Total Eclipse 15-19

November 21, 2012

Writing a game is very different from writing a serialized novel.  For a game, the writer can plan out the entire story ahead of time, rewriting or moving scenes until they meet his approval.  (This is especially true of Age, which is infamous for its numerous delays.)  For a serialized novel, a chapter has to go out every month, and once it’s out, it can’t be rewritten.  In my opinion, Kouki Yoshimune seemed to have trouble adapting to this writing style, as the Soviet arc was kind of choppy in places.

For the Blue Flag arc, he went to extreme lengths to fix this.  Not during the serialization, mind you – there’s not a lot that can be done there.  But the fifth novel, which contains the first chunk of the Blue Flag arc, was delayed for years.  Many wondered what was going on – how hard can it possibly be to compile a bunch of existing chapters into a book?  When it was finally solicited, though, the truth came out – the actual text had been rewritten practically from the ground up.  Yoshimune claimed that almost 90% of the novel had been rewritten.  Although the scenes themselves remained the same, a lot of new dialogue and descriptive text had been added.  I haven’t seen the original serialized chapters, but in comparison with the older chapters, the chapters in the fifth novel are almost twice as long.

This is very much in keeping with Yoshimune’s philosophy regarding Total Eclipse.  Put simply, he seems to regard the novels as something of a work-in-progress.  He treats the novels as almost like a plot outline, something that later projects (like the manga, anime, and game) should expand upon and rework rather than follow slavishly.  So of course he would see no problem with replacing the original serialized text with a completely rewritten version for the novel.

Yoshimune mentioned in interviews that he would constantly encourage the anime staff to put their own spin on things rather than follow the novels exactly, so it confused me a little that the first half of the anime actually hews very closely to the original novels.  A lot of things that I thought would be changed were actually kept, while new elements to the story tended to be small additions (like Corporal Yamamoto) rather than sweeping changes.  That’s not true with the Blue Flag arc – for the first time, they’ve really shaken things up.  While most of the scenes still come from the novels, they’ve been shuffled around massively into a new story structure.

The major changes seem dedicated to introducing our new characters – Yifei, Leon, and Sharon – much earlier than in the novels.  The Argos/Baofeng battle only occurs at the end of the fifth novel, with Yifei’s famous declaration (“You may fall in love with me!”) coming in the novel’s final pages.  The anime moves this entire sequence forward considerably.  I think it’s a welcome change that adds some clarity to the character’s arc – now, she takes a liking to Yuuya after he defeats her in battle, while in the novel Yifei just seems to hang around Yuuya for no real reason.

To be honest, I like Yifei more in the concept than in the execution.  She’s far and away the most “anime”-ish of all the TE characters, noticeably different from the other characters, who are generally more grounded.  And of course, when she appears in the actual anime the staff naturally plays up those tendencies even more than in the novel.  The story has always been about Yuuya and Yui, and I tend to judge the other characters based on how they help these two characters explore new dimensions of themselves.  The problem is that Yifei doesn’t really bring out anything new in Yuuya – for the most part he sees her as a massive pain.

I do think Yifei has a lot of potential as a rival for Yui, as she was in the last part of episode 18.  The problem with Yuuya and Yui is that, up to this point, the “changes” they’ve gone through have generally consisted of Yuuya changing, and Yui accepting him.  And up to this point, that was totally OK, because up to this point Yui was simply Yuuya’s superior officer.  But a relationship is a two-way street, and if Yui is serious about wanting to start a relationship, she needs to make an effort to understand where Yuuya is coming from as well.  That’s Yifei’s message to her.  Yifei believes that Yui, who is an elite member of Japanese society and has always been supported by it, cannot possibly understand someone like Yuuya, for whom his national identity is a source of conflict.  She believes that only someone like herself, who has experienced similar hardships, could understand Yuuya.  I think that’s when Yifei is at her most interesting – when she forces Yui to consider new perspectives she would not have otherwise.  It’s a shame she doesn’t fill that role very often, then.  Perhaps, in the as-yet unreleased second half of TE, Yifei will get more interesting things to do – I would certainly be overjoyed if that were the case.  As I said, I think Yifei has a lot of potential in theory that she isn’t really fulfilling right now.

No, the characters in this arc that I really like are Leon and Sharon.  It’s so rare to see a Japan-hating protagonist, and a rival character who has made peace with his racial heritage.  Normally you would expect to see those positions reversed.  I think that’s what fascinates me most about Yuuya and Leon – that growing realization that Leon was probably the good guy in their backstory, and Yuuya was the bad guy.  Setting aside his business with Yuuya, Leon actually seems like a pretty stand-up guy.  He certainly seems to be good friends with Vincent.  He seems to show Yui the proper respect due a superior officer and fellow Japanese.  And while he’s clearly using it as an excuse to insult Yuuya, he does seem genuinely sorry that the XFJ Project is saddled with such a loser test pilot.  In his eyes, it’s obvious that Yuuya must be a drag on the whole project, and will inevitably lead to its failure.  If you tone down his hatred for Yuuya a little, it’s actually not hard to imagine a different series in which Leon is the main character, and Yuuya the asshole rival.

As for Sharon, I think I mostly like her because she’s such a calm influence.  In a story where Yuuya and Leon are at each other’s throats, and Yifei is course being Yifei, I like that one of our new characters is nice and level-headed.  She clearly has deep feelings for both Yuuya and Leon, but she also believes in their ability to settle things in their own way, like in the bar fight sequence.  And, yeah, I like that Sharon is written as an adult who has moved on and is content to root for Yuuya’s happiness without trying to rekindle their old relationship.

Like with Yifei, their introductions are moved up quite a bit – originally, they made their full debut almost 3/4ths of the way into the fifth novel.  Introducing them earlier also gives the anime time to devote an entire episode to them, in episode 18.  Much of 18 is new to the anime – I believe it’s the first time we’ve ever gotten the full story of what happened to Yuuya and Leon in the past.  It’s a little more weighty than I had imagined, but it’s good stuff, with the right touch of moral ambiguity that I expect from this show.

In the novel, Vincent asks Leon about “the opposite of like” during their conversation at the bar.  When episode 16 aired, I was horrified by the idea that they had cut this dialogue out, and I was very relieved to find that they had merely moved the conversation over to Sharon instead.  I actually really like the idea of Sharon having this conversation with Leon, not least of which because she doesn’t get enough to do.  Why does Leon hate Yuuya so much?  As Sharon implies, perhaps it’s because Leon cannot be indifferent about Yuuya.  Perhaps it’s because Leon had hoped that this fellow Japanese-American would be similar to himself, and was bitterly disappointed to find that instead he was constantly talking shit about Japan.

Speaking of new additions, the material about Cryska and Inia’s past in episode 17 is new too.  It doesn’t present much that we couldn’t have guessed beforehand, but it’s still another place where the anime has chosen to expand on things.  Combined with episode 18, it seems the anime chose this section to dig into our characters’ pasts on a level we have yet to see in the novels.

I don’t have much to say about episode 19.  It should probably go without saying that it’s completely anime-original.  I don’t like these kinds of episodes much, although every Muv-Luv franchise has them so I guess it’s a little late to complain.  It’s a particularly odd place in the story to put one – if I had to insert one into the story, I probably would have chosen right after the Soviet arc, instead of deep into the Blue Flag exercise.  The best thing I can say about this episode is that I have very little faith in today’s anime industry, and when this show was first announced I had grave fears that the entire series would turn out like this.  Instead, the show has turned out quite wonderfully, hemming close to the plot and feel of the original story.  And if the price to pay for that is that the anime staff takes one episode to really cut loose and indulge in all the typical modern-day anime tendencies, I guess I’ll overlook it.  It helps that this episode came right after episode 18, which was a solid and engaging, powerful episode; a nice reminder that, aside from this one episode, the show is still going strong.

These episodes have pretty much gone through the fifth and most recent novel; outside of a few random scenes that I think might still make it into the next couple of episodes, everything that comes after this has yet to be collected in novel form.  The TSF Cross Operation collections contain summaries of the serialized chapters, but otherwise the only people who have read what happens next are those who bought Tech Gian magazine every month while Total Eclipse was running.  Of course, Yoshimune is still in the process of rewriting these chapters, so once the next novels come out they will likely be far longer and more detailed than what had been serialized.  So in a certain sense, even those who had read the Tech Gian chapters may not know exactly what’s coming next.

I mentioned before that there were just enough weeks left in the year to run all 26 episodes of Total Eclipse.  Obviously then, this new recap special screws things up.  Unlike the first recap special, which was planned and announced long in advance, this second special seems to have been conceived at the last second.  How last second?  The first indication we had of it was in the preview in episode 19.  The schedule included in the latest Newtype magazine – which came out the same day episode 19 aired – states that episode 20 had been planned to run last Sunday.  Clearly, plans changed very quickly.

What does that mean for the show’s episode count, then?  In the worst case scenario, there are no longer 26 episodes.  I find this scenario pretty unlikely.  It’s pretty late in the day to simply cut an entire episode out.  Scripts have been written, storyboards made, I believe animation may already have started.  It’s simply too late to rearrange things to accommodate a missing episode into the story.  Most likely, either a double airing has been arranged somewhere, or the last episode will simply be direct-to-video.

While we wait for this Sunday, then, I highly recommend studying the new OP that aired with the special last Sunday.  Quite a few hints to the show’s next storylines are hidden inside.  But it won’t just be new fans speculating – the last few weeks have brought hints of a couple of possible new anime-original additions to the storyline, which I am personally very excited to see if true.  And that’s not even getting into speculation over how the anime will end, which I can’t even predict yet.