Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Aeon Flux

In the 1990s, MTV for the first time added something new to the program (these days, I sometimes wonder why they still keep the ‘M’ for Music…). “Liquid Television” was a program made up of short clips, some parodies of well-known formats, some new ideas. One of the new ideas was “Aeon Flux”, a series in which every episode ended with the death of the unusual heroine.

When I first saw the series, they were in the middle of the first season (or a rerun of it, damned if I know) and it took me a while to realize what it was all about. Like “Spy vs. Spy”, an old “Mad Magazine” cartoon, the series centres around two characters: Aeon Flux and Trevor Goodchild. And when they meet, you can never be sure whether they kill each other or have sex. You know there’s something between them, but you don’t know, nor can figure out what it is. And despite the average length of about two minutes, you’ll never hear Trevor speak and only hear one whispered word from Aeon. The episodes rely completely on the visual.

Later on, they produced a ten-episode season with full-sized episodes (about 22 minutes each, eleven times as much as the first ones). Aeon and Trevor were more defined now, Trevor being an administrator and ruler of some sort and Aeon an anarchist, mostly doing things for personal reasons. They still were at it, though, fighting and loving (sometimes both at the same time).

A very, very, very, very long time later, there was even a movie with real actors made about them, also titled “Aeon Flux”. (And one of the reasons why the original series was digitally remastered and put out on DVD – good thing for me.)

The first thing that struck me about Aeon, though, was not the fact that she dies in every episode. It wasn’t her difficult relationship to Trevor, either. No, the first thing I noticed was “Hey, there’s this woman and she’s just mowing them down. She’s a female action hero who doesn’t succumb to any man.” (The series has a very high body-count, Aeon – and sometimes Trevor, too – isn’t the only one dying in the episodes.)

Aeon might still (at least in the drawn episodes, never have seen the movie) be one of the very few female action heroes who do not turn into timid women once they meet an interesting man. She was strong with a bad-ass-attitude, but at the same time sensuous. She had a lot of men in those stories – not just Trevor and surely not in the missionary position. She had some women, too, at least that’s what some scenes hinted. She was dressed like a man’s wet dream, but could easily turn into a nightmare from one second to the next.

To this rather unusual background came a strange style that was far from your ordinary cartoon at that time. (Only recently, while watching the featurettes that came with the DVD collection, I learned that the same artists was one of the people working on another of my favourite programs, “Rugrats”.) The characters were easy enough to recognize and unusual in proportions. (Aeon almost looks as if someone had then realized what models would look like around 2010.) The angles at which everything was presented showed clearly that someone had realized a drawn story doesn’t have to deal with limits for the camera.

Like “The Max” (and what wouldn’t I give for a DVD collection of this series, maybe I would understand what it was all about then…), “Aeon Flux” was an experiment that could only be aired because of “Liquid Television” as an experimental program. It was clearly a grown-up program and not a cartoon for kids. At the same time it even challenged adults to a certain degree, trying to understand the difficult relationship between its main characters and the two countries it featured. It was Sci-Fi, but at the same time didn’t rely solely on awesome technology. The technology was in the background, in the homes, in Aeon’s gadgets, in the security system of Bregna (where Trevor rules), in many other things (including clone tanks and strange alien creatures). But before this background there were interesting and sometimes strange characters who acted, loved, hated and died like humans at every time and in every place. That’s what makes “Aeon Flux” one of the few Sci-Fi series you can still watch about twenty years later and still enjoy without thinking “Hey, that’s reality by now!”.

And after seeing the war between Bregna and Monica (the second country), the mutilating security systems and the other dark things happening in this future, you’re not exactly rushing to reach it…

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