Hello again, guys, and welcome back for the third entry in our animated shows you’ve probably never seen but should series. The last couple weeks we’ve taken a look at two shows with strong action/adventure and light horror elements, going back to 1993 and 1994 to revisit Mighty Max and Skeleton Warriors. For this week, I thought I’d change up the setting a bit, so get ready to launch into deep space for a series that pulled no punches and was way ahead of its time for a kid’s show, and that’s Exosquad.
Exosquad came out in 1993 and dealt with themes that were far and away the most serious that I can remember seeing in a cartoon at the time, which is really saying something considering a lot of the crap I used to watch back then. When I first saw it, I really didn’t know whether or not I actually liked the show, but the characters were all so strong and the plot so good that it quickly grew on me, especially when I look back on it now. The series is set in the early 22nd century and follows the events of the second Terran (read human)/Neosapian war. The Neosapians are an artificially engineered race created by Terrans to help them terraform and colonize Venus and Mars and were made to be stronger and far more durable than their creators, and also about eight feet tall. They rebelled once before and were utterly crushed in the attempt, but now a charismatic new leader has risen from their ranks, organizing them to be a very efficient, if not utterly ruthless, military force.
The events of the show typically follow the missions of Able squad, an elite group of mech pilots that are part of the Terran Exofleet. The fleet was off battling the united pirate clans of the solar system when the Neosapians began their latest uprising, so were unable to stop them from claiming the human home worlds of Venus, Earth, and Mars as their own. When the fleet returned, they came back to an enemy that was ready and waiting for them, setting the stage for two fantastic seasons of space warfare that followed.
Able squad is led by the veteran exopilot J.T. Marsh, a competent and very ethical field commander that plans and executes his unit’s missions with precise detail. Other notable members include Nara Burns, Alec Deleon, and Wolf Bronsky, as well as a handful of other teammates. Bronsky is one of my favorites on the show as I pretty much see him as an lifelong alcoholic with severe shellshock, and Nara Burns has a personal stake in the war as her entire family was killed when the Neosapians took Venus, which causes a great deal of internal conflict for her and the team.
The most interesting member of Able squad, however, has to be Marsala, one of the only Neosapians that has remained allied with the Terrans and is serving in Exofleet. He often makes very pointed remarks about the Neosapians’ points of view to help keep the squad grounded, but at the same time can’t bring himself to agree with his people’s often violent methods of revolt and brutal treatment of captured Terrans. He’s very much a pariah on both sides, not trusted by the Terrans he fights for and looked on with hatred by his own people as a traitor. His story gets even more interesting when you consider his genetic lineage of being the “brother” of the Neosapian leader himself, Commander Phaeton.
Phaeton is the head of the entire Neosapian Commonwealth as it’s called, and personally led the revolt and taking of Mars, following up with the coordination of the attack that overthrew Venus and Earth. As a commander, he is cruel, efficient, and utterly merciless against his enemies and the Terrans that are captured as a result of the war, treating them as less than dogs for the years of servitude suffered by him and his people. He is also a self-serving megalomaniac with severe delusions of paranoia, as several assassination attempts made on his life by both sides have failed, prompting him to never leave his Exosuit after a time or set foot from his stronghold on Mars. He is even abusive and aggressive towards his own men, having his head general, Typhonus, killed on several occasions for failure only to clone a new copy and put him back into service later. Phaeton is an utterly vile villain in the image of many real-world dictators, inspiring blind devotion in many, while decisively putting down any who question his views or oppose his methods.
With all of this, Exosquad proved to be a rather intriguing and sophisticated show even by today’s standards, taking a hard, and often unflinching, look at war. Military operations were planned out and examined in meticulous of detail, particularly Exofleet’s attack on Venus to recapture the planet as the definitive story arc that closed the first season. The second season focuses on the Terran’s push to retake Earth and Mars, as well as the Neosapians inevitable counter attack and Exofleet’s alliance with the pirate clans as reinforcements. The show also takes a hard look at racism and slavery, which is a touchy topic considering our current sociopolitical climate of today. Death was also a common occurrence which is a rarity for a Saturday morning cartoon, as the war effort on both sides claims its fair share of casualties, with minor and major characters dying alike.
If you’re looking for animation that explores deeper issues other than just your standard good versus evil then Exosquad might be for you, as each side has what could be considered its own share of heroes and villains. It takes a real look at the pitfalls of slavery, racism, and war, and explores the aftermath and consequences of each. If it was made today, I see the series being a purely adult effort for older viewers, as the themes just don’t fit with what is deemed appropriate for children anymore. If your taste in cartoons is something on the lighter side then Exosquad is definitely going to be on your skip list, but if not, then it’s a hidden gem that’s definitely worth checking out. Oh, and as with all the shows of the time period it of course had a toy line to go with it, which was absolutely stellar and topnotch on all fronts and I wish I still had mine.
Until we meet again next week and return to something a little grittier, perhaps taking a trip to Hyboria with everyone’s favorite barbarian, maybe? Until then, take care gang. Later.