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 . . .