|A little Blade Runner, a little Aliens, a little The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress… With a pedigree like that, Universal’s Exo-Squad could be no ordinary cartoon. Influenced by decades of imported Japanese anime, Exo-Squad told a continuous story, beginning with the series premiere and progressing all the way through the series-ending 52nd episode. Like Robotech and countless other anime series, Exo-Squad adopted a no-holds-barred attitude toward its subject—major characters were killed, governments toppled, and even planets destroyed.
The complex background began in the early 22nd century. Earth technology had made extraordinary steps in two major fields. First, advances in terraforming had made it possible to colonize nearby planets, and soon Mars and Venus became part of the “Homeworld” system. At first, these planets were colonized and maintained by exiled convicts, but the criminals had rebelled and organized into pirate bands.
Enter the second technological advance: Earth geneticists had developed a new race of humanoids called Neo sapiens. The Neos were strong, required little food, and lacked the ability to reproduce, making them the perfect source of slave labor for the Homeworlds. But as the Neos developed higher intelligence, they began to demand civil rights, sparking a revolution of their own. The humans were able to suppress the Neos through the use of new exo-frame technology—large external suits that could be outfitted with rocket engines and a variety of weapons. The Neo sapien revolt was put down, ushering in fifty years of relative peace.
After fifty years, the pirates grew more aggressive in attacking the Homeworlds’ interstellar shipping routes. The General Assembly of the Homeworlds debated the issue, and Martian Governor Phaeton (a Neo sapien) proposed that an Exofleet (a fleet of exo-framed soldiers) be dispatched to bring down the pirates. The Exofleet flew out to battle the pirates, which played perfectly into Phaeton’s plans. The Governor had secretly been building up military might for the Neo sapiens, and with Exofleet far from home, Phaeton launched a surprise assault, conquering earth and sparking a new war between Neo sapien and homo sapien.
The series focused primarily on the activities of Able Squad, a division of Exofleet. Able was led by J.T. Marsh and included intelligence officer Alec DeLeo, tech expert Maggie Weston, trooper Wolf Bronski, recon specialist Nara Burns, and Marsala, a Neo sapien sympathetic to the “Terran” cause. Aside from Phaeton, the Neo sapien leadership included Draconis, Livanus, Typhonus, Thrax, and Shiva. The pirates were led by Jonas Simbacca.
Exo-Squad was the first animated series from Universal, but its creators clearly didn’t believe in starting small. The show’s political and technological landscapes were constantly changing—treaties were formed and broken, strongholds were captured and lost, and as the Neo sapiens continued to experiment with the genetic technology of their creation, new Neos were added to their ranks: brain-enhanced Neo megas, human/animal hybrid Neo warriors, and the extremely powerful Neo lords.
The series was complex, but it must not have gone over everyone’s head. Only thirteen episodes were produced for the first season, but with the show’s rising popularity, thirty-nine more were created for the second season, during which Exo-Squad was teamed with Monster Force as part of the Universal Action Hour. The war did eventually end, but the final episode of the second season held out the promise of a new impending threat. Unfortunately, the series was not continued for a third season, and fans were left with nothing but speculation.