Schwarzesmarken 04-07

February 28, 2016

We’re through the middle stretch of episodes, which largely center around Lise and the question of where her loyalties lie. In the novels Lise’s return was a complete surprise, in my opinion one of the largest in the series. For both the game and the anime, Lise appears quite prominently in promotional materials, including listing her as a member of the Schwarzesmarken squadron on their web sites. The anime includes her in the OP and ED as well. I’m not sure I like that, but I guess it’s simply far too late to try to keep her a secret now that all the novels are out.

Episodes 4 and 5 tell the story of the 3rd novel, centering around Operation Neptune. I think anyone who’s read my Total Eclipse stuff knows I love exploring the international relationships of the Alternative world, so obviously I love getting to see the West German and American armies here. Schwarzesmarken mostly concerns itself with the internal strife within East Germany, so this is pretty much the only time when we get to see the shape of the larger world in this much detail. The scene at the end of episode 4, where we see exactly what the West thinks of East Germany, is a powerful scene, but one that has to tread a careful line – while it’s a common trope for a newly introduced team to look down on our good guys, in this particular case I think objectively most viewers would side with the West. Certainly this is not a show looking to glorify East Germany or prove its superiority over the West.

The story ends, then, not with an explicit rebuke of the West but with an alliance. It’s a powerful display of Katia’s ideals – by convincing the West German army to come to their aid, she hopes to build a bridge between the two Germanys. And it’s also a significant step forward for Irisdina’s plan – by coming together for a common goal, she hopes to prove themselves to the West and form friendships so that they might be more willing to come to the aid of the East Germans when things go south. The story ends with the Americans explicitly calling the Schwarzesmarken squadron their buddies, and with the West Germans offering a salute to them. This essentially serves as the halfway point of the story, and it’s a hopeful note to end on.

Episode 6 covers the 4th novel, which is a very talky novel with pretty much no action scenes at all. It’s basically concerned with moving the various pieces into place in preparation for the second half of the story. It’s here that we first learn of the split between the two factions of the Stasi. Beatrix’s Moscow faction, using the information they pulled from Marei’s interrogation, have begun a purge of top NVA officials, in preparation of an all-out coup. I always found this an especially tragic end for Marei, who Hannibal entrusted with his greatest secrets, only for her to leak them to the Stasi. Meanwhile, Axemann’s Berlin faction, feeling threatened by the Moscow faction, has begun trying to recruit the Schwarzesmarken squadron to their side. At the same time, Irisdina has begun trying to strengthen her hand as well, by trying to hook up with sympathizers in the capital. As I said, it mostly leads to a lot of talking, and setting up the conflicts that will come down the road. I’m not at all surprised they devoted only one episode for this novel; I would definitely have done the same.

As with all the novels, there are number of small scene cuts that don’t affect the story much. There is, however, one major cut to the novel: after Axemann publically accuses Lise of being a Stasi spy, Lise collapses and is taken to the infirmary. That night, she receives a call from Axemann himself, confirming that she is in fact a Stasi spy, and that contrary to what Axemann had said earlier, he is well aware of this. So why did he expose her to the rest of the squadron? As Pham notes, this allows Lise to deflect suspicion by confronting it head-on. The rest of the squadron already suspects her, so Axemann’s statement changed nothing except to allow Lise to address their suspicions directly, whereas before Irisdina and the others plotted against her in secret, and she was powerless to respond. By accusing them of suspecting her, Lise can force them to deny it and play on their sympathies.

It’s an interesting scene to cut, since it’s such an important scene in the novels and game (the first game actually ends right on this scene, a pretty brutal revelation to leave players hanging on). I think the anime staff was interested in exploring how the storyline plays without the reveal that Lise does in fact work for the Stasi. Certainly the scene where Sylvia and the rest of the squadron confront Lise on the rooftop plays out very differently. Despite the increasing suspicion laid on her, viewers still feel that there is a very real possibility that Lise is innocent, and that affects how the scene comes across immensely. Other scenes, like the infamous seduction scene, also come across very differently without that solid proof. And it really builds up the end of episode 7 – now, instead of learning of Lise’s true affiliation through a telephone call, we learn it when Lise holds a gun to Irisdina’s head. It’s definitely a much more shocking way to learn the truth. What I find especially interesting is how this one cut changes the feel of so many scenes afterwards, without actually changing the story. In a sense, the anime lets us see the same scenes from the novels from Theodor’s point of view – he continues to believe in Lise long after the novels have revealed that she can’t be trusted, and the anime lets us see things from that perspective. I’ve written before about how I’m interested in seeing different tellings of the same story, and this is a great example of it.

Episode 7 covers the 5th novel, and this time there are a number of bigger cuts to the story. Some of them follow logically from the cut from the previous episode. In the scene where Lise asks Theodor to flee with her to West Germany, in the novel she basically admits to Theodor that she had indeed worked with the Stasi, but that she only did it to reunite with him, and that her time with the Stasi has given her the opportunity to memorize the border patrol movements so they should be able to make it across the border. After Theodor makes it clear to Lise that he is going to stay and assist Irisdina with her revolution, Lise eventually offers to work with them and give them her knowledge of the Stasi in order to help their plans. That in turn leads to the ending we see in the episode, where Lise betrays them when the Stasi attack. That’s quite a chunk of story to cut away, but as mentioned before, this entire plotline was cut so that the reveal that Lise is working with the Stasi would come at this point instead of earlier. I’m a little more conflicted about these cuts than the ones in the previous episode, but ultimately, as I said, I understand that they wanted to present a different point of view to Lise’s story, so any reference to Lise working with the Stasi needed to be cut.

There was one scene that I was sad to see cut. Like most of the cuts the anime has made, this was not particularly important to the story; I just liked it a lot personally, so I feel like flagging it. In the anime, we see Gretel disguise herself by pulling her hair into a ponytail and taking off her glasses. In the novels, she actually is confronted by the Stasi, but convinces them she is not a soldier by pretending to piss herself (in reality, she had soaked a handkerchief with water). Afterwards, she reveals that she based her disguise – the ponytail, and just her general demeanor – on Katia, who, presumably, was the person who looked the least like a real soldier out of everyone she knew. She also admits that she drew on the idea of pissing herself from Katia as well. I liked this scene a lot because it really was the first time I thought Gretel was an awesome character. The novels come with an illustration for this scene which really does make Gretel look just like Katia. I was also amused by the idea that even Gretel had so internalized the idea of Katia pissing herself that one just naturally leads to the other.

Oh, I suppose I should probably say something about Katia pissing herself. Irisdina mentions it at the start of episode 2, but in the novels, Theodor comes back to this idea again and again. In fact, at times it seems like he’s not even capable of having a conversation with her without teasing her about this. The worst part comes at the end of episode 5 – as the Americans and West Germans are bringing the Schwarzesmarken squadron back to base, Theodor teases Katia about this over an open mic, meaning pratically everybody involved in Operation Neptune now knows about poor Katia pissing herself. It’s such an integral part of her character that it feels a little odd to watch the anime and not see it mentioned constantly, but the anime seems to want to set a more serious tone than the novels. I kind of miss it, but I also can’t complain too much if the anime wants to strike out the more comedic elements of the novel. There are many other such cuts that I approve quite highly of – for example, I find Annet to be a really annoying character in the novels (she’s essentially Schwarzesmarken’s version of Yifei – a girl with a very stereotypical high-school crush on Theodor that is completely at odds with the rest of the story).

I assume they cut down the 5th novel into one episode as well because they wanted more space for the final two novels, and if that’s the case, I can’t say I blame them. What’s coming up next is without question the best part of the story, and the anime staff apparently want the time to do it justice. The final act of the series is very, very different from what we’ve seen so far . . .

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Newtype 02/16 – Minami Tanaka

February 21, 2016

– How did you feel when you read the original novels?

I had heard that it was an intense story, but I made my way through it much more easily than I thought I would. The world it portrays is very cruel and savage, and everybody could die at any time, right? But, there are people the same age as me who are holding on. It’s because it’s such a cruel world that I was sucked into this story of people living strongly in it.

– Even though the story is set 30 years ago, in 1983 East Germany.

That’s right. It takes place before I was even born, so the situation is completely different than it is now. However, Katia’s way of thinking is very close to our generation, which never knew the Cold War, so it was easy to empathize with her.

– What did you think of Katia?

She’s almost like a little puppy, with her head filled with dreams. Even while surrounded by savagery, she’s kind of flighty. Even though normally you would think “There’s no way you can do this”, she displays her ideals in a very pure way. I think that kind of honesty is what has the power to change everybody.

– Amongst her teammates, Theodor in particular thinks of Katia as an important person to him.

In the beginning, he’s always clicking his tongue at her and being really mean to her (laughs). I always think of the protagonist as being this hot-blooded manga protagonist type, so to see a very detached type like Theodor surprised me. Even though Theodor can’t trust any of his teammates, Katia is the kind of person who trusts everybody. So when Theodor meets Katia, he begins to open his heart, and as the story progresses he starts to become more like a real protagonist.

– This is your first time appearing in a robot anime, right?

I felt like “Finally, I get to ride in a TSF and fight!” I can’t experience the feeling of becoming one with a robot and fighting in real life, after all. In the beginning, it was a big deal for me to get to watch all these veteran actors perform up close. The first barrier was whether I would be able to say “666th TSF Squadron” without messing up. After that, there’s a scene where Katia is explaining the names of the TSFs, but even though it was my first time saying it, Katia should consider this common knowledge. I had to practice a lot at home to be able to say it without sounding weird.

– Did the actual recording session go smoothly for you?

It was a big help to me that I got to record Katia for the game before the anime sessions. I understood her from the game, so I had a clear image of her in my mind. I recorded the game by myself, so I had to imagine the dialogue between Katia and Theodor. But for the anime, I had both the film and the other cast members, so it was very easy to match up with them.

– The broadcast is about to start, so tell us what to look out for.

This is a franchise with a long history, but the story is easy to understand and you get sucked into it from the very beginning. You get very concerned about how this hopeless situation will develop, and about the fate of the characters and the future of this world. The battles are amazing, and the BETA are very disgusting (laughs). I think this is a show that many types of people can enjoy, so please watch!


Tech Gian 02/16 – Tetsuya Watanabe

February 19, 2016

– Please tell us what you thought when you first read Schwarzesmarken.

My first impression was that it was a very serious story. At the same time, I was of the generation that saw the reunification of the real-life West and East Germany in real-time, so I wondered if it was really OK to tell this kind of story in an anime.

– Please tell us what you were eager to accomplish as the director of Schwarzesmarken.

I was thinking to move the project in the direction of a war story. I was worried about how far we would be able to take it in an anime production, though.

– Please tell us what aspects of characters like Theodor and Irisdina you paid attention to in portraying them.

For Theodor, I wondered if it was possible to portray him as a protagonist-like protagonist. It’s a standard story for a protagonist to revive after suffering setbacks, but lately it’s uncommon to see a character like Theodor have his setbacks portrayed this way. As for Irisdina, I wanted her to be like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, somebody that Theodor and Katia could look up to.

– Please tell us a scene from the original work that resonated with you. Also, tell us how you portrayed this scene in the anime.

When I started working on Schwarzesmarken, I felt once again that things like haze and smoke are key ingredients to a war story. As winter grew closer, I became keenly aware that we wouldn’t be able to film the battle scenes in such a snowstorm in live-action, so I was glad that we were working in animation.

– Please tell us what you paid attention to for the TSF movements and battles.

The story basically involves a bunch of mass-produced units, so it was very difficult to portray who was riding in which machine. It’s easy to spot Annet since she has her sword, though. We developed snow as a key part of the visuals, but I was worried if it came out well or not.

– Finally, please give the fans who are waiting for this anime a message.

Schwarzesmarken was originally a novel series, so I consider it my challenge to see how much of it we can turn into a TV series. Everyone, please give us your support.


Tech Gian 01/16 – Nozomi Yamamoto & Minami Tanaka

February 6, 2016

– Tell us your first impressions of Schwarzesmarken.

Yamamoto: I had already played Muv-Luv and Alternative, so as I read the Schwarzesmarken novels I was very nervous about how the characters in Schwarzesmarken, which takes place in the era before Alternative, would survive in such a severe situation. There wasn’t just the fear of the BETA, but the human feud between the East and the West in old Germany, and I thought this really was a story full of despair.

Tanaka: I first read about it in the documents at the audition, and my first impression was that it was full of difficult words. Afterwards, I read the novels, and I thought things like “How will a cynical main character like Theodor change when he meets Katia? I want to know what happens next!” as I made my way through them. The world setting was also very interesting, and it felt like I was being pulled into that world.

– Tell us how you felt when you were cast in Schwarzesmarken.

Yamamoto: I had already played Alternative, so at the audition for Schwarzesmarken, I wanted to get cast no matter what (laughs). So, I wanted to audition for a character that I had the greatest chance of getting, but I wound up being called to audition for Irisdina, which honestly I thought was pretty hard . . . Of all the characters I’ve played so far, most are characters like Katia who are pushed around by the story, and it would be my first time playing a commander-type character like Irisdina. I was worried “Can I do this?” while I auditioned, but I was chosen to play Irisdina, and I was surprised but also very happy. The recording for the game came first, and I would carry around the game script that was the size of a telephone book, and whenever I had a little time I would go to a karaoke box and practice my lines there.

– So you felt a strong pressure since this was a type of role you had never played before?

Yamamoto: Irisdina is a perfect heroine without any weaknesses, right? On the other hand, I’m weak to pressure, and as a person I’m pretty soft (laughs). So I just felt that I had to practice no matter what. Schwarzesmarken has a lot of difficult words, so I wanted to go to the recording having mastered all of my lines. I’ve played a lot of different types of roles, but I may have practiced more for this one than any other role.

– How about you, Tanaka-san?

Tanaka: I was also very happy to be cast. I heard that Katia was “an oasis in the midst of war”, so I wondered how I should play her, but at the first recording session, I was told “Just play her naturally”, so I played her with a voice very close to my normal voice.

– What do you each think about your characters?

Yamamoto: Irisdina is a character who has been through a lot, so she may look perfect and cold, but she also has a kindness that envelops Theodor, and I think she is a wonderful woman. It would be very comforting to have someone like her at the top, and I look up to her as a woman.

Tanaka: I thought Katia was a very cute and energetic girl. I wondered how she managed to live life so cheerfully in such a savage world. She can say something like “We can defeat the BETA if the West and East work together” that shocks the people around her while wearing a calm face, so there’s a part of her that is ignorant of the world. But she holds an important key to the story, so I feel like that part of her is a natural gift.

– Tell us something you paid special attention to, or had trouble with, while playing your characters.

Yamamoto: I paid special attention to bring out both Irisdina’s strictness and her magnanimity. What I had trouble with was tuning my voice to Irisdina’s voice. I generally play a lot of high-pitched characters, so it took a little bit of time to adjust to the way Irisdina would often speak her lines in a low and crisp fashion.

Tanaka: Katia has a pure heart, so I made sure not to forget that. I also took care to portray her earnestness when heading into the battlefield. Also, I’ve only been in normal-style stories, so at first I was worried if I would be able to scream in battle. But during the recording, I studied the other actors and thought “Ah, so this is how you scream!”, and I was able to do it.

– Tell us which character you like besides your own.

Yamamoto: I really like Gretel. Even as she carries many emotional conflicts, she tries to find the right path for herself. I think that is a very difficult thing to do in the atmosphere of East Germany. Despite that, she is trying her best, so I felt that she was very strong, and I felt like cheering her on.

Tanaka: I like Theodor. For this kind of story, I think a hot-blooded main character is very common, but Theodor has a painful past, and his heart has been twisted. Katia helps Theodor heal his heart and allows him to mature. I was drawn to that part of the story.

Yamamoto: Also, I really like Walther. He is strong and dependable – that’s very attractive in a man. I think Irisdina trusts Walther very much, so that secretly makes me happy (laughs).

– Tell us your thoughts about recording for the game.

Yamamoto: The game has much longer expository lines than the game. There were a lot of difficult lines, and I’m recording in the booth by myself, so as the session progressed, I got weaker and weaker (laughs). But during breaks, I would pump myself up by thinking “I’m Irisdina so I have to act more courageously!” Also, we recorded the game before the anime, so I had to imagine what everybody else sounded like. On that note, I had worked with Minami on “Wake Up Girls” before, so it was very easy to imagine what Katia-chan sounded like. Even on “Wake Up Girls”, I thought that Minami could act very honestly, so I thought she was perfect for the role of Katia-chan. So, I felt like I could hear Minami’s voice just by reading the script. On the other hand, I just couldn’t imagine myself speaking so bluntly to veterans like Theodor’s actor Suzumura-san and Walther’s actor Miyake-san (laughs). I had to act those lines while reminding myself “This is Irisdina!”

Tanaka: I was very nervous at the game’s first recording, but as the remaining scripts started to dwindle, I would think “I really managed to record this much!”, and I was left very satisfied when I finished recording for the first game.

– Tell us a memorable scene from the game.

Yamamoto: The game has quite a number of scenes that aren’t in the anime. There are scenes were Irisdina just laughs suddenly, and I hope people enjoy those parts.

Tanaka: There’s a scene at the fortress where Katia is carrying a dying soldier, and that’s the scene I remember the most. In that scene, Katia learned that there are people fighting hand-to-hand, and I was also drawn into the scene as I recorded it.

– Now, tell us what it was like to record the anime.

Yamamoto: When we started recording the anime, I got to hear what everybody else sounded like, so I was glad to resolve that mystery from the game (laughs). In the anime, a lot of important elements are packed into each episode, so you can’t look away even for a second.

Tanaka: Everybody has been teaching me all sorts of things during the recording sessions, so I’m always very grateful. For the game I always recorded alone, but for the anime everybody is together, so I feel very secure.

– Tell us a memorable scene from the anime.

Yamamoto: I like the scene where Theodor is talking to Irisdina in the church. Even though Theodor hated Irisdina so much, he learns what Irisdina is truly thinking for the first time, and his relationship with Irisdina begins to change, so I think it’s a highlight of the show.

Tanaka: Right from the start, Katia gets slapped by Gretel and punched in the stomach by Sylvia, and just gets in a lot of trouble. It shows you what a relentless world this is, but even still Katia doesn’t get discouraged.

– Finally, please leave a message for your viewers.

Yamamoto: I want everybody who has already played Muv-Luv to see what kind of battles happened in the past. Also, we’re currently doing a radio show, and in contrast to the brutality of the main show, you can think of it as a place to heal your soul.

Tanaka: Fans of the original work have been waiting for this, and new fans can experience the Muv-Luv series and spread it even further. Please get immersed in this world and get excited together with us. Thank you very much.


Kickstarter Bonuses

February 1, 2016

The Muv-Luv Kickstarter added a new update today announcing that they will be translating a Schwarzesmarken Demo and the Total Eclipse side story The Imperial Capital Burns, based on the first two episodes of the Total Eclipse anime. The reason why these two were chosen is clear – they happen to be the same bonuses included with first-print copies of the Japanese Vita ports released just a couple of weeks ago. Basically, they’ll be providing Kickstarter backers with the same bonuses that the Japanese fans got. It also works out well from a technical standpoint – they’ve already been programmed as standalone applications, so they don’t need to any further work besides inserting the English text.

My understanding is that the Schwarzesmarken demo covers only up to Katia’s rescue and return to base – about half of the first episode of the anime. It’s not a lot of material, but that’s what it means to be a sneak preview. As for the Total Eclipse side-story, it is MASSIVELY expanded from the original anime episodes, with a heavy focus on internal Japanese politics. The concept of a modern-day Japanese Empire is one of the most controversial elements of the original Muv-Luv Alternative, and in this story we get to see exactly what that entails. It’s a fascinating read, and the picture it paints of how an antiquated Japanese system fits into the modern world is not what people will be expecting.

At the end of the Kickstarter update, they mention that they may use the leftover money to fund an extra “full project”. There really aren’t that many full projects to choose from – there’s Total Eclipse, Schwarzesmarken (not technically complete yet, but it will be by the time the original Muv-Luv Alternative has been released in English), and, depending on how you count it, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien. If you really stretch things, you might add Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu, Owarinaki Natsu Towanaru Shirabe, or one of the Fan Club exclusive games, but it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting those over the first three. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I want Total Eclipse first, not only because I like it the most, but because both Schwarzesmarken and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien have gotten anime adaptations that finish out the story. Total Eclipse is the only one where you need the game to see the ending.