Otakon 2009 hosted the East Coast premiere of FUNimation’s English-dubbed edition of Evangelion 1.0: You are (not) alone. Now, we’re just months from the release of the English DVD edition of Evangelion 1.01: You are (not) alone, and just shy of a year from the release of the English DVD and Blu-ray editions of Evangelion 1.11: You are (not) alone. These three films represent the Japanese animation industry at its most cynical and exploitative: gorgeously re-animated, frequently shot-for-shot remakes of six episodes of the seminal 1995 television series Neon Genesis Evangelion, repeatedly sold to fanatics willing to pay absurd amounts of money for the same exact experience over and over and over. But this is becoming a speech, and I’m not here to talk about Eva right now.
What I am here to talk about is a film that’s almost the opposite of Evangelion 1.0 — Psalms of Planets Eureka seveN: good night, sleep tight, young lovers: Pocket Full of Rainbows. Whereas Evangelion 1.0 is a fetishistic recreation of an existing show using what’s technically all-new animation, young lovers is half-composed of footage taken directly from the Eureka seveN TV series, used in completely new situations. To put it in terms the Colony Drop Ideal Reader will understand, young lovers is like that episode of Carl Macek’s masterpiece, Robotech, where Rick Hunter is laid up in the hospital and has a really wicked fever dream about riding his bicycle into space to rescue Minmei. That sounds great, except this movie is two hours long and it’s completely, deadly serious about its insane storyline. Hell, I can probably just pull a Surat, and give a scene-by-scene summary of the damn movie and call it a night, except that only really works when the film you’re reviewing is entertainingly bad.
In the year 2009, high above an unnamed island in the South Pacific, a phenomenal event occurred in the skies which altered the course of human history. A mysterious alien race, known as the “Image,” suddenly arrived on planet Earth. For decades, mankind waged war, trying desperately to fend off an enemy it couldn’t understand, but by 2054 the Earth government knew they were on the ropes, and began planning two acts of desperation: a new intense solar-powered weapon, the Hammer of God, and an “ark” for the evacuation of a portion of the population, the giant spaceship Megaroad. Following this helpful exposition, we join 14-year-old Sergeant 1st Class Renton Thurston, the newest member of the crew of the Independent Youth Unit 303’s airship, the Gekko.
Renton entered the military after his parents were killed in a very important scientific experiment, and rose through the ranks quickly with the help of the giant biomechanical weapon Nirvash, his companion since childhood. He’s out to rescue the Image spy robot Eureka, his childhood friend, abducted by the armed forces eight years prior and held for years of experiments and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” What Renton doesn’t realize as he drags Eureka back to the Gekko over her protests (“I’m not worth being protected! I don’t deserve to be protected by you!”) is that his actions are actually a crucial first step in a highly circuitous scheme by the misfit crew of the Gekko, who aren’t at all what they seem.
Here the film splits and switches between two interrelated plotlines. Through a lengthy battery of exposition speeches, Renton and Coda Ravel, the Head Parliamentary Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, learn the incredibly convoluted truth around the assassination of Major General Dewey Sörenstam, the incident called the “Agony of Doha” which killed Renton’s parents, transformed a bunch of war orphans (the Gekko’s crew) into rapidly aging cynical terrorists obsessed with a “Neverland” where they can live forever, and the Image’s convoluted plan to plant and exploit religious belief amongst the humans in order to do… something. Oh, and along the way, the crew of the Gekko are sucked through a black hole and see another world, a blue planet surrounded by a green ring of light, orbited by a moon with “Renton <3 Eureka” carved into the surface. “The world we were supposed to be in,” explains Captain Holland. In other words, the world of Eureka seveN the television series.
But don’t worry — in the end, the power of love resolves all the plot lines happily. The Image — as in “Imaginary” — are defeated and go away until they can get the DNA-transmitted species memories they need to have dreams, Renton and Eureka get to be together (even if she’s apparently forgotten how to speak Japanese) and the crew of the Gekko decide that, hey, growing old and dying really isn’t that bad after all, because you can still have kids!
Honestly, after about the halfway point of young lovers, around the time Renton gets shot and spends most of his time bleeding in the hospital or a cockpit, I just gave up trying to follow where the film was actually going with any of this. There’s a whole lot of talk about the Image being “mirrors of humanity,” and “if we die, the planet will die,” and the “writing of new legends” like the one the Image used to cause the Agony of Doha to begin with, but, honestly, I just didn’t care. Much like Bones’ recent Xam’d: Lost Memories and, well, Eureka seveN the TV series, young lovers has great ambition and tries to draw up a complex world and conflict, and then forgets to make it actually compelling to watch.
In order to enjoy young lovers, the viewer has to really buy into the Eureka/Renton dynamic, the star-crossed lovers reuniting a decade later, since that’s about all the film has to offer. That’s not to say the inept direction doesn’t get in the way — what could be more effective than showing the sorts of things Eureka went through during her years of captivity, or even listening to her sorrowfully describe her pain? Well, I guess we could just have Renton summarize it for us in the narration! “She began to talk deliriously about the merciless experiments, about how often she wanted to kill herself, about how a scientist told her that her body would soon stop functioning.” Yeah, that’s far more effective than any of the other tools at one’s disposal as a visual storyteller. The whole film is like this — lectures, monologues, conversations — telling instead of showing.
I mentioned in the introduction that the film is about half-composed of footage from the original television series. On the one hand, it’s impressive — and sometimes hilarious — to see how they re-purpose and edit existing footage to cover all-new events. One character later in young lovers is given Dewey’s TV outfit so existing shots of him on the bridge of a ship commanding people can be reused with only a facial adjustment, and Hap’s conversation with Holland through a stall door becomes far more sinister in this retelling. But, perhaps as a result, the film never particularly stands out, maintaining “good TV” style and fluidity. I suspect Bones feared that they’d end up like the Zeta Gundam: A New Translation films, where the new footage clashed to the point of distraction, but I think they went a little far in the other direction here.
I also question the artistic value of making the film so gosh-darned washed-out and fuzzy-looking. I’m well aware it was an intentional effect — the scene in the hanger is about as subtle as a beam rifle — but the bright, colorful designs and palette of Eureka seveN were one of its stronger aspects. This is the literally grimmer and darker version of Eureka seveN, a show which could already be pretty bleak when it felt like it, with only a handful of moments of levity.
And that’s what really kills this film. Sure, the writing and directing are pretty awful, but the film’s crew were obviously hamstrung by a combination of a limited budget, necessitating the reuse of so much footage, and the natural outcome of having to squeeze out as much as possible with existing art assets. Whenever possible, young lovers is written to match the visuals, rather than creating the visuals to fit the story. A re-imagining film like Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea, coincidentally one of Bones’ first major works, can still be dragged down by dragging in too many elements from the original television series — characters whose roles are so reduced they might as well have been removed entirely, or gaps in character development which the audience might be expected to fill in with prior knowledge — but crafting all-new animation still gives far more creative freedom. If nothing else, the film could still end up being gorgeous like Do You Remember Love?, for instance.
After the sheer bizarreness of the plot wears off, the film’s just not very interesting, even as an interesting failure. It’s only really notable for bringing together in one conveniently short package most of what’s historically been wrong with Bones’ original productions. None of the artistic or creative issues in young lovers are particularly new for the studio, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
Perhaps it would be more fitting to think of Bones as the studio that brought you Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Darker than Black than the producers of Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and… and… Sword of the Stranger, I guess? Shit, they really are terrible! I’m not kidding at all when I say the adaptation of Ouran High School Host Club is the best thing Bones has done in a long time. And even its adaptations can go south — just seeing the name Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief is giving me flashbacks. Argh. We’re done here.