Eden is a short miniseries that comes as another addition to Netflix‘s ongoing slate of co-productions with famed studios and creators from Japan’s anime industry. The show’s story itself is the brainchild of Justin Leach, who has worked with Western animation companies such as Lucasfilm and the now defunct Blue Sky Studios, in addition Japanese stalwarts like Production I.G Anime veteran Yasuhiro Irie — who most fans will know from his work as the lead director of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood — is at the helm of Eden‘s production, while Kimiko Ueno is in charge of the scripts, having already done a lot of work on shows like Space Dandy, Little Witch Academia, and BNA: Brand New Animal.
So, Netflix is clearly making sure to assemble top-tier talent behind the scenes for these Anime Originals, and anyone watching the English dub is likely to be impressed by the names behind the microphones too. I didn’t actually look up the dub cast before sitting down to watch Eden, but it only took me a couple of seconds to recognize David Tennant as the voice of E92, the protective robot that comes to serve as Sara’s father figure. His counterpart, A37, is voice by Rosario Dawson, who has also delved into more voice acting over the last few years. Neil Patrick Harris even pulls something of a heel turn in his performance as the villainous robot Zero, and though I have some quibbles about this character in particular (more on that later), Harris does a solid job of playing a villain with no humorous or snarky undertones whatsoever.
The point is, it is easy to get the impression that Netflix is really trying to court its Western audience with these recent Anime Originals, especially the ones who might not consider themselves fans of anime to begin with. Given the smooth and shiny qualities of its CG animation, on top of its somewhat unusual PG rating, it seems like Eden is meant to serve as a kind of a gateway series for burgeoning young anime fans and their possibly perplexed parents. If nothing else, it is probably a more accessible introduction to less traditional animated fare than, say, Demon Slayer‘s recent hit movie.
But does Eden stand up well as a series in its own right? The results are more than a little mixed, but on the whole, I’d say that it does. For one, I’m simply happy to have another show to add to the growing list of “Computer Generated Anime That Don’t Look Like Garbage.” It was only a few years ago that you’d have to sift through half a dozen 3D anime to find even one halfway-decent looking production, but we’ve come a long way since then. The background art and direction aren’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but the character animation is quite strong, and that matters a lot in the grand scheme of things.
In fact, I’d say Eden looks a damn sight more appealing than some of Netflix‘s own CG series, such as the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising. That show wasn’t bad, but its character models suffered from a lot of the same cardboard-cutout stiffness and needless frame-rate cuts that many 3D series insist upon. That trick might have worked in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but that’s one of the greatest works of animation, well, ever. Most 3D series that I’ve seen don’t have the technical chops to pull that look off, and thankfully the animators at Qubic Pictures and CGCG Studio Inc. don’t even try. Considering that only two or three characters in Eden even have faces, it was of paramount importance that everyone be animated with fluidity and maximum expression. On that front, Eden very much succeeds.
I’d also kick myself for a week if I didn’t point out the lovely soundtrack, courtesy of the ever-reliable Kevin Penkin, who created the soundtracks for Made in Abyss, which are two of my favorite OSTs made for any medium, ever. It’d be wrong to expect the same scale of music for as modest a production as Eden, and while its score is a humbler affair than Penkin’s prior work, it is no less artfully crafted. In fact, the ethereal strings and mechanical drones of the soundtrack might be too well composed, since the show’s visuals and writing don’t always manage to live up to the lovely music that is accompanying them. Still, I won’t complain about a score that’s this good, especially when it manages to smooth out some of Eden‘s rough patches so well.
The writing accounts for most of those rough patches, unfortunately. At only four episodes of less than thirty minutes each, Eden is stuck at a weird halfway point of being a proper miniseries and a feature film. The story kind of follows a traditional three-act structure when it comes to Sara Grace’s journey in the robot world, but the series suffers from some awkward editing and pacing on account of being broken up into episodes. It sometimes feels like there is a full twelve-or-so episode long season’s worth of story for Eden that got gutted and truncated to fit a two-hour runtime, but that doesn’t explain why it would have been rejiggered into a four-part miniseries.
Perhaps there’s some sort of algorithmic machine learning that I’m just not privy to that would explain Eden‘s structure, but the end result still feels a bit rushed and incomplete, especially in its first half. The whole first episode is taken up by explaining how A37 and E92 find Sara and come to be her guardians, and before you know it she’s a fully grown young woman voiced by newcomer Ruby Rose Turner. Then, we get some stock standard “I need to learn the truth about my mysterious past” dialogue before Sara zooms off on a world-saving adventure in Episode 2. Given how small the cast is, and how many of them are emotionally stunted robots that speak in comically obtuse ways, there’s really no room for Sara to present herself as anything other than a post-apocalyptic Disney Princess, except without any of the fun songs or humorous sidekicks to keep her company.
The story does pick up a lot in the second half, though you never lose the feeling that there were a few episodes meant to go in between Episode 2 and 3 that just got skipped over. Sara comes into her own as a heroine just enough to keep us invested in the story, and some actual stakes appear to give her quest some much needed direction. Then there’s Zero, the main antagonist of the story that is an absurdly evil looking robot made entirely of jet-black spikes and a literal Villain Cape. It’s frankly absurd when the series starts trying to paint him as the kind of bad guy that has noble intentions, and for those first two episodes I was wondering why the hell they even bothered to get Neil Patrick Harris to voice the guy, since a modulated Speak-n-Spell could have performed the role just fine. Zero’s arc in the story makes a lot more sense by the time the series starts to wrap up, though, and while he’s no Darth Vader, he gets the job done.
”Getting the job done” is a perfect way to describe Eden as a whole: While it’s far from an anime masterclass, the show ends up handling things well enough to get in and out of your Netflix queue without any raising too many gripes. Even though it is labeled as “Season 1” on Netflix, it basically tells a complete story, too, so it is ideal for a one-and-done binge watch with the family. I might be too old and experienced to have gotten a lot out of it, but I think Eden will do nicely as a kid’s introduction to the world of robot uprisings, spunky heroines, and giant mecha fights.