One may think that the connection between the 2005 Bones-produced anime series Eureka Seven and the 1996 Danny Boyle-directed film Trainspotting is tangential at best. Sure, Mark Renton and his jailbait girlfriend Diane may have served as the namesake for Renton Thurston and his estranged older sister of a similar name and kinship, but you can’t really compare a series that has underground grime music and robots on surfboards with a film that has Ewan McGregor playing a heroin junkie looking for purpose in life, whatever it may be. Or, perhaps, you can, and with the opening monologue of that film serving as the base of such an argument in its favor. “Choose life, choose a career, choose a job, choose family,” as it starts off. Through the harrowing and drug-induced mania that Mark Renton endures throughout the film’s running time, he ultimately comes around and decides on choosing life, the job, the family, and “the fucking big television.” In a way, Renton Thurston can compare in that he is introduced as a wayward soul with no real purpose, albeit a teenage soul at that. And through the 50-episode run of the aforementioned anime series, Renton finds the reason to choose life in the curiously enigmatic Eureka, transcending the boundaries of reality itself in the midst of another Summer of Love and saving the world from chaos all at the same time.
So how come there’s been such a poor job of continuing and rehashing this story in later installments? Between the alternate retelling in Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers and the unfortunate continuation in Astral Ocean, the same magic and energy that existed with the series once upon a time never seemed to reignite in the same way that the original television series had. But, ever so determined to give long-time fans (such as myself, personally) something to latch onto, the Hi-Evolution film series was announced to begin in 2017, serving as a three-part film series akin to the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy to bring the story of giant robots on surfboards and young teenage love to a new audience, while also giving older fans (again, such as myself) a new look at a series that is held in higher regard than others of its kind. With this being the now-third alternate timeline of the series, how does it hold up as a 90-minute film on its own?
The film does start out promising enough, with a lengthy introduction that serves as the backstory for the whole series, detailing the events that triggered the first Summer of Love and the calamities that ensued as a result. It’s interesting to get more details on this part of the story, with Adroc essentially going rogue with our favorite Coralian humanoid Eureka, trying to stop something from happening or save everyone by going against military action or something along those lines. I’m being vague because the film is also very vague on this whole thing, aside from looking like something you’d see from Space Battleship Yamato or even Macross. But, for the brief time we’re given with this opening prologue, it does offer a good amount of promise with some of the finest visuals that BONES is known for giving in such a project, along with some killer electronica music. One point against it, though, is that everything and everyone introduced in the sequence, and the film as a whole, comes with a lower third graphic that shows up to explain the who and/or what. Especially later on in the film, this comes off as incredibly distracting and detracting to the scene at hand, regardless on how vital or unnecessary the added information may be. However, at this early point in the film, there are plenty of plot elements that can be compared to the Star Wars anthology films with how they slide into the main canon, be it with Talho’s military activity or the early connection between Holland and Dewey, or even the legend of Adroc Thurston after the Summer of Love had come and gone. And if the rest of the film were of this direction, it could serve as a strong film retelling of the 2005 series.
Then this film decided to introduce a gimmick to itself: PLAY BACK and PLAY FORWARD.
Allow me to explain, as once the film passes the 28-minute mark it then goes into a very strange reappropriated recap of elements in the television series. And this is where the film also devolves into an incoherent mess of a narrative by going all over the place within this new canon by flashing back and forward at its own whim, sometimes going 4 hours into the past only to go back 22 whole days, before coming back to the present time only to go back several more hours or days, carrying on and on to paint a new narrative for this film via older footage from the television series. That narrative just so happens to involve the characters of Charles and Ray, both of whom now have a larger part in the prologue sequence, and in this new retelling Renton is the legally-adopted son of the pair. How it is framed in the film, thanks to the time-skip gimmick it has, is one of the most bafflingly incoherent executions I have seen in any kind of film, barely giving any attention to the more vital elements of the original story in favor of small glimpses of what happened: how Renton met with the Gekkostate? Only spoken about and shown in the third act of the film, in passing and in the last 20 minutes. The stuff with Renton and Eureka after the episode “Acperience 2”? We get the aftereffects before seeing the event in further flashbacks, and only in part. And similar events are shown between, before, or even during similar flashes back and/or forward. In short, this film offers one of the most frustrating viewing experiences I’ve ever sat through, all because of a lack of forward continuity done by design.
As for the short version of this narrative, here’s the skinny: Renton is now adopted by Charles and Ray, he looks for something more in life by joining aboard the Gekkostate, they have a falling-out and Renton goes out on his own before finding Charles and Ray at the sudden public D&B rave, like in the television series. What makes this reappropriated recap of the series even more inconsistent is the changes in dialogue; there are lines from the original television series used in this film, but newer lines are interlaced throughout the recap footage to try and weave the new narrative together. The giveaway of what lines are original and newly recorded is in the voice of Renton himself, Johnny Yong Bosch; to put it shortly, his more recent Renton voice doesn’t have the same timbre as it did in 2006. You’ll be able to tell when you view a flashback scene that has Renton talking with Holland, or even in a scene with Renton and Charles with a difference in JYB’s vocal delivery. And speaking of the recap footage, there is one silver lining in that the footage is in its proper aspect 4:3 aspect ratio, but it also comes with the caveat that the bulk of this film is solely made up of recap footage from the television series, and footage from only a select few episodes of the series at that.
Going back to the allusion of the Rebuild of Evangelion series, I would like to give this film a fair comparison to that series’ first entry, Evangelion 1.11, as it also serves as the basis of the new narrative for its own series, but it approaches that end goal in a more conservative fashion by condensing the first batch of episodes into a 100-minute film. It’s how it eases audiences in without a bombardment of information or a reappropriation of the basis of its storyline, before going totally bonkers in its next installment. As for this film? When it’s not completely re-shaping the basis of its main character, it’s picking and choosing which moments to sprinkle into the film, and only in small does that ultimately leave unaware viewers left completely confused as to the who, what, where, when, and why of such events thanks in large part to its inconsistent timeline and plot progression. And if someone like me who has a fairly strong grasp of the series is having a hard time trying to keep up with what’s going on, then there’s something very wrong with how this film works.
Short version: you lay the familiar ground work and then you go bonkers in the second film.
It really does feel like this came out of a prologue that had to be expanded to fit the frame of a full-length film, especially with the recap footage taking up nearly an hour of its running time and only being bookended with the newly-animated shots of Renton going out on his own to craft whatever strange new adventure that this canon is set on telling. If the preview for the second film, Hi-Evolution 2: Anemone is anything to go by, then things are about to get very strange and be spun off in a wildly different direction. But perhaps the preview that came at the end of this film is a giant red herring, as some reports on the film – which is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Funimation this coming Tuesday, March 3rd – indicate that things get even stranger than expected. But I honestly don’t know what to expect after sitting through a meandering 90-minute miasma of altered timelines and more random and nonsensical time jumps than the entirety of All-Star Batman & Robin. This is a movie that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend to either newcomers to the Eureka Seven series or long-time fans of the original 2005 television series. It exists to set the groundwork for another alternate timeline within its own universe, and it ultimately comes up severely short with its own gimmicks and alterations to blame for it. Proceed with caution and at your own risk, because this movie will leave you with only one important question:
WHAT TIME IS IT?!?
Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution 1 is licensed by and available from Funimation on Blu-ray/DVD and digital download.