September 11th is coming soon. While that date has long since been marred by that other infamous national event, before 2001 it was a time of celebration for kids in the ‘90s. Because back in 1993, September 11th marked the first airing of Exosquad. This year will mark the 23rd anniversary of the show. It’s now old enough to buy cigarettes, get drafted, drink beer, graduate from college and then go searching for unpaid internships. Now, most people reading this will fall into one of two camps: Either you totally remember Exosquad and the incredible adventures of Lt. J.T. Marsh and Able Squad as they attempted to liberate mankind from the Neosapiens, or you’re one of the many ‘90s kids that never had the distinct pleasure of discovering why Exosquad was so awesome. We’ve decided to rectify that unfortunate childhood mistake and give you all a little crash course on why this series deserves all the nostalgia and affection normally reserved for Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and this year, you can join in celebrating its anniversary.
Exosquad was created by Universal Cartoon Studios as an attempt to reverse engineer the academical science of anime. They wanted all of the space opera-y goodness of Gundam and Robotech distilled into a product that could be made in the USA instead of being imported, redubbed, and hacked to pieces by censors. Exosquad tells the story of humanity’s interplanetary struggle against the Neosapiens, an artificial worker race they created to mine materials in horrible inhospitable conditions. It focuses mainly on one platoon, Able Squad, as they make their way through the entire war. The show managed to merge all of the best aspects of pulpy space opera with a surprisingly emotional war story (unlike the pasteurized inconsequential violence of G.I. Joe).
Let’s start by pointing out that the antagonists of the series are absolutely fantastic because they're really really sympathetic if you stop to think about it. Neosapiens are, for all intents and purposes, a genetically engineered slave race that revolted against their masters. Who are their masters? Yup. Terrans. The Neosapiens then attempted to conquer human-controlled worlds because, well, we probably shouldn’t have to explain why a group of newly freed slaves might be really angry with their former masters/oppressors/creators.
What made Exosquad stand out throughout its epic narrative was its sole focus on Able Squad throughout the entire conflict of the Neosapian War. Able Squad was filled with memorable characters built around fun, larger-than-life archetypes. From the naive Lt. Nara Burns, who loses her family in one of the first battles of the war, to Wolf Bronsky, the burping slob of an ace pilot whose slovenly demeanor hides a heart of gold. But easily the best character was Marsala the Neosapian, who fights for humanity despite the prejudice he received from many of his fellow human soldiers. Imagine Beast from X-Men crossed over with Drax the Destroyer in a giant mech and you can imagine why he’s great.
Japan might have all of the best mechs with their Gundams and Evangelions, but if you saw Edge of Tomorrow and loved the power armor Tom Cruise was running around in, then you’ll love the suites featured in Exosquad. It’s like the Starship Troopers cartoon you actually wanted instead of that awful CGI one. Even Tom Cruise’s death machines got nothing on the badass multipurpose E-frames of Exosquad. Not only are the designs awesome, with each squad member getting their own distinctive E-frame complete with neural link, but each featured a plethora of awesome blasting lasers and missile launchers to translate perfectly into action figures.
A Cut Above The Rest
This was a children’s show in the ‘90s, so it could honestly be forgiven if this show was just a half-hour toy commercial with no consequences for any of the violence that happens. But no. Characters had complex personalities. Exosquad tackled genocide, prejudice, and race relations all with a continuous narrative and, oh yes, characters actually died.
OK. We might be biased, but Exosquad beats out pretty much any other ‘90s action figures you can name. G.I. Joe had neat vehicles. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a bajillion variants for any conceivable activity mutated turtles could ever do. But no one else had fully articulated power armor with as many spring-loaded missiles, sound effects, and decals as you could possibly cram into one toy. It was the best parts of an action figure and a vehicle all boiled down into one portable package.
What Almost Was
Chances are, a lot of you remember Robotech. Robotech was pretty cool, and the toys are definitely included in that umbrella blanket of awesome. But here’s the thing. At some point, Playmate acquired the right to produce Robotech toys and began selling them under the Exosquad brand. That led to some rumors that that there might have been a crossover. There would have to be a whole 'nother article about how absolutely glorious that would have been. The two giant space opera series of the ‘80s and ‘90s crammed together to form a Voltron-like masterpiece of social commentary, character-driven angst, and awesome mecha-driven space battles.
The Legacy Lives On
Probably one of the most frustrating thing of being an Exosquad fan is to see the general public fawn over ‘90s cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers while none of that same passion ever seems to go towards Exosquad. We’ve been forced to endure four Michael Bay Transformers movies. Why can’t Exosquad ever receive the same adoring attention, especially in this modern age where western animation has easily produced some of its best material ever. How amazing would it be to see a reboot on Netflix or the resurrected Toonami block or a live-action film. While we can only hope, I hope this article will convince you to hunt down some of the old episodes and give this hidden gem a shot.
How excited would you be to see an Exosquad reboot?