Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 24--The Lost Patrol

"Neo Sapien Warriors... Freaks! Beasts! They are an affront to the genetic superiority of the Neo Sapien Race."

The Lost Patrol is the thirty-seventh episode of Exo-Squad, and continues the Return to Mars storyline. This episode's plot is almost entirely given over to Torres' encounter with the Exo-Scouts, and the Lord of the Flies-esque society the six boys have become. She assumes command, via combat, and starts to lead the troop to Olympus Mons to rendezvous with her squad, but gets ambushed by a group of Neo Lizards along the way. She saves them all, even the boys who tried to murder her. Meanwhile, while searching for the presumed Neo underground base, Bronski stumbles upon... something! Something potentially not built by any branch of humanity.

What Works: Typhonus' disdain for the Neo Warriors seems well deserved.

This episode introduces five new characters quickly, along with their gear, and does a halfway decent job of making you care about them. (But, see below.) The kids are:

Pirate--the villain of the piece. He's got a longstanding rivalry with Red, and is constantly attempting to exert control. He obviously gets his name from his e-frame, with its prominent sensor display approximating an eyepatch and a hook hand. He's the one who knocks Torres into a ravine when the opportunity presents itself.

Cruiser--a bully, he tries to grab Rabbit's frame after Torres commandeer's him. He's slightly chubby, not in any way that matters but enough that the others rib him for it. He teams up with Pirate to remove Torres, but one gets the sense that he's just eager to assert himself, especially after she steps in between him and Rabbit.

Red--Pirate's main rival. He's a ginger, but he also has a red e-frame, so the name works on multiple levels. He seems like an overall decent kid, grasps right away the advantage that having Torres represents.

Doc, named because he's got a merit badge in first aid. He's definitely a follower, not a leader. As the first character Torres interacts with, he fills her in on the exposition and in some ways is the everyman of the group.

Rabbit, whose moniker clearly come from being the most nervous of the bunch. He's a natural target for Cruiser. I would have liked to see exactly what it is he's good at, since having him exist just to get picked on seems lazy. Then again, there's only 22 minutes to tell this whole story, so I suppose him winding up a cipher is somewhat inevitable.

I like getting another look--a last look, I do believe--at Maginus City. It still looks awfully small to be the capital of Mars, but I do like to see it explored, however briefly.

Marsh's report back to Exo-Fleet is a decent way to deliver the exposition of where they are and why. We also learn the name of the four member of Kosari's squad who dies; Davis, Grogan, Blake, Mendel. At first I was going to chalk this up to an error, since we only saw 3 e-frames explode, but then I remembered one was a two-seater.

What Doesn't: I don't think the premise here works wonderfully. It's hard to buy these kids surviving on their own for two-plus years on Mars. OK, sure, they're near an open body of water, which probably means they have enough to drink and perhaps even eat. But this is a planet of five million Neo Sapiens.

The Neo Warriors, who took point-blank hits just a few episodes ago and never slowed down, get easily dispatched by Torres in a toy e-frame. She garrotes them, knocks them off the cliff face, and collapses rocks on them. Now, I actually think that this is a pretty appropriate power level for them... but it is absolutely not what was established in the Australia plotline.

I mentioned six Exo-Scouts, but only went through five. That's because there's this guy. He never gets a name that I caught, nor is there one listed on any of the online resources I can find. He doesn't have any lines that I can tell. Maybe there's a name written on his frame, but I don't feel like going through and freeze-framing.  He does seem eager to watch Torres fight Pirate for leadership of the group, but I'll try not to read into that too much. He is, after all, about thirteen and at least partially feral. The episode is already crowded, having a single red-shirt is pointless. Why not just have five Exo-Scouts and be done with it?

Watch For: One of the lizards talks, albeit in broken English. That's because he's second brood. The idea that the Warriors are a work in progress will continue to get explored.

Typhonus calls the Exo-Scouts "half-formed Terrans." He won't be the last.

I shouldn't have to say that the underground compound Bronski finds at the end of the episode will get a thorough exploration in the very near future, do I?

Bio: Marsalla, and with no new footage. This would have been the perfect time for a Torres bio. Ah, well.

Overall: I never completely bought into the idea of the episode. The execution is about as good as can be expected, but overall it adds little to the mythos that I can see. You could cut this one, except for a few seconds, and never miss a beat. That it's in the middle of a really jam-packed storyline only underscores how out of place it feels. Not their best effort.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 23--Martian Luck

"My father used to say people make their own luck."

Martian Luck is the thirty-sixth episode of Exo-Squad. It kicks off the Return to Mars storyline. Quite a lot is going on here. Marsh gets promoted to Commander. Nara gets Able Squad. They're tasked to go to Mars and conduct a long-term reconnaissance mission, after reports from an intelligence asset stop coming in. Torres goes MIA, which causes Bronski to almost lose it, not knowing she's been rescued by Exo-Scout Troop 119. And, ticking away in the background, we're reminded that there's some kind of enormous installation on Mars that the Exo-Fleet knows nothing about.

What Works: The basic premise is pretty interesting. Marsh as a leader seems almost invincible, so giving the reins of the squad to Nara offers some interesting potential for character development. It's clear that she has a long way to go; her orders get ignored in the heat of the moment, and even J.T. is having a hard time letting go. Marsala, true to form, calls him on it, noting correctly that she and the squad need to see that she has his complete confidence.

Marduk, the Neo feeding Exo-Fleet intelligence, gets captured at the beginning of the episode, which kicks off the whole thing. I like how he gets nabbed while recording Neo Sapien troop movements.

The Neos don't squander their new asset, but use him to bait a trap at the Falls of Eris. It's the smart thing to do, and I like getting to find out a few new places on Mars.

That ambush actually goes halfway decently for the Neo Sapiens. They nail three members of Baker Squad, the other squad under Marsh's command, as well as Torres. Of course, they probably lose twice as many guys, so perhaps it's not a rousing success from their POV. But in terms of the narrative, the baddies are doing quite well. I especially like Marsala rescuing Marsh during the battle, especially considering that Marsh had originally come down to rescue him!
 The two squads relaxing in their cave on Mars is a nice bit. Marsh gives Nara a pep talk, Bronski & Takagi rib each other, Weston works on Burns' frame. Its all very nice character moments. Even Cosari, Baker Squad commander, is there, though he doesn't have much to do.

The Typhonus / Ixion dynamic is probably the healthiest we've seen between Neo Sapien General and Neo Mega adviser. They even joke and quip with each other a bit. When Marduk complains that they left him no choice about compliance, Typhonus observes that he could have chosen death instead. Ixion dryly remarks that, "perhaps he did not consider that a valid option." No, indeed.

Torres going MIA is definitely milked for drama. This gives Bronski a great character moment when he and Takagi disobey orders to go look for her. When they find the exploded remains of her E-Frame, he briefly pursues suicide by Neo, before Nara gets him to stand down.

Poor Kosari, commander of Baker Squad. He loses half his guys, then still manages to take command once Marsh is incapacitated and does a halfway decent job extricating them from the mess they're in. I like how matter-of-fact DeLeon is, taking his orders. I mean, there's no reason why he shouldn't be, but one gets the sense that Able Squad generally plays by their own rules.

The battle between the six Exo-Scouts and the one Neo Command E-Frame is kinda neat, and about what you'd expect between six capable children with very high-tech toys and one military-grade exo-suit. (But, see below.)

The title, Martian Luck, seems a bit random, but the writing pulls it together by making frequent mention of Luck. Torres just ran out of it. Nara's first encounter with a Neo patrol was just bad luck. Etc.

What Doesn't: I can't say there's much I fault. Perhaps my biggest complaint is with the basic premise of the Exo-Scouts. We're almost three-quarters of the way through the story. Did we really need a group of cute kids?

I don't particularly care for Nara's E-Frame. This is unusual, since normally I'm a big fan of the designs in this show. It just seem odd to squish her frame and Marsh's together like this. I'd have been fine with her commanding from a Ground Support E-Frame, or perhaps one of the other models not used by a member of the squad.

Watch For: Baker Squad is introduced this episode. Under the command of Kosari, it appears to consist of seven troopers with six mechs. (The E-Frames aren't terribly consistent from episode to episode or even scene to scene. We'll keep track of how the squad is doing. I do like that each squad member gets their own character design. I'm less keen on the color pallet, though I suppose I see why it's necessary.

This episode, three of Baker Squad's frames are wrecked, taking their pilots with them; a Takagi-style Exo-Wing, a Marsala-style Rapid Assault E-Frame, and a Napier-style Enforcer E-Frame. It's tough to tell but I believe that Kosari should have a Bronski-style Ground Assault E-Frame, a Weston-style Repair E-Frame, and a DeLeon style Intelligence E-Frame left. (Again, this will be woefully inconsistent.) We'll keep watch as this storyline progresses. Spoiler Alert: it's much better to be a member of Able Squad than of Baker Squad.

Of course, the giant underground Martian complex will put in an appearance. The gun on the wall has now been seen twice, it'll definitely get fired.

Bio: Butler. On the plus side, it's a new one. On the minus side, he has nothing to do with the episode, and there's no new footage.

Overall: A strong start to an important new plotline. If anything, it seems like perhaps they crammed in too much material. The Martian mission itself is critical, and Nara's new role is interesting. If anything, it's the Torres MIA / Exo-Scout plotline that feels a tad superfluous. Though, of course, it's a bit early to tell. As ever, we'll stick around and see how things shake out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 22--Fire Ship

 "We Pirates hold the balance of power. Without us, Exo-Fleet cannot win. With us, the Neo Sapiens will surely win. Simbacca traded away our help for a miserable existence on the desert of Mars. Phaeton has promised us Venus!"

Fire Ship is the thirty-fifth episode of Exo-Squad. When Exo-Fleet intelligence uncovers evidence of a massive complex on Mars, two ships are dispatched to investigate. Unfortunately, Barca is the captain of one of them, and the operation becomes a massive ambush. Pressing their advantage, the Neos give Barca a monitor-class ship that he ostensibly captured, with an eye towards using it to destroy the Resolute II and destroying the remnants of the Exo-Fleet. Able Squad is captured, but Hollis manages to spring Nara (after capturing her in the first place) and thwart Barca's plans. He blows up with the monitor, though Hollis suffers serious injuries in the process.

What Works: The ambush is suitably brutal. The Neos know the Fleet is coming and take full advantage of that fact. I rather like Commander DeSoto and the Pirate captain watching their guys go up in smoke. (But see below.)

This is the last major Pirate-focused episode. We haven't had one for a while, and this feels like a decent time to have one. Barca's absolutely right in his analysis about how important the Pirates are, they're the key to the whole war. 

Typhonus is back, for the first time since we saw him cloned. He is recognizably the same, yet slightly more subdued. Or maybe I'm reading into it. He certainly has no objection to working with his Neo Mega, Ixion. (Not named this episode I don't think.) They have some great exchanges, notably Ixion advising Typhonus against giving Barca Venus, and Typhonus' casual reply, "the only part of Venus that Barca will ever see is a six foot hole in the ground."

Marsala gets several chances to shine this episode. His regret at once again leaving Mars, his home, is understated but palpable. I rather enjoy both his attempt to break out of the Monitor-class ship's brig, and then comfort J.T. when such an attempt proves futile. And man, he sure does go down hard when the Pirate ambush comes.
The Pirate ambush was also nicely done, with the squad taken down in four pieces. J.T. gets captured on the bridge, Weston in the infirmary, Takagi and Bronski on their way to the mess, and the rest of the squad relaxing in a common area. 

I love Commander DeSoto's design. Too bad she's a hi&die character. 

Weston's injury was nice, and lent a bit of extra consequence to the ambush, AND set up her e-frame to be damaged and therefor available for use by Nara at the climax of the episode. Slick writing. (though, see below.)

What Doesn't: Big picture-wise, the baddies make a lot of mistakes in order for the plot to work, which feels like a cheat to me. The big three variously, are:

1--Why was Able Squad kept alive, only to be put in an elaborate death trap? If Barca was prepared to kill them, just shoot to kill and be done with it. Hell, if they were shooting to kill, rather than stun, then they'd probably have gotten Nara. Marsala basically shielded her with his body and took 10-12 shots. 

2--Why use a timer at all on your bomb? Far better, surely, for one that's remote trigger-able. How could the be sure when the Resolute II would be in range? Also, Barca wouldn't have needed to trigger it at all, and thus saved his life. Saved it for a summary execution, no doubt, but saved it none-the-less.

3--Why have life pods on the ship that you've packed with explosives? I'd have pulled out every air filter and working piece of electronics, let alone auxiliary vessels. 

Hollis' betrayal of Nara, followed by him helping her out, is overly complicated and doesn't seem to be motivated by anything in-story. Rather, it's a way to fake-out the audience, and not a very effective one. It never feels like his heart is really in it, which I suppose it isn't. 

Remember how I liked Weston's injuries? Well, there's an Exo-Fleet medic on board, who never shows up again. What, did they just off her? And if so, why not do that to the rest of the squad? Come to think of it, while casualties were heavy, they weren't close to 100%. There should be a bunch more troopers running around. 

I'm having a hard time buying Hollis' injuries being quite so life-threatening as the episode makes them out to be. Sure, he gets shot, but so did everyone else in the squad. Hell, Bronski took one to the gut back in S1. There's no clear reason why this shot to him is quite so bad. At least when Simbacca's life was threatened back in Inner Dark (by Hollis, as it were) that was an e-frame blast. This is a hand weapon. 

I'm also a bit skeptical that Barca would blow up a Pirate vessel. While he's motivated by personal ambition and greed, he does seem to have a legitimate love of his people. Had it been an Exo-Fleet vessel, I'd have no such compunctions.

Minor gripe, but Torres' mech hauling Weston's into orbit seems unlikely. Bigger gripe, why did Marsh take his squad down in the first place? It was against orders, he got one of his people grounded, and they didn't recover any useful intelligence. All in all it was an odd beat, and felt particularly out of character for Marsh. Not that he'd never disobey orders, clearly he has. But it's always been for a good reason, and there didn't seem to be much he'd be likely to accomplish this go. 

Watch For: That ginormous compound they found? We'll see a lot more of it, and soon. And yes, it really is that impressive.

We'll also learn more about the Neo we see at the beginning of the episode next time. I rather like that his involvement wasn't included in the intelligence briefing. Need to Know and all that, which as it turns out, kept their asset safe from Barca's machinations. 

Hollis will be back, and my grumblings above aside, he will have real consequences from his injuries. 

Bio: Simbacca, again. At least it's Pirate-y.

Overall: There are a lot of little things that don't quite work about this episode. Nevertheless, it's a solid addition to the story... provided you don't spend TOO much time analyzing it. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

War of the Worlds: The Series -- TV Zone Magazine Article

It's been a good, long while since I've done a War of the Worlds: The Series post. And that's probably understandable, after all, it's not like they're making new ones, amirite? But thanks to our newest commentor, Scott Larson, I'm happy to share with you two TV Zone articles covering the production of the series. The Season One article is decent, to be sure, but it's the Season Two article that really wows. It touches on some new potential reasons for the cast changes (there needed to be a Canadian main character to keep their funding) and mentions that Mancuso tried to bring John Colicos' Quinn back as a main character for S2. Huh, who knew? So, if you enjoyed the series, head on over and take a gander. It's an interesting tale of the behind-the-scenes production of both seasons of the show.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 21--No Surrender

"You'll fly again. Over a free Australia."

No Surrender is the thirty-forth episode of Exo-Squad, concluding the Neo Warrior Australia plotline. Shiva has the resistance and Able Squad boxed in, but unexpectedly gets his hands tied by Phaeton demanding Marsh be captured alive. This forces a frontal assault (as opposed to artillery bombardment) and gives the forces of light just enough time to scrounge up a counter-attack from space. Charlie-Five platoon manages to nab Shiva by outflanking his forces and he reluctantly agrees to call off the attack, enabling the resistance to retreat to the mountains.

What Works: Shiva. Oddly, he's the stand-out character of this episode. He's always been portrayed as mostly fairly brutal, but this episode brings out a new side of him, that of the reluctant leader. "I am a soldier. Right or wrong, Phaeton is my commander." He also seems to genuinely care for his troops, expressing dismay at Phaeton's illogical orders that many lives be sacrificed to ensure the capture of Marsh.

Phaeton. Though he's only in the episode a bit, he remains a powerful presence. He confirms what we must all have suspected, he is suffering from Auto Mutation Syndrom as a result of his battle with Marsh. He also has a great exchange with Livia, where he tells her she's a lousy general.

The Marsh / O'Reilly relationship gets another light nudge, which is nice to see.

Per the opening image and quote, the flag imagery continues to be utilized effectively. The flag, getting progressively more tattered last episode and this one, is finally torn off its pole by a Neo Bat, only to be retrieved by Tyree as the resistance flees. Very effectively done.

We get to see another new Neo Warrior bodytype. This time, it's a Neo Beetle. They burrow, which could of course be incredibly useful in a fight.

Takagi, who lost his Exo-Wing last episode, here shows off his infantry chops, fighting alongside the resistance as they make their desperate last stand.

After last week's "like MacArthur" (repeated here), the WWII reference of this episode is "Nuts," Tyree's answer to Shiva's surrender demand. This, of course, echoes General McAuliffe's answer to a similar ultimatum from a German General.

Neo Megas are back. Since Draconis had his executed, we haven't seen them around. Shiva has one, unnamed unless it slipped by me, and he's about as likeable as all of the rest of his brood. Shiva, at least, has made his peace with their presence. It was neat to see him with a similar weapon to the one Barca used back in Expendable,

What Doesn't: Marsala and Napier seem to spend forever just meandering about the Neo camp before remembering that they can fly. Now, MAYBE they're doing recon, which makes a little sense, but given Marsala's stance on capturing Shiva (too risky, don't want to put Napier at risk) one wonders why. And even when attacked, they STILL don't fly away. All in all, the first four minutes of the episode are them tromping around in an invisible e-frame. Very awkward.

The way the story reads, Shiva calls off the attack to save his own life. Given the direction the character seems to be going and the high regard he has for the welfare of his troops, it's odd they didn't use this angle to convince him to break off the attack.

Alec and Maggie getting all the way back to her e-frame and then having it be operable seems like a stretch. As far as we know, the Aboriginals don't have any means of transportation besides walking, so the timeline doesn't really work. On the other hand, Alex looks AMAZING flying into battle clutching the e-frame and then blazing away, so points for that.

Watch For: Phaeton's obsession with Marsh is introduced here. As recently as Under the Skin, Winfield was correctly identified as the primary threat to Phaeton's dominion. As his disease worsens, though, he's starting to zero in on Marsh.  

There are a number of animation flubs this episode. Last episode, Marsh and Tyree were in frames when they saw Napier off. This time, just hand weapons. The Neo Mega's Command E-Frame changes from Phaeton black to standard blue. Oh, and he occasionally has 4 fingers, though usually they get it right and give him 3.

Shiva's arc has more to go, and we'll be seeing more of Marsh / O'Reilly.

Bio: Nara Burns, again, though she's a bit player. No new animation to sweeten the pot either.

Overall: A satisfying conclusion to a slightly odd arc. Neo Warriors are definitely creepy, and as portrayed here are potent weapons of war. They have slightly toned down the overpowered aspect here, which is good. It's also nice to see unrest among the Neo Sapien leadership. Losing Venus had to have taken a toll, and having your brilliant and handsome and charismatic leader turn into a shambling wreck can't be easy either.