Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Review: Exo-Squad Season 2 Episode 4--Ultimate Weapon

"You will see, J.T. Marsh. A Pirate will do what you could not!" 

The seventeenth episode of Exo-Squad, loosely continuing the Pirate Alliance arc, is Ultimate Weapon. The Pirate Clans transition from Saturn's moons to Io, but the Neos have built a massive Fusion Pulse Cannon on Sinope, one of Jupiter's moons. They plan to bombard the fleet and, when Io and Sinope are in alignment, destroy the Exo-Fleet base. Further complicating thing, Simbacca wants Marsh and DeLeon to train up some of his best and brightest as e-frame pilots, using captured Neo gear. With the help of his new squad (and heavy casualties), the Sinope weapon is taken out and the Pirates successfully reach Io.

What works: Typhonus' fleet has seen better days! They had their asses handed to them last episode, and it shows. Despite this, Typhonus is spoiling for a round 2, which Phaeton wisely orders him to decline. He hasn't been idle while Typhonus has been negotiating, constructing a fixed artillery platform on Sinope. (Those utility frames I enjoy came out to play a few times.)

The Fusion Pulse Cannon makes a good deal of sense. The GRAF Shield makes Io impregnable (or so the Neos believe), but sending giant balls of matter at the base is a good way to bypass. After all, crush a rock to 1/10th its size but leave all the mass and it'll still do the same amount of damage.

I like that the tension between Pirates and Exo-Fleet remains, hasn't been magically brushed away. Simbacca is impatient with Marsh and DeLeon, Hollis punches Marsh for defending him, etc. (But see below.)

It makes sense that DeLeon would deduces the existence of a spy. Their response, blinding all ships but the flagship. They're both shrewd ones. Barca, too, is a savvy guy. In response to the fleet going blind, he transfers to Simbacca's flagship. There he continues to sew dissent, specifically trying to turn Hollis against Simbacca. (This will pay off in episode 9 of the season, Inner Dark.)

It's sensible that Simbacca would want his own e-frame pilots. (But see below.) It's also sensible that, even for trained pilots, getting proficient in e-frames will take more than a couple of days. I also enjoy the repaint potential inherent in the various pirate 'frames. I don't think we ever got a toy, in any colors, of Hollis' frame, which surprised me back in the day. It seemed like an obvious candidate for a toy. Plus it would have settled the spelling of his name once and for all.

Not exactly good, but neither is it bad, I find it odd that the Neo Sinope base commander gets such a distinctive design. I suppose we've seen this tradition before. I'm not 100%, but I believe the final Neo e-frame that confronts Hollis inside the cannon is piloted by this guy. His head tattoo doesn't match up, but they always seemed to have trouble with that. (I can see why, it's a tricky element to include and be accurate about.) The pilot does have a similar collar though. Plus, it'd make dramatic sense. Perhaps they should have given this guy a name. Since we've seen this kind of aesthetic before, I'll put it in the good column.

What doesn't: Simbacca insisting that the e-frame pilots be taken into battle, despite minimal training, doesn't seem entirely in keeping with the ruthless pragmatist we've come to know. It's a transparently bad decision, and not one that can easily be whitewashed by waving one's hands and saying 'cultural differences.'

I thought Marsh was a bit caviler about bringing the Pirate squad out a second time to assault Sinope, especially after the apparent loss of 5/6th of his recruits.

The visuals seem to indicate that Marsh trained up a second squad, which was more-or-less ready to go by the time the bombardment started. (Nowhere is this supported by dialog, however.) This is because not only do we see 5 of 6 Pirate frames destroyed in the battle vs the scouts, but the new squad had different frames than the first. Then 3 more of the second squad gets destroyed, out of apparently 4. My first instinct was that this was a case of the animation not matching up with the authorial intent. It'd have been easy for only two of the pirates to die in the attempt to board the Neo scout ship. However, the presence of three completely new frames for the second battle belies that. It really does seem that Marsh led 10 pirates into two battles and had only one survivor. Very cold.

The ending is abrupt and tonally odd. Rita Torres staring daggers at Chubail and calling him a murderer. While, as noted, I like the tension, and I'm happy that Rita Torres seems poised to get some development, the execution just seems clumsy. Actually, the whole review of troops seems oddly paced as well, perhaps because it was designed to get us to the Torres bit. Ending the episode 30 seconds earlier, with Winfield greeting Simbacca as an ally, felt like the logical stopping point.

The humor and banter was a bit mixed. After Hollis punches Marsh, DeLeon cracks wise ("you've got to keep your eye on his right... and THEN duck") which works. When Simbacca says he'd kill anyone who did that to him, Marsh's attempt at humor falls flat.

Watch for: O'Reilly makes another appearance, and we get our first looks at Avery Butler and Vince Pelligrino.

Bio: This outing is Marsala. Once again, it feels largely redundant with what we learned of him in the Into the Heart of Darkness storyline. Like the three previous ones, this seems like padding.

Overall: Probably the weakest episode to date, with the possible exception of the S1 opener. This is the first semi-stand-alone episode in the series, which doesn't help. The FPC is introduced here and then disposed of, a first (but not a last) for the show. This isn't necessarily bad, but add in some of the odd humor and Marsh's change of heart about sending raw recruits into the meat grinder and a strange ending and this episode feels like it can't quite decide if it wants to be a solo endeavor or part of a larger arc. I'm still enjoying it, but for pretty much the first time since early EARLY season 1 I find myself picking at the flaws more than just along for the ride. On the plus side, the story continues to steamroll ahead at a fast pace, and it feels like the momentum is still here. Perhaps the next one will be better. (Spoiler alert: it will be.)

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