If there were ever a show that was emblematic of the studio that produces it, Captain Earth is it. Some of the top tier studios – Production I.G. is a good example – don’t have a signature identity, per se. They produce all types of series will all types of vibe. But others, like Brains Base and BONES, have a definite identity even if it doesn’t cross over into everything they produce. There’s something instantly recognizable in a BONES sci-fi series especially, just as there is in the company that gave birth to BONES, Sunrise. And they’re very different.
Captain Earth is pure BONES. It’s a bit of a muddle at this point, a veritable flood of ridiculous terminology, conflicting factions and characters whose (mostly silly) names I mostly won’t remember till June. But the peculiar alchemy of the studio (and not fullmetal, either) is that they can draw me in and make me care, even as I’m aware of the lapses into silliness and the distinctly earnest and idealistic worldview. BONES is a sort of living embodiment of the original imperative of the giant robot anime, as a manifestation of the adolescent male psyche (which Ueshiba Riichi so fascinatingly reimagines in Nazo no Kanojo X). It doesn’t always work for me – this writer and director’s Star Driver is an example of a time when it didn’t – but so far, Captain Earth does.
I certainly enjoyed the premiere, and I think this episode was definitely better. I felt that even if the overall picture is still a bit of a blur, we got a much better sense of who Daichi is as a main character (and I liked what I saw). The set pieces were once again fantastic – this really is a feast for the eyes if you love conventional animation and sci-fi. And there begins to be at least a bit of clarity as to what’s happening here, even if the details are still a long way from being filled in.
We see a lot of favorite BONES themes present here. The absent father, life on an island, alien threats being covered up by the government, warring human factions presenting a threat as great as that of the aliens themselves. There is a certain Star Driver fabulousness here (and Daichi’s mecha is called “Earth Driver”) but in thematically I’m more put in mind of Eureka Seven (more A.O. than the original) and Rahxephon. I’m frankly not sure how well this is going to play with an audience that’s grown used to a far more cynical take on these sorts of themes, but BONES is perpetually stubborn in refusing to be a weather vane.
What we can say for certain is that in addition to the Ark Faction (whose leader comes complete with a dirty-minded AI named Puck) – filling the Committee of 300 role here, it seems – there’s also an evil faction inside Globe, and that would be Salty Dog. They’re using “the “designer children”, Daichi’s old pal Teppei (kudos to Kamiya Hiroshi for disguising his age better here than I thought he could at this stage) and the girl they rescued, Mutou Hana (Kayano Ai) far more roughly than Daichi’s Uncle Tsutomu would like, even planting “lead gears” on their heads to keep them in-line (Daichi later gets one of his own). Acting as a fulcrum and keeping his loyalties shaded is science chief – and I could not possibly make this up – Peter Westvillage (Sakaguchi Kouichi). And the screwy hacker girl we met last week is Yomatsuri Akari (Hidaka Rina), – codename Papillon – who calls herself a mahou shoujo, is an ally (and until now, a secret) of Westvillage (whose character design I really like, by the way), and who manages to help Daichi come back alive from his initial encounter with the Kiltgang (which I still say sounds like a band of Scottish bank robbers).
There’s more, of course. Judging by the terminology used (“Orgone Energy”, “Libido”) sexual desire is clearly a crucial part of equation when it comes to the esper kids (on both sides) fighting power and controlling the mecha (the aliens appear to pass information or memories via tongue kissing). But for now I’m not worrying about trying to sort out the spaghetti strands as much as enjoyable the overall atmosphere and visuals. Daichi stepped up as quite an appealing lead this week, notably absent in self-pity and quite decisive in acting on his beliefs (which manifests in his freeing Hana and Teppei – not to mention himself – temporarily from Salty Dog so he can keep his promise to show Hana his boomerang, geh-heh). Miyu Irino and Koyama Rikiya are two of the best in the business, and they get every ounce of pathos out of each of their roles. Those two should provide a solid core to build around (though Tsutomu is already sporting a few death flags). I won’t deny things could still go either way, but at this point I’m quite engaged by Captain Earth, and it seems to be in the early lead as the best BONES series of the season.