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It’s fairly common knowledge that sequels aren’t the easiest thing to successfully pull off in entertainment. Even if the sequel ends up being okay, it may not live up to its predecessor because of how iconic moments and innovations can start to become formula (having to fit “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” into every Die Hard for example), or plot points from the first in the series have to be modified in order to cater to the new version. Whenever I watch a sequel, I’m aware of how daunting this mountain can be, and try to take into account those problems even if they ultimate are my criticisms. This is the approach I took when I heard that Eureka Seven, one of my favorite anime ever, was getting a sequel, but even with an open mind I felt that Eureka Seven AO not only paled in comparison to the original but was in certain ways a regression of what Eureka Seven had done.
Eureka Seven AO is billed as a direct sequel, as opposed to an alternate universe/retelling like the movie or the manga. The story centers around a young boy named Fukai Ao, who lives in the independent nation of Okinawa, and for whom life is difficult because of the way the community tries to ostracize him. In this world, the skub (or scab however they want to spell it this time), are considered a problematic natural disaster, especially because they bring with them mysterious monsters known as “Secrets,” which Ao ends up having to fight. For anyone who’s seen the original, the fact that the world of AO consists of real-world countries and continents is meant to imply that something is very strange or different about its setting, and trying to figure out just what in the world happened becomes part of the initial intrigue of the series.
When I say “regression,” I’m not referring to retcons or weird developments in AO‘s plot which cast a different light on the original’s events, but a regression of what mecha anime is capable of. Eureka Seven took an approach which let viewers explore its world through a cast of engaging, fleshed-out characters and a central love story developed gradually over the course of many episodes, and which anchored the narrative in such a way that the emotional excitement of the series builds up continuously throughout. It’s not altogether unique to Eureka Seven, and you can probably trace this style of show all the way back to Macross. Eureka Seven AO, on the other hand, feels more like a mediocre 80s mecha anime, more keen to develop its story as a set of vague mysteries and tensions but never entirely delivering on any of them. It’s not just that the plot is worse, but that it ends up resembling the way a staunch non-fan might look at and describe their idea of a Gundam anime.
What Eureka Seven AO does have, at least initially, is a strong cast of characters with plenty of potential as to how they’ll develop, but much of it never comes to fruition (though the brief glimpses at Ivica’s character and past were things I enjoyed in particular), or if there is a development the lack of impact from the rest of the series lessens the overall effect. In particular, AO never manages to have its story properly focused by something like Eureka and Renton’s romance, and though it didn’t have to necessarily be “another romance” (which might have well turned it into just a rehash of the original), there was nothing that could properly fill that void. It seems like the closest thing was just the mystery of what happened to Eureka and Renton, the intrigue of which the show feeds into fairly well, but the explanation we’re left with at the end is less than satisfying. And there is the potential for romance at the beginning, as the dynamic between Ao and his friend Haru is cute and gives a good sense of their relationship, but it ends up getting pushed aside. In the end, probably the most interesting point brought up in the show has to do with how the Secrets are treated by humanity, and how it reflects in some ways the way the Skub were regarded in the original Eureka Seven.
If the movie Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers suffered from having a weak and confusing beginning but then a fairly strong finish as all of its disparate ideas came together, then Eureka Seven AO is the opposite: It starts off strong and with many of the pieces in place to tell something both grand and personal, but its plot and character development are so discombobulated that when the ending finally comes it hits like a drizzle instead of the torrent of emotions that the original provided.