Pretty much any in-depth discussion of the Schwarzesmarken anime so far has to center on the show’s episode count. At only 12 episodes, this is going to be a much faster-paced anime than Total Eclipse (or, for that matter, most anime in general). This is actually much less of a problem than it may first seem. Total Eclipse was an in-depth character study, and it needed the breathing room to build up its character relationships. Schwarzesmarken is more of a political thriller, where character development is less important than the tension created by the plot. In fact, it may even be to the show’s benefit to keep things moving at a fast pace, not allowing viewers to catch their breath.
It helps, immensely, to have a director like Tetsuya Watanabe at the helm. He was the director of the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien anime, which was also heavily arranged from the original work. The high school era of KimiNozo took up almost half of the original game, but the anime fits the whole story into only two episodes. And yet, these two episodes feel completely natural. They convey the entire story necessary to understand the rest of the series, and nothing feels missing from them. The rest of the series continued to show an amazing understanding of how to translate from a game medium to television. It was that attention to detail that I believed in when Watanabe was announced as the director of Schwarzesmarken. Watanabe is even credited alongside the anime’s story editor Tatsuto Higuchi for writing the script to the first episode, suggesting a pretty heavy involvement in arranging the story.
Given only 12 episodes to adapt 7 novels, Watanabe has made the decision to combine the first two novels into a single story, essentially by combining the final battle of the first novel with the first battle of the second novel. The way it’s done is virtually seamless, to the point where I highly doubt any anime viewer would be able to tell that these three episodes used to be two separate stories. Here’s a good example of what was involved in combining the two novels together: in the original novels, the Schwarzesmarken were originally assigned to Cottbus Base, under the command of Holzer Hannibal. After Hannibal’s death at the end of the first novel, the team is reassigned to Bebersee Base in the second novel. In the anime, the team starts at Bebersee Base, which is now the one under Hannibal’s command. This allows them to remove all of the material in the second novel related to the team being reassigned, which is pretty superfluous and doesn’t contribute to the actual story. All of this is done without the anime viewer noticing that anything is missing. It’s those kinds of details which I find very impressive.
Let’s take a look at the characters of the story. Combining the first two novels into one story turns out to be quite a genius move for Theodor’s character, since Theodor actually goes through a similar character arc in both novels. By the end of the first novel, he’s thrown his lot in with Katia, but in the second novel, he again goes through the process of giving Katia the cold shoulder and then learning to accept her. By compressing them into a single story, Theodor’s character growth becomes much easier to follow. Now it’s the threat of Katia being stranded at Fort Neuenhagen that drives Theodor’s original revelation that, much as he may deny it, he cannot betray Katia. It is, again, a solid way to get Theodor’s character across in a shorter amount of time.
By the end of this storyline, it is revealed that Irisdina sold out and ultimately killed her brother Jurgen at his behest, in order to keep her safe – she would likely have been killed alongside her brother otherwise. In the years since, she has worked in secret to carry on her brother’s will and overthrow the Stasi. I don’t remember if it’s ever explicitly mentioned in the novels, but it’s definitely strongly implied that this is the hidden reason behind the people she has recruited for her squadron. Theodor hates the Stasi for what they did to his family. Sylvia is Polish. Pham is a 2nd-generation Vietnamese. Inghild was a Junker. These characters aren’t just included for the sake of diversity – Irisdina has purposely scouted pilots who have reason to hate or fear the status quo in East Germany, and who could potentially be persuaded to take part in a revolution against the Stasi.
As for Katia, she’s a pretty straightforward character thus far. Although she is, for the most part, a flighty girl who doesn’t understand the real world, episode 3 does a lot to show that she is in the process of growing beyond that. Her best scene is at the end of episode 3, when she allows Theodor to burn the only picture of her father, to prevent such incriminating evidence from ever falling into the hands of the Stasi. It’s a clear sign that she is now growing capable of acknowledging the world around her.
The scenes with Hannibal and his second-in-command, Marei Heisenberg, reminded me that the game adaptation of the novels adopted an odd philosophy in which the story is told from Theodor’s perspective as much as possible. That means that most scenes involving Hannibal and Marei were cut entirely – I believe the only time they ever show up in the game is in the single scene shown at the end of episode 2, where Theodor is present as Hannibal dies. That means that Hannibal’s early hints that there is more to Irisdina than the rumors suggest are cut. Marei’s storyline, which as we saw at the end of episode 3 continues on past Hannibal’s death, is cut as well. Virtually all scenes with the Stasi are cut for the same reason – we only see Beatrix and Axmann when they interact directly with the Schwarzesmarken squadron. The game doesn’t follow this rule 100% – all of the scenes at Fort Neuenhagen are told from Katia’s perspective, and are too important to simply cut completely – but it’s still very odd. Games usually are told from a single POV, but the Muv-Luv games have been very active about breaking this rule, so I’m puzzled why they suddenly felt the need to change this. Luckily, the television medium generally embraces different perspectives, so the anime is free to leave these scenes in. It’s an interesting look at how the medium a story is being told in can change the way the story is told.
Kurt Griebel, the soldier who looked after Katia at Fort Neuenhagen, has an interesting history in publication. He first showed up in the 33rd installment of TSFiA, a monthly column in Hobby Japan magazine that depicted short scenes in Muv-Luv history. A few months later, he made his major debut in a short story included in TSF Cross Operation 2. This story, like all short stories included in the Cross Operation series, was eventually republished in a series of short-story collections called Schwarzesmarken Requiem. This short story was intended as a teaser for Schwarzesmarken, which was set to debut a few months later. The story focuses on Kurt’s tank unit, and includes only a short appearance by the Schwarzesmarken squadron at the very end, when Irisdina ignores his unit’s cries for help. At the time, while other writers had written short stories or segments of TSFiA, only series creator Kouki Yoshimune had written for a major Muv-Luv franchise, so I was a little worried about finally letting someone else write a full-length story. This short story went a long way towards convincing me that Schwarzesmarken writer Hiroki Uchida was going to do a good job here.
Kurt’s second-in-command, Vivi, also has an interesting history. In the novels, she didn’t even have a name – she just shows up, gives Katia a hard time, then gets eaten less than 10 pages later. The game mercifully grants her a name and a little more screentime, letting her appear alongside Kurt when he is first introduced. The anime is even more merciful, granting her a somewhat tragic death, whereas in the novel her death is almost comical. (Well, I laughed, anyway. Maybe that was mean of me, in retrospect.) Vivi’s actress, Moemi Otaka, also happens to be working as an assistant on Age’s weekly Nico Live broadcasts at the moment.
Let’s close out with some notes on the production. This time around, the theme songs are performed by the show’s lead characters – Yoshino Nanjou (Lise) is the vocalist for OP artist fripside, while Nozomi Yamamoto (Irisdina) and Minami Tanaka (Katia) sing the ED together. Some interesting names can be found in the OP credits as well. Akira Yamazaki is actually credited as a producer for the anime – Yoshimune describes him as the man who runs a lot of the day-to-day work on the Muv-Luv franchise nowadays, and he worked closely with Hiroki Uchida and their editor on the Schwarzesmarken novels. Fans may also recognize his name as the writer of The Day After. For the Total Eclipse anime, he was credited as a Setting Supervisor, but it looks he moved up for this anime. Speaking of the Total Eclipse anime, there’s another familiar name in the credits – Hiroyuki Taiga, one of the mechanical designers and mechanical animation directors from TE, is back for Schwarzesmarken as a “TSF director”. That only makes sense – this way, Schwarzesmarken can build on the technical know-how from the previous anime rather than starting from scratch.
Both the novels and the game make heavy use of spoken German, such as Irisdina’s common phrase “Achtung” and the squadron’s call numbers. The anime replaces pretty much all of these with Japanese. The reasoning, apparently, is that the novels and game use Japanese text, which can show both kanji and furigana to indicate both the German pronunciation and the Japanese meaning. The anime can only use the spoken word, so there is a risk that viewers will not understand the German words being used. This is a pretty fair reason, particularly for call numbers, since it is important to be able to keep track of people on the battlefield. It also makes a lot of sense since technically the characters are supposed to be speaking German all the time, so a mix of Japanese and German words isn’t very logical. Uchida is the first to admit that the use of German words in the story is just to make it sound cool.
One final note for those people watching the show on Crunchyroll – this time around, they seem to have gotten someone who actually knows what they’re doing, since the subtitles avoid the major flaws that plagued their TE subs. That means using “Pilot” instead of “Eishi”, translating military ranks correctly, and sparing us the embarrassing sight of Germans using Japanese phrases and honorifics. This is a particularly good sign if a future US release winds up using these subtitles as well. If only the person working on this show could go back and redo the Total Eclipse subs . . .