Take one gangly kid, one cooldere, and a bunch of heroic rebels who just want to live free. Put them in a dystopian future where an almost-magical element, trapar, generates lift forces and enables them to defy gravity. Mix in mecha, a threat to the world, and an uneasy peace. Serves seven: Eureka Seven.
There is something to be learned about the ideal Japanese spirit from this. Renton, at age fourteen, seems rather unsuited to the battlefield. And yet when the chance is offered to him to leave his old, mundane life behind, he takes it. It does not occur without great risk, but then, perhaps in life no great reward does. A venture of this magnitude does not occur without great hesitation, but Renton’s hesitation only shows that he is no fool. Unlike Shinji Ikari, once he does agree to pilot an experimental giant mecha, he moves forward with his life, with only a reasonable degree of complaining for a teenager. Perhaps most tellingly, he complains of the mundane chores he still must do, whereas Shinji hates the extraordinary and wishes only to live a peaceful life. For all the parallels between their situations, they inhabit vastly different worlds.
A few things must be said about Eureka. She exemplifies that wonderfully confusing pure/impure dichotomy that exists in so many other works. She is presented as pure of heart, which traditionally implies maidenhood and virginity, yet supposedly she is a mother as well. There are early hints that this is merely metaphorical, but even metaphorical it serves to twist the issue. What is purity, anyway? Why should abstinence from reproductive activity be the sole indicator of purity? If Kannagi served to highlight this standard, Eureka Seven is the crystallization of it, the postmodern deconstruction that rearranges a few facts and asks: is she still pure?
“She never gets angry and she never smiles.” Eureka criticizes Renton for being indecisive, as she herself does not hesitate. Free of love, free of hate, free of fear – this is the Zen state Eureka inhabits. Eureka is, in a very real sense, the void. It is the state samurai seek to attain, monks write koans about, and translators tear their hair trying to express in English. In the void there is no striving; there is no separation of thought and action. There is, tellingly, no self, just as Eureka’s continuous, selfless behavior leaves little room for personal identity.
And yet for all the desirability attributed to the void by Musashi, Rinzai, and others, in Eureka Seven it is wanting. Eureka can speak with any machine and learn its secrets. She can understand the machine heart. Despite these impressive feats, she lacks the means to awaken Nirvash. It is the philosophically untutored, impulsive and inconsistent Reston that does it. His is the yell that awakens the machine to the true nature of things, much as the yell of a Zen master awakens the aspirant to a state of higher clarity. It is no accident that Satori is the name of the program he activates.
Watch Eureka Seven. Listen to that yell. See what it shakes loose.