That Captain Earth takes the time to begin to explain itself in its fourth episode is refreshing; it does it through an episode with minimal emphasis on the super-robot aspects which finally brings the enemies forward in the flesh. Previously, the series has been interesting in how although the enemy machines are piloted, they have acted in the form of autonomous machines (with their destruction leading to a cube returning to base with the pilot within) – and there has been next to no characterisation via interaction. Thus an episode which has them directly attack GLOBE as infiltrators, and has them interact directly with characters such as Teppei will inherently clarify much of the world’s mysteries. However, as this kind of series typically offers, the details left unclear are equally interesting as those which are revealed.
For once, the ritual of the enemies’ preparation to attack is left unclear; they simply arrive as humans do, reaching the island on a boat to keep up appearances of humanity. They are also, interestingly, capable at this; their plan is well-executed and although the episode has elements of comedy it avoids the usual jokes of aliens trying to fit in on Earth. SDF Macross is perhaps the archetypal example, with its alien infiltrators bumbling about and encountering a series of culture shocks, but the idea of enemies conspicuously acting “normally” is a source of comedy in various animé. The Kiltgang, however, can rely on the fact that they have not introduced themselves to simply walk straight into GLOBE like any other infiltrator would – with a reasonable disguise and their superior technology. Thus for all the series is ridiculous, and emphasises a heightened world, its villains are straightforward and thus able to mostly wrong-foot the heroes. The ridiculousness of Captain Earth is itself interesting; it is a series which emphasises theatrics of all kinds, from the flamboyant fighting styles of the Kiltgang to the lengthy and inefficiently designed combination sequence of the Earth Engine itself. This is supplemented by a very stylised aesthetic, from caricature faces to dramatic stills of the Earth Engine to show its importance – it is a series that, when it is being fun will look fun and when it is being dramatic will look dramatic. The robot itself sits in an unusual midpoint here; it is dramatic, and the fights are high-stakes (as the conversation at the conclusion of this episode in which it is claimed humanity would simply “lose” if a Kiltgang reached Earth with its super-robot suggests), but at the same time it is ridiculous and the series knows it. Daichi’s “uniform” for piloting is a garish one reminiscent of 70s animé by way of characters like Dandy from Space Dandy or Loran from Turn-A Gundam, painting him broadly in the strokes of a science-fiction hero and particularly the pulp, simplistic and most notably idealist one. Similarly Akari is in her own way larger-than-life, not so much embodying a fictional archetype as the archetypal fiction consumer in her preoccupation with magical girls.
The juxtaposition of a magical girl afficionado and a super-robot pilot as the two extremes of a larger-than-life world is interesting; Akari is, at this stage, the supporting character who enables Daichi to do things he would not normally – be that piloting the Earth Engine or, with her help, building up the courage to help Teppei and Hana. Consider the fundamental difference in how the characters have their moments of strength – Daichi’s is inherently solitary and impersonal, with him isolated in the cockpit behind a helmet and surrounded by space. Any support he receives is second-hand – advice on how to do his job. Akari’s strengths are both physically in social spheres (being a friend and surrogate family member for the displaced children Teppei, Hana and Daichi) and supportive – she helps others directly with her skills, rather than saving an abstracted “humanity.” If Captain Earth stands, as arguably Aquarion did, as a power-fantasy for Daichi then what it says about a strong and powerful woman in Akari is more interesting. “Strength” for Daichi is standing up idealistically to be the iconoclast and individual hero – fighting Salty Dog, piloting a robot and so on out of a sense of duty to his male role models and his friends. Strength for Akari is working with others, which somewhat befits her comparisons of herself to a magical girl. The fighting magical girl, with examples ranging from Sailor Moon to Pretty Cure, works as an ensemble much of the time – and traditionally the enemies are formed from negative aspects of society. Sailor Moon is archetypal here – the Youma are formed from the obsessions and weaknesses of people around the heroes and use personal crises to build towards a global-scale threat. Usagi fights as part of a team and there is no shame in needing the help of others. Consider that in comparison with even the team-based super-robot animé; there the threat is always planetary first and personal second, and personal drama – from mysterious women interceding to the main character losing the use of his arms (as in Combattler V) is always seen as an impediment to the important business of saving the world, to be powered through and manned up about. Thus there is really little shame or subversion in Akari being the magical girl to Daichi’s robot pilot; if anything, her abilities are more directly useful as shown in episode 4 when she is able to counteract the Kiltgang’s sabotage of GLOBE while Daichi’s idealism and more limited “use” leave him on the sidelines.
In these analogies, Teppei and Hana are particularly interesting; as the remaining two members of GLOBE’s younger team they are empowered alien entities who can do their own important things. Teppei can pilot the second robot, Albion, which is shown to be equally as powerful as the Kiltgang and more powerful than the Earth Engine. Hana is as important to helping him as Akari is to helping Daichi – and indeed, with them both as alien intercessors in a war between humans and their own species they are certainly protagonist material. Teppei may as well be Ayato Kamina of Rahxephon or Marin of Baldios. Episode 4 explains much about Teppei – including his alien parentage. As a Kiltgang himself, capable of merging with the Albion to pilot it much as his “enemy” counterparts Amarok and Malkin can with their robots, he was initially a subject of scientific curiosity – GLOBE took him from the mysterious Macbeth Enterprises, a company who performed illicit research on the “Machine Goodfellows” the Kiltgang pilot and who apparently know about the Kiltgang. The theme of Captain Earth taking place in a world partially compromised by aliens (yet still at very open war with them, fought in dramatic scale with super-robots) recurs – somehow Amarok and Malkin reached Earth with an ice-cream van and walked effortlessly into GLOBE, and somehow Macbeth had acquired a Kiltgang machine and its pilot.
It took some time for the relevance of the organisation being named GLOBE to occur to me; I was initially blinded by the obvious comparison to Rahxephon’s TERRA, a similar organisation with its own alien machine, alien defector and island base. However, the arrival of a rival organisation called Macbeth, and the emphasis the story places on play-acting and theatrics, makes the Shakespearean allusion somewhat more obvious. It is currently hard to tell what will be done with this – it seems more a thematic sensibility than anything of obvious plot significance to me – but nevertheless the importance of playing roles is proving the important link.