It’s an anime industry tradition that stretches back to the original “Mobile Suit Gundam”: re-editing and adding new animation to popular television series in order to transform them into feature films.
The latest anime to get the “compilation” treatment is “Eureka Seven,” a 2005 sci-fi series about 14-year-old mecha pilot Renton Thurston and his relationship with the mysterious Eureka, an alien who has taken the form of a young human female. “Hi-Evolution 1” is the first in a planned trilogy that’s set to retell the tale of the original 50-episode series.
The original “Eureka Seven” followed in the tradition of giant-robot franchises like “Gundam” and “Evangelion” by combining mecha action, romance and a fair helping of teen angst. Its twist on the formula and a large factor in its popularity was the way it incorporated popular music, with bands such as Supercar and Denki Groove on the soundtrack and copious musical references scattered throughout the script (penned by popular anime screenwriter Dai Sato, who also wrote this film).
Appropriately, then, “Hi-Evolution 1” kicks off with a bang in a pumping action sequence scored by German electronic duo Hardfloor. In the sequence, a flashback referenced but never depicted in the original series, military researcher Adroc Thurston and mecha pilots Ray and Charles are engaged in an experiment that goes amok, forcing Thurston to sacrifice his life to save the world in an event later christened the “Summer of Love” (getting the musical references yet?).
“Hi-Evolution” then flashes forward 10 years to the events of the original series, which depict the adventures of Thurston’s son, teenage Renton. Here director Tomoki Kyoda relies almost entirely on footage from that series, and while it has been subtly enhanced (“retuned,” as the promotional materials put it) for the big screen, it’s essentially the same as what viewers saw on TV in 2005 — Kyoda has even retained the original 4:3 aspect ratio. While it may serve to inspire nostalgia in longtime fans, this vintage footage doesn’t hold up particularly well in comparison to the film’s flashy new introduction, and the transition is jarring at best.
More jarring still is how Kyoda has re-sequenced this vintage footage: the story of Renton leaving his adoptive parents’ home, setting out on his own and eventually encountering the alien Eureka are told out of order, with the story constantly jumping back and forth in time as titles reading “Play Back” and “Play Forward” appear on-screen. It’s an interesting attempt to link scenes from the original series thematically rather than chronologically, and another clever incorporation of musical vocabulary, but those unfamiliar with the story may find the all the time shifting hard to follow.
The “Hi-Evolution” films (“2” and “3” are planned for 2018) may ultimately feel more cohesive when viewed as a set (director Kyoda essentially said as much at a recent American anime convention), and longtime fans will no doubt get a kick out of both the old and new footage — but for first-time “Eureka Seven” viewers, “Hi-Evolution 1” never quite delivers that “eureka” moment.