Episode 5 of Captain Earth was a good focus episode for Teppei, characterising him a little more than simply being the alien prince figure. At this stage in the story the question of Salty Dog trying to break up the surrogate family unit is more or less addressed, and the emphasis is far more on how the characters’ conflict against invading aliens proceeds. But ultimately, it remains a story about a surrogate family created out of military comradeship and authority, epitomised by Akari the daughter of the space station commander, and displaced children living together. Broken families predominate – Daichi is an orphan, Teppei and Hana have lived under observation as aliens fallen to earth and Akari’s parents are physically separated.
This status quo of the broken family – of displaced children brought together with a new family unit created from the authority figures they work for – is so normal for the setup of a super-robot animé it seems remarkable to the audience that it should be challenged. It is a cliché that dead or absent parents figure in childhood coming-of-age hero stories, since they add tension and uncertainty to a character’s life – and, in many cases, unresolved questions of grief, vengeance or resentment. In the first episode, Daichi’s father’s death evoked one of the truly iconic self-sacrifice moments in super-robot animé, Noriko’s father taking on the STMC in the prologue sequence of Gunbuster. That sacrifice defined the entire progression of Noriko’s character, and shaped her being a pilot. The early episodes of Captain Earth had a similar progression paced very differently; Daichi’s understanding of his father’s legacy had him strive to pilot and protect the earth – it gave an understanding of selflessness that has so far underpinned the actual combat. If anything, the readiness with which Daichi does help others, does go the extra mile to aid Teppei, puts paid to the initial Rahxephon analogues that at first showed in Captain Earth. Ayato in Rahxephon is never sure how he fits in, and his “family” life – created artificially almost like Daichi’s – never gels or becomes a strong familial unit. It is a story about dysfunctional, secretive organisations and authorities which actively alienate. Captain Earth offers optimism; while there are secrets, they are less destructive.
Even in the series’ broken homes – Akari and her family, or – as this episode shows – Teppei and his father – there is hope. The parents depicted – Teppei’s father Eiji and Akari’s mother Governor Yomatsuri – want to reach out to their children and make right past distance, defying the expectation of continued strife. The adults – as a later scene with Nishikubo back on earth shows – feel a certain contrition about the status quo and are trying to find ways to make it right. The episode’s focus is on Teppei being reunited with his father – creating the expectation for the audience of a moment of reconciliation and a new unified family, even if there is also the expectation of possible tragedy. Yet to do this, Teppei must go to the space station Tenkaidou, and this is possibly thanks to Akari’s “reunion” with her distant mother.
Previously, Akari has been flippant about her broken family, especially her emotionally distant father – yet her mother, the physically distant parent, still cares for her as is shown later in the episode once she reaches Tenkaidou. Yomatsuri is depicted as a mother aware of her physical distance from her daughter – a duty-bound distance since she is commander of the space station integral to GLOBE’s operations – but still doing her best to make things right by trying to secure Akari passage on the Ark, a space mission to help a picked few escape Earth should it ever be necessary. This blurring of the responsibilities of a parent and an authority figure makes her very sympathetic even if, as someone linked to the “Ark Faction” (a group opposed to the “Inercept Faction’s” war favouring exodus from Earth), she is inherently opposed to the protagonists’ views. The concluding scene of the episode, in which Akari apologises for lying to her about the real purpose of her visit to Tenkaidou, has her finally admit that she really does miss her daughter, and while Akari’s concern was initially feigned there is a genuine relationship between them. This is a predictable, pleasant family reunion – but this is not an episode focused on Akari specifically. It is a focus episode for Teppei, whose A-plot runs in the opposite direction to Akari’s subplot – but in an unexpected way. Teppei is sent to rescue his “father”, the man whose genes he shares, from Tenkaidou – the scene is set, once he meets him, for a reunion. As he says himself, “this seems kind of strange to me” – at first this seems to be because he has not met his father (kept in cryogenic suspension) before. But as the episode develops, the truth becomes more obvious – Teppei has no concept of a family, being a “designer child” whose “gene donor” (not even a “father” in the eyes of GLOBE) has been in stasis all his life. There is a flashback to Teppei’s first meeting with Daichi, when he asks what a father actually is, and this frames the remainder of the reunion.
Eiji tries in earnest to pick up with Teppei as if nothing was wrong, as if he was simply the estranged or absent father – he talks about having never read to his son, and tries approaching him as a parent. Yet Teppei, it is made clear, has no concept of what a father is, or why the relationship matters. He claims “I don’t see you that way”, appreciating that Eiji is important but not understanding how or why precisely. This, in essence, does more to present him as “alien” than any scenes of him conjuring rainbows or piloting the Albion – he is a child whose life has been so strange that he has no concept of the most basic of things, parents. As they help each other try and escape Tenkaidou and the Salty Dog spies trying to capture Eiji, the relationship that emerges is not a familial reconciliation but instead a kind of grudging friendship, which makes Eiji’s ultimate sacrifice – turning himself in to allow Teppei and Akari to escape the station – have a very different emotional effect. Nishikubo and Akari understand why it matters – Eiji has been able to see his son and at least try and set the record straight with him – but Teppei’s understanding of it is subtly different, the loss of a friend. The episode ends with Nishikubo telling Teppei that Eiji apparently escaped captivity and is in hiding – but it is hard to tell if this is a well-meaning lie or the truth. It has also revealed a little more about Teppei’s own nature – he is definitely linked to the alien, and afraid that at some point he will rejoin the Kiltgang, but at the same time he has lived as a human and has an apparently human father. Eiji’s imprisonment on Tenkaidou came as a result of him trying to save Teppei from being an experimental subject of the Macbeth group, calling into question precisely how much humanity knows about its enemies – and why it is so heavily factioned in the face of an organised threat.