When it comes to mecha narratives, there are certain recurring themes. On the surface, one might expect military involvement, technological advances, and gargantuan battles between giant machines, piloted by people or automated to fight on their own. The mecha genre also offers what I call “social themes,” such as humanity, post-humanism, and relationships (note: these are all very loaded terms, and don’t necessarily boil down to something simple).
However, one thing that this series offers in addition to some of these established themes is something that I’m sure a lot of fans who have heard of this show are aware of (and if you weren’t, you know now): literary comparison! In this review, I will explain to the best of my ability what these inferences are.
Captain Earth is an original anime about four children who are sent on a daring mission to save the planet from an extraterrestrial threat. It is most suited for younger audiences (younger teens) and plays out like a typical shounen series; something about a boy and his friends who take an extraordinary journey one summer that would change their lives forever.
Together they combat a group called the Kiltgang, whose main goal is to reap Earth of its energy: a life force that allows them to thrive. Obviously the people of Earth don’t want that, so an international authority called GLOBE has tried everything they can to stop them. Conventional strategies and logic, however, don’t seem to apply, so it’s up to our child heroes to save the day.
In addition, Captain Earth is also inspired by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This is not even the first anime has borrowed from Shakespeare. In fact, I’m aware of at least one other work also done by studio Bones (the same company that made this) which also borrowed from two works of Shakespeare. But that review’s for another time.
Daichi Manatsu is the Demetrius of this show; and his friends Teppei, Hana, and Akari are like Lysander, Helena, and Hermia respectively. Just like the central characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, these teenagers are also lovers of sorts. (SPOILER) There are several scenes where they do kiss!
The name “Manatsu” is literally Japanese for “midsummer,” and their adolescence reflects the same golden age that experienced a sense of freedom and innocence, yet also reality and responsibility.
Their enemies, the Kiltgang, can be seen as the Kingdom of Faeries. Each one possesses some superhuman ability (thanks to some sci-fi sounding back story that I won’t go into detail), and their form appears to be human, despite the fact they are not human at all. Their source of energy is Oberon (same as the name of the King of the Faeries), and the true antagonist is the combined personalities of Puck and Robin Goodfellow (the trickster faery).
So why is this important? A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s comedies; and as such, suggests fans were not aware of certain elements, in terms of the flow of this story. The characters in Captain Earth have more layers than just simply good and bad characters. The Kiltgang, for example, are all introduced as fairly decent human beings, some of which one could relate to; yet once “awakened,” became drunk with power. It’s a weird occurrence, but it’s laughable in that we really couldn’t take them all that seriously when they were human!
And yet, the members of the Kiltgang often questioned whether their goal was the right one. This suggests an internal conflict even within characters’ morality; making it less clear whether they are good or evil. Daichi and his friends make similar choices, adding layers to their characters that emphasize more of their situations than their personalities.
Notions of human conditions also come from Akari’s parents, Tsutomu Nishikubo and Tsubaki Yomatsuri. While both are high officials within GLOBE, and therefore most similar to the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta respectively, their main concern is for their daughter and her friends. They normally don’t get along, especially since Tsutomu has a new lover; but they can still find ways to interact with each other to solve the problems at hand. For them, the importance of their child trumps a silly love affair; that seems to be a healthy way to go about relationships.
If you’re expecting Captain Earth to “make sense” or offer a more “mature” approach, such as death to a character we can relate to or battle sequences that have more tactics involved, you’ll be looking very hard! May I remind you, this series is intended for younger audiences; and while there are children’s programs that do offer that kind of maturity, this isn’t one of them! But you really don’t need those kind of elements to make a compelling story.
Lastly, I would like to point out that Captain Earth may have been inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it is not at all a direct adaptation of it (although that should be pretty obvious). At the very end of Shakespeare’s play, Puck delivers the last word, suggesting that all the events of this tale were but a dream. It’s ambiguous in terms of being unsettling to whether the ending was really happy at all!
However, Captain Earth‘s Puck is destroyed thanks to the efforts of Daichi and Hana. In a different ambiguous ending, Daichi and Hana escape from the explosion which happens in the aftermath, and we get a sense that life just goes on peacefully after the conflict. Daichi and Hana find themselves landed in a place where they can see plenty of stars; yet it is unclear to us as the audience whether they are physically there, or if they are actually spirits who have gone off to a starry heaven.
Either way, the last thing we see in this anime is not Puck, but the nameless recorder girl at the very beginning of the series, who is similar to Thisbe (“played” by the worker Flute), who officiates the wedding at the very end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Perhaps it is through her eyes that this story was told in the first place; or rather, she is the one witness to this love story after all.
So if you’re looking for a light-hearted mecha anime that creatively brings together elements of dreams, passions, and the works of Shakespeare, check out Captain Earth. It may be predictable to some and cheesy to others, but it is one that is intended to help us feel good. And for me, I can always leave this one smiling.