"The original impetus behind the Æon Flux 'Pilot' was a critique of the manipulation of sympathy in Hollywood movies."
Back when MTV produced animated programming (yes, this was a long, long time ago...), they fronted some experimental animation. Æon Flux is probably the third-best known example of these series (after Beavis and Butthead and Daria). Starting out with a series of shorts on Liquid Television, Æon would later spin off into her own series.
Probably the best way to describe Æon Flux is that if you had ever seen it before, you would be able to recognize it immediately. The art style is a strange combination of Expressionism, Cyberpunk, and Gnosticism. One of the most enduring images of the series is that of a human eye staring at a fly that is trapped in its eyelashes, wherein the eye's iris rolls in to stare at it. The episodes would attempt to use the art style to further the viewer's interest as opposed to wordiness. The early shorts had no spoken words to speak of, unless you count a single "plop". As a whole, the show was a thorough Deconstruction of action hero tropes and cliches.
The actual content proves even stranger than the art - our lead character is a highly self-motivated secret agent doing spywork (or possibly just sabotage in the name of anarchy), and is Stripperific to pretty much the greatest conceivable extent. Her arch-nemesis and lover, also a main character, is a morally-ambiguous totalitarian ruler attempting to be a sort of benevolent dictator.
The episodes tend to be fairly disconnected from each other, and center on the two main characters' (Æon and Trevor) interactions, political and personal, and the themes surrounding them.
The show was made into a live-action movie in late 2005 starring Charlize Theron, in which the plot, characters, themes and artistic style were unrelated enough to original series to cause the original creator to feel humiliated when he saw it. A licensed tie-in game was made to try and link the two, but that didn't end well.
- All There in the Manual: There was a companion book published during the airing of the third season, The Herodotus File, which saw a brief return to print as a tie-in with the movie. It was a set of Fictional Documents telling the story of how Æon and Trevor first met and other info about their world. This being Æon Flux, it doesn't really have much effect on the Canon, such as it is.
- All There in the Script: The names of most of the characters in the silent shorts, which are also mentioned in the DVD commentaries.
- Animesque: Obviously the show's unique style of animation was at least inspired by Japanese anime.
- Anti-Hero: Æon Flux's actions are often morally questionable at best and she is generally portrayed as being cold, calculating, and (at least seemingly) heartless, although she does generally complete her missions for the sake of others. In the original short episode pilot, before the characters were fully realized, she filled the role of a satire of a typical action hero in that her wanton slaughter of Mooks is put to serious question, she winds up getting herself killed at the end, and doesn't even actually accomplish her goal, which someone else ends up completing independent of her and for completely different reasons.
- Anti-Villain: Trevor Goodchild is a morally ambiguous figure much like Æon Flux is herself. He genuinely believes that his people are better off by submitting to his authority, just as Æon is convinced that her borderline terrorist activities are also for the greater good.
- An Arm and a Leg: Amputees are common in Bregna, most of them apparently being people who failed to make it across the border into Monica.
- The Artifact: Both Æon's theme tune and the "Breen National Anthem" are musical artifacts from the shorts. Æon's was originally meant to be a Suspiciously Similar Song version of the Indiana Jones theme, to fit with the Deconstruction of action movies. The basic tune remained as her Leitmotif for the remainder of the series, though mutated into something much weirder through Drew Neumann's distinctive style to better fit the tone the series ended up taking on. As for the Breen theme, it was originally meant simply as a leitmotif for Breen soldier Vaarsche Lockney, intended to invoke a Wagnerian feel to fit his blonde, Germanic looks.
- Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny: One of Æon's many flaws in the silent episodes.
- Author Appeal: Peter Chung obviously has a thing for domination, feet and eyes.
- Bootstrapped Theme - See under The Artifact.
- Broken Pedestal - Gildemere spends most of Utopia or Deuteronopia trying to rescue Bregna's elected leader, Clavius and spends hours pouring over the documents he left behind, believing their incomprehensible gibberish to be a brilliant cipher. He's none too pleased when Clavius comes back and immediately orders the gangsters he'd been colluding with released from prison and reveals that the flying saucer men are not, in fact, a codename for the ministry of justice.
- The Caligula - Clavius, as it turns out. Trevor himself, while generally competent, isn't above using his position to gratify his own sexual appetites.
- Characterization Marches On - Between seasons two and three, Æon changed from an Ax Crazy Failure Knight who would slaughter large numbers of random Mooks, but usually failed at whatever she was actually supposed to be doing, to a cold, calculating and highly manipulative Chessmaster.
- Chekhov's Gun: Extensively used to set up the small events that screw up Æon's missions.
- Cloning Blues: Averted hard by the clone of Æon made by Trevor. Aware of being a clone, she is perfectly OK with her existence and her role in the original Æon's Batman Gambit.
- Chickification: Arguably happens several times.
- In "A Last Time for Everything," Æon clones herself, with the intention of seducing Trevor to let her clone get the drop on him. Rather than seduce him, her original self falls hopelessly in love with him. Her cloned self remains true to her cold-blooded original personality, however.
- In "Reirazure," Æon has a lover's quarrel with a crippled man, causing her to burst into tears.
- The ending of "Chronophasia" where Æon is seen in a contemporary setting driving a young boy to a little league game.
- Combat Stilettos: Averted in most episodes. Æon's many outfits run the full gamut of practical to highly impractical fetish wear, but she wears regular flat-heeled boots more often than she does high heels (this is even important in the pilot episode, where she steps on a nail).
- Creator Breakdown - According to Peter Chung, Æon Flux was first conceived while Peter was working on the pilot for Rugrats and grew frustrated with the many animation limitations that came along with working on the show.
- Creator Cameo: Producer Japhet Asher appears in a significant minor role in the Season 3 opener; several extras throughout the third season are voiced by writer Mark Mars.
- Cyberpunk - Biopunk with expressionist touches. Played completely straight in the film.
- Disaster Dominoes: Several of Æon's missions fail because of an escalating series of accidents, but none more so than in "Ether Drift Theory".
- Emperor Scientist - Trevor.
- Even Kinkiness Has Standards: When an "alien" offers to trade eyeballs with Æon (see below):
Æon: Oh my god, no! I'm sorry, but there are some things even I won't do!
- Exotic Equipment - Various forms, partly to get past censors by using nonstandard methods of copulation, and partly because, well it's Æon Flux. Examples include a woman with a gap in her spine (due to injury/surgery) having her spinal nerves manually stimulated with medical tools (which, incidentally, was proven to be viable by some doctors in Real Life a few years after the show came out), sexual imagery involving a behavior-altering mechanism implanted forcefully through the navel, and a species of humanoid "aliens" who apparently engage in sexual contact by taking out an eyeball and replacing it with that of their partner.
- Face Palm: Done by Æon as she plummets to her death after completely botching an acrobatic manoeuvre on the outside of a plane; also when she watches the embarrassing security camera footage of her falling off a ladder.
- Fake Ultimate Mook: "Ether Drift Theory" introduces a stunning six-armed, purple woman with Prehensile Hair who is Trevor's new right-hand woman, "the Republic's tax money at work." She's killed by metal-seeking bees a moment later.
- Foot Focus - Æon likes having her feet licked. Another character notably has hands instead of feet.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: The ending of the pilot reveals Trevor Goodchild's name, since his signature can be seen on the money where his face also appears.
- Friendly Enemy - Despite having completely opposing philosophies and fighting against each other regularly, neither Æon nor Trevor want the other to succumb to any serious harm and there is some obvious sexual tension between the two of them. They have also been known to suddenly make out after meeting on the battlefield.
- Government Conspiracy
- Grey and Grey Morality - Or, arguably, Blue and Orange Morality, since both Æon and Trevor's ideologies are taken to such extremes that they are impossible to judge by real world standards.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: To a ridiculous extent. (In fact, intentionally overdone as a deconstruction.)
- In Love with the Mark
- In Medias Res: Each episode begins this way.
- Leg Cannon: See Foot Focus.
- Le Parkour: Æon's most important skill, even though the series began before the word parkour entered into common use. (Her movements are jerkier than parkour usually prefers, however.)
- Lost in Transmission: A rare example that doesn't involve actual transmitting equipment. At the beginning of "The Demiurge", Trevor is speaking with an underling when he suddenly recalls a vital piece of information. What he says is "Wait, I remember!" -- and what he says next is drowned out by the sound of an explosion behind him. It is possible to make out what he's saying if you listen extremely carefully, but the line appears to have been lifted at random from a later speech in the same episode and the animators made no attempt to match the lip flaps.
- Meaningful Name: Some of the characters' names are somewhere between this and Punny Name. Æon Flux's name implies upheaval and change and literally means "Eternal Change". Trevor Goodchild's name implies obedience; interestingly, Peter Chung took the name from a classmate. Donna Matrix sounds like "dominatrix." A semi-religious Monican is named Zennith Nader, and a self-obsessed Breen is named Onan.
- Mind Screw: And how! The DVD commentary for the episode "Chronophasia" explicitly apologizes that they don't even really have any good, objective answers as to what it's all about. Peter Chung has explicitly said that he'd rather the viewers work it out for themselves than rely on Word of God.
- Mundane Dogmatic: Aside from most of the episodes directed by Howard Baker. And the aliens. See above.
- Negative Continuity: Most obviously in the silent episodes, and to a lesser extent in the talkie ones.
- Monologuing: Trevor was deliberately conceived as being overly verbose and having a certain amount of pomposity as a contrast to Æon's clipped, sarcastic speech patterns.
- Never Bring a Knife to A Fist Fight: Subverted and then played straight. In the pilot, Æon simply shoots a martial arts-displaying redshirt. In "War," a swordsman shows off in front of a gunman, who simply shoots at him, only for the swordsman to deflect the bullet and kill him. Watching the shorts chronologically, the second example works as a subversion of the first scene, given their similar set-ups.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Trevor Goodchild is many things--he's a spymaster, a political leader, and a military leader, but he's also a doctor, and he regularly does doctor work even in other capacities as a form of "community volunteer work." This includes both work with "mental patients" as well as physical things like spinal surgery. Trevor is a very hands-on guy.
- Opening Narration:
The dream to awaken our world.
- Order Versus Chaos: Æon's not actually "good" and Trevor's not really a cut-and-dried bad guy; they're just The Rebel and The Establishment, respectively.
- Our Hero Is Dead: Literally in every single episode during the silent shorts. During the half-hour episodes, however, Æon tends to survive, some partial exceptions being: One episode where a copy of her kills the original (which was planned all along), another where she's trapped in a sea of paralytic fluid at the end (although the fluid could be neutralized), and another where she seems to die multiple times, but nobody knows what the hell was literal in that episode anyway. Explained somewhat in the video game.
- Playing with Syringes: Trevor.
- Police State: Both incarnations of Bregna.
- Post Cyber Punk: Deconstruction of Cyberpunk, anyway.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The video game. The creators were obviously fans of the original series and did their absolute best to try to capture the feeling of it, using many designs and plot references from the cartoon. Still, as it was produced as a movie tie-in, they had to include several character designs and plot points from the film, much to the game's detriment.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Trevor and Æon, respectively. The vain and people-oriented red oni (Trevor) represents order, while the cold and anti-social blue oni (Æon) represents chaos.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Trevor Goodchild is the leader of Bregna, but he's also a doctor and he does lots of community volunteer work. He's also extremely hands-on in whatever the episode is about; he doesn't just issue orders, he gets in there and gets his hands dirty.
- Scaramanga Special: Trevor's got a cigarette case that unfolds into a pistol; this becomes very important in one episode.
- Shout-Out: The plot of "End Sinister" is one big shout-out to a weird-ass French sci-fi animated film called Gandahar.
- In a reference to Indiana Jones, the episode "War" has a soldier making an elaborate sword dance while facing another who simply looks at his gun and then back to the swordsman. In this case however, the swordsman blocks the bullet with his sword and then impales the shooter.
- Stripperiffic: Many outfits worn by various characters are a shade away from pure bondage gear, most notably Æon's. In the DVD Commentary, Chung states that the lack of significant clothing also served to make the body language in the silent shorts easier to see, and compared it to the popularity of nudity in art.
- Sympathetic POV: Played with in the original short episode pilot and in the second short episode. "Pilot" opens with typical action movie music and Æon gunning down extremely implausible numbers of soldiers, action hero style - then the perspective abruptly changes to that of two enemy soldiers trying to support each other as they gasp for life, shot and dying in the middle of a giant pool of blood. In "War", the identity of the protagonist changes every 20 seconds or so, each one dying when his time is up, as a satire of how viewer sympathy is manipulated in typical action movies.
- They Killed Kenny Again: Æon, during the short episodes.
- Too Dumb to Live: Literally. Most of Æon's deaths in the shorts are a direct result of stupid mistakes, when they're not Necro Non Sequitur, which is quite often. This is partly a satire on the trope of the invincible hero in more typical action works.
- Twinmaker: In one episode, Æon herself gets cloned, and conspires with the original on an assassination attempt. At the end of the episode, one of them is gunned down. It wasn't the clone.
- Duplicated, not cloned. The show avoided using the term clone because Trevor's process was apparently quite different, as duplicates retained full memories and personalities of the original.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The security-obsessed technocrat Trevor is the more obvious example, but one could make a convincing argument that the anarchist Æon fits in right next to him.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: The concept of Mooks is brutally deconstructed in the second part of the pilot, which reminds us that under their masks, Faceless Goons are human beings too. (Also see Anti-Hero and Sympathetic POV.) The film plays it completely straight, by having Æon and Trevor casually kill huge numbers of Faceless Goons with no questioning at all.
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Trevor has so many different sub-occupations he can be slotted into whatever role the story requires of him; he's always a leader of some sort, and always an intellectually skilled person (usually a doctor or scientist).
- Writing Around Trademarks: Because MTV didn't support the release of Drew Neumann's soundtrack album, the album had to use the title Eye Spy: Ears Only, Confidential and not mention Æon Flux at all. Peter Chung drew the cover art using Expies of his own characters.
- You Are Number Six: Many of Trevor's immediate subordinates have numbers instead of names.