Every move you make is carefully planned. You are limited in your capability, your capacity, your reach. To reach beyond what is allotted to you is met with struggle, strain, and pain. You cannot be frivolous in your actions, for each moment is carefully meted out as though you’re incapable of the responsibility yourself.
How would this color your outlook on life?
Agency is the feeling that one is in control of one’s own destiny. It is the notion that they can make decisions and choices and impose them upon the world. A great sense of agency would not come naturally to a girl who has had respiratory issues for most of her known life, nor a small island whose territory is disputed by two political blocs.
How would this not color your outlook on life?
Eureka Seven: AO finds itself couched in the trappings of various disseminating avenues of morality: the set of moral codes by which a society determines what is right versus wrong. The IFO mechs that the characters pilot are named for various Catholic liturgies: Alleluia, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Requiem. The mecha themselves are organized into groups named for famous fairy tales, with teams Pied Piper and Goldilocks being two which we know of. In today’s society, modern variations of fairy tales are used to impart moral lessons upon the children for whom they’re read, employing narrative techniques like repetition to instill important lessons about what is right and what is wrong. Even the apparent antagonist of the show, self-styled as “Truth,” proclaims the world to be erroneous. This reinforces these thematic re-occurrences in AO about different notions of what is right, and what is wrong.
But it’s the intersection between these two ideas, morality and agency, that define the first act and provide the fuel for the first truly climactic moment in the series.
There’s a general malaise that pervades the atmosphere in the opening episodes. The tension on the island manifests in illicit activities: smuggling, rumor-mongering, subversive political organizing, xenophobia, and arson. More than one generation of the island’s population feels as though the destiny of their home is not theirs to control. But as our main character Fukai Ao’s adoptive grandfather tells him, they were all born on the island and they will all die on the island, having nowhere else to go. They want to protect it. All of these aforementioned misguided actions arise from the need of the islanders to assert some form of agency over their lives.
Notice how industrious, pacified, and self-assured the island becomes once the problematic scub coral becomes usable to them?
Arata Naru is introduced to the audience in a burst of characterization. Our main character’s childhood friend is a bit sullen, resentful, and curt. All of this is informed by the shortness of breath when she strains herself. The bitterness one senses in her is tempered by the fact that she’s straining herself to properly convey why something concerns her. It’s because she worries. She worries for those she cares for, whether Ao or Noah, man or sloth. This inability, this limit to her capacity speaks to her internalized sense of disadvantage when dealing with others and conflicts with her natural inclination to care and nurture. She wishes to not just be strong, but to be an equal capable of offering the succor she possesses. That’s difficult to do when one tends to feel pity for her.
Notice how confident, composed, and self-assured she becomes once the problematic scub coral becomes more known to her?
That’s because they pitied her as well. The negative reaction this engenders in some is a tacit recognition of the roles that society deems “right”, and how Naru’s actions feel inherently “wrong”. The man is supposed to be the savior, the hero, the protector. The woman is meant to be the saved, the rescued, the protected. This is understood even more so if she is visibly weaker than her counterpart. I will confess to being initially shocked by Naru’s rejection of Ao in episode seven, because I pitied her too. I craved the type of cathartic reunion that this franchise in known for, where emotions swell and crest into a memorable moment. But as Naru turned away from her would-be savior, my confusion and intrigue was contrasted with my partner’s outright joy. Yes I pitied her, but my partner sympathized with her. This initial difference in our reactions, possibly even linked to our genders, is a moral dissonance that Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean seeks to explore and comment on. All of this codified by a line in episode 14 that stands as one of the singular best moments in the show thus far:
Ao, I wanted to fly together with you, not to be embraced by you.
No one should be vilified for wishing to stand on equal ground.