"Humans are great creators, Lieutenant, though often unaware of the consequences of their gift."
A Western-made Humongous Mecha series produced in 1993 by Will Meugniot and Universal.Exo Squad takes place sometime in the 22nd century, when Humans have fully terraformed and colonized Venus and Mars. The Neosapiens, an artificially-engineered race, have Turned Against Their Masters and launched an invasion of Earth and Venus.The story focuses on the ExoFleet, the Homeworlds' space navy, in particular, Able Squad, a group of Exo-frame (Mini-Mecha) pilots led by Lieutenant J.T. Marsh.Exo Squad has been commonly compared to Mobile Suit Gundam, both in quality and the maturity of the themes portrayed in the series. In addition, Will Meugniot himself made a direct comparison to the Gundam series, saying that Gundam is similar to the Pacific Theater of World War II, while Exo Squad is the European Theater. Among animation fans, it's often compared with Gargoyles, Batman: The Animated Series, and Avatar: The Last Airbender as an example of how Western animation can be every bit as mature and well-made as the best Anime. Surprising, considering what studio was behind the animation. Lastly, Exosquad has been favorably compared to Robotech and it wasn't suprising when an extension to the toyline included re-issues of some of the Matchbox Robotech mecha under the Exosquad/Robotech label.A division of DVD and airing rights between a few companies, including Disney, prevented Exo Squad's release for quite some time—long enough that many fans thought that it would never happen. Releases finally began in April 2009, and there was much rejoicing (yay). While it was on Hulu for a while, it sadly left.
Abandon Ship: After Captain Marcus's unsuccessful attempt to liberate the homeworlds, the Resolute's crew is forced to take to the escape pods. Captain Marcus stays aboard.
Alas, Poor Villain: Even Phaeton gets one; in the midst of the final battle, as his bunker is falling around him, he goes on a digression about the only time he was happy. "It was a beautiful day, and the sun was warm. I heard bells in the distance...and for a moment, I was at peace."
Anime Hair: Although not as outrageous as regular Anime hair, the hairstyles of the 22nd century Earth are really weird. Random strips of people's (both male and female) hair are shaved. Hairstyles that are a random mix of mohawks and mullets? Weird mixes of crew cuts and Afros? It defies description.
Justified with military personnel. E-frames are operated by having the pilot connect through a port located at the base of their skulls. Shaved strips and caps provide easier access. Even Kaz Takagi required one despite the rest of his hair being a mullet.
Anti-Villain: Captain Marcus. He's not strictly evil, nor even particularly villanous by the standards set by the Neo Sapiens, he's simply an incompetent Jerk Ass who is desperate to save the Homeworlds before the Neo Sapiens solidify their hold on them.
Even when he was in open disagreement with Admiral Winfield, Captain Marcus chewed out a fellow captain for questioning the Admiral's courage, which he considered above reproach.
Anyone Can Die: For a Western Animation show, a shocking number of people die. Including James, Nara's younger brother, and Alec Deleon, both of which were very shocking.
Artificial Gravity: The first episode had it disabled on a cargo vessel that had been attacked by Space Pirates, though the animators apparently couldn't decide whether to go with no or full gravity (or magnetic boots). The GRAF (GRAvity Focus) shield is a weaponized application of gravity, in spite of its defensive-sounding name.
Badass Bystander: From time to time, we see what would normally be Red Shirts kicking rather impressive amounts of ass when Able Squad isn't around. Many of them still die, of course, but they never go down like chumps.
Bad Boss: Captain Marcus and Phaeton. Phaeton much more so than Captain Marcus.
Beast and Beauty: Nara Burns and Marsala, slightly subverted as Marsala is a very dependable individual despite what Terrans might think of him.
The Humans enslaved the NeoSapiens for a long time. They were only freed because they revolted and took their freedom. However, since then, humans have been reasonably amicable (well, some of them) to the Neos. Also, the humans are being driven to extinction; they're fighting only because they have to. So Gray.
The NeoSapiens were slaves for many years and had to fight for their freedom. They constantly have to prove themselves to many humans, and some never see them as equals. But they are launching a war of annihilation against humanity; the current slave status of humanity is temporary until more Neos can be born. So Gray, with some bordering on Black.
The Pirates, given their backstory, are barely surviving out in the vast emptiness at the edge of the Solar System. They prey on ships for survival. Gray.
Phaeton, however, is what really puts the Black into the series. In the first NeoSapien rebellion, he sold out the rebel leadership (including Marsalla) just to save his own skin. His current war is all about himself and what he wants, not about the overall NeoSapien cause. He's willing to engineer anything from super-strong Neos to a new race of super-smart ones (that were likely going to do to him what he did to humans) Personal loyalty to Phaeton is what keeps you alive, not loyalty to the NeoSapien cause. Phaeton is using the general feelings of his people to propel himself to power, nothing more.
Book Ends: In the first episode, Sean Napier saves Phaeton from an assassination attempt, even though he's prejudiced against Neo Sapiens (he even refuses to shake Phaeton's hand). In the last episode, Shiva saves Napier's life, and Shiva refuses to shake Napier's hand.
Cannot Spit It Out: Not only are Nara and Marsala both unable to express their feelings for each other, they each have instances where they unknowingly slap the other down.
Dealt with in the final episode, where Nara is on the verge of professing love to Marsala, only for him to gently but firmly rebuff her, while expressing the hope that in the future, he can remain a friend to her, and her children.
There's shades of this with DeLeon and Weston too, though it's more subtle and doesn't get as much airtime as Nara/Marsala.
Actual travel times are never given, but the Exofleet travels back and forth between the inner planets, and even makes a foray to a planet beyond the orbit of Pluto, over the course of a war that lasts three years. So yeah, those ships are pretty fast.
Cincinnatus: Admiral Winfield becomes a rancher after the war. Marsh planned on leaving the Exofleet to "build things," presumably architecture or construction, but when the show is Cut Short, he's still in the Exofleet.
Custom Uniform: It would actually be easier to list the named characters who don't have a unique costume, among them Sean Napier, who spends most of the series wearing a slightly modified version of his old Chicago Police Department uniform, and Alec DeLeon, whose clothing and body armour are identical to those worn by the long line of nameless Exofleet troopers seen boarding a transport craft in the first episode.
Death Notification: Butler personally records a message to the family of every jump trooper who dies under his command, despite the fact that he has no way to deliver these messages, or even to know that the trooper has any surviving family left on the Home Worlds.
Defector from Decadence: Marsala, a Neosapien who fights for the ExoFleet. Other unnamed Neosapiens can be seen amognst the Exo Fleet's ranks, though they are a very underrepresented minority.
Go back and tell Winfield to watch. Tell him... Matthew Marcus... knew how to die.
Face-Heel Turn: Phaeton was a trusted governor-general of Mars and former collaborator to the humans. And Captain Marcus was a loyal, if Hot-Blooded and incompetent, officer before he mutinied against Admiral Winfield.
Fantastic Racism: There's plenty of this on both sides of the war. There was already a fair amount of prejudice against the Neo-Sapiens (as witnessed by the derogatory term "Sapes") even before the war, and the Neo-Sapiens themselves are pretty strongly prejudiced against humans (often referring to them dismissively as "Terrans" and sometimes just "Vermin").
Final Battle: Starting from Episode 48 in the The Fall of the Neosapien Empire part 2. The Exofleet arrive on Earth to retake it from Phaeton. From then on to episode 51 We see Exofleet fighting from space, Earth resistance forces from America to Austrialia fighting, The Abel Squad and C5 Jumptroop fighting in their areas. Any Characters that we have seen are shown at least once. One scene we see the whole earth with little explosion to show the Final Battle is everywhere.
Five-Bad Band: Once the Neos begin creating a number of new Neo Sapien subspecies, the different breeds fit the role of a quite well, except that they're missing a Dark Chick.
This is also Marsala's backstory— he was a rebel leader in the first war. He seemingly does it again, turning the squad over to Phaeton once they arrive on Mars, but it turns out to be a Batman Gambit.
Phaeton was a collaborator for the Terran side in the first war.
One sign of the show's complexity (at least, for a Western cartoon) is that each of the collaborators above had their own reason for helping the Neo Sapiens. The Mayor of Chicago Phaeton City was trying to save his own neck, Diana's family was being held ransom, Amanda Connor genuinely bought Phaeton's propaganda, and Algernon cared nothing for who was in charge, only being allowed to follow his own pursuits.
The Neo-Warriors and Neo-Lords are a biological example.
Mildly Military: Not as bad as some shows, especially considering this is a cartoon, but Able Squad sure does get away with a lot. They got thrown in the brig once for a year, which is pretty harsh, but after that, they could have flown past the Resolute mooning Admiral Winfield, and wouldn't have even gotten a slap on the wrist for it. Also, the rank system seems a bit vague at times. Able Squad has three lieutenants in it, one sergeant, and the rest are presumably Exo Troopers (which is probably equivalent to Private). Maggie Weston is a technician, and therefore probably not in the normal chain of command, but that doesn't explain why both Marsh and Burns are lieutenants. (The closest thing to an explanation is a brief segment narrated by Admiral Winfield which talks about how some people say that Burns is inexperienced, implying that perhaps she was a fresh graduate from officer training at the start of the series then assigned under a more experienced officer to learn the trade.) This gets cleared up later in the show when Marsh is promoted to Commander. To add to the confusion, in one episode, a character talks about when Lt. Marsh was an Ensign, which is the only time a Naval rank is mentioned in regards to an E-Frame pilot.
Interestingly, the show uses WW2 alphabet instead of modern one, probably, to further emphasize the historical parallels between it and the Neosapien War.
Military Maverick: Takagi starts as a minor example, and gets worse when he's hanging around with Yuri Stavrogan. Stavrogan himself is a big deconstruction of the trope: he's an Ace Pilot, one of the best in the fleet, but his disregard for regs, being a bad influence on other, younger troopers, and his tendency to go all Leeroy Jenkins have resulted in him becoming a reserve pilot, meaning that he only gets to fly when a squad is understrength or to fill in for someone who's injured. No commanding officer wants to keep Stavrogan in their unit because he's too undisciplined and causes too many problems. Sure enough, at the end of his first appearance he gets transferred to a unit for repairing E-frames because once again he's almost gotten multiple people killed due to disobeying orders and encouraging others to do the same.
Stavrogan does get better in his second appearance, when the entire squad that he'd been working with is wiped out by Neos. That appears to have finally gotten him to wise up. While much more focused on the mission and troop safety, he does still use some well played Loophole Abuse to get around one particular order.
Stavrogan: J.T said not to risk the squad by trying to rescue him. But orders are meant to be interpreted... and my interpretation is that he meant not to risk the whole squad trying to save him. (Stavrogan takes half the squad to successfully go back and save J.T.)
Multinational Team: The Able Squad. Let's see: JT is most likely North American, Alec is French, Bronsky is from Eastern Europe, Takagi may have Japanese roots, Maggie seems to be from somewhere around the Pacific, Nara is Venusian, Marsala is Martian/Neosapien. Torres is the only one whose background is a mystery.
Perhaps justified. It's shown that aside from improved intelligence, Neo-Megas have other abilities that Terrans and regular Neo Sapiens lack. This could translate into Neo-Megas having an extra lobe or two in their brains.
My Species Doth Protest Too Much: While the vast majority of the Neosapiens fought to conquer the homeworlds, aside from Marsala, there were other Neosapiens who served with Exofleet (mentioned but rarely shown), and there were Neosapien sympathizers like Mardek providing intel to the Exofleet.
The Neo-Megas can communicate with each other across large distances using super-sonic frequencies. Functionally, it's indistinguishable from telepathy except dogs can hear it too.
Powered Armor: Most of the Exosuits are Mini-Mecha, although there are types resembling conventional spacecraft, and the multi-seaters border on Humongous Mecha— the Jumptroopers' armor fits the classic Powered Armor mold best, as does Phaeton's personal powersuit.
Pun: In one episode, a member of The Resistance is talking trash about the ExoFleet and how useless they've been during the war (mind you, ExoFleet had spent much of its time up till this point fighting the Neo Sapien fleet, helping the Resistance cells on various planets, and doing covert ops on Mars). Marsala walks up to the man and drops a tray of food on him, apologizing and claiming that he's "All Thumbs" note Neo Sapiens such as Marsala have four fingered hands, two of which are opposable thumbs, and the other two look like thumbs, as well.
Punished for Sympathy: The Neosapien ace Thrax is demoted for repeatedly showing mercy to Terrans, such as refusing to finish off Kaz Takagi after winning a space duel against him on Mercury and disobeying direct orders to detonate thermonuclear charges under Venus City, killing all Terran soldiers and captured civilians inside.
Sacrificial Lion: Lieutenant Alice Noretti. First seen at a briefing for the E-Frame squad leaders in the first episode, then as a Badass Bystander, then joined Able Squad and died on her first mission in the same episode, then was brought back as a cloned Neosapien-Terran infiltrator, and finally killed herself in a bid to prevent her Neosapien programming forcing her to harm her former comrades. Marsh kept a photo of her in his E-Frame throughout the entire series.
Rita Torres. "Who are you, somebody's mother?" "That's SERGEANT Mother to you!"
In the same episode, when she gets called Sir, she fires back "You got sand in your eyes? I'm a Sergeant! I work for a living!"
Scout Out The ExoScouts Troop 119 were on a camp out on Mars when the war broke out. Their Scout Master went for help at some point but was never seen again, presumed dead. They have been relying on their scout skills to stay alive on Mars until such time that they can be rescued. Ironically, the first time they encounter any ExoFleet forces, they end up having to rescue Sgt. Torres.
Shout-Out: The Jumptroops are an homage to the Mobile Infantry from the Starship Troopers novel. They're even shown moving "on the bounce" in combat.
Soundtrack Dissonance: The extremely serious and epic closing credits theme song, superimposed over the giggling airplane cartoon logo for Universal Cartoon Studios.
Space Is an Ocean: Averted. In space battles, the E-Frames zip around like angry bees, and the ships move in on each other at all directions.
Story Arc: Both a major one for the series (the struggle between the Terrans and the Neo Sapiens) and smaller four or five episode arcs, with each arc typically centering on a particular planet.
Straight for the Commander: In the first battle for Earth, the Able Squad is able to turn the tide of battle in Terran favor by assaulting the enemy flagship, buying the Terran fleet time to escape the massacre more or less intact.
Super Prototype: Phaeton's command E-Frame is far more powerful than others, capable of shrugging off attacks that would destroy a mass-produced model.
Surrounded by Idiots: Phaeton usually blames military failures on the incompetence of his Generals. Fair enough, but he also acts surprised when clones of those same Generals fail him again.
Late in the series, Draconis' clone bemoans that he must pay the price for one of his predecessors betraying Phaeton, having been relegated to a miserable assignment. Draconis is probably the only example of Phaeton learning from his mistakes.
Swiss Cheese Security: A TV reporter has unfettered, unescorted access to the bridge of the ExoFleet's capital ship during military operations. Winfield insists the camera be turned off the second he noticed it, however, at least reducing the potential for a security leak.
Thememobile: The Exo-Fleet, which has Exo-Carriers, Exo-Cruisers, and Exo-Frames (called E-Frames for short).
What Happened to the Mouse?: In a brief scene in the final episode of season one, it seems like The Squad's E-frames somehow became self-aware, prompting Marsala to quip the opening quote of this article. It is never explained.
When Marsh is promoted to Commander, he is given command of two squads, counting Able Squad. This second squad is almost never seen.