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Aeon Flux – Retrospective Review

Aeon Flux (The Animated Series)
Review Retrospective by Vermin
Artwork by VerminArt

What is better than a femme fatale wearing skimpy costumes, guns blasting, blood and body parts flying everywhere, all set in a strange futuristic world? Answer: probably not a lot, as this is a great formula for some very good (albeit perhaps standard) run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi adventures. Stir in some clever story telling, very stylized art, subtle undertones of anarchy, bondage and kinky fetishes, and you end up with something that appears very unique — you end up with Aeon Flux.

When I first watched Aeon Flux many years ago, I struggled to wrap my head around it. I think maybe it was because I wasn’t viewing it with an open mind, or maybe it was because of my youthful mind that couldn’t comprehend the content. Either way, it seemed to me like a surrealist Sci-Fi action cartoon which had no real structure or substance in the story telling, instead just using the shock value of odd visuals: violence, sex and strange scenarios. Feeling like it wasn’t my kind of thing, I let it pass me by for a couple of years without so much as a second thought — until the film came out. then I ended up judging the cartoon, having not watched it for a long time, based upon the 2005 Charlize Theron live action vessel of the same name, tarring the animation with the same brush and writing it off again. A few more years passed, (9 to be exact), and I had a sudden urge to re-watch the series, prompted by reading a lot of older science fiction novels; to give it a second chance, mainly to see if I had been right about my original thoughts or if I was completely wrong with my judgement. Boy, am I glad I had that urge, as now I actually understand how intelligent and deep this very strange universe is. The animated Aeon Flux has been a joy to rediscover and has also left me wanting more.

Aeon Flux was Created by Peter Chung, drawing influences from works like Heavy Metal comics (possibly the Heavy Metal film had some small influence on Aeon’s look) and Moebius’ artwork. Produced for MTV back in the early 90’s, the initial idea for the series opened with six very experimental two-to-four-minute short episodes. Situated within a futuristic world with a very techno-fluid vibe, the technology seemed rather organic and very integrated into the world. We see this specifically in a country called Brega, filled with depravity and imperfection overseen by its leader, Trevor Goodchild. He wants the best for Breen society, even if that means he has to control the masses by varied means in a police like manner. Goodchild also focuses on the neighboring country of Monica, which is at odds with Brega, employing spy like tactics and often sending Monicans to breach the divide between the two countries, carrying out various missions as a destabilizing effect to the Breens. Aeon Flux is one of the many Monican assassin/spy/agents. She generally prefers working to accomplish her own goals, as she sets out to further and better her own situation, rather than that of the Monican society, which in itself represents an anarchistic rebellion against Brega.

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The pilot short plants you in the absolute thick of the action following Aeon Flux’s infiltration mission, the goal to eradicate a Breen official, coming up against strong opposition from soldiers infected by a virus carrying beetle. Without giving anything away, the climax to the episode presents an interesting twist — one which would become common in the following five short stories in Season 2, but was almost absent in the longer Season 3. The pilot short was cut into 6 parts and later re-edited into a 12-minute episode. The second part of the pilot explores the rarely seen other side of the “anti-heroine’s” actions, focusing on two foot soldiers and their little story from within the thick of the gun fight and infection breakout. This moment in the pilot displays the storytelling intelligence which remains constant throughout the entire series by looking at the issues of morality and the consequences of the actions taken mainly by Aeon Flux. In addition, we also see the consequences of her interesting relationship with Trevor Goodchild, proving it’s not all just about the action, blood, guts and sex — even if the two main characters would probably prefer it to be that way. It takes concepts, sometimes uncommon to science fiction, that question both the good and bad about the world of Aeon Flux, throwing in twists and often showing how things might play out when taken out of context.

The experimental method behind the short episodes introduces storytelling with no spoken dialogue. All the story telling is done entirely through the strong animation style, which has a very rough beauty about it; with angular characters, which are almost a trademark of Peter Chung, the animation provides Aeon Flux with a feeling of its own. Elegantly smooth movements during the action scenes cut through the gritty world in a very cinematic way, almost as if shot with a camera, which really drives the story forward with a unique and stylized look. This look is assisted by the music, as the soundtrack has a synthesized futuristic sound which lies somewhere between soft Blade Runner-esque cues and oriental sounding electronica fan fares, providing a pulse to the action.

After the first six episodes, the format for Aeon Flux moved into a second Season of 5 short stories. This was followed by a 22 minute show format, retaining the elements of the shorts, but with the addition of voice actors for the characters. Aeon speaks rarely, but when she does, it’s with a smart, dry and dominating tone of voice. Trevor’s voice has flares of self-importance, high social standing and very intellectual delivery, seeming poetic at times. Expanding on the complexity of Aeon’s relationship with Trevor and the strange dynamics of nearly all the characters throughout the series with the surrealism of the world fleshed out considerably, these longer episodes have even more depth. After scratching on the surface behind the sexual innuendo and violence, you will find each story compelling and almost self-contained with very little continuity between them. That being said, many shorts bring up questions about the morality of the situations that arise in the show. There are no dull moments, as every story feels well constructed, but several episodes manage to stand out. For example, one episode explores the desires of Aeon, freed from her “mission” duties, providing an insight into her personality that is weighed against her chosen profession. In this episode, we wonder what might have been if she had just been a regular, normal person instead of an acrobatic assassin. The story shows the human side of Aeon’s character, probing into the want and desires as well as the softer portrayal of Aeon. In turn, we see Trevor’s likewise persona, even after they have become established in the series. The true emotions and feelings of both seem to shock each other at first and ultimately lead to an unobtainable outcome.

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Having the benefit of watching the 2005 DVD remastered episodes, the world of Aeon Flux feels really fresh, with popping colours and enhanced, cleaned up animation. Although I have regrets about missing out the first time around, I am happy that I proved my younger self wrong. After watching the entirety of Aeon Flux, which consists only of 21 episodes, I have rediscovered a well structured slice of intelligent Sci-Fi. The only downsides are the live action adaptation, dumbing down the source material to appeal to a wider audience, and the sad realization that there are only 21 episodes.

Hopefully one day Peter Chung will revisit the Aeon Flux universe; having dropped hints about it, nothing has come of it. It’s well worth checking out or re-watching, especially for anyone looking for something a bit different, strange and smart.

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