Visual Storytelling in Captain Earth

captain earth, starry sky, mysterious woman sihouetted in captain earth

Captain Earth reunites two Sailor Moon veterans, Takuya Igarashi and Yoji Enokido, with the former overseeing the series’ direction and the latter the series’ composer. Both are well-known names hailing from the “Kunihiko Ikuhara tree,” Ikuhara having had a hand in Sailor Moon‘s direction since the first season before leaving following Sailor Moon SuperS in 1996 to direct Revolutionary Girl Utena in 1997. Igarashi stayed on with Toei Animation to direct the final, and my personal favorite, season of Sailor Moon: SailorStars, while Enokido wrote Revolutionary Girl Utena, which was directed by Ikuhara.  Igarashi and Enokido were reunited in 2006 by Ouran High School Host Club, and most recently, the two worked on Star Driver, again as director and series composer respectively.

As their latest offering, Captain Earth has trappings of series past, in addition to leaning heavily on repetition to provide a narrative framework for protagonist Daichi Manatsu. It reeks of Igarashi, Enokido, and Ikuhara in style. Additionally, the series is dripping with sexuality.

daichi at school, daichi manatsu, captain earth

The first point that the visuals hammer home is that Daichi is very much alone. The overt use of Dutch angles portrays an uneasiness, while Daichi is always separated from those around him, both in present time and flashbacks to his childhood. Above, his lack of ambition in his schoolwork is being discussed while Daichi himself is isolated in his own square from the silhouetted window frame as he thinks about how he would rather be in his room, reading or playing video games; two admittedly solitary activities.

daichi manatsu, captain earth, group in captain earth

When shown with a group of classmates, Daichi is briefly a part of their world, as shown in the straighforward shot above, until a breaking news story on the television draws him back into isolation.

daichi manatsu, television, daichi, captain earth

Through a use of close-ups and pairing him specifically with the image on the television, Daichi is quickly removed from the happy group.

captain earth, group of kids, daichi manatsu, daichi, captain earth

As he stands up to leave, he politely rejects their invitation while the rest remain seated. None of their faces are seen, but his head is positioned down, while the rest look up at him. The angle of the shot further serves to isolate him in the top left along with the television broadcast.

daichi manatsu, teppei, captain earth, daichi and teppei as kids

Daichi is further isolated in flashbacks to his childhood. There is a prevalent use of fences – one may immediately be reminded of Takuto Tsunashi’s adventure with wire cutters and chain-link fences in the first episode of Star Driver – and structures that serves to separate Daichi from others, specifically his childhood acquaintance, Teppei.

daichiandteppei2

Most impressive is Captain Earth‘s use of repetition when following Daichi’s descent into the now-abandoned Globe building. Images from the flashback are shown first, followed by their respective counterparts in the mirrored sequence of Daichi’s present.

flashback1present1

globebuildingpastglobebuildingpresent

fencepastfencepresent

lockpastlockpresent

doorpastdoorpresent

The initial approach is very similar, with the noticeable absence of Teppei in the present-day shots. It was daylight when Daichi first came to the Globe building and met Teppei; however, his current visit to the presumably deserted facility is shot entirely at dusk. Where the childhood sequence smacks of eager discovery – both in the brighter color palette and in the way Teppei leads Daichi – Daichi’s return is marked with a somber air of resolve, especially in the comparative shots with the fence that surrounds the premises.

stairwellpaststairwellpresent

stairspaststairspresent

spiralpastspiralpresent

levelspastlevelspresent

In both present and past, Daichi’s descent into the belly of the building has an otherworldly quality to it. Teppei continues to take the lead in the childhood sequence, with Daichi tagging along in awe of his surroundings. When Daichi returns, alone, he looks around more rigidly, possibly remembering Teppei or imagining him there, calling audience attention to the lack of Teppei’s presence and Daichi’s solitude.

Each sequence leads to something extraordinary, divorced from the reality of Daichi’s every day life. Teppei leads him into the heart of the facility and shows him a girl, suspended in liquid and cradling a weapon. Daichi accidentally releases her and the three exit the building together before being forcibly separated by intervening authorities. Upon his return, years later, Daichi is recruited by a mysterious child playing a recorder to become a “Captain” and an elaborate launch sequence commences. Ikuhara’s influence on Igarashi is most obvious in this repeated sequence, with the focus on specific structural pieces – beginning with the oppressive nature of the Globe building in the background, continued in the narrowed focus on the fence and staircase – as well as the descent itself.

key gun, captain earth, mecha launch sequence, daichi manatsu

keygun2

keygun3

The descent leads to Daichi’s assertion that he will be a Captain – out of a sense of duty and desire to save Earth along with a presumed familial connection – which in turn, pushes him into the pilot’s seat. What follows is an ornate mecha transformation sequence, reminiscent of the Princess of the Crystal’s transformation in Ikuhara’s most recent work, Mawaru Penguindrum, beginning with the confident insertion of Daichi’s gun into a hole located in the cockpit of his robot.

rocketpenguindrumrocketcaptainearth

penguindrumflowerflower

penguindrumthrustcaptainearthintercourse

penguindrumscrewcaptainearthscrew

Both series (Mawaru Penguindrum first and Captain Earth second) reveal the innards of their respective robots through rocket and flower imagery. Opening with the more phallic rocket launch sequence, petal-like pieces bloom outward shortly after, as both series show their robots passing through various gates on a set course. Each series then reiterates the idea of intercourse through their next assembly sequences, including specific detail on a large screw, visibly sparking from friction.

One thing I love about Yoji Enokido’s writing is his use of repetition in addition to the various shout-outs that he hides in his scripts to series past. He also has a cheeky sense of humor, with consistent references – across nearly every series that he has worked on – to characters’ burgeoning sexuality. Takuya Igarashi directed one of my favorite series of all time, SailorStars, and has seemingly continued to take cues from Ikuhara’s works, both past and present. Their latest collaboration, Captain Earth, manages to call back to a number of different series while telling its own visual story.

 

23 comments

  1. You just took my job and did it ten times better than I ever could have. Amazing post! I’m honestly a little hesitant to write anything else on Captain Earth now, providing that the series keeps this up.

    1. I honestly didn’t catch the Eureka Seven similarities aside from the use of the helvetica/sans-serif typeface and black and white eye catches. My overall impression of this first episode is definitely influenced by my love of Igarashi and Enokido (along with their most recent work: Star Driver).

      You shouldn’t be hesitant to write. I wrote this because I love the visuals, and it makes me happy when a series gives one something to chew on visually. Hopefully the series keeps it up, and I’ll look forward to seeing what you have to say when the time comes. ^ ^

  2. Great article! There’s just one thing:

    “while Enokido assisted Ikuhara in the making of Revolutionary Girl Utena.”

    That’s one way to put it, but we can also say that Enokido wrote Utena. ^^;; He was the head writer in the show, he wrote the screenplay for most of the episodes, and although he never seems to get any credit for it, I think it’s clear that much of what is “typical” of Utena came from Enokido. (Him and Nobumoto Keiko are like the unsung heroes of anime for me – both are great writers who did some really great stuff, and both of them are completely overshadowed by the directors they worked with who get all the credit for their work.)

    I’m glad that with Star Driver and now Captain Earth more people are recognizing him, though…

    1. Oh for sure, I’ll change the phrasing for clarity after this comment. Interestingly enough, I began this post with the last paragraph, about how I personally love Enokido’s writing, but switched it to the closing paragraph for the sake of easier bookending. ^ ^; Enokido is not only overshadowed by Ikuhara, but is additionally is completely hidden by the GAINAX monolith. When everyone says that something is “so GAINAX” when speaking of FLCL, Diebuster, or even Evangelion, they’re actually speaking to Enokido’s deft writing touch. Nobumoto Keiko suffers the same thing from Watanabe, and perhaps Kawamori, unfortunately (I personally love her for Macross Plus alone).

      Anyway, it was a poor choice of words on my part. Thanks for pointing this out.

    2. Hmm, I think it’s hard to say when it comes to Ikuhara? I think Enokido definitely played a HUGE role in why Utena was as good as it was, grounding Ikuhara’s crazy ideas in character in the same way that I think Ikuhara helped give Enokido’s own crazy ideas direction. At the same time, not only are Ikuhara and Enokido apparently old friends but I think you can see BOTH their favorite thematic concerns reflected in Utena. Enokido’s pet theme is adolescence, maturity and the difficulty of transcending human limitations and becoming an “adult,” while Ikuhara is all about the unfairness of human society, the process by which the weak are devoured by the greater system and what it takes to save another person. These definitely “cross over” in a lot of ways, and in fact I think Ikuhara and Enokido’s approaches towards directing/writing are very informed by each other. That said while Enokido was definitely a crucial ingredient in Penguindrum’s success (along with Hiroshi Nagahama on art direction, JA Seazer composing dueling songs, Chiho Saito and budding directors like Mamoru Hosada) I think Ikuhara definitely played just as significant a role in forming the core of the show. He is a huge control freak after all .____.

      1. “That said while Enokido was definitely a crucial ingredient in Penguindrum’s success”
        I think you meant Utena’s success.
        Penguindrum, to it’s detriment, didn’t have JA Seazer’s songs.

        (I’m joking about it being a detriment to Penguindrum, but I would’ve loved to have Seazer make a return with Ikuhara)

        1. Oh god you’re right! Sometimes I get caught up in things and write too quickly for my own good ;___;

          I’d love to see J.A. Seazer and Ikuhara reunite on a project but I can understand why they didn’t for Penguindrum. Ikuhara’s not easy to work with to begin with, and I think if Utena is explicitly influenced by the craziness you see in the alt plays Seazer scored (look up the soundtracks/video clips on youtube, they’re *nuts*) Penguindrum has its own vibe going on. I guess you can say the ARB remixes take Seazer’s place, which if not as interesting are at the very least pretty cool as diagetic pieces in themselves.

  3. This post is great – there’s a hell of a lot to like about the show’s use of visuals and you’ve articulated it really well.

    Rahxephon has lots of the same visual touches in its character scenes, I think.

    1. Thank you. That means a lot.

      Not-so-coincidentally, Enokido worked on Rahxephon as well, although I haven’t seen more than the first few episodes, so I don’t feel entirely qualified to comment. It’s a series that I’ve been meaning to get back to for a while, so perhaps I’ll have to bump that up on my backlog priority list. ^ ^;

  4. As I’ve always known, you’re at your best when you’re working with what you know best, and that is visuals. There’s nothing else for me to say here. I just want to see more Captain Earth, and I want to see more of your visual analyses of the medium. I just hope that the series will continues delivering on a level that makes you enthusiastic to write. This was a labor of love, and the post reeks of it with every single screenshot. Congratulations.

    1. As I stated in my first comment response in this post, I love when a series gives me visuals to chew on. It makes me really happy, and hopefully that comes across in this post.

      It was a labor of love, and close to 40 separate screenshots. ^ ^;

  5. Wow, I didn’t even notice the show’s use of repetition until you pointed it out! It’s more low key than what Ikuhara might have done (he really hits you over the head w/ “This Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again”) but I really dig how Captain Earth used differing color schemes this episode in order to grant different meanings to past and present scenarios. Though of course I did notice the grates, silhouettes and (on reflection) ROCKET OVER JAPAN sequence that I suppose Igarashi loves.

    Enokido’s probably one of my favorite writers–FLCL and Utena are my two favorite anime of all time after all! That said I have to admit a certain ambivalence about the first episode of Captain Earth. The visuals are great, the soundtrack is great, I dug Daichi’s flashbacks, but the story (with its multiple secret organizations, rainbow circles, aliens, elaborate transformation sequences) seems to me to immediately lack the kind of thematic byline that ties Enokido’s best work together. Utena was all about adolescence and maturity plus Ikuhara’s concern w/ cages and escaping from unfair system, FLCL was about rock and roll and whether to become an adult and compromise or become a teenager and destroy everything (the answer is neither, b/c Naota is only 12 years old) and Diebuster served as an update/correction of the original Gunbuster’s concerns while riffing on Enokido’s earlier work. Captain Earth appears to share many of Enokido’s concerns (sexual imagery, moving from childhood to adulthood, a love of pulling the rug out from under the viewer) but I don’t see anything immediately tying it together.

    That said it’s only the first episode, so maybe that’ll come later! I’m just concerned that Enokido needs someone like Ikuhara or even Tsurumaki to give his crazy ideas some form of direction. Not entirely convinced that Igarashi is the best fit for him creatively, but I suppose we’ll see how things turn out. Hoping for the best!

    1. The use of grates and silhouettes reminded me not only of Utena, but moreso of Igarashi’s work in Ouran High School Host Club.

      That being said, I like what Igarashi’s doing with the structure of the old Globe building and the rocket launch pad. It’s omnipresent in both Daichi’s present and past. He is unable to escape its influence, even while trying to relax at a friend’s house (as it shows up on the television with the rainbow circle that Teppei showed Daichi years earlier). I don’t think it’s going to play the role of a set, like Ouran, Utena, and even Star Driver’s respective high schools, but instead it more represents the threshold or barrier that Daichi must cross.

      It’s difficult to tell where the series will go; however, as someone who loved Star Driver, I do have a bit more faith in the Igarashi/Enokido pair than you. ^ ^ Right now, I’m simply happy with what the series has shown me so far, particularly in how confident its direction is.

      Thanks for commenting! I always appreciate your input.

      1. One of the nifty elements of the OP (which was released on Youtube just a few days ago) is how it highlights the fact that the protagonist’s tool is a boomerang. Considering the logo contains a loop/planet ring, could be a direct reference to how he’s drawn back again and again (like gravity?) to the mystery that defined his childhood. Would support the prominence of the Globe building and rocket launch pad!

        I hope Igarashi and Enokido pull this off as well! They’re both really talented people who’ve made some of my favorite stuff and I only want the best for them ;__; I guess we’ll see in the upcoming weeks how the show evolves.

  6. The super long transformation sequence was awesome and yeah it did remind me of penguin drum! I bet the music from that episode would fit nicely with the Captain Earth scene and I didn’t notice the changes from the bright past shots with the present as Daichi re-visits the old building where he met Teppei and Hana! very nice catch there.

    So far Captain Earth feels like Star Driver complete with Hana singing a maiden like song before the big fight~

    1. Thanks! ^ ^ I’m really happy that you seemed to enjoy it as much as I did (from reading your and Kyoukai’s post over at Metanorn).

      Star Driver is definitely the roadmap that I’m looking to in predicting where this series is going. Daichi isn’t as solemn as Sugata or as confident as Takuto, but I liked how genuine he was in this first episode, especially the scene where he turns his friends’ invitation down. He’s honestly sad that he can’t go, but also can’t exactly explain to them why. I actually found that scene really sad.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting! Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about this show in the future.

  7. Daichi’s literal isolation reminds me of Star Wars: A New Hope, in a way – various shots of Luke Skywalker present him alone, contemplating his own existence (which, before the droids arrived, had been one of quiet, unassuming daily encounters with Tattooine’s inhabitants). The famous shot of him looking out over the landscape while the twin suns set is one of my favorites; it establishes Luke’s wish to bet out there among the stars, instead of staying on the Lars homestead, and the encroaching terror that is the Empire – he will not see a quiet day like this again, as he eventually joins the Rebellion and defeat Emperor Palpatine (with the help of his father, of course).

    1. Hnnn…I didn’t get that sense at all; however I admittedly haven’t seen Star Wars in years, possibly over a decade. ^ ^

      Where I can draw a comparison is in Captain Earth’s easy use of the Hero’s Journey setup, which Star Wars is infamous for following literally step-by-step. This was easily Daichi’s crossing of the threshold, one of the first steps in that cycle. Hopefully Captain Earth won’t lean too heavily on this.

      Thanks for commenting! ^ ^

  8. The visuals are crisp and beautiful, and very…sensual, to use a more conservative word. Looks promising, although I’ll need to watch a few more episodes to get a better idea on the show before making further comments.

    Have you tried Kamigami no Asobi yet? The character designs are by the same artist that designed Nobunaga the Fool’s characters. Comments I hear say that it’s fun, has a few mythological references, & includes a magical boy/god transformation sequence in the first few minutes, which may be of interest to some viewers.😛

    1. Hehe, more conservative word. Nearly everything Enokido does is chock full of sexuality, so I wouldn’t blame you for using a stronger word there, but yes, agreed. ^ ^

      I haven’t, and I’ve heard friends raving about it. Unfortunately, I haven’t hated any series I’ve watched the first episode of, and there are more out today. This season has too much anime. ^ ^;

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