Sunday, 30 November 2014

ExoSquad (1993)

ExoSquad was a 1993 to 1994 animated series, produced by Universal cartoon studios as a response to the growing popularity of redubbed Japanese anime.

The series was notable as being one of the few "western amine" type shows to be successful, as the problem with western attitudes towards animated media tend to pigeonhole it firmly into the "kids stuff" category, thus meaning that plots tend to be uncoordinated and somewhat farcical, with the characters lacking any depth.

ExoSquad completely bucked this trend and, combined with its use of a "realistic" animation style, it is essentially a science fiction space opera.

Two series were made, with a third planned to debut in 1995, however, due to networks treating the series as a disposable "Saturday morning cartoon" and not airing the series in the correct order etc, viewing figures for series 2 plummeted and thus the ok was not given to proceed to the third, and possibly more ambitious, series.

Unusually for a western cartoon, the series explored some very adult topics, such as racism, love, honour, betrayal, military tactics and the consequences of infighting which have disastrous outcomes, which, being as the series was aimed at the teen/young adult demographic, was unsurprising.

The series has received limited releases on both VHS and DVD, but has mostly been released via streaming media in recent years, which has allowed the full series to be seen properly for the first time by people who weren't around for its original airing.

Series 1 begins in the year 2119 with series 2 concluding in the year 2121. Mankind has begun exploring the solar system, and has managed to colonise the Moon, Mars and Venus, with tentative exploratory missions making headway to colonising the outer planets.
Extensive terraforming work has been done, but not fully completed, on both Mars and Venus, making their atmospheres more hospitable to human life, but still somewhat dangerous.
In order to complete the extensive mining work required to access the rich mineral deposits on other planets, in the mid 21st century, Human scientists perfected the art of genetic recombination, and thus created a worker race named the "Neo-Sapiens".
Originally it was thought that these creatures were only capable of simple tasks, and were not sentient at all, however some time in the 2070s, the Neo-Sapiens working on Mars staged a violent revolt.
The revolution, although unsuccessful, did lead to the recognition of Neo-Sapiens as being a sentient species, and their status as a "slave race" was cast off. The Neo-Sapiens were given custodianship over Mars, and at the time of the series beginning, the Neo-Sapien leader, Phaeton, has spent years planning another revolt, however this time his aim is not merely to secure Neo-Sapien freedom (which they already have) instead, his plan is to assure Neo-Sapien dominance over the solar system, with the long term goal of completely eradicating Homo Sapiens.

While the ExoFleet (the name given to the armed forces of this future time because of their use of "ExoFrame" technology to fight with) are distracted by the perceived threat of space pirates, who are themselves descendants of people transported to penal colonies on the outer planets and then subsequently abandoned, the Neo-Sapiens conquer the inner planets in a lightning fast assault.

The series itself follows the exploits of "Able Squad", a unit of ExoTroopers whose role in the war is pivotal in the goal of liberating the inner worlds and stopping the Neo-Sapiens from committing mass genocide.

The main characters are as follows:-

Lt./Cmdr J.T Marsh - Commands Able squad, but is later promoted to be commander of a full platoon. Marsh is a fair man, but does not tolerate members of his squad going against orders. He is fiercely loyal to Admiral Winfield and is a skilled ExoFrame pilot. Marsh usually pilots an aerial assault E-Frame.

Lt./Lt.Cmdr Nara Walsh - Initially Nara is Able squads tactical officer, but gets promoted to squad leader after Marsh's promotion. A native of Venus, her parents were killed in the first days of the Neo-Sapien war, and he younger brother leads the human resistance on the planet. Nara usually Co-pilots the squads ground attack E-Frame with Marsala, but wears a suit of powered armour when working alone.

Lt. Maggie Wilson - Able squads technical expert and field engineer. Maggie is responsible for field maintenance of the squads ExoFrames, and her skills come in handy whenever the squad need to infiltrate buildings or spacecraft without blowing things up, or need some assistance with unfamiliar technology. During the later series, she is often seen helping Professor Algernon. Maggie usually pilots an armed Engineers E-Frame.

Sgt. Rita Torres - Able squads 2iC who harbours an intense hatred of pirates due to an incident in the past where her entire squad was killed in an ambush except her. She was left to die a slow death from suffocation by the pirate Jubail, whom she later encounters when the ExoFleet allies with the pirates.
Torres is a perfect soldier and is very loyal to Marsh. Rita usually pilots a heavily armed assault E-Frame.

Alec DeLeon - Able squads communications and intelligence expert. His skill with computers and technology rivals that of Maggie, but his preference is for active combat as opposed to research. He is eventually killed in the closing days of the war but is resurrected thanks to Neo-Sapien cloning technology, where he begins an oft hinted to romance with Maggie. Alec usually pilots a C3i E-Frame.

Wolf Bronsky - Wolf is the squads heavy weapons trooper. Loud mouthed, rude and gluttonous, but also extremely dependable, Wolf prefers action over stealth and intrigue. When not on mission, Wolf likes to spend most of his time eating, so much so that his speech is often punctuated by a series of loud burps. Wolf usually pilots a heavy assault E-Frame.

Kaz Takagi - The youngest and newest member of Able squad. Kaz is the squads aerial support trooper. As Kaz is fairly young and impressionable, he is often easily swayed into going "off mission", especially so whenever the opportunity is presented for him to prove himself in the eyes of the other squad members, although this brings him into conflict with his superiors and lands him in trouble more often than not. Kaz usually pilots an Exo-Fighter, an light fighter air/space craft equipped with lasers and missiles, and he is regarded as one of the best fighter pilots in the fleet.

Marsala - One of the few Neo-Sapiens that remained loyal to the ExoFleet, Marsala faces considerable opposition in the face of human prejudice against his kind. As he is a Neo-Sapien, Marsala is considerably stronger and more resilient than his human comrades, and is able to easilly infiltrate Neo-Sapien bases. Later in the series it is revealed that Marsala and Phaeton are genetic twins, the closest the sterile Neo-Sapiens can get to being "brothers" (Neo-Sapiens reproduce via being grown in laboratories, with "spawnings" of new Neo-Sapiens numbering from small groups to theoretically hundreds of thousands). It is also revealed that Marsala was one of the instigators of the original Martian Neo-Sapien revolt. Marsala usually pilots the ground attack E-Frame with Nara, whom he shares an emotional bond with, but is unable to express due to his concern for the prejudice that comes with him being a Neo-Sapien.

Phaeton - Marsalas twin and eventual leader/tyrant of the Neo-Sapien order. Phaeton is originally the governor of Mars, however he instigates a plot to secretly build weapons to overthrow homo sapien dominance. Later in the series, it is revealed that Phaeton suffers from a debilitating genetic condition which is causing his body to randomly mutate and degrade, requiring that he use a life support E-Frame at all times. Phaeton was originally Marsalas second in command during the Martian revolt, however his capture by a young Admiral Winfield and subsequent betrayal led to a humiliating defeat for the Neo-Sapien cause. Due to his disease, Phaeton gradually becomes insane, and towards the end of the war decides that if he cannot control the solar system, then no one will, and has an anti-matter bomb built on Earth with which he intends to use to destroy the inner planets.

Admiral Winfield - A veteran of the Martian revolt, Winfield rose through the ranks to become supreme commander of the ExoFleet. An extremely capable wartime commander, it is his strategies that prove to be successful in eventually liberating the inner worlds from Neo-Sapien rule.
Along the way, Winfield overcomes a mutiny instigated by his second in command and is instrumental in negotiating an alliance with the pirate clans of the outer planets. Winfields flagship is the ExoCarrier Resolute, which ends up getting destroyed during the mutiny, he later takes command of the Resolute II, an ExoCarrier constructed by rogue elements within the pirate clans which is equipped with a pirate cloaking device.

Professor Algernon - A human scientist who eventually becomes the ExoFleets chief scientific officer.
At the beginning of the war, Algernon is trapped on Earth, but has no interest in whose side he is on as he has previously been belittled by the military, his only interest is his pursuit of scientific research. To this end, he strikes a bargain with the Neo-Sapien scientist Xenobius, where he will be allowed to carry on his work as Xenobius's "assistant", while Xenobius claims any credit for Algernons discoveries.
While Xenobius is a scientist, the Neo-Sapiens lack of any sense of imagination or curiosity seriously hampers his ability to actually make any new discoveries, therefore he is completely reliant on Algernon to produce results, and claims credit for them despite not actually understanding any of the devices.
Algernon invents the GraF (Gravitational Focus) shield, a devastating directed energy weapon which the Neo-Sapiens use in the early days of the war, however after he is captured by Able squad he is convinced to work for the humans, where his discoveries are finally recognised.

Jonas Simbacca - The gruff leader of the pirate clans. Jonas was one of the people originally abandoned on the outer planets when he was just a boy. Over time he rose in the pirate ranks to become their leader, mainly through a combination of political savvy and martial prowess.
Simbacca, as with many of the pirates, is initially an enemy of the ExoFleet, however after the Neo-Sapiens try to assassinate him (his life is saved by J.T Marsh) he orders the pirate clans to join with the ExoFleet to put a stop to Phaetons plans.

The series 2 ended with a major cliffhanger, involving the possibility of series 3 being centred around the ExoFleet and the Neo-Sapiens being forced to join forces in order to combat an alien threat, however due to the series' cancellation, this was never resolved.

The ExoFleet brand was expanded to include a toy line, a video game and a short print comic series,  however the declining popularity of the TV series meant that the periphery stuff outlived the series itself (Later releases of ExoSquad 6" action figures included some repaints of "Robotech" mechs, released under the "ExoSquad : Robotech" sub line), but did nothing to improve the shows fanbase.

The series itself treads some very familiar territory, and has many tropes taken from series such as the Gundam series, Robotech, Battletech, and it draws inspiration from sci-fi sources such as BladeRunner and Starship Troopers, but even with all these familiar bits of background fluff, the series still manages to be entertaining.

The series has never been released in full on DVD, however streaming sources such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu have featured the series in full on numerous occasions.
"Other" online sources tend to be very poor quality VHS rips, so it is in viewers best interests to try and watch the series via "official" channels as opposed to "by other means".

I love this series, as it was, along with shows such as "The Pirates of Dark Water", "Bots Master" and "Phantom 2040", a good indicator that western animation studios were perfectly capable of providing well thought out and well animated shows which weren't afraid to step outside of the "Looney Toons" pigeonhole, and compete directly with Japanese imports.


No comments:

Post a Comment