Spoiler warning: this review includes material that goes beyond the story of the anime.
Part I: Yuuya
Yuuya is our protagonist character – everything we see, we see almost exclusively through his eyes. So when he says that he’s had a rough upbringing – that people teased and bullied him, that his grandfather hated him, that his mother never understood him, that the people around him didn’t respect him, that his superiors conspired to get rid of him – that’s the way we see him as well. The flashbacks that he shares with us are all about people looking down on him. Even his assignment to Alaska we see filtered through his perception – he says he was banished to the edge of nowhere as punishment, and so that’s how we see him. Everything at the start of the story is designed to get us to buy into his vision of the world.
Total Eclipse is the story of Yuuya’s awakening. Very early on, Yuuya makes the connection between himself and the Shiranui Second. The Phase 1 is very simple – a Japanese machine on the outside, with American parts inside. Assigned to the Shiranui Second, Yuuya comes into conflict with Yui, who challenges his way of thinking. At the same time, in Argos Flight Yuuya has finally found a team that is always looking out for him and supporting him. Then, during the mission in Russia, he begins to change himself. Though he originally finds Latrova as insulting and condescending as the other adults in his life, in the end he has finally matured enough to see beyond the surface for the first time and truly understand how much she has done for him. Upon his return to America, Yuuya has clearly changed. At the same time, the Shiranui Second changes its own appearance, becoming the much more advanced Phase 2. The change that had started on the inside has finally developed to the point where it is visible from the outside.
As we head into the second half of the story, Yuuya begins to see how wrong he was about the people in his past. Full of hatred for his own Japanese heritage, Yuuya was driven by the need to prove himself a good American. But there was never any need for him to do so. Far from thinking him a trouble soldier, his superiors in the army had great hope for him and had put him on the fast track. His teammates, though they despised his attitude, recognized his strength. And in a twist of fate, when the CIA cracked down on his flight, he was the one pilot given special treatment – because he was an American soldier, and that was good enough for them. He was, and always had been, a full-fledged American; he was just too blinded by his own issues to see it. That was why Leon despised him – because he always played at being the victim when he had actually received so many blessings that Leon had not. And that was why he broke up with Sharon – because he was so driven to prove himself that he couldn’t accept that Sharon could love him as he already was.
At the end of the story, Yuuya learns that Cryska has been left to die. Now, he must make a choice: will he choose to rescue her, and stay by her side, even if it means being labeled a traitor to the United States? As Yuuya makes his choice, he launches out in the Shiranui Second Phase 3 – a machine that has been outfitted with the parts and technology of the YF-23 Black Widow II. A generation ago, Heinemann designed the YF-23 with the hope that it would be the next line of TSFs. Now, Heinemann has updated his newest machine, the Phase 3, with the appearance of its predecessor. And at the same time, Yuuya is approaching the final phase of his own maturity. Though he is unaware of it, he has been placed in the same position his father was once in, and is now forced to make the same decision his father once had to make.
Years ago, Yuuya’s parents, Masatada Takamura and Mira Bridges, were in love. However, they ultimately chose to give up on each other because of the various adult responsibilities imposed on them. Masatada was a member of the Imperial Royal Guard, and a relationship with Mira would have international consequences. Mira chose to leave him rather than force him to choose. In the end, pressured by the Empire, Masatada returned to Japan and gave up looking for Mira. Both of them knew that the world was too complicated for their love to survive. Their own loyalties and responsibilities would not allow them to be together.
Yuuya was the result of that decision. Because of the choice his parents made, Yuuya’s life was painful and troubled. And so when Yuuya was finally put in the same position his father was once in, he could not make the same choice. Although he never knew the true story of his father, every experience in his life, and everything he had gone through since he first joined the XFJ Project, had molded him into the kind of person who could not abandon the woman he loved because of his responsibilities. Although he couldn’t know it, he was rejecting the choice his parents made, and was embracing a different path.
It was not an easy choice. For the XFJ Project’s main test pilot to steal the Shiranui Second, at a time when the project was already under suspicion for leaking classified secrets, would mean destroying the project utterly. It was a complete betrayal of his friends in Argos Flight, who had done so much for him when he needed them. It was a complete betrayal of Yui, who he cared for greatly and with whom he had sworn to make the XFJ Project a success. It was a complete betrayal of the United States, which he had dedicated his entire life to trying to fit in and be accepted. So many times, when a story claims that the hero has “thrown away everything for love”, we are completely unmoved. We only care about our hero and heroine getting together – we have no connection to any of the things that the hero has given up. Total Eclipse devotes real time and care to building up all of the things Yuuya lives for, so that when Yuuya makes the choice to sacrifice these things, it is absolutely devastating. At the end of the story, we briefly see his old teammates take part in Operation Cherry Blossom – but wearing the uniforms and piloting the TSFs of their home countries, suggesting that Argos Flight and the XFJ Project have indeed been dissolved in the wake of Yuuya’s betrayal. We care deeply about Argos Flight and all of the other things that Yuuya had to sacrifice, and because of that, we understand just how painful it must have been for Yuuya to make that choice. But if he allowed those things to stop him from rescuing Cryska, he would only be repeating the mistakes of his father.
When his father had to make this decision, he made the wrong choice. And because of that choice, Yuuya suffered. Now, at last, when Yuuya is faced with the same decision, he can make the choice that his father could not. He can make the right choice.
But . . . are things really that simple?
Part II: Yui
Yuuya is the hero of Total Eclipse – that is, he is the protagonist, the character whose eyes we see through. Cryska is the heroine – that is, she is the hero’s love interest. And Yui is the heroine – that is, she is the female protagonist.
Yui is the other side of Yuuya. To Yuuya, his father made the wrong choice, and because of that choice, Yuuya suffered. But to Yui, her father’s choice is the only reason she was even born. She is alive because her father chose to remain in Japan, marry her mother, and start a family. And because of that choice, Yui lived a fulfilling life. She was loved by her family, and honored by her country. She understood her place in the world. To Yui, her father’s choice was not a mistake, it is something to be grateful for.
It is easy for us, the audience, to think of Masatada as having made the wrong choice. Yuuya is the hero of our story, and we can clearly see how much pain that choice brought him. That is the reason Yui is the heroine of our story. As a second protagonist, Yui shows that Masatada’s choice also brought many blessings with it. Can we truly say that Masatada “should” have made a different choice, if it means that Yui would never have been born? That is the purpose of Yui in the story, to show that Masatada’s choice was neither truly right nor wrong. He made the choice that he felt was best, and because of it, somebody suffered and somebody rejoiced. That’s what it means to make a choice.
Because of that choice, Yuuya grew up to be the kind of person who could never repeat that choice. But in exactly the same way, Yui grew up to be the kind of person who would absolutely repeat that choice. That is why Yui and Yuuya could never have ended up together, even before the revelation that they were siblings. Eventually Yui would be brought to the same point as her father – Yuuya would never be accepted in Japan, so to be together, Yui must choose to abandon Japan for him. And she would never choose to do so. Her responsibilities to her country are everything to her. Every experience in her life had molded her into the kind of person who could not abandon her country for her own personal reasons. This is the very thing that Yifei warned Yui about in episode 18 of the anime.
The fundamental difference between Yui and Yuuya is that she grew up in an environment where her Japanese heritage was the greatest, strongest thing in her life. It bound her to the people around her, and made her part of a greater whole. It guided the course of her life, a life filled with honor. Most of all, Yui was raised by a kind, loving father who she looked up to dearly – a man who decided, long ago, that these things were more important than his own personal desires. Yuuya had to stumble through life, trying to find something to live for, because his country did not bestow those things upon him. When the time came, he could choose even to betray his country, although he loved it, because he found something more important. But how could Yui make that choice? Everything that is good in her life – her family, her friends, her honor, her life – can be traced back to the society she was raised in. She owes her very life to the fact that her father chose to value that society above his own wishes. How could she possibly betray that?
In the end, though, Yui never had to make that choice. She learned, from Heinemann, that Yuuya was her own brother. This was another important reason to have Yui as a second protagonist. Through her eyes, we can learn the truth about their relationship without having to reveal it to Yuuya. Yuuya’s final choice is all the more powerful because he never knew that he was in the same position as his father. To him, his father was just some selfish asshole who abandoned them years ago. His final choice was one that he made entirely on his own. Only Yui is in a position to see the deeper truth to Yuuya’s choice.
Yui’s strength in accepting this truth is remarkable as well. In one of the strongest scenes in the story, Yui invites Yuuya to dinner, where she prepares the special nikujaga that their father enjoyed. There, for the very first time, Yui asks Yuuya about his family. After finally understanding the truth behind their respective families, Yui presents Yuuya with a special sword. Although Yuuya doesn’t know it, this sword marks Yuuya as the heir to the Takamura clan. It is Yui’s way of acknowledging, in her heart, that Yuuya truly is her brother, and that any romantic interest in him on her part is now over. Yui’s quiet dignity in accepting this painful truth is a beautiful moment.
Yuuya, for his part, never showed a romantic interest in Yui, ever. The story is very clear on this. So who does Yuuya show an interest in?
Part III: Cryska
When our heroes are stranded on a deserted island, Yuuya tells Cryska a little about his family troubles. Cryska can’t even begin to understand Yuuya’s plight. Although Yuuya may hate his father, and although he may have suffered discrimination in his youth, even such horrible things are still interactions with the larger society around him. Cryska is completely shut off from the world around her, interacting only with Inia, and with her superiors who see her as a disposable object. Where Yui was blessed by society and Yuuya was cursed by society, Cryska was utterly cut off from society altogether.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, Cryska is completely adrift. Even Inia, the one person who had stayed by her side, lies in a coma. Now Cryska truly is alone. During this time, she begins to interact more with Yuuya, who is himself devastated by the apparent loss of Yui. With both of them suffering from the loss of someone important to them, they begin to grow closer. By this time, Yuuya had matured enough to see how much the people around him had done for him. However, in talking with Cryska, he is struck by how much she reminds him of how he used to be, closed off from the world. But whereas Yuuya was only blind to the people around him, Cryska truly doesn’t have anybody to support her. Yuuya begins to feel the need to “give back what he had been given” – to support Cryska the way so many other people have supported him. I’ve mentioned before that this is one of the most important themes in the second half of the story, to the point where the anime staff modified their version of the Blue Flag and Terrorist arcs to incorporate this theme earlier in the story. This idea is so central to Total Eclipse that they didn’t want to risk losing track of it if the anime never got a second season to close out the story.
The worst thing that could happen to Cryska, then, was to be sentenced to death in the way that she was. Locked in a room by herself, separated from Yuuya, separated even from Inia, left to die knowing that she would never be a part of society. What mark did she leave on the world? She piloted some test machines for a while, following her superiors’ orders. Inia cared for her, but Inia is also in the same position as her, isolated from society, to be used by Sandek and the others until she is no longer useful, at which point she might well face the same end as Cryska herself. And Yuuya? There is absolutely no reason to believe that Yuuya will ever learn what happened to her. As far as she can see, Yuuya is simply going to keep on living his life, and even if it ever occurs to him to ask Sandek whatever happened to her, nobody is going to tell him a damned thing. She is simply going to die, without ever having made a difference in the world, and without anybody remembering her except in the most distant of memories – completely cut off from society.
That is the one thing that Yuuya cannot allow. After everything the people around him have done to help him, for him to not be able to help Cryska would be his greatest failure. And even though Cryska still winds up dying, Yuuya succeeds in bringing her into the world. The fabric of society is one in which everybody is connected. It’s just as Natalie told Yuuya: when his teammates in Argos Flight arrived at Yukon Base, they were like Yuuya, depressed and closed off. It was their teammates then who helped them when they needed it. They then paid that favor forward by helping Yuuya when he needed it. And now Yuuya has paid that favor forward by helping Cryska. Thus, Yuuya helped to connect Cryska to the events of the past. And similarly, Cryska will live on in Yuuya and Inia, who will continue to live in the world. Their actions in the future, including their battle at Operation Cherry Blossom, will be part of a string of events that Cryska was a part of. In that way, Yuuya has woven Cryska into the fabric of society, such that her life will be a part of the story of the world.
In the end, though, Total Eclipse is a story about parents, and their desire for their children to go out into the world and prosper. This is a theme that recurs again and again in the story, from Yuuya and Yui to characters like Latrova (who continued to pray for the safety of her own son) and even Heinemann (who cared only that his own creations thrived and were not forgotten). For Cryska, her “child” – the person who she helped raise and protect, and who will carry on her legacy after she is gone – is Inia. Yuuya feels the same way as well. When Cryska is left to die, Inia blames herself – and for Yuuya, the sight of Inia bearing that burden cannot help but overlap with the memory of his own mother’s death, and his own failure to make her happy in the end. In that moment, Yuuya swears he won’t ever let Inia feel the way he felt back then. Though his own parents brought him painful memories, Yuuya is determined to break that cycle by saving Inia. Inia is the true legacy of both Yuuya and Cryska, and the final hope of Total Eclipse is that Yuuya will be able to be there for Inia in exactly the way that his own father was never there for him.
Ending: Things To Come
In the months leading up to the release of the game, Yoshimune always seemed to struggle whenever someone would ask him if the game would “finish” the story. He would usually answer something to the effect that the game would have an ending, but that the larger Muv-Luv universe would still continue, and that there is a place there for the Total Eclipse characters. After finishing the game, it’s clear what he meant. The story of Total Eclipse – that is, the story of Yuuya’s journey to maturity, culminating in his decision to strike a different path from his father – is over. However, the door is wide open for many of the characters to continue on in future stories. Yuuya and Inia, of course, can still have stories told about them, assuming they survived (and the 10th anniversary video strongly suggests that Inia, at least, is still alive and has a role to play down the line). Yui is still around (and a recent installment of TSFiA offered a brief, tantalizing look into her future). And Yoshimune indicated on his Nico Live broadcasts that he still had stories to tell about characters such as Sandek and Stella, for example.
The PC port of the game is coming out later this month, and after that, Yoshimune suggested that he wasn’t opposed to some sort of fandisc to explore certain characters’ stories. Of course, that’s far from any kind of official announcement, and even if it were announced, Age is notorious for its slow pace. They still have to put out the full version of The Day After and the recently announced Schwarzesmarken game. And, on occasion, Yoshimune has dropped small hints about his proposed “Alternative 2” story that would take place in the future – for example, in the 10th anniversary video, which as I mentioned above hints that Inia and other TE characters would be involved. But that, Yoshimune repeatedly warned, is still little more than an idea in his head, and assuming it would one day become a reality, would not happen for many, many years.
I knew, going into Total Eclipse, that Age was a painfully slow company, and that getting to the end of the story would take many years. The original Total Eclipse serialization started at the beginning of 2007, and finished (with the end of the Terrorist arc) at the end of 2009. It then took 3 1/2 years for the rest of the story to finally come out in 2013. (For the record, that’s longer than it took for Alternative to come out and finish the story of Muv-Luv.) Although they’ve hinted at even more stories to be told about these characters, I’m ready to wait for them to be told. I know that Yuuya, Yui, and the rest are amazing characters who can last for many more years.