“Earth Engine Open Fire”「アースエンジン火蓋を切る」
It seemed like just another run-of-the-mill Bones mecha anime but this opening episode was so stunning every second was worth it
twice thrice over.
Wow. What a fantastic opening episode for opening fortnight. Seriously, it was more like watching a movie than a made-for-TV anime. The ending credits (OP by Flumpool) even streamed in like they do in a movie! Bones’ contribution to Spring 2014 was definitely worth the hype regardless of whether you’re a mecha fan or not. Here’s why:
Bones. Enough said. I mean, they were the studio behind FMA Brotherhood, Star Driver and most recently Noragami. Expect nothing but the best quality of animation and CGI, very important in those coming battle scenes! Just look at that gattai sequencing – haven’t had that sort of mini adrenaline rush from just watching anime, in a long time – “SKY GATE OPEN. MARINE GATE OPEN. ROAD GATE COORDINATES ARE ALL GREEN. EXPANSION SEQUENCE HAS ACTIVATED”. Bones really went all out here and I sincerely hope it stays this way.
Speaking of Star Driver (SD), as described on MAL, Captain Earth is brought to you by more or less the same team behind SD – director Igarashi Takuya, series composition and script Enokido Yoji, chief animation director Ishino Satoshi and music by Kousaki Satoru (MONACA). That might explain why while watching Captain Earth, I was reminded of SD – on the surface they share the same look and feel; Moco’s mecha looks like it came straight out of SD (ok, maybe some slight modification…). Even the insert song (it’s only ep 01 and we’ve got a very impressionable insert song already) sounded similar to Sakana-chan’s insert song (Monochrome) in SD. Kousaki Satoru has a vibrant emotional draw to his compositions so if you liked his work in SD, Suzumiya Haruhi, Hourou Musuko or Bakemonogatari, you know to listen out for his tracks here.
It’s just a reminder though, not an exact replica of SD. Captain Earth seems more mainstream – Daichi’s mecha robot looks like a bad-ass version of Gundam’s GN-001 Gundam Exia on steroids. It also has a pretty much tried-and-tested (trope) set up – unhappy high school boy with no powers or training whatsoever, sits in the cockpit of the most kick-ass mecha and suddenly is bound to protect all humanity; girl and boy bred in a lab but with extraordinary powers that may be key to saving humanity in spite of not knowing what being human is (they’ll get to it in the story surely). But I have faith that Captain Earth will be more than mainstream and yet not veer too close to SD’s spin on mecha. Enokido Yoji has worked on light-hearted dramedies (Nodame Cantabile, Ouran High School Host Club), heart-pumping action-packed thriller (Redline) and cult favourites (Revolutionary Girl Utena and to some extent SD) where you know you like the story but can’t quite express why, apart from it being so different from the norm (anti-trope). If you look closely, we got a bit of each in this first episode. We got the light-hearted moments like when Daichi entered the old abandoned-looking building alone – hilarious expressions there when he knew better than to follow the strange little girl (she even blows a recorder = ghost/spirit flag!) but still does anyway, we got drama in the flashbacks to Daichi’s father’s (Morikawa Toshiyuki) sacrifice and action, glorious sequencing of action. Mainstream mecha is usually full of cheesy lines but Enokido’s take on hope is the least cheesy I’ve heard in a while – ‘Hope means believing that the future will be better than today’.
For us Koekara writers, the most important factor in deciding whether or not to watch an anime is by considering who’s cast in the show, especially if it’s a genre we’re not usually keen on watching. Gladly, Captain Earth is in the safe hands of quite the line-up of seiyuus who have all also made appearances in mecha anime before so it’s veterans in charge this time. Irino Miyu and Kamiya Hiroshi were both in Gundam 00 (Saji Crossroad and Tierie respectively) and rest assured they’ll deliver the chemistry needed for main male protagonists Daichi and Teppei – they’re both also in this season’s Kamigami no Asobi and Haikyuu, over and above their singing unit KAmiYU which gave us the strangely addictive Karneval ED song “REASON”. I have a soft spot for Irino Miyu who if I’m not mistaken, debuted as ill-fated Haku in Ghibli’s Spirited Away. He’s nothing short of amazing for me – solid comedic timing (just watch Danshi Koukou sei no Nichijou, Kimi to Boku and Tsuritama) but also beautifully memorable dramatic, emotive characters (Syaoran in Tsubasa Chronicles, Jinta in Anohana). Pardon my lack of sense here but he just sounds so… human and raw. He’s been off the anime circuit for a while so it’s great to have him back voicing a main character again. As for HiroC, he’s got a permanent spot in many viewer’s hearts I’m sure :) His Teppei is young and troubled/tragic, a combination we last heard in Devil Survivor 2 (Natsume was more gentle and quiet) so as with all his other works, Captain Earth is bound to be a treat for HiroC fans. The rest of the cast – Kayano Ai has been in Aquarion Evol and Guilty Crown, Hidaka Rina in Accel World, Koyama Rikiya (the ojisan in the cast) in Full Metal Panic Second Raid, Toyonaga Toshiyuki and Uchiyama Kouki both hot off Buddy Complex and 10 years ago, real life husband and wife Suzumura Kenichi and Sakamoto Maaya played a couple in Gundam Seed Destiny (and in Final Fantasy VII Advent Children) so it’s nice to see them play a couple (I ship them already I don’t care) once again, especially a couple of sinister, blood-thirsty antagonists.
But having the seiyuus alone doesn’t necessarily make the mecha genre more enjoyable even if you’re a seiyuu’s fanboy/girl. Mecha is always about blood-pumping, hot-headed action revolving around a misunderstood, angsty teenage hero. I blame Sunrise’s Gundam franchise. So when shows like Neon Genesis came along combining mecha + philosophy, the target audience had since expanded beyond shounen through the inclusion of such other sub-genres: romance (Aquarion Evol), space opera (Macross Frontier), throw-back 90s parody of fabulousness (Star Driver), revolution by high schoolers (Code Geass) and all-out outlandishness it even got vampiric (Kakumeiki no Valvrave). So what is Captain Earth’s sub-genre that might entice you to stay? Well so far with episode 01 it shows promise of domestic political disagreement what with earth having 2 factions appropriately named Ark and Intercept, evidently on polar opposites of the Captain project (tentative name). We don’t know what the bad guys’ agenda is but considering this is their second attack on earth in quite some time because they finally managed to get a “last person”, a war is definitely on the horizon and maybe the moon might get completely obliterated this time.
Daichi is bored of his normal high school life (I do agree with the guy – studying should be for things that interest you. Who cares if you can do calculus when you’re an adult?) and wonders when it was since that he got sick and tired of the wind that blew in the city he lives in – sounds jaded enough for a 15 year old. Is he in the shadows of his father by the very fact that his father’s a self-sacrificing astronaut/captain who’s death makes it more difficult to step out of? Notice how his uncle defends him so at the PTA – Daichi is not his father and does not need to follow in his father’s footsteps (there unfortunately, really exists such idiot educators/teachers who compare children to their parents). But by stepping into the mecha robot, he’s doing just that. So as with all shounen mecha plotlines (i.e. trope), the character development you can expect here will probably be about a sped-up maturity phase and seeking out one’s own identity in the face of war. Nothing’s wrong with trope because that is but one part of anime although I do hope that for Captain Earth, we get to see Daichi’s struggles with his father’s fate for his own and how that forms his own true identity. Don’t think that’s been done in mecha before has it? And what about Teppei and Hana? They seem like children bred for a purpose – not exactly ethical even when you’re the good guys. I do want that ability to cast a circular rainbow (Albion) though.
This opening episode has been a solid gold from start to finish for all. Fans of mecha will appreciate the gattai sequencing and stunning CGI visuals. With Enokido in charge of series composition and script, rest assured we’ll get quality story-telling and pacing. We got a lot of flashback, more so than usual for an opening episode. We also got a lot of exposition set up in between which, just goes to show we’re in for quite an intense storyline. There’s a lot that can be done in 26 episodes or few yet in-depth storylines, both of which Enokido is adept at. So much was introduced here and so many questions left unanswered to hook and draw us in – what’s a captain? Why did Daichi have the gun (Livlaster?) in his hand? Has he got special powers qualifying him as a captain too and that’s why he could release Hana? Someone not just qualified to pilot a machine but to pilot humanity’s truth? Who in their right mind authorised an intruder to pilot potentially humanity’s top weapon though!? ‘When I opened the door called truth, my childhood ended.’ Does this mean childhood is a lie? Does it mean adults always face the truth? Is the world living a dream? Why do the antagonists call themselves planetary gears who’s mission is to reveal the dream of the world? Is there a bigger plot here than just the classic good vs evil? If you watched SD but didn’t like it, don’t brush Captain Earth off. It’s mainstream PLUS and likely to be a Bones favourite in the long haul.