Spectacle and tradition are key parts of the super-robot aesthetic; their presence and quality is what defines the action, and their absence is usually part of a key plot point (a good example is how a series such as Evangelion or Rahxephon will avoid showing the graphic methods of their “heroic” robots and instead let the reactions and consequences tell the story). Episode 1 of Captain Earth, a series written in part by Yoji Enokido (who also worked on Star Driver, Rahxephon, and the first Evangelion Rebuild film among others) ended with massive spectacle – a level of ridiculous scale that was quite a departure from the tone set by the episode’s buildup. Humanity’s defences against the alien Kiltgang were shown to be multi-layered and culminating in a network of orbital bases that together helped build a super-robot. Each step of its assembly in orbit increased its size dramatically, and the episode’s ending set it out as an immense, tall-shouldered machine with the bravado, elegance and machismo in its posturing of something like Star Driver‘s Tauburn or Gurren Lagann‘s later-series machines.
Episode 2 restates this construction process briefly and then goes beyond it. The robot is built up as an immense thing made from rough, physical collisions of metal parts, standing in such a way as to dominate the screen – yet as soon as the camera pulls away to put what it is fighting for, the Earth, behind it, it is suddenly tiny. Its fist comparison shot with the Kiltgang machine also uses perspective to make it seem small, clearly putting Daichi on the back foot against an apparently powerful enemy. As the fight begins, the undermining of the past episode’s confidence continues; Daichi is simply unsure of how to proceed beyond a basic understanding of the Kiltgang reaching Earth being a bad thing. The GLOBE operators who supervised the launch are similarly ineffectual, immediately passing control to a third party, the mysterious “Code Papillon.” This whole sequence is somewhat sexually-charged; Daichi, an introverted young boy, is fighting in a hyper-masculine embodiment of human power formed by thrusting a gun into a waiting control-slot and then crashing together numerous rocket-like objects into a male form. His opponent is a cavorting, voluptuous woman and he is immobilised in front of her. Here it is worth considering Enokido’s works (and those of his colleague, Ikuhara.) Series such as Revolutionary Girl Utena played with sexual imagery and language in interesting ways, exploring puberty and sexual expectation within a girls’-school narrative. More apposite here is Rahxephon, a series which through a protagonist much like Captain Earth‘s Daichi brought together sexual maturation and super-robot combat – the Dolems which the Rahxephon fights are a procession of grotesquely caricatured female faces and bodies merged with phallic objects. They are unnerving designs in how they take things which should be sexualised – like a woman’s face with lipstick on – and turn them into weapons, embodiments of some aspect of the Mu operators that pilot them. Rahxephon, in its strange enemy designs, sexual dream sequences in which Ayato is tempted with his subconscious desires and voyeuristic camera angles, is very much a show about someone with repressed sexuality.
Daichi in Captain Earth is portrayed as younger, and yet in the same way is disarmed by explicit sexuality. His opponent of the Kiltgang is over-sexual in a similar sense to the Dolems, but more immature and blatant – a pink ballerina machine with heaving bosoms and flower-like weaponry, piloted by a woman evocative of characters like Eureka Seven‘s Anemone. It is a more childish idea of what an expression of sexual desire is – a giant woman to seduce the giant man. Even the main machine of Captain Earth is almost an innuendo, it is called the Earth Engine Impacter. What permits Daichi to compose himself and finish the fight is the intercession of the young woman going by the name “Code Papillon” – she is presented as a peer to him, and not as an object of desire. Indeed, the closeups of the woman – a comparatively unkempt stock-anime fujoshi archetype in her bank of computers (evoking Tomoko from Watamote or Domeki from Daiguard among other examples) present her as quite the opposite both to the Kiltgang soldier or the hyper-professional GLOBE personnel. She assumes control of the Earth Engine until Daichi comes to his senses, and even then provides the finishing blow by remotely activating its main weapon (an energy spike that “penetrates” the lower torso of the Kiltgang like some mix of Godannar’s Fire Soul Breaker and Super Robot Wars‘ Alteisen’s Revolver Stake). The atypical, “undesirable” woman who is quite anathema to GLOBE’s neat futuristic world of space stations and secret bases is the one who ultimately finishes off the overly forward Kiltgang – as if the fight could not be any more sexually-charged. What this scene also does, outside of its role in showing off the Earth Engine, is provide exposition about Daichi’s role in controlling it. His ignition-key, the gun called Livlaster (a phrase which becomes the episode title), is unique to him, and creates a conduit between pilot and machine which almost obviates his role as pilot. “Code Papillon” can fly the Earth Engine as long as Daichi activates it, although it is less efficient – a neat inversion of the usual idea that an autonomous or uncontrolled super-robot is more powerful than one piloted by an inexperienced pilot. Yet in turn this viewpoint is modified; GLOBE believe that the Livlaster is its own sentient entity, and the Earth Engine provides a way for it to express its will through a host. The scene is being set for a power struggle – pilot versus surrogate pilot versus machine – against an enemy whose own machines seem uncontrollable in their own way.
It is a fairly obvious reading of almost all super-robot animé, with young men as pilots in the central role piloting giant machines called Iron Man or Invincible Superman or Legendary Giant God, to call them macho power fantasies. This manifests in different ways – Dancouga refers to an innate animalistic aggression providing the power, while the less subtle Aquarion and Star Driver – and the Kiltgang in Captain Earth – talk purely about libido and sexual desire as the driving-force of youthful fighting power. There is much of Aquarion in this first fight in Captain Earth – sexual inexperience causing the pilot to freeze, fearful of an unexpected enemy, a familiar woman providing a more easily-comprehended touchstone for the lead man allowing him to come to his senses by eschewing traditional sexuality (the traditionally attractive Kiltgang woman set against the stereotypically-plain “Code Papillon”) and a penetrative, exaggerated finishing move not quite as innuendo-laden as the Mugen Punch thrusting skywards or the 3-D Attack penetrating the enemy from three directions at once. Yet this fight – and thus this reading – is only half the second episode of Captain Earth. As the action returns to Earth, a different side of the story is revealed which places Daichi squarely back as an innocent.