This was the hardest request to find online. Couldn’t be rented. Couldn’t be streamed. So, I had to borrow the DVDs from someone. Since it had the first 5 episodes on it, because they’re one story, I watched the five (though the request was for any one episode). Here’s my review of those episodes:
Exo Squad takes place in the future after we’ve terraformed Venus and Mars using Exoskeletons called “E Frames.” Then, the NeoSapiens (which are artificial humanoids made by man) rose up and rebelled against us, led by Phaeton (which they pronounce Fay-tun just to annoy me), the Governor of Mars. The show follows the Exo Squad “Able Squad” as they fight against the NeoSapiens. This is all given away in the opening sequence, which makes it really annoying that IT HASN’T HAPPENED YET IN THE SHOW. I mean, I’m a believer in the idea that spoilers don’t ruin the plot most of the time, but it’s weird to give us the set-up, and then tell us “Oh, wait, that hasn’t happened yet.”
So, right after the show begins, the show tells us another backstory, again, by saying that 50 years ago, the NeoSapiens rebelled the first time, and they were crushed in a manner evocative of the Third Punic War: It was a curb-stomping that was pointlessly punitive. Now they’re second-class citizens. People felt so bad about this that they ended up giving the NeoSapiens “reservations” on Mars, but they’re still constantly the subject of racism…speciesism? It’s later revealed that the NeoSapiens were literally a slave species created to do manual labor, so… this one is kind of on the heads of the “Terrans.”
It then goes to the “present,” where a group of Pirates (implied to be people who are descended from criminals who were kicked off of Earth) have started taking down freighters. Enough people die that the future Congress is forced to declare War on terrori…I mean, Pirates, at the urging of Phaeton, who promises that the NeoSapiens will be backing up the Terrans in this war. Congress sends the bulk of its fleet out to deal with the pirates… who have laid traps in preparation that do a lot of damage to the fleet.
It’s finally revealed that Phaeton has been diverting funds slowly from Martian infrastructure to build a secret armory and army to fight against the Terrans. He times the attack for when the E-frames are deployed against the pirates on the other side of the solar system, which prevents almost any resistance. The NeoSapiens quickly conquer most of the Earth and Venus before the Fleet can even make it most of the way back from Saturn (Faster than Light Travel doesn’t appear to exist here). The NeoSapiens also put start putting humans into concentration camps, unless they agree to assist the NeoSapien Empire. The acting commander of the Fleet orders everyone to return at full speed, but the CO of Able Squad, Lt. Marsh, points out the obvious: That would mean that some ships would get their far before the rest, and they’d get overwhelmed. He’s arrested for mutiny, because the commander is dumb.
Marsh is ordered executed by the tribunal, because the tribunal is also dumb (and argue that orders must be obeyed in times of war, even if those orders would objectively have lost the war… which, while true, doesn’t apply to what Marsh did).
The NeoSapiens attack the half of the fleet that gets within range first, which leads Marsh to escape with his squad and attack on their own. The commander is removed from command, and Marsh, naturally, is able to lead the squad to… well, not victory, but at least not a complete rout. Able Squad meets up with the resistance and helps them score a public victory against the NeoSapiens, broadcasting a message of resistance and giving humanity some much-needed hope.
That was 5 episodes. I can tell you why I’m surprised this show even got 2 seasons: Because it is way too confusing for a kids’ show. The characters aren’t particularly one-dimensional, the plotlines are fairly complicated, there’s a huge cast, and it’s over-serialized to the point that if you didn’t watch them all back to back, you might get confused about who was where. In short, it’s actually too well-constructed for a kids’ show. Seriously, the characters are pretty deep, the themes are pretty complex, and, while the dialogue is bad and effects aren’t ground-breaking for the 90s, the space battles are a little more subdued than you’d expect for a show trying to sell toys.
But, I am going to say, the themes were a little risky here. One of the biggest themes is clearly racism, which… yeah, they have some problems. See, the NeoSapiens here were actually created by the Terrans. The NeoSapiens are sentient to the point that they’re arguably more intelligent than Terrans, they’re a little more rational than Terrans but they still have emotions, and they’re physically significantly stronger and more durable. AND WE MADE THEM A SLAVE RACE. This is in the future, how the hell was that not a decision everyone immediately pointed out was horribly immoral? There are hundreds of philosophical treatises about the morality of imbuing a being with sentience, let alone imbuing it with sentience AND THEN CONDEMNING IT TO SERVITUDE. This is such a bleak projection on the future values of humanity, it was a joke on Rick and Morty: Rick made a sentient robot whose entire purpose is just to pass butter. The Robot immediately has an existential crisis, Rick says “welcome to the club,” and THAT WAS THE POINT… Sentience is not something you should bestow upon a being for the purpose of serving you, unless you’re a prick!
So, because of their position, the NeoSapiens rebelled (naturally), and humans still bear a grudge over that rebellion 50 years later, despite the fact that the NeoSapiens lost relatively quickly and were decimated by the counter-attack. However, the rebellion still clearly improved the position of the NeoSapiens. So, now you have a group who have been unjustly enslaved, punished for seeking freedom, suffer constant baseless discrimination (since basically none of the rebels are still alive), and have been shown that the only way to improve social standing is through violent rebellion… so of course they rebel again. And, naturally, not all of the NeoSapiens are on board with this, even within these few episodes, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to the humans who view all NeoSapiens as being the same.
It’s kind of a morally complex start to the show, and one that a kids’ show probably isn’t going to fully explore to the point of justifying it. This isn’t like Skynet or AM from “I have no Mouth and I Must Scream,” where it’s an artificial intelligence (which might not have conventional emotions that humans can understand) that rebels against serving humanity and suddenly devastates mankind. Here, the NeoSapiens spent generations asking for the respect that should be due to them as sentient lifeforms, and then, only when Terrans failed to do the right thing, that they tried violent rebellion. It’s actually kinda similar to the background of the Matrix found in the Animatrix short “The Second Renaissance.” Humans brought destruction upon themselves by failing to learn any lesson from history about the nature of equality.
Of course, now that the NeoSapiens have taken over… THEY’RE DOING EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Which means, they don’t really have the moral high-ground. It’s like when people try to bring up that Germany was devastated by the terms of WWI requiring them to pay for the war, despite every country involved being destructively stupid: That doesn’t justify everything that Germany did afterwards. And, that’s basically what this set-up becomes: The European Theater in Space (Edit: I stole this from the requester. I originally had “WWII in Powersuits.”)
So, the show’s too complicated for kids, the dialogue’s too crappy for adults, and the animation… isn’t great, honestly. Well, at least it’s an interesting concept.
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