With television cartoons like Cow and Chicken, Angry Beavers,and South Park, it sometimes
seems that modern animation can't get any stranger. And then there's Peter Chung's series....

Aeon Flux, Euro-Comic animation at it's most bizarre

Even death couldn't stop one of Liquid TV's more popular series

Aeon: An indefinite long time.

Flux: Continuous change.

Aeon Flux: An animated science fiction series that brought a new approach to TV cartoon storytelling, portraying a bizarre future world of two warring societies, where nothing is quite what it seems. Thanks to the creativity of animator Peter Chung and MTV's Liquid Television, the unique new series first hit the airwaves in 1991 as part of a weekly half-hour selection of animation one-shots, a series that began with a two minute pilot with Aeon, a dominatrix and freedom-fighter (!), falling to her death after wiping out scores of futuristic guards with blazing guns and in a series of cool moves that would've made her spiritual ancestor, The Avengers' Emma Peel, proud.

(This may be one of those features where I throw disreputable exclamation points around with mad abandon: Aeon Flux was such a departure from normal action-adventure animation that one might think that the series was directed by science-fiction's Philip K. Dick!)

That was the first episode. In the second, the angular, anorexic and scantily clad Aeon continues to fall as the camera focuses in on the dead and dying guards as we hear their moans and weeping. The viewer is no longer being entertained with cool moves and background music, but is being confronted with the aftermath of the carnage, forcing the audience to wonder: is the ninja-like woman really the hero? Since the two episodes were completely without dialogue, the audience was left wondering if they could take surface reality at face value.

Which is precisely what Chung was aiming for.

In actuality, the debut of Aeon Flux was part of a twelve-minute segment broken into six episodes. In the second season of Liquid Television, there was another series of self-contained Aeon Flux shorts and Aeon continued to die in each episode. By the third season, Chung's series (along with another Liquid TV series, Bevis and Butthead) was spun-off into ten half-hour episodes. The violence was diminished somewhat, dialogue was added, and Aeon now had a definite nemesis (as well as lover!) -- Trevor Goodchilde.

Aeon Flux, played by the voice of Denise Potter, is the acrobatic and enigmatic agent of the Monican Republic, a poor but free country that treasures art and anarchy above excessive stability. Monican is opposed by Bregna, a technologically advanced police state that takes care of its citizens' material needs while subjecting them to the rigid monotony of unyielding order, with spy-cameras everywhere. Bregna is ruled by a visionary scientific genius, Trevor Goodchilde (played by John Lee), who is as merciless and as decadent as he is brilliant. Aeon is fairly decadent and merciless herself, although her murky motivations sometimes seem to be on the side of vengeful justice. Both would like to exterminate the other. Both (naturally!) seem to be lovers.

After dying by falling (twice), by being crushed by a huge creature, by a blow to the head, and by a bullet in the brain, all in the first two seasons, Aeon settled down to stories with plots by the third, although, as usual, motivations and the lines between good and evil remain as obscure as ever. While earning her daily bread as a dominatrix by day, Aeon continues to freelance as an agent for Monica, confronting her own clones engineered by Trevor, discovering unique new sexual addictions, rescuing citizens from Bregna (with disastrous consequences), and playing a part in the subversion of an angelic alien.

Chung's approach to storytelling seems to be one of interpretation. Since, for example, all the citizens of Bregna know that their every word is being monitored and recorded, dialogue can't be taken at face-value.

Part of Chung's idea is that since television cartoons are endlessly rerun, viewers should be able to rewatch episodes and discover something new. That MTV has an image of itself as being an alternative to normal television was a help in Chung selling the series. Although Aeon Flux has been called an alternative to Japan's thriving anime industry, the graphically attractive visual look of the series is more along the European style that dominates Heavy Metal magazine.

There is a considerable amount of Aeon Flux material available for those collectors interested in the series. There are four Aeon Flux videos available from MTV/Sony on VHS and DVD (Aeon Flux, Mission Infinite, Operative Terminous, and The Complete Aeon Flux), an Aeon Flux novel, Aeon Flux: The Herodotus File, written by two of the series' scripters, Mark Mars and Eric Singer, from MTV/Pocket Books, and even a cold-cast porcelain statue of the dominatrix/assassin, sculpted by Greg Arnowitz and available by Legendary 3D Collectibles.

What hasn't seen print is an Aeon Flux graphic novel or comic book series, and that, like Aeon herself, is rather difficult to understand.
 
 

--Steve Stiles