What’s it about? A decade ago, Echo’s town was the center of the world; but when huge shadowy monsters known as the Earless attacked, it was reduced to little more than a giant trash heap. Echo, along with most of the town, works long hours sifting through garbage to find things to salvage. He loves finding things related to Players, heroes with jacks in their bodies who use mechs called Equipment to fight the Earless. He’s resigned himself to his life as a salvager, but when he finds an amnesiac Player buried in the garbage, his destiny is about to change.
Listeners is the best kind of pastiche. It takes a number of familiar elements—a young man stumbling on a mysterious young woman, a post-apocalyptic setting, and the sense of being shaken out of a sense of complacency—and mashes them up in such a way that, even though you know you’ve seen and heard it all before, feels fresh and energetic.
Okay, maybe it doesn’t feel like a tired retread because I haven’t seen Eureka Seven, which even in my relative ignorance I can tell Listeners bears a lot of resemblance to. Sato Dai, who’s credited with the original concept and series composition for Listeners, also did series composition for its spiritual predecessor. I’m not Sato’s biggest fan—I thought his episodes of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine were some of the weakest in the show and spoke to a disinterest in Fujiko as a character—but I can’t deny he has my attention here.
Maybe it’s the inversion of the typical character tropes surrounding “boy meets mysterious girl, their destinies become intertwined.” Usually, the boys are energetic and restless and just know that they’re destined for something great, and the girls are shyer and more retiring.
In his opening monologue, Echo assures the audience that he’s content with his life as a salvager. He likes handling the leftover parts from Players and consuming any material about them that may turn up at his feet, but he doesn’t dream of actually going to join them. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to realize that no, he isn’t content. He longs to at least see the Players in action, to live a life more exciting than the simple repetitiveness of digging through garbage.
There’s some interesting commentary going on with the nature of oppression and poverty as well. Echo doesn’t claim to have accepted his lot because he doesn’t want anything else. When you’re as desolate as he is, hope for something better seems like an exercise in futility and disappointment. The mayor of the town works as an overseer, shouting through a megaphone at the salvagers to keep their heads down and work. He regards the town’s one remaining monument, a giant sculpture of an f-hole, as one remaining symbol of hope—but hope for whom? Only his own, as he refuses to allow his constituents any of the privilege.
The girl Echo finds and later dubs “Mu” after the Greek character, on the other hand, is anything but shy and retiring. She manages to be spirited and exciting and a bit hot-headed without falling straight into tsundere territory; the only time she really lashes out at Echo is when he’s inspecting her plug, but appears to be looking at (ah-hem) another hole.
What’s more, Mu is proactive. She takes the initiative at every step of the story, with Echo one hesitant step behind her. She’s clad in a loose-fitting crop top and jean shorts, but the camera never lingers over-long on her exposed flesh. She dresses in what looks like modern street fashion, not just a man’s idea of what it would look hot to dress a teenage girl in.
When the Earless show up and she uses her powers as a Player to plug the amp into her torso and transform, she also appears to be the one in charge of the robot as she rides on its shoulder. Echo is along for the ride, but it’s unclear exactly what he does during the battle. They also refer to a male Player, so it doesn’t seem to be divided strictly on gender lines. After sitting through all of Darling in the Franxx, I can’t even begin to express how relieved I was at that.
The ending theme promises a season of bright, interesting character, robot, and world design work, though the first episode does little with it. But to be honest, it makes sense; after all, we need to see the depressing browns and grays of Echo’s trash heap town and the dingy bar his sister runs. The contrast is what makes Mu and her robot’s brightness stand out and work so well. It’s what creates a sense of anticipation for what’s to come later.
And believe me, I am anticipating what’s coming later. After all, remixes and mashups are an art all their own.