Before deploying I loaded up my laptop with movies and television shows, determined to build up an arsenal that would keep boredom away, at all costs. My experiences during my first two deployments have made me rabidly boredom-averse in a way someone who experienced the Great Depression might be more likely to be a hoarder. As it turns out, work keeps me pretty busy and I haven’t been able to rip through all of the entertainment that I brought in the way I thought I would.
One of the television series I brought with me was the old cartoon Exo-Squad. I remember waking up early on weekdays and watching the 30 minute episodes and being impressed with the gravity and depth of the content, despite the fact that the cartoon was a 22 minute commercial for a toy-line.
I finally got an opportunity to watch the first season after some twenty years, and while the animation is dated and some of the dialogue is overly cheesy, the series holds up pretty well.
The story goes something like this: in the not so distant future, humans create a genetically superior species of humanoids called “Neo-Sapiens.” They are bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, and live longer than humans. Humans use them for slave labor, mostly. The Neo-Sapiens rise up against the humans thrusting the solar system into war (Venus and Mars have been terraformed and colonized). The first season chronicles the Neo-Sapien revolt and the capture of Venus, Mars, and Earth by the Neo-Sapiens.
What’s great about the series is the gray area in war it examines. Nothing is black and white. While the show follows “Able Squad,” a special ops-like team who pilot “E-Frames,” the war they are fighting in is not clearly one pitting good against evil. Throughout the first season there are numerous scenes where humans display open racism (er, species-ism?) against the Neo-Sapiens, often using the derogative “sapes” to describe them. While you are rooting for the humans because Able Squad is likable, it’s hard not to sympathize with the Neo-Sapiens after the way they’ve been treated.
The writers display a pretty advanced understanding of the military, depicting air-to-ground coordination, a court-martial trial, insurgent tactics (fake-surrender), combat panic, the disparities and frustrations of a garrison military versus a wartime military, the importance of pre-combat inspections, and the moral and ethical dilemmas leaders and individual soldiers face in war. There’s even a great scene where two deck officers are arguing over whether to deploy Able Squad, to which one officer yells to the other “Don’t give me a lesson in tactics!”
Additionally, I couldn’t help but “connect the dots looking backward” and make some interesting connections between Exo-Squad and Mass Effect. After an early battle, the show’s protagonist, Lieutenant J.T. Marsh is hounded by an aggressive news reporter who is accompanied by a floating camera robot. The reporter peppers Marsh with questions on his actions in the battle and whether he regrets those decisions, given the consequences. Marsh reacts aggressively and storms away. That scene happens over and over in Mass Effect.
Honestly, the show didn’t hold my attention the way it did when I was a kid, or the way I thought it would. I recently read a review of a video game that I loved when I was a kid that just got ported to iOS. He wrapped up his thoughts on it like this, and I think the description fits how I feel about watching Exo-Squad now:
For me, though, this was a bit like trying on my beloved jacket I wore in high school. It smells familiar and it brings back so many memories to look at it, but putting it on makes me realize how many years have gone by between then and now, and it just doesn’t really fit me anymore.
Anyway, the real point of this article was to point out that the Army is developing Exosuits, not so much like the ones in Exo-Squad but more akin to what we saw the Full Metal Bitch wear in Edge of Tomorrow / Live. Die. Repeat. / All You Need Is Kill.