Captain Earth

Bones has a strange track record with mech series. Unlike most studios, that focus on recycling Gundam's war commentary or making really cool looking mechs and figuring out the rest from there, most Bones mech shows are based heavily in themes of some sort first and foremost. The result is a very rocky track record, with tons of mixed opinion. Personally, I love their mech stuff, especially the Eureka Seven series. I also got a lot of fun out of Star Driver, even if it's not really properly completed. I had high expectations going into Captain Earth, which shared staff from both franchises I mentioned, and I feel it met a good few of them. It's not one of the best series of 2014, however.

Captain Earth's story follows a young man named Daichi, a guy who's really good with a boomerang and has no real direction in life. He's also the son of a deceased astronaut who saved the planet from the threat of the Planetary Gears, aliens that want to land on Earth and absorb the life energy from all living things on it to extend their lives. Through the intervention of a mysterious girl with a flute, Daichi finds himself in the middle of a mech launching site with a living gun called a Livlaster, along with the knowledge of something dangerous rushing towards the planet. He ends up joining an organization dedicated to protecting the Earth from these alien invaders and meets again with two childhood friends, only to find things are far more complicated than they seem. His old friends are aliens, and another organization called Salty Dog is trying to sabotage the efforts Daichi's group to further the "ark plan," which will save humanity by shooting off a group of gifted individuals to a new place to populate if the Planetary Gears ever manage to reach Earth. With his alien friends essentially enslaved by Salty Dog and the planet under the threat of constant extinction from an enemy nobody fully understands, Daichi has to choose his way in life and become Captain Earth, the main line of defense for humanity.

Trying to sum all this up is incredibly difficult in one paragraph. To simplify things, Captain Earth has the following factions; Globe (which wants to protect the planet), Salty Dog (the forerunners of the "ark plan" who constantly act as political interference for Globe), the Planetary Gears (man-made human life called "designer children" born from the destroyed killtgang aliens that have regained their sealed memories), and MacBeth Enterprises (the company that created the gears by accident and whom are assisting in the ark plan). The Gears are lead by Amara and Moco, two ridiculously dressed teenagers who are manipulating MacBeth's president with an A.I named Puck, and eventually start trying to find their lost comrades in the show's second quarter. Meanwhile, Globe has an adult staff of supporting characters and the four man team of Daichi (the pilot of the Earth Engine mech), Teppei (Daichi's close friend and a designer child), Hana (a brown skinned girl who is central to everyone's plans and has a connection to a powerful craft called the Blume), and Akari (a super hacker who calls herself a "magical girl"). The Gears and Globe's main team are the central characters, while everyone else enters the conflict being used or using another side or faction. This all sounds very complicated, and it can be, but the show mostly comes down to one side trying to stop Daichi's team and the four kids fighting back.

On a surface level, Captain Earth's story is dirt simple; aliens want to destroy all life to extend their own existence, team of kids use giant robots to fight back, rinse and repeat with occasional dramatic turn brought by adults being stupid (something shared with Eureka Seven). Characters are simple and rarely change, with exception to Teppei in the first half and Hana (at least somewhat dramatically) in the second half. Most character arcs are subtle, minor or ignored (exception to two villains towards the finale), leading to very few big moments that can really hook you into the story being told. To offset this, the show offers loud and silly humor and a whole lot of thematic richness that starts to reach on the absurdly intricate. The humor really does make for some of the best moments in the show, especially whenever Akari is doing anything with Daichi or Hana fails to understand basic human etiquette, but that's not what kept me coming back. Like all Bones mech shows I've seen, it's the thematic focus that caught my attention, and there is a ton to read into.

There are a lot of references to Shakespeare here, like MacBeth Enterprises or Daichi's team (The Midsummer Knights), and its not just there for the sake of reference. These various names act as both foreshadowing and alluding to similar themes in Shakespeare's work, while the second name (which gets used a lot) plays double duty for bringing up the imagery of Summer. A major motif in the show is Summer, being mentioned constantly in the logo and stills between commercial breaks, meant to represent a time in youth where we enjoy ourselves the most, while also learning more about ourselves through introspection. You know, a coming of age story. All four of the main cast have their own "summer" of sorts, with Daichi and Hana's at the center, where they understand more about themselves and not what society around them defines them as. The show itself takes place during the Summer and includes a lot of scenes on beaches or with watermelon (a Japanese staple to enjoy the Summer months), and it also stages a lot of major scenes between characters under a starry night with a bright moon, a common visual cue for romance or closeness. Even the Gears have some of this going on in their own arcs, including how Moco and Amara first learn the truth about themselves.

The Killtgang and Hana also have the ability of a telepathic kiss. It's a strange plot point, but fits a lot into the show's running theme of "Summer." Relationships between the characters, both mutual and one-sided, end up playing major roles in the growth of nearly every character. Hana is able to start changing through the influence of Daichi, Teppei gains self confidence through the influence of Hana, Moco starts to find enjoyment in her time on Earth that she spent with Amara, Puck starts to become a central character due to the lust he has for the president's secretary, and so forth. The telepathic kiss plays an important role in the plot by allowing certain characters to share their emotions and memories with others, used by the Gears to regain lost allies. It also acts as a form of extreme intimacy, where two people become connected at the deepest possible level. This all comes back into the central constant literary reference; A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Captain Earth is not meant to be a retelling of Shakespeare's comedic play, but a lot of characters, developments and themes are connected to the play. The most obvious example from the get go is Puck, the A.I working for the Gears, who's directly named after a trickster servant from the play (enforcing this with his mantra of "Puck does not lie"). However, various characters have loose connections to different characters from the play, like how Globe and Salty Dog could be considered Oberon and Titania towards Hana, while Globe's commander and Daichi's uncle could be that to him, the heads of Salty Dog could be a more dramatic form of the snobby critic Philostrate, and so forth. This is important because these connections connect back to that "Summer" theme I keep bringing up. Many of the themes of A Midsummer Night's Dream are contextualized in a new way here, and all the allusion acts as a reminder.

The themes Captain Earth is interested in playing with most are love, identity, gender politics, and sexuality. The original play dealt a lot with how identity changed with being alongside another person, while Captain Earth tries to twist this into another view, in how important intimacy is in personal growth (intimacy is also stretched broad here to include close friendship and parental love). The gender of the characters is briefly played with, showing characters that have more traditional relationships, while others play around with traditional gender roles. Some characters also make strength from their gender, like a later Gear idol who uses her charms to manipulate others, or some developments with MacBeth Enterprises I can't get into without heavy spoilers. Sexuality is treated as a regular thing not to be ashamed of by countless characters (most notably Akari), while some characters also point out odd closeness in a similar way queer theory critics have been for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Of course, there's also that oh so central theme of love, which was taken in a slightly darker way in Shakespeare's play. There, a lot of humor was made from the troubles an intimate relationship can bring, while Captain Earth takes the exact opposite view. Since the series is given a slight super robot show flavor, with a lot of cheese and sincerity, this fits the show better and gives it a more hopeful vibe. That's the ultimate difference between the two works; Shakespeare's comedy was for older audiences who had understanding of love's many problems, while Captain Earth is told from a youthful perspective and is about growth and how intimacy is important in said growth. One is a comedy, while the other focuses more on drama.

This is the type of show made for a more active audience. It's far more rewarding for anyone who pays close attention and picks up on what it's trying to say and how it's trying to say it. As an action mech show, it's a bit less. There are some pacing issues present, especially during the Gear recruitment arc, and some characters start to grate in how they're used. Salty Dog is an annoyance in how dense they are, even if the satire being conveyed with them is pretty spot on. There's also the issue that a lot of the supporting cast gets put to the side to do little of importance in the second half (including Akari, sadly), while major character arcs get paced out a tad poorly. Daichi's arc is the show's backbone, so it makes sense it's a very slow one, but Teppei's is done by the end of the first quarter, with only some revisiting to his confidence issues from there on. Hana also takes a very long time to become interesting as a character and not just a passive damsel. Akari's arc is also barely present, as its just becoming closer to her parents, and it's never given an outright resolution because it's not that necessary. Many of the Gears also feel like wasted potential, which is a real shame as they're all vastly interesting.

These aren't deal breakers, however. The show's humor really keeps things from feeling too monotonous, and the Salty Dog arc in the second half makes great use of tension packed action sequences. Despite some low points, the show manages to be a lot of fun at times, most notably the series first quarter end point. The animation is a bit on the weaker side for Bones, but the 2D mech fights have a fluidity to them 3D mechs just can't match, helped by the colorful and speedy attacks the Killtgang use. Daichi's clunky, slow moving mech coming out on top against them is always fun to watch, and how the show keeps finding new variables for fights keeps things interesting.

The music is loud and victorious, a perfect fit for the show, while the character designs are both ridiculous and wonderful. There's definitely a lot of Star Driver influence here in how much skin is shown or how insanely pretty everyone is, but the show also allows itself to have fun with a lot of gonk faces in comedic bits (Daichi gets some of the best, hilariously). The mech designs are mostly E7 style but clunker for Earth, while the Killtgang's real forms are sleek, color coded, and oddly sexualized or simply informative to the character's personality. They feel very futuristic and stylish, a nice contrast to the patriotic but business first Earth mechs. This really makes up for the shows animation, which is usually pretty constant, but fails to wow most of the series. Bones made this show along side at least four other series, so resources being stretched a little thin isn't too surprising.

If I had any further issues, it would be with plot structure and the use of certain characters. A lot of the Gears end up being swept aside, despite having very interesting pasts. They don't really feel necessary, and this becomes very clear in the finale. Nearly all the Globe characters become functionally useless after awhile, with even the supposedly important scientist character never really gaining any sort of arc. While I can accept that the flute girl is up to viewer interpretation, there's still a lot of other dangling details I wish were touched up upon. On top of that, the show is downright awful at explaining itself for the longest time. I had trouble keeping up with a lot of names and concepts, especially when the Gears are given at least three different group names. There's a lot going on and a lot to take in early on, so be prepare to pay close attention to exposition scenes. They're vital to understanding a lot of plot developments.

Despite all this, I still really enjoy Captain Earth, and I find it absolutely fascinating as such a dense work of fiction. It makes a solid casual watch, but it really rewards those who read into things beyond the surface. Despite losing some enthusiasm in the middle, I really got addicted towards the end and enjoyed every minute of it. Captain Earth is a work held back significantly by its flaws, no question, but it somehow manages to be something great regardless. Consider this another jewel on Bones crown, just with a tiny bit of smug on the corner.


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