Background: One of the best ways to watch anime is on DVD, bar none, since the commercials on cable (not to mention the edits) always seem to waste so much time and leave you with cliffhangers of major proportions. I know that catching an early episode or two can give a fan a better idea of whether or not they might like a show but seeing several episodes at once, looking and sounding much better (with the usual choices of languages too), always seems to enhance the experience for me. Well, such was the case with Eureka Seven V3, the latest in the futuristic surfer science fiction show starring an eclectic cast set forth in trying circumstances as they seek to achieve an as yet unstated goal. I liked so much about the show that I'd recommend it to most anime fans sight unseen but also to scores of others, depending on their particular tastes in entertainment. I'd still say to watch it in order but here's a look at the past before today's volume gets the nod.
Series: Eureka Seven V1, a science fiction anime show that focuses on one such youth of tomorrow by the name of Renton Thurston. Renton is fourteen years old, lives with his grandfather, and spends his days dreaming of lifting (a futuristic version of skateboarding that uses the planet's "trapar", or floating energy particles, as a source of energy to fly with). His father was a hero who literally saved the world and young Renton is something of a slacker whose only dreams revolve around his idol lifter, Holland and the group he leads called the Gekkostate. People live in small city states with a loose knit government that has some form of corporate oversight (unexplained by the end of the five episodes included here) and Gekkostate is a form of traveling group of lifters that have elevated the sport to an art form. They generally do as they please and seem to fit into some sort of shady operation that the authorities know about but the general public doesn't. It becomes clear that they are being hunted down by the KLF (the military arm of the government) during the first episode with Renton quickly placed in the middle of the fight.
Okay, the premise of this futuristic story is that 14 year old Renton seeks a life of glory and adventure. He finds that one day with a young blue haired girl named Eureka, crashes her LFO (a large mech-robot) into his grandfather's repair hanger. It being a military device of great power, it strikes Renton as curious that such a cute young thing would be piloting it but one thing leads to another with him falling for her (as young men tend to do). She is chased by the authorities however and after some minor repair work, she's on her way. Interestingly enough though, Renton's idol is associated with the girl and comes to pay a visit to the shop where his presence is immediately denounced by grandfather, making it clear that the man was affiliated with his son (Renton's dad). This intrigues young Renton, who ends up installing a special device onto Eureka's LFO (called the Nirvash; the prototype LFO and far more advanced than the retro-engineering of the government has been able to install in their own LFO's) called the Amiga Drive. This device greatly enhances the power of the already unstoppable robot at the hands of Eureka, leaving Renton with a choice of whether he should join the Gekkostate or not. Despite his grandfather's emotional pleas, he leaves with them in order to live his dream life, not realizing that the reality of his situation is far different from the fantasy he has built up over the years (like running away and joining the circus).
In Eureka Seven V1 and Eureka Seven V2, the premise had been set up to that the world in which lead Renton lived in was turned upside down. He left the comforts of home and the security of being with his grandfather to chase a dream that involved his idol, Holland, and a girl he became infatuated with, Eureka. Holland knew more about the boy than he let on and had some ulterior motive for bringing him on the trip but that was underplayed for the most part, with the occasional exception of Renton's ability to access the Amiga Drive on the Nirvana. The federation chased them and Renton was never quite sure what was going on as Eureka Seven V3 continued his adventure. Holland was far more mysterious and temperamental than originally thought and Eureka seemed to be getting ill for some reason, perhaps related to Renton's connection with the Nirvash when the team made way to a near mythical portal that was appearing in a nearby area. The portal appeared to be a tsunami of trapar but no one seemed able to explain the wonders, and dangers, to Renton before he was cast into it as co-pilot with Eureka. The down side was that the military also saw fit to access the portal, called a Coralian, with a Nirvash class ship of their own, piloted by a young girl that looked very much like Eureka, named Anemone. Her handler was a ranking officer that looked much like Renton, called Dominic, and it was clear he cared for her in a similar manner too. The main thrust of the show was the battle between the Gekko and the warship Izumo as well as Renton's decidedly twisted experience inside the Coralian; a place that seemed to fuse past, present, and future as well as various perspectives of those around him, confusing him more than ever.
What was of particular interest in the four episodes was how the military's point of view was the basis for the final episode, sort of catching up newcomers in a flashback sequence that was better than usual because it could be enjoyed by loyal followers too, providing them with a status update of what the federation knew of events as they transpired, as well as provide more history of Holland, Eureka, and the Gekko. The back cover put it like this: "Eureka notices that since Renton's arrival, her relationship with the Nirvash is changing, and her health continues to get worse. More mysteries await, however, as the Gekko has discovered a mysterious phenomenon called a Coralian. Although she's not really up to the task, Eureka goes out in the Nirvash and flies inside. Once inside, she is attacked by a new LFO.
Renton, meanwhile, has fallen unconscious, and has a dream about Eureka and the girl she's fighting. But is it really just a dream, or is he somehow connected to Eureka and the Nirvash in this state? In the waking world, the Gekko has come under fire by the Federation warship Izumo, and the members of Gekkostate will have their hands full escaping from both the warship and the Coralian, especially without the Nirvash to assist them."
The episodes this time were 11) Into the Nature, 12) Acperience 1, 13) The Beginning, and 14) Memory Band. While the first volume seemed almost like Renton was teaming up to surf the trapar waves, and the second like he had joined the resistance of a paramilitary outfit, the third volume seemed more like he was in over his head more than a little bit in so many ways that none of the above quite fit (yet it all fit at the same time too). While the weirder aspects were left to the imagination and will undoubtedly prove fodder for future volumes to more fully explain, I left the volume with a sense of wanting to know more, a lot more, than what had been explained about what was coming up in the future. In all then, a rating of Recommended or better was fair for the material, proving to get better as time went on. It was almost inevitable that the Nirvash had a military operated counterpart and that will help balance out the future episodes from what I've seen (when the Nirvash can essentially wipe out all comers, it makes for dull battles, no matter how excellently drawn). So the potential for even better exploits is very high.
Picture: Eureka Seven V3 was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was produced in for airing on television in Japan starting last year (yes, it's that new). It looked very appealing as eye candy with no obvious flaws to speak of and a lot of care taken to insure that the motion during the battle and flying sequences was handled to minimize the flaws so many older shows have displayed in recent years. There didn't appear to be a lot of corner cutting in general and the closer I looked at it, the better it looked to me.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of the 2.0 tracks: both the original Japanese track and the English language dub most of us have come to expect from anime. The two tracks seemed worlds apart in terms of the vocals, with the original track sounding somewhat more fluid and the dub having lots of liberties taken with the translation (I believe this was done to more accurately convey the sense of the material without devolving into the need for lots of explanations on cultural differences). In that sense, each offers up a different experience; both worth checking out. The special effects and music tracks seemed slightly louder and more pronounced on the dub, though the dynamic range was indistinguishable to my ears without a side by side comparison. None of the characters were immediately noticed as being wrong for their roles though, a step up from many contemporary releases (both original tracks and dubs alike).
Extras: For me, the best extra was the audio commentary on Absolute Defeat by the Japanese voice actors for Renton (Yuko Sanpei), Eureka (Kaori Nazuka), and Dominic (Shigenori Yamazaki). The three were all hyped up (as before with two of them) and really trying to provide as many comments as possible while taking not only about this episode but the series in general with limited spoilers. It was a pretty solid commentary in many ways and I think most of you will enjoy it. There was also a lengthy voice actor interview lasting about 11 minutes by the guy who plays Renton on the English language dub track. His name was Johnny Bosch and the interview was broken up into a number of chapters where he addressed the basic questions most folks would have about his role, how he got it, and what he really likes about the series. Even original language track fans should get a kick out of this one but watch it and you'll see what I mean. There was also a preview of the videogame and some trailers but I admit that the primary extras were pretty cool compared to what we usually get (and giving some material from both sides of the Pacific is a nice trend that I hope continues).
Final Thoughts: Eureka Seven V3 appeared to be the kind of morality play that is common in Japanese anime, with themes of religious persecution, popularity versus doing the right thing, and the pitfalls of hero worship. I sense there is also an environmental theme running somewhat deeper too but the bottom line is less about the bigger picture this early in the series than the levels of technical and written excellence. There were some rough edges but I sensed that the story was going to be longer than just a season, or at least paced that way up front, so having established most of the basics this early; the series can do a lot more with what has been laid down. In all, the series is growing on me a whole lot and I hope the DVDs are as popular with those of you out there that prefer commercial free, unedited episodes over the cable versions. The addition of an equally powered LFO in the hands of the military, with a quirky dup in charge of it (much like the Nirvash) opens up a lot of possibilities for future story lines so I'm hopeful that the show gets even better.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.