Schwarzesmarken Anime Announced

May 20, 2015

People.  It’s “Schwarzesmarken”.  It’s not “Muv-Luv Alternative Schwarzesmarken”.  It’s not “Muv-Luv Schwarzesmarken”.  It’s just “Schwarzesmarken”.  Please, guys.  I’d like not to have to spend the next two years correcting people on this.

So, they announced an anime adaptation of Schwarzesmarken today.  The official announcement was made in Tech Gian magazine, where Schwarzesmarken was serialized.  The magazine came out today, but as usual, the information was leaked by people who got their hands on the magazine early.  The Age website and Twitter helpfully confirmed the news today, when the magazine officially comes out.

Even though the news leaked yesterday, I held off on making a post because I wanted to see if the actual Tech Gian article included any more information about the anime, like staff or studio, but it didn’t.  All of the announcements also use the phrase “anime adaptation planning in progress” rather than “anime adaptation confirmed”, which leads me to believe that there are still some details to be ironed out before they make the full, “proper” announcement.  Something similar happened with Total Eclipse – they were forced to make the anime announcement before they were really ready to, because somebody leaked details of the anime early.  This sort of “pre-announcement” may be to head off any potential similar leaks for Schwarzesmarken.  All of that suggests to me that we’ll probably have to wait until next year to see the show.  (I certainly hope we don’t have to wait longer than that.)

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely at this point that we’ll ever see a second season of Total Eclipse.  The sad truth is that most anime, especially adaptations of existing material, are intended to serve as little more than advertising for the original product.  The Total Eclipse anime was intended to advertise the game.  A few years ago, I had hoped that a second season could advertise something else, like a PC port of the game or a newly invigorated novel release schedule.  But now the PC port is out, the novels have stalled, and while Age has said they would like to release more stories involving the TE characters, their plate is pretty full right now and going back to TE is probably lower on the priority list than getting through their (numerous) in-progress works.  There’s nothing for a second season to advertise, and making a second season just to finish the story is sadly not how the anime industry works.

So what is Schwarzesmarken?  One of the joys of the Muv-Luv franchise is that it doesn’t simply regurgitate the same story over and over.  Total Eclipse was a coming-of-age story, using the political battles between nations as a metaphor for the complex moral relationships between people.  Schwarzesmarken is more a political thriller, discarding the metaphors of Total Eclipse and telling a more straightforward tale of good vs. evil.  The setting is East Germany, 1983.  Our heroes are the 666th TSF Squadron, the Schwarzesmarken, known as the most powerful TSF squadron in East Germany.  But this is a Muv-Luv tale, so of course the true enemy is not the BETA but the Stasi, the German secret police backed by the Soviets.

Once again, this site will be geared towards viewers of the anime, providing information and context and avoiding spoilers.  Once promotion for the series starts up, I intend to resume translating promotional interviews like I did for Total Eclipse.  And of course once the series starts airing, I’ll post reviews as well.  Again, though, major promotion is not likely to start until 2016, so that’s when this site will really come back to life.  I’ll probably still post when significant news about the anime hits, but otherwise you can feel free to check back here next year.


Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – Collection 2 (Sentai Filmworks)

May 12, 2015

Sentai’s first release went well enough.  Despite my reservations about several translation choices, I was more or less satisfied with the show’s English dub, and even hoped that, having laid down the foundation, the second half could build upon it and do even better.  So how the hell did we get here?

This is a flat-out sloppy release.  Sentai is notorious for pumping shows out at a ridiculously fast pace with little or no quality control.  I had hoped that the reasonably solid first collection was a sign that they were righting the ship, but no, here we have a release that is everything Sentai’s detractors always say about them.

Let’s start with the subtitles.  I mentioned that the first release cleaned up the Crunchyroll subtitles by standardizing the various terms, which was immensely helpful because the Crunchyroll subs were all over the place.  No such QC happened in this release, so terms like Shiranui Second and XFJ Project are referred to with various different translations (Shiranui 2, Shiranui Type 2, XFJ Plan) depending on the episode.  It’s not a question of the “right” translation – I understand and accept that the translators generally won’t have access to all the reference materials published in Japan which spell out the official English translations.  But any decent translation will have ONE translation, kept standard across the whole show, so the viewer can actually keep track of what’s going on.  This is such a basic requirement that the fact that this release turned out this way pretty much means nobody at Sentai bothered to take even a cursory pass at the subtitles.

The dub is, astonishingly, even worse.  The first collection used “2nd Lieutenant” and “1st Lieutenant” for 少尉 and 中尉, which corresponds to the actual US Army ranks.  This collection reverts back to Crunchyroll’s “Ensign” and “Lieutenant”.  Again, to a large extent, I don’t even care which one is correct – the fact that characters are referred to with two different ranks over the course of the show is what makes this such a sloppy dub.  And it gets worse!  There are several scenes in the dub where the same character is referred to by different ranks in the very same scene – once even in adjacent lines!  It boggles the mind how little care must have gone into the dub for something like this to happen so regularly.

(Also, while we’re talking about ranks, the Crunchyroll subs tended to use “Commander” as a catch-all translation for anybody above the rank of Captain, regardless of their actual rank, which is a terrible shortcut for a military show where it’s important to know who actually outranks whom.  Once upon a time, I had hoped that Sentai would correct this, but obviously that didn’t happen.)

There were many, many mistakes which give the dub a sense of being slapped together on the fly.  On at least two occasions that I counted, Yui refers to herself as “Takamura Yui”, rather than in Western name order (as she does in the first collection).  This seems to have been done not out of some sort of dedication to Japanese name order, but simply because that’s the way the Crunchyroll subs did it, and whoever wrote the dub script didn’t care enough to check what her name actually was.  On several occasions, the dub uses the word “Fleet” instead of “Flight” (as in “Argos Fleet”).  This happens often enough that it can’t just be somebody flubbing a line.  There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to when this happens.  The dub script this time is credited to a huge team of writers, and the dub has the feel of having sent different sections of the script to different writers just to get the job done on time, without any coordination between them.

And now, the worst part of the dub: there are many, many instances where lines were just flat-out not recorded at all.  There’s just a gap in the conversation where a person’s line was supposed to go, making the next character’s line incomprehensible.  These gaps always occur when a character is off-screen, making it clear what happened: the process of recording the dub was so rushed that, when recording a single character’s lines, they primarily watched for when that character’s lips were moving, and accidentally missed a few scenes when that character had a line off-screen.  That’s how rushed the production on this dub was – not only did they miss recording several lines, but when assembling the dub afterwards, they either ran out of time to call the actor back in or didn’t even realize those lines were missing at all.  I’m just flabbergasted at this point.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a dub where lines were just plain missing.

I suppose we can, at this point, talk about the dub performances.  The returning cast pretty much maintains their quality from the first collection.  I don’t have any real complaints about the returning cast, except Krystal LaPorte, who still just doesn’t sound much like Yui.  I had hoped that she might ease into the role more as Yui opens up in the second half, but if anything, she struggles with Yui’s lighter moments, playing her much more comedic and broad than Yui should be.  That’s the kind of thing a director should be helping her reign in, but unfortunately, it’s become obvious that, at least during the second half, this is not a dub that was lavished with care.  The other major roles, who are mostly filled with veterans, come across much better, perhaps as a result of their experience despite the poor conditions the dub was recorded in.  Corey Hartzog as Yuuya continues to be the strongest performance here, and it was often his work that kept me going even as the dub’s shoddy production became obvious.

Interestingly, all the major new characters in the second half are staffed with completely new actors, with no major credits for any of them.  I don’t know if that’s related to the lack of effort put into this half.  Interestingly, Yifei was played by Emily Neves (who normally plays Natalie and other minor characters) during her brief appearances in the first half, apparently because the dub staff didn’t realize she was going to be a major character.  In this half, she’s played by Sara Ornelas, and she’s probably the strongest of the new actors cast.  The rest of the new characters – Leon, Sharon, and the members of the RLF – sound pretty rough.  Again, I suspect this is because newer actors require more time and direction to hone their performances, and those things are clearly missing from the production.

The dub for the first half was a stronger effort than I had expected from a company of Sentai’s reputation, so I had hoped that it was a sign that they had started putting more effort into their dubs.  This, though, is just a mess.  It’s clearly been thrown together with the absolute minimum of money and effort.  It’s such a shame.  One reason I had looked forward to the English dub of Total Eclipse is that it is a very rare anime that is actually set in America, and in which the characters are canonically speaking English.  If it had turned out well, it could have felt even more authentic to watch the show in English than in Japanese.  I suppose it’s not a total loss – I did get to hear some very solid English voices for many of the main characters.  But this is not a dub I’ll be going back to again.  It’s a horribly wasted opportunity.

When I first heard that Sentai got the license, my immediate reaction was that I wished somebody else – anybody else – had picked it up.  I then regretted that reaction and vowed to give them a fair chance.  And now that I’ve given them a fair chance . . . I wish somebody else had picked it up.