So, I felt like taking a small break from the TE interviews by translating something a little different. Here’s an online interview with the creators of Schwarzesmarken.
This interview was conducted with Hiroki Uchida (author), Akira Yamazaki (one of the writers for The Day After and TSFiA), and Hiki (the novels’ editor).
Minor spoilers for Schwarzesmarken, I guess. I don’t think they’re any big deal. This is supposed to be free publicity for the novels, after all.
– Let’s start with Uchida-san’s profile. I hear you would write historical fiction.
Uchida: In college, I would write military fanfiction as a hobby.
I don’t know if I should say this too loudly, but I would write somewhat oddball fanfiction like putting *eaf-san’s “T* Heart” characters in a warzone, and put that on the web.
At the time I had no intention of becoming a real author, but as I put out doujinshi, an editor acquaintance of mine asked me “Do you have anything you’d like to write?” I responded “I might like to write something like this”, and he said “Write up a proposal and bring it to me”, and that’s how it all started. When I brought them my proposal, thankfully it was accepted and became a novel.
– The editor must have really liked you.
Uchida: Yeah. I wrote over 20 historical fiction novels, mostly related to World War II.
– And then, how did you get into Schwarzesmarken?
Uchida: At the time, I knew someone in the Age staff, and that person told Yoshimune-san (Kouki Yoshimune, CEO of ACID, creator of Muv-Luv, Muv-Luv Alternative, and Total Eclipse) that he knew a guy who knew a lot about military history, like the Eastern Front of WWII, and gave him my name.
Then, when Enterbrain-san released Age-san’s “Muv-Luv Alternative Integral Works”, I wrote a short story about a mechanic for it, and that’s how I got started.
About a year after that, I brought them a proposal for a story about Germany in the Alternative world.
That proposal was set at a joint West Germany/East Germany pilot training academy, and they would get into a lot of youthful hijinks, and then the BETA would start the European invasion – it was a pretty light-hearted proposal.
But then, Yoshimune-san told me “Nah, this isn’t your kind of story. You like more gritty, bloody stories. You don’t have to lie to me.” (laughs)
And then it turned out that Yoshimune-san actually already had a story set in Germany bouncing around in his head. “You want to write this instead?” “Sure!” That’s about how things turned out (laughs).
– Tell us about your writing pace.
Uchida: I’ve already long since burned through all the chapters I had built up before the serialization started, so now I’m always fighting against the deadline!
This is the first time I’ve done a serialized story, and at first I couldn’t quite get into the rythm of it. That’s why, I’m very sorry, but I will be putting my historical novel series on hold for the time being.
For now, I’ll be focusing on my Muv-Luv related work – writing a chapter every month, as well as writing stories for mooks.
– Tell us what your goal is as an author.
Uchida: I’d be happy to see my work animated . . . also, for the time being my goal is to put food on the table as an author!
– Thank you. Now, let’s move on to the main subject. The original creator and the author are different, so how does that system work?
Yamazaki: As an employee of Ixtl, the company in charge of rights management, I’ll answer this question.
Schwarzesmarken is based on an original story outline from the original creator Kouki Yoshimune. Uchida-sensei, editor Hiki-san, and I, Yamazaki, in charge of the overall layout of the Muv-Luv series, all get together and decide on the finer details.
Uchida-san is generally the one who expands on the story, delves into the main characters’ feelings, and fleshes out the supporting roles, and then Yoshimune-san looks it over, and if he gives the OK then we go with it.
It’s a pretty complicated project, so if Uchida-san hadn’t volunteered, this title probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day (laughs).
Hiki: For the current serialization, Uchida-san plots out the entire chapter. Using that as a base, each month Uchida-san, Yamazaki-san, and I have a meeting to work out the details. Afterwards, Uchida-san writes the manuscript, and Yamazaki-san and I edit the final product.
– So, has the ending been decided since the very beginning?
Yamazaki: This story’s ending is pretty much decided. The worldview is connected to Muv-Luv Alternative, so we can’t tamper with it. So, unfortunately, East Germany will not be able to fight off the BETA. The endings to the main characters have basically been decided, but there’s some wiggle room for the sub-characters.
Uchida: It’s fun to flesh out the characters whose endpoints have already been decided.
After all, one of the fun parts of writing a historical story is to take what has been recorded in the timeline and say, “This is how that event unfolded.”
Yamazaki: Schwarzesmarken is set in 1980s Europe, but we have a project called Duty -Lost Arcadia- set in 2000s Europe. I think this is the fun of a shared world, that maybe a surprising character will turn up in a surprising scene in another title.
– What parts are a struggle?
It’s a serialized story, so establishing the flow of a story every month is hard. While finalizing each chapter every month, I also have to think about the structure of the story when it is compiled into a single novel. And strictly speaking, I also have to think about the structure of the entire story – that is what takes the most thought.
Also, I have to think about the using tactics and terrain against the BETA, and how to deploy the army, and keeping these things in mind while writing is not an easy task.
– What did you think when you saw the illustrations?
Uchida: When I heard that Carnelian-sensei would be handling the artwork, I thought, “This is gonna work.” (laughs)
Thank you so much for providing such beautiful illustrations every month! I’d like to take this time to express my gratitude to Carnelian-sensei!
I gave Carnelian-sensei the character settings and information, and when I first saw the character layouts she sent back, it took my breath away . . .
Yamazaki: After the author had been decided, Yoshimune-san thought that in contrast to the gritty Uchida-san, an illustrator with a gentle touch would be a good match. He wanted to find someone with a moe-style art who could draw military works.
However, when Yoshimune-san advertised on Twitter as part of the search for an artist, Carnelian-san volunteered almost as soon as he finished typing (laughs).
You may be aware of this, but the two of them used to work together in the past, so it seems the details were ironed out very smoothly.
– What scene are you fond of in the story?
Uchida: I like the ending to volume 3. Writing it was a lot of fun. It’s a scene where Theodor has managed to bring Irisdina and Katia’s ideals to life in some small way, so it felt like all his hard work since the first volume has paid off.
Basically, I like writing scenes that resemble the scenes in robot anime or action movies that I thought were cool, and I hope I managed to convey that atmosphere.
In all three volumes, there’s a scene at the end where Theodor matures a little, and I like all of them.
– Tell us how the title was decided.
Uchida: According to Yoshimune-san’s original proposal, they were the strongest TSF squadron, but also the most hated, so the name should be something like “Death Squadron”, something that sounds cool.
But “Death Squadron” didn’t have the right hook to it, so we all talked it over, and the title Triage was suggested.
Triage refers to classifying wounded allies on the battlfield, with a black tag signifying they cannot be saved and must be abandoned, and prioritizing those with a red tag. In order to save as many lives as possible, they must choose to abandon those who cannot be saved. Then, those who are abandoned would hate them and treat them as if they were Grim Reapers – that’s what it boiled down to.
Then, we thought about a black tag, black mark, black verdict. Black is Schwarzes, so Schwarzesmarken. We decided that a Russian officer was praising the success of East Germany’s 666th TSF Squadron, and gave them that nickname. And that’s how they got their slightly grammaticaly incorrect nickname – that’s the story we came up with when we decided on the name Schwarzesmarken.
And then there’s the emblem design. Yoshimune-san designed that emblem with the horned skull.
– Please tell us the appeal of the TSF Balalaika.
Uchida: It’s a 1st generation unit, but I like the balance between slender and massive.
I bought enough Revoltechs to make the entire squadron (laughs)!
Yamazaki: We had revealed the monochrome design a long time ago, but when we colored it and equipped it with supplemental armor, it looked completely different. It really felt like a main-character machine (laughs).
Hiki: The explosive reactive armor Schurzen was Yoshimune-san’s idea. The Type-92 supplemental armor used by the Gekishin and Shiranui has these hexagonal explosive reactive armor on it, and when the BETA come into contact with it, it can detonate.
The game doesn’t have a scene that uses this, but there’s an illustration of it in Integral Works.
Also, in addition to piercing the BETA, the pointed tip of the Schurzen can also dig trenches.
Yamazaki: When the game was under development, the explosive reactive armor was designed, but there wasn’t time to create the images of it, so they had to cut it from the game while weeping (laughs).
In the 80s where Schwarzesmarken is set, when compared to the 00s where Alternative is set, communication performance is not so good. The data link is still in the developmental stage, so under bad conditions the performance is limited, so some units are equipped with parts on the head to enhance communications. In Schwarzesmarken, this is Irisdina’s MiG-21PF.
– Do you need permission to create your own terminology?
Uchida: In general I tend not to use original words, but when necessary I’ll get permission first before deciding whether or not to use it.
I do like to use cool-sounding German words as a gadget. The German language really stimulates the “chuuni” mind (laughs).
– Is it hard for you to express your own style within the Muv-Luv world?
Uchida: No, not at all (laughs).
I get to put in all sorts of things I like, like how cruel the Stasi could be, so my tastes are very much reflected.
The truth is I really like board games, so to draw on that hobby, I include a lot of situation maps (laughs).
– You mean like the active defense?
Uchida: That’s a real-world tactic that I adapted for the Alternative world.
Hiki: The TSF is not a weapon that can do anything by itself. The performance of the 1st generation units is especially not that high, so coordination with other units like tanks and self-propelled artillery is important.
Building position and holding the line of defense is a major part of Schwarzemarken within the shared world of Alternative.
Yamazaki: For instance, tactics may be developed and used in this era, but they were relatively ineffective, so we don’t see them in the world of Alternative. Or, TSF performance has improved so those tactics are no longer used. These are things that we have discussed, and it conveys a proper sense of history.
Also, the fundamental BETA behaviors are not totally understood by humanity, so in this era, they thought of it like this, but later they learned they were wrong. Yoshimune-san asked Uchida-san to include that kind of setting for people to notice.
Also, they way the heroine keeps getting knocked around is a special feature. I didn’t think she was going to piss herself. That must be Uchida-san’s taste (laughs).
Uchida: No way (laughs). If you put a pure and innocent character like Katia in front of characters stained by war, of course she’s going to get it from them (laughs). And anyway, if you’re going to talk about people pissing themselves, Alternative had Marimo-chan . . . (laughs).
– Finally, tell us a little about the next volume.
Uchida: The highlight of volume 4 is Liz. Many new truths will come to light.
On top of that, a major BETA offensive begins . . . East Germany is on the brink! The Stasi makes its move! What will you do, Theodor!! . . . that kind of thing.
The thoughts and feelings of all the characters will collide at once, so please look forward to it!
Total Eclipse 08-10September 8, 2012
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.
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