Morality and Agency in Eureka Seven AO

“Could my body be any more inconvenient?”

source: Pixiv

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, GloriaCredo, 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?

Why then has there been such a negative reaction 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.

-Arata Naru

No one should be vilified for wishing to stand on equal ground.

source: Pixiv


Filed under Editorials, Eureka Seven

17 responses to “Morality and Agency in Eureka Seven AO

  1. Oh, I was eagerly waiting for this post! Bravo, David.

    I actually wrote about the reason why people seem to be harboring some form of extreme distaste toward Naru after her actions in episode 12/13. I think the main problem is the fact that her narrative got shafted in the first half because it went to focus on Generation Blue/the Secrets/Ao’s involvement and thus the character change that she underwent felt very out of hand. That isn’t to say that people’s hate at her is right- I personally love Naru and I’m excited for how her arc will strengthen the themes of moral relativity in the show, but I think people often forget that Naru’s arc, like you said, is all about agency. She says it herself: she wants to be with Ao, but not in the way fandom or society expects: she wants to fly with him, and be his equal. In her point of view, she’s finally gained the power to do that, as well as the knowledge, but she is refused by the sole person she wants to be with. So she goes with Truth in hope that she can display her power rather than just talking about it: a serious form of miscommunication, but these are kids and I think people forget that, more than anything.

    Which is weird if you think about it, because Eureka Seven’s themes were very similar. Eureka often struggled internally with herself about her looks which made her seem out of place in society, and thus focused on trying to be someone who could be relied on- an equal to the humans. Eureka and Renton also had times of miscommunication throughout the series, which resulted in them growing apart, only to grow closer together through resolution. It’s through these miscommunications though, that our characters were able to grow individually and become more understanding of one another and finally see each other in an equal light. The same process has yet to happen to Ao and Naru, who obviously are confused and hurt by each other’s reactions (another thing I don’t get- Naru obviously was hurt by Ao’s attempt to ‘comfort and protect her’ and she still cares deeply about him; there’s nothing about that face which shows that she’s ‘evil’ like people say). I do look forward to the episode/moment where they do understand one another and see each other in that light. Another thing worth noting I think, is that Naru’s ‘mysterious actions’ are only rooted in mystery as long as Ao, and the audience, don’t know the whole truth of the situation. And that’s the main stitch- Naru is probably doing the right thing, but we can’t say so and thus cannot truly condemn her for her actions because we don’t even know what her true motives are. We also have no clear idea of what’s really going on- something Ao feels, which is why I don’t think we can truly judge him for his confusion either.

    In other words, I think Naru’s a great character who just chose the wrong time and way to reveal the ‘truth’ of the world to Ao, but if anything, it’s the writing’s fault as to why she seems to be so malignant and self-serving, not the character. I think if the show had focused a little time on the way she had been transforming, it would have been easier for us to see why she had made the change. But it’s for those exact reasons why her rejection was so shocking and fun to see. We don’t know the truth, we don’t know who’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and most excitingly, we don’t know who’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It all comes back to that large theme of moral relativity which made Eureka Seven so good, and it’s the same theme that I think, makes AO such a worthy sequel.

    • Oh man, you know Natasha? I love you, and seriously hate you too because my next E7 post is actually going to be about communication and miscommunication! It’ll focus on a different character than Naru, but keep those themes in mind because E7 as a franchise is really concerned with how people communicate with each other.

      But yeah, about Naru, Emily beat me to the punch because I’m terrible at replying to comments in a timely manner, but ignoring Naru is a very calculated ploy by the writers. By focusing the attention of the audience elsewhere, Naru is effectively frozen in our minds as the sickly childhood friend who is left waiting. Never mind the fact that it’s heavily telegraphed several times that that is exactly what she DOESN’T want. Her second or third line after being introduced is basically chastising Ao for taking his eyes off of the road after she has a coughing fit. This independence was written into her character from the very first scene, and I think the writers did a clever job diverting the audience’s attention away from that fact.

      When she was written out in episode 4, there was a sense that the narrative weight of the show was pushing toward following Ao on his journey. This was his show, these were his discoveries, this would be his growth. Naru had only been absent for two episodes and some of us already felt as if the show had neglected or abandoned her. This is very intentional indeed.

      The why of Naru has been there since the beginning. The how? Well, that’s what episode 7 was about. Episode 14 was really just a repeat.

      • I look forward to your post on communication issues! I think it’s a great overlapping theme in the Eureka Seven verse and it obviously ties in with both Eureka and Renton’s relationship as well as Naru and Ao’s relationship.

        But I do like Emily and your idea of Naru being purposely excluded from the story for a good half, because at first I thought it was just because the writers didn’t have time to crunch her arc in, as Eureka Seven: AO is already fast paced as it is. But the sudden change, while dramatic, does shake the audience up and provides for a more suspenseful latter half of the show as well as a great climax for Episode 14. I think that Episode 4 was purposely both misleading and calculated; Naru says she wants to go with Ao and the last we really see of her (excluding the strange dream) is when she’s left on the island. So we automatically assume that she’s just another damsel in distress, left to become nothing more than a 2D prop up for Ao’s arc. But of course, the little peeks here and there at her life along with the choices she made (going with Truth) built up the suspense of what Naru was really up to and I think Episode 14 did a great way of showing us about how much she changed. I think another important point is that it’s because we’ve seen this show solely through Ao’s eyes that we’ve become so tied to/dependent on his perspective (or maybe it’s just me) so that Naru’s betrayal is even more emotional and shocking. Because in essence, the show is about Ao, it’s his story, but Episode 14 and 7 clearly tell us that while this is Ao’s story, it involves many others. We just forget that because the story has exclusively focused on Ao and his life inside Generation Bleu; we forget about the people on the island – Ao’s foster parent and Naru, and so when she’s suddenly back on screen, that’s enough of a shock – for her to betray Ao is on a whole new level.

        I still think her lack of communication skills is something that is poorly written, because Naru as shown in the early episodes, is a very straightforward girl (I mean she does get angry at Ao for leaving her behind, so she voices her opinions pretty clearly). I feel like that was the main thing that made the climax of her betrayal so…odd. To point her Nirvash’s boomerang at Ao and leave without explaining anything is so out of character to me, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Because if the idea of ‘forgetting’ Naru for a good half in the show was purposeful, I can’t help but think that this lack of communication was also purposeful in itself, as the writers wouldn’t make that big of a mistake. We can only hope that it means something…..

  2. Hmmm, this reminds me of conversations I’ve had about other strong/uppity females in anime. Utena being one of them, and possibly a good example. Sometimes, often times the audience identifies with the main protagonist. And often, what they go through is what the audience goes through. It’s meant to be that way. But in cases like this, the hate rolls down hill, only getting bigger. The audience misunderstands along with the hero, but they view it through their own prism.

    “She’s a bitch.”
    “What an idiot.”
    “How ungrateful can you be?”

    And so on, and so forth.

    The internet only makes it fester more.

    Where I have the problem with Naru (and this may extend to the writing as well), is her horrible ability to communicate. She can do all these amazing things, but she seems mentally deficient enough to not tell him why she’s doing them. She gives half answers. And even uses her Nirvash to pull a blade on Ao. If that’s not a stupid move, then it’s overly dramatic. Even if she’s angry at him for all the pity, for underestimating her, or even looking down on her, her actions are a bit extreme for my tastes. There could be a lot of blood on her hands by the end of this.

  3. Bravo! I didn’t realize there was so much hate for her. Indeed, media brainwashes us with the guy always getting the girl, so when the girl wants to “fly together” (be equal), there’s an unconscious reaction. I personally loved the Naru with agency more than the sick, ill girl persona.

    I only recently stumbled on you guys and found you guys doing what I was trying to do better than I can. Keep up the work!

  4. While I suppose the audience likely did expect the Poor Ill Girl to be rescued, I doubt that fully explains the negative reaction to her character arc. (Especially insofar as I take issue with it myself.) As illegenes said, she faded to the background for a good chunk of episodes, and so everything she does seems to come right out of the blue.

    Does it make logical sense for Naru’s character that she would actively seek agency? Indeed. But her actions leave doubt. How much of her growth is the result of her own choices, and how much is her being manipulated by Truth? Granted, we know exactly nothing about whatever the hell Truth is planning, but everything we’ve seen from him has screamed Villain so far. And then Naru goes and sides with him over Ao, the lens through which we view the story. Thus her siding with the villain (or antagonist, if you prefer) gets compounded with the audience empathizing with Ao.

    • Truth is being painted as a villain to Ao and the rest of the cast, certainly. But we as viewers should know better; he’s called TRUTH, for god’s sake. He’s obviously not a good guy, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a villain. He did cure Naru’s disease, for one. One of the main questions of AO is “What is the truth?” Are the secrets the bad guys or the good guys? What about the scub coral? America? Japan? Okinawa? Generation Bleu? Everyone has their own motives.

      “But her actions leave doubt. How much of her growth is the result of her own choices, and how much is her being manipulated by Truth?” Good question. What’s the difference? ;) When you make a decision about your beliefs, is that the result of your own choice, or are you being manipulated by truth?

  5. I don’t know, being a mass communication student, I felt that I’m one of the very few that wasn’t surprised when Naru rejected Ao because I thought there’s a reason behind it all the while being initially confused by it. Then Naru said that I wanna fly with you quote, and everything made sense. My only gripe in this is that like what donkangoljones said, is her horrible ability to communicate. For someone who wants to nurture the main guy who is presently drowning in his mama issues, her way of doing it is horrible but I guess I can blame that on the writing.

  6. Phew, there’s a lot of good commentary here.

    A few additions of my own:

    I disagree with a few of the commenters that it’s poor writing to have Naru disappear from both Ao’s and, by extension, the audience’s view. Instead, I’d say it’s very deliberate. The viewer is supposed to forget about her or, if they she chances to cross their mind, remember her vaguely as “the girl who waited.” As it stands, I wouldn’t say that Naru is a fault in the writing; she is more like a tool of it. The writers are rebuking those who wanted that glorious reunion (in grand Macross style), for pitying Naru and also for forgetting about her.

    The character that the audience is supposed to resonate with the most is Ao. Ao left his island seeking his own agency; however, in an ironic twist, finds himself more restricted as a member of Generation Bleu than his sickly best friend who he left behind, one of the people he was “fighting for.” As Ao becomes more confused he brings his audience along with him. Who is “right?” Who is “wrong?” Even as the series points out supposed black and white textbook examples of fairytales, it’s much harder to figure out who is on what side, never mind what their motivations are. Chrono is absolutely right in his comment that the audience empathizes with Ao. In addition to this, as DonKangolJones said, the audience brings their own prism with which to view her character through. I think that confusion towards Naru’s character is quite deliberately written in, the vitriol; however, is not.

    • I see what you mean! It’s very valid to argue that Naru is a tool of the writing and was purposely shafted from the first half of the show so that her reveal would be more shocking and would continue to expand the idea of ‘truth’ and ‘who’s good and bad’. Her lack of communication skills is the main thing that prevents me from saying this though. I think that, more than anything, was a clear example of bad writing, because Naru in the first episode is very outspoken if nothing else. She’s blunt and expresses her feelings toward Ao very strongly, whether it be through rage, sadness, fear or love. If you contrast this with Naru’s words (or lack of them) in Episode 14, I think you’ll find that this sort of change from a blunt Naru to a cryptic Naru is so dramtatic that it almost seems out of hand. There was no real reason for Naru to leave Ao like that without a word of clarification, and we know that Naru’s nature is not like that, so the only reasoning behind it for me is that it was messy writing. But the buildup toward the reveal, and the lack of focus on Naru’s story may be very deliberate as you say.

  7. Anonymous

    New Mikono

  8. RARA

    I get what you’re saying about Naru, and most peoples perception of her. Though, I never really pitied her. I actually wasn’t really fond of her from the beginning actually. And my opinion only worsened as it went on, because she’s sitting around watching Truth kill people. She can see that plain as day and the only thing she’s concerned about is that he hasn’t killed Ao yet. Which, yes she obviously cares for Ao, but to say Truth’s being kind when he’s clearly not, is really what ticked me off. I think it’s a bit selfish that she’s letting so many people die for her wish to be equal with Ao. That alone makes her path the wrong path. But I can sympathize with her to some extent. Maybe what she’s trying to do is the right thing but the path she’s taking is not at all the right one. The whole indifference to everyone, waving Eureka off, It’s just those little things, are what made my opinion worse. If they’d have taken her, and given her, her respiratory problems and left her personality alone while she was discovering everything she was and maybe have given her the same desire Ao has to not see anyone die, instead of making her indifferent to the lives of everyone but Ao, I might’ve liked her. But now, she just seems a bit selfish and a bit stupid. But then again, that’s the impression I got off her from the start. I think the episode where she went missing is actually the episode that influenced my opinion the most. I remember thinking that she’s a bit daft if she couldn’t tell that clearly wasn’t Ao and for picking a stranger over someone she’s supposed to trust so completely. My opinion of her is not at all based off of her weak body or how she shunned Ao. I liked that she is trying to be his equal. I don’t like how she shot him down without explaining a thing to him.

  9. As someone who has their fair share of medical issues irl I can relate to someone like Naru a bit more than most of the other characters and I agree it seems like the roles are reversed with her playing the role of a “villain” versus being the one that needs to be saved! It certainly feels refreshing to see something different.

    While we all have our own OTPs for this series I don’t get those vibes from Naru X Ao, but of course she has been with Truth for most of the series and of course Ao has a lot on his plate right now so yeah romance is out of the question after all he just wants to save his friend not go out with her…now there is Fleur…just kidding! She doesn’t seem to be his type haha

    Now we have to wait three weeks for episode 16 T_______T ah well SOON!

    Great post btw Vuc!

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