Schwarzesmarken 08-12

May 3, 2016

In the final stretch of the show, Schwarzesmarken transforms into a completely different story.  At the end of episode 7, the Schwarzesmarken squadron as we know it – the 666th TSF Squadron of the NVA – is effectively dismantled.  In its place we now follow a new Schwarzesmarken squadron, now part of a full-scale revolution.  Muv-Luv at its best has always been about human conflict, so it’s only right that the final phase of the show focuses not on humans vs. BETA, but the Revolution vs. the Stasi.

Lise, of course, remains the most fascinating character in the show.  This is a story that very cleanly splits characters into Good Guys and Bad Guys, so Lise stands out for being the only character whose loyalties are unclear.  I think she comes closest to telling the truth in episode 7, when she asks Theodor to run away with her to West Germany.  It was for that reason alone that she cooperated with the Stasi.  In a certain sense – certainly from Lise’s perspective – the great tragedy of the story is that Lise only managed to made contact with Theodor after he had thrown in with Irisdina.  If that contact had happened just a few months earlier, when Theodor still despised Irisdina, he would very likely have taken up Lise on her suggestion to flee for the border.  When I think about it like that, I can start to understand how the sense of betrayal Lise must have felt at that moment must have been indescribable.  At that moment, she was right on the cusp of accomplishing everything she had worked for, and in a very real sense it was because of Irisdina that Theodor pulled away.  If she had a little more time, she might have been able to convince Theodor, but both Irisdina and the Stasi began to move against each other, forcing her to pick a side.

The other great tragedy of Lise is that she was never able to buy into Irisdina’s vision of a revolution.  Lise despised the Stasi and would have cheered their destruction.  If she had chosen to side with the revolution, she could have been an immense help to them.  But she had spent too much time with the Stasi to truly believe they could ever be defeated.  She participated in mass executions.  She was a major part of the network of spies that stretched across the country.  She saw how all threats to the Stasi were systematically eliminated.  In her mind, the Stasi were invincible, and taking up arms against them was a suicide pact.  That was why she hated Irisdina – because she had seduced Theodor into a cause that could never be won.  When the time came to choose a side, at the end of episode 7, she believed her only option was to continue serving the Stasi, rather than betray them.  From that moment on, she had no plan.  Everything that she had worked for had led up to that moment when she asked Theodor to flee with her, and that moment was now gone.  All she could do now was continue working for the Stasi, and look for a moment to convince Theodor, as she tried in episode 9 during their fight.

Lise’s execution scene in episode 10 is another good example of the thought put into this adaptation.  In the original novels, Lise was actually captured and brought back to base, where she was blindfolded and executed by Theodor in front of the others.  They could have done the same in the anime, but it would take up time – they would need to show where Lise was now, how much time had passed, and just generally establish a new scene from scratch.  All of this would take time away from the execution scene itself.  As one of the most important scenes in the story, it was vital to take the time to keep the emotional throughline intact, rather than break it up by transitioning to another scene.  The anime version of this scene makes good use of the time they have to give Lise the emotional farewell she deserves.

The other aspect of this scene to keep in mind is that the original version of this scene pretty clearly calls back to Irisdina’s execution of her brother.  Theodor executes Lise in exactly the same manner that Irisdina was shown to have executed Jurgen.  It places Theodor in Irisdina’s shoes, as well as drawing some uncomfortable parallels between the Stasi (who forced Irisdina to kill Jurgen) and the revolution (who forced Theodor to kill Lise).  The anime version very clearly calls back to different scene, Irisdina’s execution of Inghild in episode 1.  The scene still places Theodor in Irisdina’s shoes, but the context is quite different.  Here, rather than something forced on him, the parallel suggests that Theodor’s execution was a mercy killing, something to bring peace to Lise at last.  It’s a very interesting, separate interpretation of what is still at its heart the same action, and when an adaptation can bring a new interpretation to a work, I always find it very fascinating.

At the very end of Lise’s life, she recognizes that Theodor is not going to quit the revolution despite her wishes, and so she dedicates her final words to helping him instead.  In the novels there’s a bit of an interesting story behind her last words.  Just as we see in the anime, in the novel she whispers something to Theodor that we, the audience, don’t get to hear.  Theodor reveals to the others that Lise told him where Irisdina was being held.  However, Beatrix reveals that she fully expected Lise to betray the Stasi in her last moments, and so had given Lise false intel, with the intent of luring the revolution into an ambush.  At the battle’s critical moment, however, Theodor reveals what it is that Lise really told him – that Lise also didn’t trust Beatrix, and had used her own connections to learn Irisdina’s true location.  The revolution then planned a decoy operation to lure Beatrix into believing her ambush had worked, while their true force would head for Irisdina.  It’s the story’s one last attempt to call Lise’s legacy into question, by suggesting that even her final attempt at helping Theodor could have unwittingly harmed him even further.  However, ultimately it doesn’t actually affect the course of the story – just like in the anime, the initial attack ends in retreat, so this maneuvering from both sides wound up not coming to much.  This is probably why the anime chose not to spend time on this part of the storyline, and simply revealed from the beginning that Lise had given them Irisdina’s true location.

So, speaking of Lise’s legacy, she of course left Theodor one last present, the Cheburashka Zwei.  (Incidentally, “Zwei” is written with the Japanese word “Kai”, often translated as “Custom”.  The anime is the first time we hear “Zwei” spoken aloud.  I like it a lot more than calling it the Cheburashka Custom.)  In contrast to the relatively subtle metaphor of the Shiranui Second, the Cheburashka Zwei goes for the blunt symbolism of combining Lise’s machine with Irisdina’s head.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with the direct approach, of course.  In the novels, the Zwei was introduced at the end of the 6th novel, directly after Lise’s execution.  I actually panicked a little as episode 11 started up and there was no mention of Theodor’s new TSF.  The introduction of the main character’s custom mech is always one of the high points of any mecha anime, and while I can understand that the anime doesn’t have a lot of time to waste and needs to cut out scenes that don’t move the story along, I would have been very sad if the Zwei was brought onto the show without the usual fanfare.  But I needn’t have worried – the anime simply moved the introduction to the end of episode 11, to coincide with Theodor being appointed squadron leader (which I don’t think specifically happened in the novels either – but since Gretel was gone and Theodor had the strongest TSF, I guess he was kind of squadron leader by default in the novels as well).  And of course, it came with all the typical mecha anime flourishes, including the vocal track performed by composer Evan Call that he was keen to promote in his interview.

(By the way, the Cheburashka Zwei actually appears in the opening credits – Theodor pilots it at the very end.  When the anime first started, and people were wondering if the show would actually cover the entire story, the presence of the Zwei was another clear piece of evidence that it would.  How many of you managed to notice it?)

That was a lot about Lise.  I guess we should talk about some of the other characters.  Katia steps up in a big way in these episodes, first in episode 8 when she reveals herself to Heim, and then in episode 12 when she makes her broadcast to the entire country.  What always stands out to me in these moments is how Katia has changed since we first met her.  Over the course of the story, she’s learned a lot about how this country works, and she’s lost much of her old innocence, but she hasn’t actually changed her core philosophy.  Faced with the reality of the world, she doesn’t back down from her frankly naive stance, but rather fortifies it with the strength to push forward in the face of reality.  Seeing her onstage in the final episode, I think it’s easy to imagine how another character from a different show might have presented her speech with the same simple-minded naivete that characterized her early appearances.  When I think of that, I really appreciate how difficult it must be to bring a character like Katia to a point where she can openly acknowledge the horrible things she’s seen, while still holding to her optimistic belief that we can do better.

Gretel is another character who really steps up during this last stretch of episodes.  More than anyone else, Gretel winds up occupying a position that nobody could have predicted at the beginning of the story, taking over as leader of the Schwarzesmarken squadron in Irisdina’s absence and serving as one of the heads of the revolution.  I like the story of Gretel’s journey a lot; in some ways I think she’s my favorite character.  That said, I get the feeling the author of Schwarzesmarken, Hiroki Uchida, got a little too attached to Gretel as well.  It shows in the way he portrays the end of her scene in the Stasi Files room.  In the novels, as she lays dying while the Stasi Files burn around her, she just so happens to come across a file near her that just so happens to contain a file on her old crush.  This is in reference to her Requiem side-story, in which a boy she liked was taken away by the Stasi.  This scene stood out to me when I first read it because, up to this point, Uchida had been very careful not to make such blatant references to the Requiem stories in the main series.  The main series had made several small references before – Kurt, for example, made some vague references to his Requiem story while talking to Katia – but these were bonuses for readers who had read the side-stories as well.  Readers who only read the main series and hadn’t read the side-stories would still be able to follow the plot.  Gretel’s scene here was the first time I felt that the audience would be completely lost without having read her Requiem story – they would have no idea what the file was, or why Gretel was so emotional upon reading it.  It felt like Uchida bent the rules a little because he wanted Gretel to have this moment, even if it meant some readers might be lost.  It’s an obvious moment for the anime to cut, and seeing the anime version of the scene, I remain convinced that the scene works better without such a complete coincidence coming out of nowhere, with no buildup in the main story whatsoever.

In the serialized version of the story, Gretel never appears again after this scene, leaving the impression that she had died.  I kind of liked the idea of her having a heroic death here.  However, when the story was collected as a novel, a special epilogue was added – the same one that appears at the end of the anime.  I find the reveal that Gretel had miraculously survived a little underwhelming.  The novel version of the scene strongly implies that the same boy from the Requiem story, whose file Gretel coincidentally found, also coincidentally happened to be a member of the revolution, and had coincidentally managed to arrive on the scene and save her at the last second.  I find this even more underwhelming.  It, again, feels like the author liked Gretel too much to allow her to die, and contrived a feel-good scenario to give Gretel a happy ending.  To be honest, there was a part of me that was kind of hoping the anime wouldn’t have time to include a scene showing Gretel surviving the fire.  But I guess that’s asking a little much.

There’s not a ton to say about Irisdina.  She barely appears, after all.  (When the 6th novel came out, people were wondering why Irisdina got to be on the cover when she doesn’t appear in the story at all.)  This last section of the story is very much about the people she brought together carrying on her will without her.  Series creator Kouki Yoshimune mentioned something interesting, that it’s possible Lise isn’t completely wrong to say that Irisdina is only using Theodor as a pawn.  I think it’s worth looking back at her character in that interpretation.  She does say, several times, that she doesn’t truly have a will of her own, that she lives only to serve the will of those who have passed on, like her brother.  It’s not outrageous to think that such a person might care more about how other people can serve that will than about the people themselves.  In episode 3, Irisdina outright admits that she made Theodor take care of Katia because she knew he would see Lise in her – that’s pretty emotionally manipulative of her.  I’m not sure I buy into it completely, but it’s an interesting idea worth thinking about.

I got the first Schwarzesmarken Blu-Ray disc in a while back, and I was surprised and pleased to find that each disc will come with a booklet with notes from author Hiroki Uchida on each episode.  One interesting thing that Uchida reveals in the notes for episode 2 is that, during the script meetings for the anime, he and director Tetsuya Watanabe had a long discussion about the scene where Irisdina executes her brother Jurgen.  This was right about the time that Uchida was about to start writing Bernhard im Schatten, a Schwarzesmarken prequel story focusing on Irisdina, Beatrix, and Jurgen, and Uchida mentions that the discussion they had helped shape the story he was about to write.  In episode 12, you can clearly see how this discussion also influenced the anime, as it is packed with references to the relationship between the three characters.  Almost none of these references existed in the original novel (in fact, I don’t think Jurgen even had a name at the time – he was just “Irisdina’s brother”).  These references especially help shed light on Beatrix’s state of mind, suggesting that she believes, in her own way, that she is carrying on Jurgen’s will in helping to save the world.  These new additions, along with her much more sympathetic portrayal in Bernhard im Schatten, help to make Beatrix a much more rounded character – she’s kind of a one-note villain in the original novels.

Now that I’m reevaluating Beatrix as a character, it occurs to me that she and Axemann are set up to represent different types of evil.  Beatrix is someone who believes wholeheartedly in what she is doing – it’s just that what she is doing is evil.  Axemann, however, has no ideology.  He seeks only to gain power for himself.  He was part of the Stasi because he held power there.  When things went south, he sought an alliance with the revolution, extracting a promise that he would be part of their new government.  When it looked like they were going to lose, he threw in with Beatrix and the Moscow faction.  And when the people started to rise up against them, he hoped to seek refuge with the CIA.  He has no cause – he will serve whoever will keep him in power.  So there’s something to think about: who is the greater evil?  The one who devotes herself mind and soul to an evil cause?  Or the one who serves, but has no loyalty to, an evil cause?

And that’s it for Schwarzesmarken.  Once Bernhard im Schatten finishes, it will be time for Age to move on to their next major Muv-Luv franchise, Duty -Lost Arcadia-.  Duty got its start in Hobby Japan’s Tactical Surface Fighter in Action series, and a Chronicles story featuring its characters is included with Photonmelodies.  However, these were merely a preview of the franchise.  Sometime this year (tentatively – you never know with these guys), they’re planning to launch the main series.  They already have an author for the series lined up – Ryou Yoshigami, currently writing a series of Psycho-Pass tie-in novels.  Several people involved with the series, including creator Kouki Yoshimune and Akira Yamazaki, have noted that since Duty features a German battalion set in the present day, it features a common German lineage with Schwarzesmarken, and they have hinted that surviving characters from Schwarzesmarken could conceivably appear in Duty (aged 18 years older, of course).  Who might appear in Duty?  Could it have anything to do with Yoshimune’s warning to pay attention to Theodor’s line from the final episode?

“Even if they call me an enemy of humanity . . .”

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