Episodes 2 and 3 of Captain Earth – Chasing Normality

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The second episode of Captain Earth was effectively formed of two parts – an action sequence which built up Daichi (literally, as his robot was constructed) and then tore him down as he was unable to fight when it mattered, and subsequently the fallout from this. Despite there being a significant number of observers to this – the audience joining a crowd of crewmen from GLOBE both on Earth and in space – the fight and its resolution were intensely personal affairs between Daichi and his companion – almost a co-pilot – Code Papillon. This isolation – the distance that being in space, in a one-man cockpit and indeed a one-on-one duel with an unknown enemy – is something that super-robot animé makes a focus across the genre. A robot needs a sizeable ground crew and infrastructure – as the Earth Engine’s combination sequence shows – but is ultimately powerless without the efforts of one person. That this person is rarely the ideal one for the job – and the conflicts that this results in – thus provides a core for the human tension that must counterbalance the action.

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Upon Daichi’s return to Earth, he becomes a test subject and object of scrutiny; his becoming the key to the aliens’ defeat was apparently unexpected, as is common, and now GLOBE are trying to establish what makes him – and his childhood friends, who seem equally entwined in the conspiracies and mysteries – so special. At first the visuals – of Daichi under investigation, medical testing and surveillance – evoke Rahxephon. Indeed, comparison seems incredibly natural on a level beyond the sexual thematic similarities of the fight itself – a nervous boy piloting a strange robot, being placed under observation by a suspicious organisation (called GLOBE to Rahxephon’s TERRA) and meeting other strange children while there. When complications are added to this simple relationship via the pseudo-military organisation Salty Dog, one can draw parallels with TERRA’s interaction with the highly suspicious military. Salty Dog are established as knowing about – and supervising – the Impacter project, which apparently has multiple layers. The Earth Engine is – as was shown in episode 1 – part of a wider (and apparently mostly efficient) defence network of which GLOBE is a small part, and the Earth’s survival relies on co-operation. In episode 3, Salty Dog calls GLOBE its “observation and protection subjects” – it wants control over Daichi, the Earth Engine and the other children.

[HorribleSubs] Captain Earth - 02 [480p].mkv_snapshot_12.38_[2014.04.14_22.54.57]

The tension between collaboration for survival and organisations seeking control is given a slightly different spin in Captain Earth to its natural comparison points – Salty Dog are not, apparently, a governmental organisation but instead a private one allied to the rival Ark Faction. This is not a conflict of interest between state and private organisation (as mecha parody Dai-Guard continually pokes fun at) but instead rival private organisations unwilling to co-operate for ideological reasons. Episode 3 continues this theme more strongly with Salty Dog manipulating Daichi as their grip on GLOBE as a whole loosens, but from the start the series has established a factional conflict of interest within those supposedly defending Earth. Daichi’s uncle, GLOBE’s Commander Nishikubo, insists Daichi must keep the “truth” about GLOBE a secret yet precisely to who – given the spectacle of the Earth Engine’s preparations to fight and the massive scale of the Impacter system – is a mystery.

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Yet the actual conflict – taking the disagreement beyond opposing ideas of how to use the Earth Engine and the children – is started by Daichi and has nothing to do with the robots or their use. He is not interested in the politics and machinations, instead simply welcoming his reunion with Teppei and Hana – and he is open about this both to Salty Dog and GLOBE. Unlike Ayato in Rahxephon who resents being kept in the dark, Daichi is willing to pilot because it is the right thing to do, and because it allows him to live up to his father’s reputation. While he is not perfect, he is motivated, and in turn this becomes a way for him to be “used” in what forms episode 3’s climax when Salty Dog play on his grief over his father to make him fight even when the Earth Engine is not ready. Yet this motivation is, and this is the key part of his character, a personal one not one to any particular organisation – he will fight in his father’s name for Salty Dog or GLOBE, but when the two organisations are airing their tensions in the scenes in episode 2 post-landing, he will ignore this and focus on his friends. It is this resistance to Salty Dog’s methods – his trying to continue the interrupted childhood idyll he shared with Teppei and Hana – that reveals the extent of their control, showing the power of their Lead Gear system which confines the children to the base. Daichi’s resistance is apparently suppressed as he too is given a Lead Gear, but in short order he fights the pain it causes him and destroys the system, allowing his friends to reunite with him. This action ultimately articulates what Nishikubo and the science officer Westvillage have been thinking – that Salty Dog are cruel and acting irresponsibly – but it has taken someone acting without care for the Impacters or the Earth’s fate to do something about it. Selfishness is a fairly common trait among super-robot protagonists, a natural obverse to determination and courage – the blind insistence that doing the “obviously” right thing, even when this is not an informed position, is all that matters. It manifests often in the archetypal refusal to fight plot – a pilot will not obey orders that seem to endanger others when often this is part of a ruse or wider scheme. In such cases it is a less optimistic take on the altruistic courage that is a good thing – refusing idiotic orders and going back to save innocents because the pilot on the ground has a better view of the situation than the ground crew. In this case, Daichi is acting in a way which will in the long term turn Salty Dog against GLOBE (as is shown in how they are able to use it to manipulate him in episode 3) but in the short term motivates GLOBE to do something themselves. It is something of an opposite to the depiction of similar themes in another Bones animé, Eureka Seven; there, protagonist Renton acts out of self-interest and misconception frequently and ends up endangering missions and causing trouble with minimal good coming from his refusal to trust anyone. Thus there is a positive message within these scenes, made clearest by how Westvillage and Nishikubo go on to act – rather than continuing the theme of adults being disinterested in “childish” concerns and moralities, they do their part to use the power of adulthood to help Daichi – indeed, ejecting Salty Dog from GLOBE.

[HorribleSubs] Captain Earth - 03 [480p].mkv_snapshot_05.27_[2014.04.21_21.54.10]

Episode 3 is thus a continuation of the post-battle catharsis of episode 2 – it is reasonable to say most super-robot animé take a three-part structure of normality interrupted by a crisis and returned to once it is resolved. Clues will be provided in the initial period of normality as to the resolution of the crisis. In the case of episodes 2-3 of Captain Earth, there is no normality immediately following the fight to return to – Daichi has been displaced and ended up being a disruptive element in an unknown society. The plot arc becomes building a status quo – Daichi begins this process, and then Nishikubo expedites it by bringing his daughter – Code Papillon – into the picture. Much as Daichi pricked consciences by showing how bad the Lead Gear was, Nishikubo’s daughter makes him take the next step by mocking his infidelity and absent parenthood. Making her a character who speaks in pop culture references suits these scenes – she is playing the role that the genre expects (the animé heroine) of a child with absent parents. Thus once she has had her time, literally, in the spotlight Nishikubo himself does something – he brings all the children including his own back under his roof and creates a family. It is an atypical one, against expectation – a single parent whose daughter alleges to be unfaithful to his wife – but what matters is that it is a state of normalcy which conflict can then challenge, and crucially one which is built on terms which benefit characters like Daichi. Code Papillon herself takes an interesting role in the GLOBE power structure – as a computer hacker she is able to work outside of the political concerns that tie GLOBE’s hands. Much as Daichi ignored the high-ups’ arguments, she also sidesteps authority to do the short-term right thing.

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Thus as episode 3’s fight ends with the newly-united family unit working together (Nishikubo as commander, his daughter countermanding Salty Dog’s efforts to undermine GLOBE by hacking the Impacter satellites, and Hana and Teppei allowing the second super robot Albion to deploy), the relationships at the centre of the series have been redefined. GLOBE are an organisation centred around one family, both biological (Nishikubo, his daughter and his wife who oversees the Earth Engine combination satellites) and surrogate (Hana and Teppei joining the family in literal terms).

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