in town forever and leading uneventful lives. Echo believes this to be his fate as well, but he has dreams deep down, thanks to his idolization of “Players,” individuals who fight mysterious creatures known as the Earless by commanding giant robots known as “Equipment.” An encounter with an amnesiac girl he finds in a scrap heap takes him far off the predictable track and towards discovering the true secret of his town and its history.

One big difference between Listeners and Eureka Seven is that the former is only 13 episodes in contrast to the latter’s 50, and this inevitably leads to very different storytelling. Eureka Seven is a relatively slow burn that very gradually and powerfully escalates its drama. Listeners, on the other hand, has more of a travel-show vibe that’s layered with unambiguous music references. When you see characters who are literally Prince and Kurt Cobain parodies, it goes a step beyond just “subtle nods.” Because of this, Listeners often comes across like Eureka Seven by way of Xam’d: Lost Memories (for its 1:1 world-building to plot reveal ratio) and Rolling Girls (for the “town to town” episodic feel), but isn’t really greater than the sum of its parts.

I do think Listeners is a decent series with plenty going for it. The characters, particularly the main duo of Echo and Mu, give a very “authentic” impression in that they aren’t overly “perfect” in design. Similarly, the aesthetics of the series have this sort of messy and put-together feel, and I like how the main robot doesn’t look terribly “heroic.” However, I really think that 13 episodes is too short for the story it tries to tell (even Xam’d has 26), and the music references are much more tied into the appeal of the show compared to how Eureka Seven utilizes them. 

What I’m actually looking forward to most from Listeners is seeing it someday debut in Super Robot Wars. Can you imagine the interactions with the cast of Eureka Seven or Macross 7? That would, well, rock.

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