By 1996, the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union has spread to Mars, with each country establishing their own bases. On October 3, a UN space shuttle carrying students from the Cosmic Culture Club arrives on Mars and is met by American jet fighters before landing at the UN Mars Observation Base. The students are escorted by transport buggy to the base and greeted by its staff. Staff leader Rivre greets Dr. Elizabeth Clabery from the UN Space Division. David Rutherford dreams of having a job in space, but his friend Juno comments that coming here is no guarantee of that. Rivre notices that 17-year-old Arthur Cummings is the oldest student, while 14-year-old Anna Stephanie is the youngest. A man named Bill gives Anna roses as a token of appreciation, and she asks if they were cultivated on Mars. Bill explains that those are the first roses grown on Mars, and Rivre compares mankind’s space development to the roses. Anna thinks about how she applied two years ago to join the Cosmic Culture Club and has been preparing to come to Mars for six months. Anna gives one of the flowers to Simone Reflann, and Simone puts one of the flowers in Anna’s hair. Arthur bunks with Roanne Demitrich and asks him if he’s tidy. David is happy to be bunking with Juno, and the two decide to compete for a job on the base. Later, the students meet with base commander Job Grenba, who comments that young people are the best suited to live in space. He comments that despite the militarization of Mars, they can show different values. Grenba is called away to the control tower on an emergency, which upsets the students. Grenba is informed that one of their orbiting satellites has been destroyed. As the students speculate on the issue, Juno wonders if the Americans and Soviets have gone to war. Grenba is informed that they can’t raise the American and Soviet bases, so he wants them to call the Moon. An alert is sounded, and a staff member comes to evacuate the students. David, Juno and Roanne run off, so Arthur gives chase to bring them back. The base’s exterior is rocked by explosions from incoming weapons fire. The super powered tracer Layzner dodges attacks from a trio of Bravers. Anna and Simone join the boys and wonder what’s going on.
Elizabeth catches up with everyone and tells them to put on their space suits. Rivre and Grenba watch the unfolding battle and wonder which side the mecha are on. Grenba orders Rivre to evacuate everyone. Anna and the others put on space suits, and the prospect of a space battle excites David and Juno. Layzner dodges the Bravers, which destroy the ecological dome. Elizabeth asks the students to remain calm and listen to her instructions, but Anna is shaking with fear. The Bravers open fire on the base and destroy all of its radar arrays. Grenba calls the Bravers and demands that they identify themselves. One of them fires on the control tower and breaches the atmosphere, killing everyone in the room. Another explosion causes the roof to cave in near the students. Simone screams in terror at the sight of dead students crushed under the rubble. David tries to rouse Juno, but Elizabeth tells him they have to leave. Elizabeth and the remaining students run for the underground bunker, and several Soviet jet fighters join the fight. The jets fire missiles at the Bravers and miss. The Bravers quickly destroy the three jets and return their focus to Layzner. David wonders if the Bravers are from America since the Soviets were shot down. Simone asks if there were other survivors, but Elizabeth tells her the people in the room are all that’s left. David angrily screams that he wants to know what’s going on. He thinks about how he was standing right next to Juno, but Juno is the one who died. He adds that Juno was more excited to come to Mars than he was. Everyone stops when they hear loud footsteps. They run outside and see UN personnel shooting at Layzner. The UN people are surprised to see that so few students are left. They lock themselves in the room and hear footsteps from outside. The door opens, and a man in a space suit walks through. One of the UN personnel shoots the floor near him and demands to know who he is. The man removes his helmet and introduces himself as Eiji Asuka. He’s come from Grados and warns that Earth is being targeted.
SPT Layzner opens in a setting not explored too often in mecha anime: Mars. It’s laughable now, but even in 1985 it’s unbelievable to think that there would be manned bases on Mars in 1996 and that children would go there on field trips. However, setting details aside, this is an interesting first episode that isn’t like typical mecha debuts. The main character, Eiji Asuka, isn’t seen at all until the closing moment of the episode. Instead, the focus is entirely on his mecha, the Layzner. It certainly has a Gundam aesthetic to it, which is no surprise given the designs by Kunio Okawara. The mecha combat moves pretty fluidly and has a lot of detail in the animation. With the way the mecha move, it seems akin to an aerial dogfight more than a humanoid battle. Narratively, it’s also interesting that the internal narration comes from Anna Stephanie, the youngest kid in the bunch. These kids have their lives thrown into turmoil when most of their classmates die around them, and of course the token black character has to be one of the casualties. Finally, this series eschews the typical opening exposition laying out two parties in conflict by making the attackers a mystery. In this way, the viewer is just as much in the dark as the characters, so it’s a nice touch.