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13 of 24 episodes seen
By the end of the first episode, I was hooked. The whole progression is well-built, where E7-AO dips its toes pretty evenly between character dialogue and fast-paced action scenes. Just when you think the action has outstripped its relevance, the plot yanks you back, to cover any gaps you may have missed. This to and fro between action and deep & moving storytelling creates means each is that much more compelling, as it is contrasted with one another. Episode four typifies this, where one half is pure mind-melting action, and the other half delving into the deeper mysteries of Ao and his mother.
More interestingly, the story feels darker than the original E7. This comes out in the open depictions of violence by the "G-Monsters" to the open yet diverse political opinion voiced between the main characters. Yes, politics and divided issues do form a subtle undertone here. Themes such as racism, nationalism, political identity and independence, and even government corruption are bandied about from character to character. Pippo's snide reply to Giselle's remark that the Nirvash being part French, US and theirs springs to mind ("it’s fat, wants to surrender and has bad teeth").
It reminds me A LOT of X'amd in a way, which also grappled with these issues, and as such, really makes the story feel real and visceral. More importantly, it feels like the story has aged with the viewer. Whereas E7 placed the viewer squarely in the sheltered and naive hands of Renton; here in AO, Bones does away with the protection and says: "Here's the real world - its not a fluffy fantasy - it's real, gritty and desperate." Nothing evokes better emotional responses than that.
Art & Sound
Please. It's Bones we're talking about here. There should be no question over this stuff. The artwork is BEAUTIFUL (as usual) and the voice-acting is top notch. More interestingly, the music really sounds like an improvement on E7, which did feel a tad repetitive. Here the music, especially the track concluding episode one, is swelling and moving.
For me, Ao as the protagonist is distinctly different from his previous counterpart (Renton). Renton in E7, was grossly naive for much of the early episodes, and his mood fluctuated wildly, often transpiring into tears or bouts of frustration/anger. Pretty understandable for his age BUT it did get on my nerves a little (probably doesn't bode well for when I have kids). Ao on the other hand, appears to be far more assured and assertive. He rarely contemplates/broods over issues, and rather jumps quickly to proactive action (Renton, to be fair, did this at times). For this reason, I prefer Ao, owing to his more assertive nature. Sure, there are times he is shocked or saddened, but several times, he shows this tough resilient attitude, such as the end of episode one. At other times, he acts entrenched and guarded of his secrets, such as his first interactions with Flair Blanc. Finally, Ao just seems to be less naive to Renton.
This is really the same for all the main characters in general. Naru, the vulnerable romantic interest, Elena and Fleur combining to make tenacious yet comical Generation Bleu team to the rough and rebellious Giselle and his crew (much like Holland and his). By the end of the four episode, each of these characters (and more) are memorable and provide their own watermark on the story. This most of all shows fantastic storytelling and writing, that it has only taken FOUR EPISODES, to flesh out stories, that take some animes triple the time to get to.
OH - and how could I forget NOAH. Easily the best pet-sloth-thingy ever. It's like Bones stole the "cuteness" potion from the Powderpuff Dolls and smeared it all over the one animal. Awesomesauce.
One analogy springs to mind when summing up E7:AO so far. One of my best mates produces electronic music, which is a time-consuming and hair-tearing process. By the end of writing and recording the track, the track must undergo "mastering." What mastering does, is basically it crams as much synth, bass, treble, percussion and general loudness into the smallest capacity. This process is often rife with error, and as such, the perfect final sound is hard to come by, yet sought endlessly by my friend.
Eureka Seven AO is really beginning to feel like that perfect mastering. To bring back to the topic at hand, it just feels like the writers have managed to craft episode after episode crammed with great storytelling - such that by the time the 22min (or so) disappears, you feel like you've watched an hour of story in 5 minutes. Every second is utilised. No unnecessary fat here.
E7:AO has set high expectations from its great opening episodes. As such, many commentators preach that like most anime, there will come the inevitable dip, when the studio needs to pad out the script. However, judging from the past episodes, I feel quietly confident that AO is quite safe in the mastered hands of Bones.
UPDATE: Episode 12 and on.
WOW. Just wow. M Night Shamalamalamalyan (maybe incorrect spelling :P) would be envious of this well performed twist. Without divulging spoilers, episode 12 represents a significant shift in the plot surrounding E7:AO, and direct links between E7 and E7:AO are beginning to show clarity, like peering through a clearing fog.
Up to this point, the plot feels like it has taken 3 sharp "chapters". Episodes 1-4 really introduce us to Ao and the main characters, as well as the greater world of E7:AO. Episodes 5-10 then slow down the pace, and allow in-depth character development to proceed, of supporting characters. Then from episode 11, the series begins to pick up pace again, whereby many questions and answers are raised, as the worlds of E7 and E7:AO begin to collide.
Regarding the three parts, probably 5-10 is the weakest. I still enjoyed them, but the view between E7 fans, voyeurs and the general mishmash of commentators appeared to hold a mixed, if not, negative reaction. In a way, I do share their criticisms. These episodes were very formulaic, whereby each episode could be summarised as the following:
Supporting character problem
Protagonist tags along
Monster of the week appears
Monster of the week is destroyed + supporting character overcomes issue
Pudding is had by all
In hindsight (eg. after seeing episode 12+), I can see why BONES had to approach the supporting characters with such detail, as the characters of Ao, Naru, Truth, Elena, Fleur and Ivica become incredibly central (I predict) to the quickly changing plot. But, I also think that despite the product being good, BONES could of thought of perhaps a more complex path to get there. To be fair, I am nitpicking, so as to not come across as completely biased :P
To cut to the chase: if you are an E7 fan but are unsure whether to proceed through the series, perhaps due to getting restless during eps 5-10 or due to the somewhat negative fans, my recommendation is to persist at least till episode 12. I can at least predict that if you watch it no further, you will still get a kick out of a certain blue-haired individual making their fashionably-late entrance ;)