Otakon 2017 Interview: Tomoki Kyoda (EUREKA SEVEN)

At Otakon 2017, I had the opportunity to interview Tomoki Kyoda—director of one of my favorite anime series ever, Eureka Seven. He was at the convention to promote the world premiere of the film EUREKA SEVEN HI-EVOLUTION, and I spoke to him the day before the showing.

Eureka Seven was originally created as a media mix project with video games and manga telling side stories or different, alternative narratives from the anime. How much of a say did you have in the spin offs?

With the spin offs, we would say, “We want so-and-so” for a concept. The various directors and mangaka we were working with would present their spin offs to us, and we would check over them.

My next question concerns Eureka herself. Her appearance changes throughout the series, especially when she gets covered in scars. It’s a very bold decision, I think—especially for anime. What was the thinking behind changing her appearance?

When we were doing the original story, Mr. Kenichi Yoshida and I were talking about what we could do to provide lots of inspiration and different paths the story could take. One of the inspirations that someone came up with was, “What about drastically changing her appearance?” So we actually took that and went with it.

What is it like working with creators Dai Sato, Shoji Kawamori, and Kenichi Yoshida? Do you have any interesting production stories to tell?

With regards to Mr. Sato and Mr. Yoshida, we were actually all born in the same year, so we all have an understanding of our pros and cons; what each of us do well and what each of us do not so well. But with regards to Mr. Kawamori, he is a person we look up to. He is a very interesting person, and his works are also very interesting. But then if you meet him in person… whoa. You’re going to notice that he’s more interesting than anything he’s actually done. So, if we start talking about Mr. Kawamori, we’re going to go past two hours like it was nothing, so let’s just leave it at that.

In revisiting Eureka Seven with the new movies, what feelings are you hoping to evoke in old fans and those who have never seen the series?

First of all, I’d like to say that, for old fans coming back to us, thank you very much. I hope they will actually be very accepting of this, since, even if we use some old footage, it doesn’t mean that we could do something just like the old version. In that sense, it’s in many ways a new movie. I hope they will be very accepting of it. With that being said, for new fans I hope they take it for what it is, and accept it for what it is, and that they will see what Renton and Eureka and Anemone have to do in order to live through that world. So the greater idea I have for everyone is acceptance, really. I hope everyone will accept EUREKA SEVEN HI-EVOLUTION for what it is.

Thank you very much!

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Planetary Remix: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1

This review is part of Ogiue Maniax’s coverage for Otakon 2017.

To this day, Eureka Seven is one of my favorite anime ever. From the pacing to the characters to the messages conveyed, it is a joy to watch and to think about. Over the years, Eureka Seven has returned in many different forms, from an unusual experiment in “re-casting” its characters, to a flawed sequel. At Otakon 2017, I got the chance to see the world premiere of Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1, the first of a new trilogy of movies, I had to wonder just what form it would take. The result is something I certainly did not expect.

The general story of Eureka Seven is the science fictional romance of Renton Thurston, a teenage boy from a nowhere town, and the titular Eureka, a teenage girl who is actually of a mysterious other species known as “Coralians,” and one of the few to take human form. A world filled with giant robots, music, and youth culture, the original anime exuded a sense of style and sincerity that few works manage to capture.

Hi-Evoluton 1 actually starts off as a prequel to the events of the TV series, portraying the “Summer of Love,” the mysterious event where Adroc Thurston—Renton’s father—saved the world and became a hero. The second is a Throughout the original television series, it’s hinted that the events of the Summer of Love didn’t quite go as officially reported, so it gives insight as to just what caused the conflict. For this first half hour of the film, all of the animation is new, and we get to see a number of characters who would come to play pivotal roles in the main series, including Eureka herself.

The second part of the film is where things get unusual.

It’s common for movie series based on popular franchises to front load its films with existing footage and familiar scenes, such that the first film is a time saver, a money saver, and a way to catch unfamiliar viewers up with what a work is all about. Mobile Suit Gundam did this, Space Battleship Yamato did this, and most recently it’s been the hallmark of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. Most of the time, these Part 1’s tend to be straightforward, acting as quick compilations/retreads that change little from the original material but set up the possibility for future deviations.

Not so with Hi-Evolution 1. While it certainly would have been possible to just cut and splice the TV series into a large recap movie, the film instead decides to focus on a particular crucial arc of Eureka Seven. When Renton leaves the Gekko (the ship of anti-government rebels of which Eureka is a part), he ends up living with a couple named Ray and Charles Beams, and in doing so matures tremendously within a short span. In the original TV series, this doesn’t happen until about 13 episodes in, so the fact that the movie cuts out such a large chunk of the early episodes is unorthodox in itself.

Combined with this, however, is the fact that the film then decides to play with time. Instead of presenting its events chronologically, Hi-Evoluton 1 sees fits to go back and forth in time constantly, marked by black and white transitions of “Play Back” and “Play Forward.” It can be jarring, and much of the audience’s audible reactions showed a desire for the film to just dispense with the jumping around. For me, I kept wondering why the director, Kyoda Tomoki, decided to do things this way when a standard compilation approach would have theoretically been much easier.

I have three thoughts. First, focusing on Renton’s time with Ray and Charles over the beginnings of his relationship with Eureka juxtaposes him with Adroc’s portrayal from the beginning of the film. Second, the order in which the scenes play out is not chronological but rather an “emotional order.” Third, the creators of Eureka Seven seem to see their works not as ways to return to the world of their creation, but as a way to “remix” them.

Renton is shown to be quite similar to his father in the sense that both have strong convictions do what they feel is right even if it means everyone’s against them. The crucial difference, which gradually narrows over the course of the film, is maturity. Adroc risks himself to save Eureka, but it comes from a kind of wisened, fatherly position, as well as that of someone who understands the consequences of going against the world. Renton, impetuous youth that he is, initially doesn’t quite fully comprehend the tough decisions. By manipulating the progress of time, Hi-Evolution 1 seems to want to first juxtapose the turbulent emotions of teenage Renton and then gradually draw them closer to Adroc’s convictions. I find it notable that Adroc is voiced by Furuya Tohru, famously the voice of main hero Amuro Ray in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Not only is there a kind of parity in terms of movie compilation trilogies, but it makes thematic sense that Renton is the “descendant” of Amuro.

Music is a major part of Eureka Seven. Characters’ names, robots, ships, supernatural phenomenon, almost everything is a reference to music (the most obvious one is probably “Ray” and “Charles”). There’s a lot about rhythm and musicality in the series, and it gives me the impression that the creators treat it as a kind of “song.” The full English title is Psalm of Planets, Eureka Seven, after all. The previous film, Pocketful of Rainbows, was an experiment in seeing how different a story they could tell by using existing footage. In it, Renton and Eureka’s circumstances are far different, and even their personalities don’t quite match up with what fans were familiar with. In other words, it felt like a heavy remix of a familiar song, one in which the original tune is almost unrecognizable.

Hi-Evolution 1 feels like a remix that tries to retain more of the source than Pocketful of Rainbows, but still desires to be its own thing. It has the same characters and general story as the TV series, but with a few touches that emphasize different elements more. In particular, the relative lack of Eureka in the film is rather conspicuous, as is the complete absence of Eureka’s “rival,” Anemone. At the very least, we know the answer to the latter, The film concludes with a “next movie preview” showing her that is rather surprising to say, the least. I’m going to leave this exact spoiler ambiguous, but I will say that it looks like Hi-Evolution 2 is going to be deviating more heavily from the TV series, just like Evangelion 2.0.

After the film, Kyoda did a moderated Q&A. In it, he revealed the staff’s code names for the first two films. Hi-Evolution 1 is “Renton 7.” Hi-Evolution 2 is “Anemone 7.” If we think of these films as highlighting and drawing out different essences present in the TV series and creating new melodies from them, the general direction of this trilogy starts to make more sense.

EUREKA IS BACK: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution Preview

When news came out that a new Eureka Seven movie trilogy was coming out, I reacted with a mix of excitement and trepidation. After all, the TV series is one of my favorite anime ever, but things haven’t exactly been pretty for E7 fans the last few times around. The first film to come out, Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep TIght, Young Lovers, was more an interesting experiment in how different a story you could tell with existing footage than anything else. Eureka Seven AO squandered so much of its potential and was so convoluted that it ended up a major disappointment. However, there’s a big X-Factor that gives me some initial confidence in these new Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution Films—the return of writer Sato Dai to the team.

Sato was not on staff for Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers, and he left Eureka Seven AO early on, and it’s suspected to be for creative differences (AO was basically funded by a pachinko company). While an anime is more than just one person, the lack of Sato and what it meant for those productions stood out in those two works like a sore thumb. If you’ve seen what Sato is capable of in anime outside of Eureka Seven, such as the excellent Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, narrative cohesiveness resulting from excellent emotional character development is a hallmark of his writing style. Having Sato at the helm is the best sign that Hi-Evolution will live up to the Eureka Seven name.

The first new film, out in 2017, is going to be a prequel that covers the First Summer of Love, the pivotal event that defines the world of Eureka Seven. The other two films, in 2018 and 2019, promise to bring a new ending… perhaps even going beyond the events of the TV series? I can only hope.

One thing that piques my curiosity about this new project is the preview image showing Eureka, Anemone, and Renton. In it, Eureka and Renton have more concerned expressions, while Anemone’s is soft and loving. While Anemone ends up in a happy place by the end of the Eureka Seven TV series, I would have assumed that their faces would almost be the opposite. The fact that it’s showing Anemone with such a look implies to me that something will be different about her; not necessarily a different personality or anything, but maybe a new perspective on her life. I’ve known plenty of fans who considered Eureka Seven to be the “Anemone Show,” so maybe their day has come.

In any case, I’m willing to put my trust on the line for Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution. I won’t let cynicism beat me just yet!