Captain Earth Part 1 (Episodes 1-13) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 308 minutes approx.
It’s a good thing we don’t take anime too seriously otherwise we here in the west would be under the misapprehension that piloting a giant mecha to save the earth is a mandatory rite of passage for all Japanese school boys – the ones not living in a house outnumbered by a bevy magical girls that is.
The boy in this case is Daichi Manatsu, prompted to return to the Tanegashima Space Centre, a branch of space organisation GLOBE where he spent his childhood, after seeing a strange rainbow ring on TV. While exploring the abandoned building the spectral figure of a young girl gives Daichi a Livlaster, a powerful gun artefact. The staff from GLOBE finally catch up with Daichi just as an alien attack by the Kill-T-Gang begins. Daichi is inexplicably drawn to a mecha called Earth Engine by the Livlaster which he pilots with ease and repels the alien attack.
The Earth Engine just happens to be the planet’s best defence against the alien attacks so Daichi’s affinity with it could be seen as fortuitous since his father was a pilot killed by the Kill-T-Gang, but the story runs deeper than that. As a child Daichi met a strange young boy named Teppei Arashi, who he recalled could make rainbow rings. The two friends would explore the grounds of the space centre together, discovering a young girl a sleep in a large bubble, who Daichi somehow managed to awaken.
If there is a handicap for any new Mecha show it is how it is hidebound to the conventions of the genre’s oeuvre with little sign of deviation. Captain Earth is no real exception as the above synopsis probably saw your Evangelion recognition detector awaken. Throw in some Aquarion, a slight dash of Eureka Seven and Star Driver – incidentally also from show creator Takuya Igarashi – and you have some idea what to expect from this series.
Diachi is the nominal lead but is part of a colour-coded team with his reunited friends Teppei and bubble girl Hanna Muto along with ebullient teen hacker Akari Yomatsuri – whose unsolicited skills aided Daichi in his first piloting mission – called the Midsummer Knights! Yes, this is another show with frivolous Shakespearean references; the aliens – also known as Planetary Gears – are funded on earth by the Macbeth Company and AI computer system is named Puck.
It is because of Macbeth’s Company involvement that Daichi discovers Teppei and Hana are held under local and key and experimented on because of their Designer Child powers which is eventually overturned. This makes GLOBE an enemy of Macbeth CEO Masaki Kube, who naturally has plans for world domination by exploiting the conflict between the Planetary Gears and GLOBE. The aliens are after the life force known as Orgone Energy which comes from the human libido (calm down, it’s not THAT type of show) which is stored in digitised form called Ego Blocks. If the aliens get all the energy the earth is doomed.
So while the central plotline follows the standard “teen pilots save the world” formula the actual execution is an entirely different concern altogether. The most notable diversion from the template is the lack of mecha battles this far in the first set of episodes. So far there has probably been four head-to-head clashes (which the heroes always win – not a spoiler, an observation against the lazy writing) and they are largely brief too. Back to back battles would naturally become tiresome but for a mecha centred series, the paucity of such action is alarming.
We do get a snazzy extended clip of the various parts and components of the mecha coming together to form the Earth Engine, but the regular repeats reduce it to marking time. The mecha designs aren’t anything fresh or dynamic enough to stand out but the fight sequences themselves are usually fun to watch and well animated, if a little on the short side.
Exposing the problem of having different directors for each episode, much of the narrative is often filtered out to favour a “villain of the week” route – only the villain is the same lot each time. The purpose of this format is to introduce the Designer Children on Earth who the Kill-T-Gang are trying to recruit for their cause, with varying degrees of success. There are a couple of nice little dramatic moments in some episodes but the downside is too many characters coming and going with jarring frequency.
The other central focus is the Midsummer Knights and how their individual personalities and backgrounds affects the dynamic of their working relationship. Daichi – as you have probably guessed by the show’s title – is the leader and unlike other mecha heroes, isn’t bogged down with the usual teenage angst. Teppei is the quiet one who harbours a secret but stands by his friends while Akari is the noisy one and the source of much amusement. Hana is the token eye candy with her curvaceous body and is accompanied by a squirrel creature called Pitz.
Studio Bones handle the animation and to their credit have gone above and beyond what this show deserves, the visual presentation being its greatest asset. The artwork is exceptionally detailed, from external earth landscapes, to internal set designs and the intergalactic battlefields, everything looks glorious and lovingly rendered. The character designs are largely unremarkable – aside from the aliens looking like refugees from a Steampunk comedy – but at least the four leads stands out as unique.
Captain Earth is an infuriating watch in that the ideas are there by the application and presentation of them is maladroit and lacking in focus. Even with multiple directors onboard, sole writer Yōji Enokido must shoulder some of the blame for not being consistent with his storylines.
If you can overlook the flaws, clichés and haphazard execution this is a quick fix solution at best for that anime craving.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black