The 1990s saw a healthy amount of animation produced for both children’s and adult audiences. Even those who were born in the late 1990s or the early 2000s probably grew up watching shows like Rugrats, X-Men, Darkwing Duck, and other cartoons. Exo Squad, a cartoon from 1993, is one example.
Exo Squad was produced by Universal Cartoon Studios for the syndicated programming block of the Universal Family Network on MCA TV. The conflict between Humanity and Neosapiens, a fictitious race created as slaves for Humans, is the main subject of the early 22nd century television series.
The programme features numerous Neosapien points of view in addition to following the exploits of the Able Squad, a group of skilled human mecha pilots. We therefore examine what distinguishes this animated programme from the competition and why it is a 90s classic that everyone remembers today.
What the Cartoon Television series is all about
Early in the 22nd century, when humanity began to develop resources outside of Earth, the show is set. Venus and Mars could be effectively terraformed by humans with the use of exoskeletons known as E-Frames. The Neosapiens, their creation, however, attacked humanity, and everything was lost. Phaeton was the leader of the Neosapiens, who had taken over Venus, Earth, and Mars. A tiny group of E-frame pilots under the command of Lt. J.T. Marsh is fighting to liberate mankind from the control of the Neosapiens.
Exosquad made its debut in September 1993 and differed significantly from the animation created at the time. In contrast to other American shows of the day, it had a lengthy story arc. Additionally, compared to other animated shows for children, it was more aggressive and action-packed.
Additionally, it emphasised serious topics like slavery, concentration camps, and war. If you are a child, these are some really serious subjects. 52 episodes were produced for the programme, which ran from 1993 to 1994. Playmates manufactured a wide variety of action figures, combatants, and e-frame toys for the event.
The main story arc primarily focuses on the Able Squad, an Exo squad stationed on Resolute as part of Flight one. The first leader of the Able Squad was Lt. J.T. Marsh. During the war, Marsh pilots an AA-500 Falcon E-frame. After being promoted to lieutenant commander, he now has two quads under his command- Able Squad and Baker Squad. He was voiced by Robby Benson.
Nara Burns is the youngest squad member and became its second leader after Marsh’s promotion. Her parents had been killed during a Neosapien attack on Venus, but her brother James Burns had survived and began to lead the Venus’ resistance force. But soon, her brother died during the liberation of the planet, and Nara only had the Able Squad to call family. She was voiced by Lisa Ann Beley.
Maggie Weston is the tech and repair specialist for the Able Squad. She is highly skilled in machinery and can repair any E-frame in any condition to fly again. She wasn’t confident in her personal life and was usually a loner. She piloted a PO-024 Field Repair E-Frame. Teryl Rothery voiced her.
Sgt. Rita Torres is the second in the Able Squad chain of command. Not much is known about her past, except that her ex-boyfriend broke up with her for unknown reasons and that she hates the Pirate Clans. It is later revealed that she didn’t hate them indiscriminately but hated one pilot named Jubail specifically, who had killed her last squad and damaged her E-Frame, leaving her to suffocate in space. She is intelligent and skilled and a strictly by-the-book person. During the war, she piloted a #LD-029. She was voiced by Janyse Jaud.
Kaz Takagi is the second youngest member of the Able Squad; He is regarded as a rookie ad troublemaker. But even though he makes much trouble, he has never let his team down. Kaz piloted a #CR-001 Exofighter, which was incapable of ground combat; hence he usually provided air support and posed as a scout. He was a skilled pilot. He regarded teammate Wold Bronski as a mentor and his closest friend. After the end of the war, Marsh had him sent to the Exofleet Academy. Michael Benyaer voiced him.
Alec DeLeon is the intelligence and communication specialist of the team. Before his military career, he used to be a thief in France and joined the Exofleet. DeLeon is cheerful and upbeat and has a sense of humor that surfaces even in the worst situations.
He is highly skilled in combat and can get out of the fiercest fights without a scratch. He had been J.T. Marsh’s, right-hand man. He sacrificed himself to let the Exofleet gain control of the moon. After the war, Professor Algernon and Galba created a new body for him and embedded his personality, which had been stored in his E-frame’s flight data recorder, into the body. His new body was a Neo Maga and had been modified to appear like a Terran. Before his death, he had piloted an SLR-345 Wraith E-frame.
Wolf Bronski was the most experienced member of the Able Squad. He was an excellent marksman with exceptional tactical skills, although he frequently adopted unorthodox methods. He didn’t care much for rules and etiquette. He also served as a source of humor throughout the series and would disgust characters with his belching, providing comic relief even in the most challenging situations. As the most experienced member, he piloted the most dangerous and unstable E-frame – a BD-100. He was voiced by Michael Donovan.
Marsala is the only Neosapien on the team and the oldest amongst the others. He was one of the leaders of the First Neosapien Revolt, 50 years before the show’s events, and was close friends with Phaeton. But Phaeton betrayed him to save his own skin, ending their friendship. This drove Marsala to join the Exofleet and serve them after the first rebellion. He was marked as a traitor by the Neosapiens to be killed on site. He had the best interests of the Neosapiens in his heart and believed Neosapiens should not enslave the Terrans, even though they themselves had been enslaved. He was voiced by Garry Chalk.
The Terrans created the Neosapiens to work for them on Mars and Venus. They resemble 7-9 feet tall humans and have pale blue skin. They have brightly colored tattoos representing which brood they were created in. They are incapable of reproduction as they are bred to be infertile by the Terrans in an attempt to control them.
Physically they are much more superior than the Terrans and can easily breathe in thinner atmospheres. The Neosapien order was a belief proposed by Phaeton’s Regime, stating that the Neosapiens were more advanced and superior than the Humans. Hence, they should be the ones ruling the solar system.
Phaeton is the leader of the Neosapien regime. He was also one of the leaders of the First Neosapien Revolt, which happened 50 years before the second one. He is a brilliant tactician. He was able to secretly divert materials to secret areas to produce the very weapons Neosapiens weren’t allowed to possess. While most of the Exofleet was chasing the Pirates around outer planets, Phaeton orchestrated a massive uprising against humanity. In a matter of hours, the Neosapiens had control over Mars, Venus and Earth. He was voiced by Richard Newman.
General Livia was Phaeton’s right-hand woman and his most trusted advisor. Livia was appointed as the new Commanding General of Earth Occupation after General Shiva. She was deeply devoted to the Neosapien Destiny and greatly admired Phaeton.
General Shiva was the former Commanding General of Earth Occupation. He was feared and hated by all. He was removed from his position due to false allegations of treason. He was widely known as one of the best Neosapien Generals.
General Draconis was the Commanding General of Venusian Occupation. He is described as a “paranoid sociopathic megalomaniac.” He used brutal and extreme methods to crush any human resistance on his territory. He also planned to overthrow Phaeton and become the ruler himself. He was voiced by David Kaye.
General Typhonus was the Minister of Battle Forces of the Neosapiens and also the de facto leader of Mars after the relocation of Phaeton’s capital to Phaeton City, formerly the city of Chicago. He was voiced by Rob Morton.
General Drusus was the Commanding General of Ceres during the war. It is unclear why a General was put in charge of an asteroid, but it is believed that the first Neo Mega breeding facility may have been located there. Apparently, he was executed by Phaeton for failing in his duties.
A Star Wars-like narration at the show’s beginning provides the setting and background information about the series. Fifty years before the show’s events, the Neosapiens had revolted against the Humans. Still, they were soon defeated thanks to the advanced weapons and exoskeletons called E-Frames that the humans used. In the present, we see the captain of the Danube informing his superiors that they are about to arrive on Mars in three days.
Soon after, alarms sound on the ship, and two rogue vessels intercept the Danube. One of the vessels attacks the ship and destroys the engines. The captain can barely send an SOS before their ship is destroyed. The Able Squad returns to the Resolute after their Martian training exercise, and Marsh and Burns arrive at the Resolute’s bridge, where other pilots are watching the distress call.
Captain Marcus berates Marsh and Burns for joyriding on Mars, but Admiral Winfield rectifies that he is the one who authorized them. The Able Squad is assigned a search and rescue on the Danube, and Winfield tells Marsh and his team to be prepared for anything. Marsh is warned about the presence of dangerous pirate Jonas Simbacca in the area. J.T then returns to his squad, informs them of their mission, and hands out various assignments for the task. The team then leaves the Resolute on a shuttle and flies to the freighter.
A quick survey of the ship reveals that the engines are destroyed, and the entire crew is already dead. Marsh informs the Resolute of the situation, and another shuttle is launched to tow the Danube. On the bridge, Takagi and Marsala discover the Danube’s first officer trapped under rubble, unconscious but alive. To save the officer, they dive head first into a trap. Takagi lifting the bulkhead, sets off the trap that deactivates the containment on the fusion reactor and starts a 60-second countdown to detonation.
The crew rush back to their shuttle, separate from the Danube, and speed away. They soon realize that the other shuttle is headed towards the Danube, but the shuttle communications are down because of Danube’s leaking containment field. Nara flies the shuttle and blocks the other shuttle’s path. The work crew shuttle changes its course to follow the Able Squad, away from the Danube when it explodes.
The Danube is ripped apart by a huge blast, and waves catch up and vaporize the work crew shuttle but collapse before reaching the other shuttle. The loss of life is tremendous, and the Able Squad mourns as they return to the Resolute. This incident causes the Homeworlds Congress to take action.
After much debate, the secretary-general allows Phaeton, now the Governor-General of the Martian Community, to put forth his idea, and he proposes that the pirates be hunted and destroyed to prevent further incidents. The majority of the Exofleet is drafted for the mission. The pirate flagship hides in an asteroid belt, and soon, they detect the presence of the Exofleet entering the belt.
Simbacca issues the order to all ships to decloak and attack simultaneously. What awaits the Exofleet is asteroids equipped with large thrusters, which the pirates propel towards the Resolute. After realizing that the asteroids are a part of the pirate ambush, the Resolute opens an attack and destroys the asteroids, but one appears to hit the Resolute. Assuming that the Resolute has been hit, Simbacca orders the pirates to decloak and attack.
With the sudden appearance of the pirates, Winfield orders the E-frames to launch. Able Squad and another squad attack the massive pirate fleet. The two sides engage in an intense confrontation, and even though the squad takes out some ships, they get hit too, and the Exocarrier Defiant is also destroyed.
Soon the Resolute is attacked by a pirate vessel, which, even after taking hits, does not stop its assault. DeLeon lands on the ship and uses his equipment to locate the power source. He finally finds it, and, using two fusion missiles, his machine gun destroys the pirate ship.
The Able Squad reforms and attacks the oncoming pirate ship identified as the flagship. Takagi destroys the gun turrets on the Pirate flagship but eventually gets caught in one of the explosions and is hurtled away. He is rescued by Bronski, who compliments an unconscious Takagi. Simbacca’s subordinates ask him to retreat as their ship sustained significant damage. Although reluctant at first, he is convinced and orders a withdrawal. While Captain Marcus celebrates their victory, Winfield believes they just got lucky.
Meanwhile, on Earth, the Mayor of Chicago gives a speech about how they have lived in peace for 50 years since the Neosapien uprising. He declares Mars’ capital, Maginus City, as Chicago’s sister city. A banner showing a Terran hand and Neosapien handshaking are unfurled, and the crowds cheer. Governor Phaeton is then invited on stage and asked to speak. He is heckled by a few people who shout that the Neosapiens can’t be trusted.
Phaeton says they can’t keep living in the past and must move forward. Officer Napier takes the two hecklers away and expresses his hatred for the sapes, a racial slur for Neosapiens. He then sees a curtain open and a glimpse of a gun and rushes to tackle the assassin who was about to shoot Phaeton. The assassin is apprehended after a struggle where Napier is shot in the arm.
As he is being bandaged in the Mayor’s office, Phaeton appears and attempts to shake his hand as a sign of gratitude, but Napier refuses, claiming he has not forgotten what the sapes did 50 years ago. This angers Phaeton, and he storms away while an angry mayor fires Napier for his behavior.
Meanwhile, the Exofleet prepares for the next battle as they review the pirate bases on Saturn’s moons and the main one on Tethys. The Able Squad goes on a recon mission to check out the pirate bases. A Pirate craft engages them. It doesn’t pose a problem for the fighters.
But they are soon recalled to return to the ExoCarriers. Marsh questions the Admiral, to which Winfield tells them they plan to launch a direct attack and should not waste time with recon, while Marsh says if they don’t recon, they might fall into a trap.
Winfield informs them that they won’t be using E-frames and sends Marsh away. On Enceladus, Simbacca gets the information that many ExoCarriers and ships are making their way towards them. He is surprised that there are no E-Frames and finds out it is the main battle fleet. He calls the Exofleet commanders fools and orders the deployment of anti-spacecraft units and large guns emerge from various points of the moon’s surface.
The Exofleet showers laser blasts on the moon’s surface and destroys many installations. One of the pirate officers reports the destruction and suggests fighting back. Marsh and Takagi watch the fleet’s progress from one of the Resolute’s bays. The pirate’s lack of response makes Marsh suspicious and orders his squad to prep the E-frames.
Meanwhile, having destroyed all the moon’s surface installations, the Exofleet moves closer to the Enceladus’ surface to finish the pirates once and for all. As the Exofleet descends into a closer orbit, Simbacca orders all main batteries to open fire. On the moon’s surface, an enormous cannon and array of missiles emerge from the ice and descend on the Exofleet.
The Resolute is targeted from multiple locations, and while Marcus thinks its computer malfunction, Admiral Winfield realizes they have walked straight into a trap. The Resolute is heavily attacked, and Winfield orders the E-Frames to launch. Able Squad launches, and Lt. Burns goes to scout the landing point for the jump troops, The jump troops land and begin their assault on the pirates.
Meanwhile, the Resolute’s bridge is hit when Winfield is giving orders, the console in front of him explodes, and Winfield falls to the floor. On Earth, Phaeton is revealed to be diversifying funds to create a secret E-Frame and weapons facility, which are strictly forbidden for the Neosapiens. Gidas, the finance minister of the Martian Commonwealth, warns Phaeton that his plan would only cause suffering for the Neosapiens, but Phaeton protests that the Neosapiens deserve the dignity denied to them.
On Enceladus, Able Squad and the jump troops manage to destroy all the missiles and canyon on the moon’s surface, and the pirates retreat into the ice caves. Nara follows them but is hit with rockets, which destroy her E-frame, and she is taken, hostage. The rest of the team follows in to find the pirates and accidentally trip a silent alarm which alerts the pirates. Simbacca and his soldiers move further into the cave and activate holographic cloaking screens to hide. Simbacca orders to fire and the team is hit by blasts from the walls.
Their E-frames get damaged, and they are forced to leave the frames. When the pirates are distracted, Nara grabs a blaster and shoots the control of the cloaking field. One of the pirates almost kills Nara, but before he can, the room’s door explodes, and the room begins to decompress, blowing most of the pirates out. Simbacca and the remaining pirates manage to escape, and the rest of the team rescues Nara.
Meanwhile, in Phaeton’s Martian Palace, he stands on the bridge of his flagship, The Olympus Mons, in a black E-Frame and orders the attack. The Neosapien Armada disgorges countless E-Frames and Y-Wings into space as they head towards the Homeworlds. We witness Nara’s family on Venus, and all of a many sudden, Y-wings sweep in and begin to bombard Vesta, the capital of Venus.
The Neosapien releases many E-Frames and Y-Wings on Earth, and many cities like San Francisco, Rio, and Sydney fall under the attack. As the Exofleet arrives in orbit around Tethys in pursuit of Simbacca, they receive a transmission about the attacks happening on the Homeworlds. As Marcus freezes up and fails to perform his duties as a Captain, Marsh takes his place and orders the fleet to set course for the Homeworlds and hoping it’s not too late to save their worlds from another war.
Interesting Facts about Exosquad
Exosquad references many historical events, particularly warfare. Season 1 Episode 4, titled “Blitzkrieg,” is named after a tactic invented by Nazi Germany for World War 2. It involved very rapid combined arms assaults. It was one of the allusions used in the show to liken Phaeton’s regime to Adolf Hitler. “Scorched Venus,” the title of Season 1 Episode 8, is a pun on “scorched earth,” another military tactic of denying the valuable enemy resources by destroying them.
Sean Napier’s words, “One thing you can say for Phaeton, he makes the magnotrains run on time,” directly refer to the famous quote about Benito Mussolini. Season 2 Episode 33, titled “The Art of War,” is a reference to the famous Big Book of War by Sun Tzu.
“Abandon Hope,” the title of Season 2 Episode 3, refers to the famous quote from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Dante had it inscribed at the entrance of hell; Phaeton had it on his bunker. Season 2 Episode 34, titled ‘One Small Step,” is a reference to Neil Armstrong’s first words during his very first EVA on the Moon. Exosquad is influenced by Battlestar Galactica, Aliens, Captain Power and Soldiers of the Future, and X-Men.
According to storyboards for the series pitch-film from Will Meuginot’s old website, the series was originally going to be called Exoforce, and J.T was initially named “Mace Corbitt,” as indicated in the promotions for the unproduced comics and an early ad in the Broadcasting magazine. Both names were changed, the former due to Marvel Comics claiming there could be confusion with X-Force. Mace’s name was changed as Hasbro already had a trademark for a character named Mace from the 1988 show C.O.P.S. The new name came from Jeff Turner, an employee at Playmates.
The third season planned would have shown surviving Exofleet and Neosapiens teaming up to fight against an invasion from another alien race. Still, the series was canceled before seeing this happening on screen. There was also a planned concurrent series titled “Exo-Pirates,” and a movie idea was pitched, but Universal never went ahead with them.
Playmates reused some E-Frame models for other lines, mainly the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line.
What happened to Exosquad?
After a successful run of two seasons consisting of 52 episodes, the show was eventually canceled, even though it was produced by Universal and had a toy line backing it up. At that time, many independent production companies were taken over by more extensive networks like WB, who wanted to showcase their content, so shows like Exosquad were pushed to undesirable time slots like 4 am, and obviously, there were no kids who were going to be watching cartoons at that time. This led to a massive drop in viewership, and the ratings were no longer sufficient to sustain it.
It did receive reruns on USA Network later, and they could have moved it there and continued with the third season. Still, it never happened, although they had done a similar thing with Tech Wars after its’ initial run as a part of Universal’s Action Pack. The show had much potential to be explored, but all plans were scrapped post-cancelation.
Exosquad remains a 90s classic that differentiated itself from the get-go. It explored themes like slavery and manipulation and featured heavy intergalactic warfare, themes not commonly seen in cartoons. The show features a fantastic plotline that incorporates all the elements beautifully.
The only unfortunate thing is the cancellation because Exosquad could have been the benchmark for modern animations with its advanced themes and storylines. It was a show unexpected for the American animation industry at that time. The show remains loved by fans even after 28 years of its release, with fans still boasting about their toy collections. It is truly a show for the history books.