With the Soviet arc about halfway through, this looks like a good place to stop and check in on things.
The anime actually skips a chapter of the novels. Taking place between the events of episodes 7 and 8, this chapter is essentially a look at the characters’ downtime. In it, Argos Flight runs through another simulation and passes with flying colors. We see how closely they have bonded in the past few months, as they congratulate each other afterwards and plan to hit the bar later. In a cute little scene, Yui comes across a bunch of mechanics secretly swapping photos of her from the beach shoot, and confiscates their pictures. Later, she gets a checkup call from Iwaya, and starts to get the sneaking suspicion that he put her on this assignment to force her to grow up a little. We also learn that Vincent always asks Yui to come along on their bar runs, but she always comes up with some reason to refuse.
The most important development comes when Yuuya invites Cryska and Inia to come hang out with them at the bar as well. Cryska eviscerates Yuuya for it, telling him that she can’t understand how they can goof off and relax when their comrades are risking their lives fighting. She tells him that her job is to deliver a more powerful TSF to the front lines as soon as possible. Of course, this is foreshadowing for the next chapter, where we learn that her “comrades” don’t look upon her job as honorably as she does. Yuuya, in turn, replies that they are working hard at their mission as well, and that it is part of their duty to make sure that they are well-rested. This, too, reflects a common theme throughout the Muv-Luv franchises, of characters not just fighting a war but trying to live full lives while surrounded by conflict.
In the end, Argos Flight hits up the bar by themselves, where they complain about Yui and Cryska ditching them, tease Yuuya about his relationship with those two, and generally just shoot the breeze. Nothing of major importance happens, making it easy to see why they would skip it if necessary. Perhaps they simply judged that viewers wouldn’t be in the mood to watch a fairly slow episode with very little plot directly after two beach episodes.
Yuuya and Yui continue to make good progress in their relationship. I think if there’s one good thing about the beach story, it’s that it forced the two of them to talk to each other outside of the XFJ Project. In the framework of the XFJ Project, both of them have immediate reasons to hate each other – Yuuya can’t stand working on a Japanese project, and Yui can’t stand having an American test pilot. The beach story takes that framework away, and forces them to work together in a completely different scenario. Although they still carry their old baggage with them, for the first time they actually interact with each other as human beings. Yuuya flat-out states in the novels that he had never before looked at Yui as a person, just as a crabby Japanese superior officer whose job is to make his life hell. That new understanding then serves as a foundation which they can use to build a better relationship on the XFJ Project. They seem more willing now to see things from the other’s point of view, and acknowledge the hard work that each one has been putting in, to the point where Yui considers Yuuya indispensable to the project.
One thing I admire about Total Eclipse is that it is much better at creating arguments between characters than Muv-Luv was. In Muv-Luv, Takeru was always clearly in the wrong – everybody around him was much more mature than he was, and the story generally revolved around him coming around to their point of view. When Yuuya gets into arguments with Yui or Latrova, he is capable of sticking up for his point of view, and can usually land a few solid hits on them. When Yuuya changes or takes other people’s views into consideration, it truly feels like he has put a lot of thought into things and has methodically decided where he was wrong – whereas Takeru sometimes felt like he was almost kind of peer-pressured into changing. I think that’s where the other members of Argos Flight are so important. They provide for Yuuya something that Takeru never had – friends who have his back and generally think he’s fine the way he is. And so, when Yuuya goes against them and accepts Yui’s or Latrova’s point of view, it really feels like it comes from the heart.
In addition to new characters like Latrova and Tasha (and cameos from future major character Yifei), anime viewers also got their first look at Jerzy Sandek, the guy who Yui and Ibrahim were arguing with in episode 9, and later butted into the Argos Flight briefing in episode 10. He is the commander of Idar Flight, the equivalent of Ibrahim for Argos. In the novels he appeared regularly from the very beginning of the story. I was always confused as to why he wasn’t showing up in the anime, but I can only guess that his scenes just weren’t interesting enough to be kept in. Besides issuing orders to Cryska and Inia, his only role up to this point had been having secret sketchy conversations with Rogovski (another shady Russian who also appeared in episode 9), where they cryptically talk about secret plans and generally confuse the hell out of the readers. Maybe the anime staff just didn’t want to put anime viewers through all that. They seem to have cut around him until he actually started doing something interesting, instead devoting the earlier episodes’ runtime to more important characters. As for why Sandek was at the Argos Flight briefing, it’s because, as a Soviet officer, he is serving as their advisor and liaison during the Soviet mission.
One thing I’ve always felt about the Soviet arc is how disjointed it can feel. Yoshimune is used to writing for games, where the entire plot is laid out first and the story is then written out in its entirety before the game is released. It’s very different writing for a serialized novel, where a chapter of a certain length has to be released every month. Parts of this arc sometimes feel like a learning experience for him – the arcs that come afterward are much better about this. I’ve long felt that the anime is a good opportunity to clean things up a little, keeping the same plot while ensuring that the story flows more smoothly. And it’s to the anime’s great credit that it has in fact done so – much of that disjointed feeling is gone from the anime version of events.
In the novels, the battle sequence in episode 9 is very, very short. The anime is wise enough to beef up this battle a LOT, showing the fights from different points of view and allowing the tension to build. For instance, the entire sequence where one of the Zhar kids eats it is new to the anime. The firing of the Type 99 Cannon is also a much bigger deal here, with an appropriate buildup that can’t be properly done with just text. I liked many of the small details, like the various HUDs, or the jump units on full blast during the firing to counteract the recoil. I was surprised to find that this episode was much better in the anime than in the novel.
The next episode, episode 10, is the exact opposite. But first, some background: for some reason (likely greed-related), the 3rd and 4th novels were released as separate novels, when both their content and their page counts indicate they should have been a single novel. As a result, both novels are really thin, and don’t have as much content as a regular novel would. I say all of that to set the stage for what I’m about to say next: episode 10 adapts the ENTIRE 3rd novel. No, really. The 3rd novel is three full chapters of wall-to-wall talking. In addition to all the scenes we actually see in episode 10, we also have: shady conversations between Soviet officials. Conversations between officials back at Yukon Base. Conversations between the members of Argos Flight. And of course, all the conversations we see in episode 10 also run MUCH longer. When I first read these novels, I skimmed through this entire 3rd novel and didn’t remember much of it. This is something veteran Muv-Luv fans often have to put up with – the giant wall of text that just goes on and on. This is exactly what Inagaki was referring to in the Newtype interview – long passages filling out the world of Alternative, which can be interesting from a world-building perspective but which absolutely have to be cut from an anime adaptation. Thankfully, episode 10 strips all these conversations down to their essentials, keeping the important emotional beats but otherwise moving briskly through the material to get to the more interesting sections coming up.
In general, the Total Eclipse anime has been a successful adaptation thus far, staying true to the source material while always keeping in mind where things need to be changed to work better as an anime. Giving additional time to scenes that play to the medium’s strengths, while cutting scenes that would drag down a 24-minute episode. A lot of anime adaptations simply throw what was in the source material directly onto the screen, with little consideration for the difference between a television show and other media. I admire that the Total Eclipse anime has been putting in real work in making sure that the anime flows well, independent of the original novels.