Morality and Belief

July 6, 2013

In most science fiction, the world setting consists of two superpowers at war with each other – the bare minimum needed for conflict.  Other factions may be in play, but they are usually much smaller than the Big 2, and are usually either neutral or hostile towards both sides equally.  Even SF shows ostensibly set in “our” world divide all the existing countries up into a handful of super-alliances.  Of course it’s not hard to see why.  Nobody wants to put in the effort to sketch out all the different international policies for the HUNDREDS of countries that exist in the real world.

This is one of the reasons I was so impressed with Muv-Luv Alternative.  It was not afraid to set its story in “our” world, one in which the countries of the world have not united into a small group of superpowers but have remained as we would recognize them.  The original Alternative was heavily Japan-centric, but we got tantalizing hints of the complexity of the outside world.  When Total Eclipse was first announced, I was immediately sucked in by its promise to showcase many different countries outside Japan.  And, as promised, Total Eclipse – far more than any other Muv-Luv franchise – features a truly international cast, and showcases the different countries of the world and how they interact with one another.

During the course of the series, the main countries that come into ideological conflict with each other are America, Japan, and the Soviet Union.  But we also see the internal strife between those in Japan who back the XFJ Project and those that oppose outsourcing development to the Americans.  We see the machinations of the Alternative-V faction in America, while at the same time we understand that their goals are not shared by the other Americans we see in the show, like Yuuya.  We see how Sandek, who is normally our window into the Soviet point of view, prioritizes the Polnoye Zatmeniye Project, even stating in the final episode of the anime that he has no real love for the Soviets outside of their willingness to sponsor his research.  We see the radical views of the terrorists who oppose all of the superpowers of the world – and who themselves are a loose alliance of different groups: refugees and religious extremists, as well as people like the Master and Christopher who have their own separate agendas.  In the expanded novels and game, we see the head of Project Prominence, Klaus Hartwig, outright declaring both Alternative-IV and Alternative-V to be complete wastes of time that only distract from the obvious fact that only Project Prominence can save humanity (this scene was likely left out of the anime because it assumes too much prior knowledge of Project Alternative).

In other words, Total Eclipse portrays a world with countless different points of view, a stark contrast to most stories which can only muster 2 or 3.  And what I find to be even more impressive about this is, it refuses to break down these different viewpoints into “Good” and “Evil”.  So many stories make it clear that one side is “right”, and all the other sides are, essentially, assholes – they oppose our good guys for no real reason other than they are bad guys.  In Total Eclipse, no one side has all the answers.  They all act for the benefit of humanity, and they only come into conflict because their beliefs are in conflict.  There is a scene early in the original Muv-Luv Alternative where Yuuko stops the plot cold in order to explain clearly to Takeru that the Alternative-V faction, who are superficially the “Bad Guys” in the story, are not “Bad Guys” at all but simply human beings trying to do the right thing in order to save the human race.  And if they are a little extreme in their methods, well, Yuuko doesn’t exactly have clean hands either.  This goes to the crux of Alternative and Total Eclipse: nobody is truly evil.  All of these different people are trying to do what they think is right, and damn the consequences.  Morality is a game to be played when the stakes are low; with the fate of humanity on the line, nobody can afford to hold back from doing what they feel is necessary just because it’s dirty pool.

I think a lot of anime shows that portray this kind of morality cast their lead character in opposition to it – the adults of the world may be selfish and corrupt, but we just know that our idealistic hero can show them the error of their ways.  One of the things I admire most about Alternative and Total Eclipse is how it never succumbs to this kind of sentimentalism.  The world is what it is, and it is not within Yuuya’s power to change that.  Instead, he accepts Latrova’s advice to “know his place”, and dedicates himself to accomplishing his goals as part of a larger whole.  A common thread throughout the Muv-Luv franchises is showing characters maturing, growing out of that kind of adolescent arrogance.  They come to understand just how large the world really is, and how powerless a single individual really is.  Daisuke Ono, the voice of Yuuya, mentioned in one of the show’s audio commentaries that he first truly began to love Yuuya as a character after he returned from firing the Type-99 cannon, when he acknowledged that his accomplishment was due entirely to the people who had supported him.

I have definitely seen some people who react badly to Total Eclipse because they don’t like the world being shown.  Some get angry at the idea that humans would still be fighting each other while under alien attack.  Others get bored, wishing that the show could focus more on fighting the BETA.  But I believe the numerous different factions in the Muv-Luv universe is one of its greatest strengths.  Kouki Yoshimune himself has said that he considers the story of humanity to be the main draw of Muv-Luv, with the BETA being little more than a catalyst for further human conflict.  This is the question that faces each Muv-Luv protagonist: What will you do?  When confronted with so many different beliefs, which one will you choose?  When others oppose your choice, will you have the confidence in your convictions?  And when the person who opposes you believes in his choice just as strongly as you believe in yours, will you have the strength to stand your ground?