Weekly Digest 5/18/14 – Sidonia no Kishi, Captain Earth

Sidonia - 06 -4 Sidonia - 06 -16 Cptain Earth - 07 -22 Cptain Earth - 07 -26

Sci-fi Saturday indeed…

Sidonia no Kishi – 06

Sidonia - 06 -1 Sidonia - 06 -2 Sidonia - 06 -3
Sidonia - 06 -5 Sidonia - 06 -6 Sidonia - 06 -7
Sidonia - 06 -8 Sidonia - 06 -9 Sidonia - 06 -10
Sidonia - 06 -11 Sidonia - 06 -12 Sidonia - 06 -13
Sidonia - 06 -14 Sidonia - 06 -15 Sidonia - 06 -17
Sidonia - 06 -18 Sidonia - 06 -19 Sidonia - 06 -20
Sidonia - 06 -21 Sidonia - 06 -22 Sidonia - 06 -23

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

Cptain Earth - 07 -1 Cptain Earth - 07 -2 Cptain Earth - 07 -3
Cptain Earth - 07 -4 Cptain Earth - 07 -5 Cptain Earth - 07 -6
Cptain Earth - 07 -7 Cptain Earth - 07 -8 Cptain Earth - 07 -9
Cptain Earth - 07 -10 Cptain Earth - 07 -11 Cptain Earth - 07 -12
Cptain Earth - 07 -13 Cptain Earth - 07 -14 Cptain Earth - 07 -15
Cptain Earth - 07 -17 Cptain Earth - 07 -18 Cptain Earth - 07 -19
Cptain Earth - 07 -20 Cptain Earth - 07 -21 Cptain Earth - 07 -22
Cptain Earth - 07 -23 Cptain Earth - 07 -24 Cptain Earth - 07 -25

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.

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13 comments

  1. H

    "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" You know, I can see that actually….

  2. M

    Your arse is still raw over that one.

  3. m

    Comparing Sidonia to Phantom Menace is so on the nose. So much so that it made me think "how the hell didn't I notice that!" Though you need to give Ewan McGregor credit for being one of the only good performances there (I'd say easily better than McDermond's Palpatine even as it made ep 3 as much as Hayden ruined Anakin) Sidonia, as much as any show in recent memory, is maddening in that you can point to so many things that are easily fixed that would make it a much better show. It's hard to understand why they are making these obvious missteps.

    I must have missed the subtleties of Mysterious Girlfriend X, but in what way was that representative of Mecha? And more specifically mecha being teenaged girls? I don't remember anything about mecha ever being mentioned in that show. Though that could be due to the fact that I was not a fan at all of it. I found the main girl to be annoying and the main guy to be a pushover. She was far too jealous regarding things with him for someone sharing drool with random guys/girls, and he let her run the show so to speak a bit too much (though that's understandably not unrealistic for some teenage boys). But mostly it was the drool thing. I know you "exchange drool" so to speak when you kiss, but licking up drool from a desk or putting it into someone else's mouth in another way really grosses me out.
    I don't get the hate for Captain Earth (and Valvrave for that matter) at all. I don't even see Valvrave as "so bad it's good", but more as just being so over the top operatic that it's good. Not groundbreaking, but extremely entertaining, and isn't that the main reason to watch a show? I find Captain Earth to be as straightforward with it's intentions (not story wise but in a pure uncynical sense) as Valvrave was over the top. And I think that's a good thing. It's at the top of anime shows I look forward to watching each week, and even though I get a bit confused about what's all going on (specifically how Teppei and the other 2 are mecha with human avatars, but somehow were created on earth. Were they artifically inseminated?) It's a fun show, and I'll take something that isn't new, smart, or deep over groundbreaking and boring any day.

  4. Ewan McGregor's performance was probably the best in TPM, but that ain't saying much. For me McDiarmid's is far and away the best overall in the trilogy, especially in the final film.

    As for MGX, I can only say I saw that series totally differently than you did. But if we're talking about symbolism here, why would you expect mecha to be mentioned? That wouldn't be a metaphor, that would be a direct representation.

  5. m

    I find the people that knock shows for not being "intelligent" or being "cheesy" bc they don't have include enough cynicism are also a good portion of those people who refuse to accept English dub versions of any anime. They don't hate dubs bc of the often poor acting, but bc somehow it's "untrue to the artistic integrity" or whatever. But basically it seems to boil down to the fact that anime fits that group of comics, sci-fi movies, superhero movies, manga, anime, and other things considered "nerdy" that cause that reaction of elitism of those who enjoy such things. That "you just don't understand bc you aren't as deep, intelligent, blah blah blah as me" attitude people get over any number of interests they have where they try to tell others what they can or cannot like is just pathetic and annoying. It's similar to what you find in Philosophy courses in college, or in the art world that can make talking about those things a chore even if you enjoy them yourself. It makes you want to say, "THAT is why people don't like you. Not bc what you like isn't "cool" or "trendy", but bc you're a pretentious asshole."

  6. m

    I'm not saying I expected someone to transform or jump in a giant robot, I was asking which part specifically was symbolic of Mecha being teenage girls? I'm not saying it's not there, just that it's an interesting point he was making in the show, but I missed it likely due to lack of interest in the show.

  7. R

    @maverick

    "I don't get the hate for Captain Earth (and Valvrave for that matter) at all. I don't even see Valvrave as "so bad it's good", but more as just being so over the top operatic that it's good. "

    The big problem with Valvrave (for me at least) is that it drowned itself in its own absurdities and trying to be too over the top, that the writers seemed to have totally forgotten they were telling a story. The infamous episode 10 was an example. They tried too hard to get some shock value, such that when the response turned out negative, they suddenly shied away from tackling what they have opened.

    As for Captain Earth, at the very least, it is smart enough not to try and pull off the stunts that valvrave failed miserably in doing. Though the hate probably comes from the observation that it isn't coherent enough, such that the themes it is trying to portray feel very pretentious to some.

  8. Maverick, I was responding to your comment "I don't remember anything about mecha being mentioned in that show."

    It's a larger point he's making, that to a teenaged boy, teenaged girls are as mysterious and dangerous as a giant robot. As to how he plays with that notion in MGX t's a subject I covered pretty heavily in my posts on the series, but kind of a tough one to answer in a couple of sentences.

  9. Z

    Can't say that I agree with the supposed Ueshiba commentary on mecha, at least as it applies to mecha series in general, BONES mecha series are another thing altogether. I mean mecha does have a history that precedes the ronery boy in space scenario. Somewhere along the line producers audiences decided they wanted to see more of these coming of age stories masquerading as sci-fi rather than the pure science fiction-based epics.

  10. Z

    I don't think some people dislike Captain Earth because it isn't high brow entertainment, but because it just isn't very good. It's always easier to pejoratively paint detractors as elitists rather than trying to understand where their source of discontent stems from.

  11. m

    I wasn't saying it's elitist to not like CE, and likely neither was Enzo in the post, I was saying that the people who are being elitist about it are annoying. More to the point why would anyone need to understand why someone doesn't like a show? Just don't watch it. Why would anyone discuss something they don't like (unless you were discussing the eps you watched before dropping it)? And what does telling people who like something that it's bad and dumb do? It's absurd. Is the point to tell people what is and is not good so they can make a list of things appropriate to like so as not to offend someone else's delicate sensibilities?
    You said CE isn't very good, and you could list the reasons why you think so, and nothing would be wrong with that. And I'm sure you've prob stopped watching it, and won't discuss the show. But if you started going on and on and saying no one else should like it, or you're dumb if you do, or some other irrelevant nonsense then yeah that's elitist and obnoxious.

  12. R

    Wait, I am a bit confused. Does that mean that eps. 4, 5 & 6 all happened on a single day (basing on the infodump before the OP) or are the subs that i am following wrong?

    Okay, besides a few bits that feel rather disjointed and confusing (still not a fan of the exposition), I actually found this episode fun. That whole watermelon scene is just priceless and provided some nice character moments for the kids. I really loved the part where Akari butted in and pointed out that they are essentially spouting exposition while eating watermelons, very clever. The ending sequence is also quite a nice touch, with Tsutomu dropping in the Captain Earth title.

    Now i am honestly intrigued with the twist in the fight with Amarok and Malkin. So does that mean that Teppei's ego block turned into another livlaster and kept him alive or something? And since the first livlaster was supposed to be hana's, the second Daiichi's, the third Teppei's, I am guessing Akari will somehow get her own down the line.

    Still enjoying thisw pretty much on a per episode level, but i am sticking with it. Can't help but point out that it's too much use of stock footage though.

  13. J

    Anybody ever see the movie Lifeforce? It is based on the novel Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. The space vampires could take the form of the inhabitants of whatever planet they were using at the moment. Better to suck the lifeforce/libido/orgone energy of the locals before they moved on. They were basically immortal, as long as they didn't go too long between meals. Notice that the Planetary Gears sometimes manifest vampire-like teeth.

    Having no set physical form, the Planetary Gears are contained in their Ego Blocks. In this case, they are inhabiting available designer child bodies, which they say they rather like. This implies that they have had other forms in the past. They also currently need to use some human technology to provide energy for their "true" forms. This might not be necessary if they achieve their goal and eventually move on to another planet.

    Teppei rejects his Planetary Gear immortality, becomes homo something, and thus obtains a Livlaster. (Don't think too hard about this). So the Ego Blocks and Livlasters must sorta kinda do something similar. Anyway, this is a great development for Akari because she can now use her own libido on Teppei without it getting eaten.

    Also, Daiichi has manifested super-human abilities, and the Planetary Gears have referred to him as a Neoteny. I am going to speculate that the Planetary Libido of the Earth has called him forth as an antibody to defend against the Planetary Gears. I bet they have previously encountered other Neoteny.

    Finally, MGX rules.

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