I hesitate to group these two shows together in a single post, because it’s not really fair to either of them – apart from both being science fiction there isn’t much that links them, and the constant comparisons are more than a little silly. But the demands of scheduling being what they are, it’s too useful to digest them this week, so I’ll set those concerns aside.
I’ve compared Sidonia to Attack on Titan, but when watching an episode like this what springs to mind is actually “The Phantom Menace”. If that doesn’t sound like high praise it’s not intended to be, because the most distinctive thing about the first of the Star Wars prequels was how astonishingly bad the character interactions (and acting) were. That was a commonality for much of the three films (it improved in the third, and Ian McDiarmid was always a striking exception) but TPM was surely the worst – it seemed as if George Lucas had lost all inclination and/or ability to write with and work for actual actors.
With Sidonia, there are times when the character interaction almost reaches the “so bad it’s good” plateau for me, with the constant blushing and cliched dialogue and bad situation comedy. But I think it’d be giving the show too much credit to say this was parody – I truly think we’re looking at badly-written dialogue that happens to be entertaining sometimes. That was true in Shingeki as well, though it manifested differently and there were times when I think that side of the series was genuine self-parody. At best, Sidonia is an homage to a school of science-fiction anime where this sort of tone was somewhat expected, but an episode like this is a reminder of why the series is really better off sticking with the hard sci-fi material on display over the prior couple of episodes.
What people tend to forget about the Star Wars prequels is that the overarching story was excellent, and so it is with Sidonia no Kishi too. There’s a lot to take in here – the creepy undead-like elders, the politics of Sidonia (I sense a hint of right-wing nationalism in the writing here, though it’s subtle) the mystery of why the Gauna do what they do. I like it when the series reveals the dark side of life on Sidonia (like Izana’s comment about the “stench”) and I’m always interested when the series peels back the cover to reveal a little more of what’s really happening here and the history behind it. Stuff like the absurd three-way chase of Nagate – with the dead pilot Izumo Midorikawa’s sister Yuhata (Kanemoto Hisako) joining the battle – alternates between painful and unintentionally hilarious, though, and is best dished out in smaller servings than Sidonia seems intent on offering it up. And Kunato remains a stock villain at best, at least so far. Pan the camera out to a wide shot and keep it there and I think you’re going to have a pretty gripping show, but those close-ups are murder.
Captain Earth – 07
Here’s the sci-fi series that seems to have inherited the mantle from Valvrave the one intellectual elitists just love telling us over and over how much they hate. The last couple of episodes have been somewhat indifferent but this one was much better, and I still find myself enjoying Captain Earth for its unpretentious embrace of what it is.
If you accept Nazo no Kanojo X mangaka Ueshiba Riichi’s brilliantly incisive treatise that mecha series are romance anime with the girl as the giant robot, I think Captain Earth begins to be seen in an interesting light. If MGX was a series that turned the notion of mecha representing teenaged girls upside down, I think CE is one that takes the symbolic and makes it literal. Teenagers literally are spaceships. Their pubescent urges literally provide the power source that drives the story, not just figuratively. I’ve seen this show as something of an amalgam of BONES sci-fi ideas in the same way Kakumeiki Valvrave was for Sunrise, and I still think that’s true. But the larger theme behind it now seems more likely to be this notion of taking the symbolic underpinnings of mecha anime (especially BONES mecha anime) and making them literal.
I have some issues with the execution in Captain Earth, and that’s the area where the heavy overlap with the Star Driver staff probably has the greatest impact. There’s too damn much smiling here, for one thing, and too much grandly stepping back and issuing pronouncements in the middle of crises. I get the thought behind it, it’s a stylistic choice – but it’s not one that works well for me. Apart from that, though, I still rather like the characters and the look of the series, and the overall plot is more coherent than in most BONES sci-fi at this stage of the journey.
And this ep seems to have advanced things in a pretty major way. Via Pitz we learn that the Planetary Gears are stuck orbiting Uranus (naturally), waiting to have their ship powered up by Orgone energy. Teppei has thrown over his immortality (destroyed his own “ego block”) and in doing so become a real boy (with his own Livlaster). Tsutomu has officially pulled Akari from the Kivotos list (seemingly with his ex-wife’s implied blessing) and the four teen heroes are now officially a squadron tied to Globe – the “Midsummer Knights“. The name makes even more sense given the connection I hadn’t picked up on until Akari pointed it out – Daichi’s family name of “Manatsu” (just as critically, his father’s name) translates to “Midsummer”. We even get the title of the show tied in – as leader of the squadron, Daichi has been dubbed “Captain Earth”.
All of this plot is pretty out there, of course, but no more so than the likes of Eureka Seven or Valvrave. With a show bent on making symbolism into literalism (Daichi’s launch sequence could hardly be less subtle without actually being X-rated) you’re going to get a far-fetched plot, and if there’s a bit too much fabulousness for my tastes it’s an acceptable toll to pay given the overall entertainment level. There’s still the matter of seeing if and how all the Shakespeare stuff ties in, and I like the way Tsutomu is emerging as a lynchpin character with quite a lot of himself hidden from view. Captain Earth is a long way from perfect but so far at least, it’s delivering a lot more than its detractors give it credit for.