Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 04

October 31, 2021

There isn’t a lot I want to say about episode 4. The show is very much still in its setup phase, with the bulk of the story centering around Takeru reliving the same events he did his first time through this world. The adaptation itself continues the trend we saw last episode, cutting down on the number of flashbacks to unseen events and turning out much better for it. The episode’s major flashback is to Takeru’s original world this time, giving us our first real look at Sumika. The flashback works much better than most of the ones we’ve seen in this anime up to this point, because it actually takes the time to give us an in-depth look at what it’s trying to establish, rather than cutting away quickly. In general, the show continues to improve after a very shaky start to the main storyline in episode 2.

The first half of the episode focuses on introducing the last major pieces that Takeru recognizes from his previous time through this world, particularly the TSFs. As is usual with this adaptation, this part of the episode continues to reference Takeru’s unseen previous experiences, and continues to be a little difficult for new viewers to follow. It’s also a little crowded, with the start of 207B’s TSF training, the introduction of the Takemikazuchi and the Imperial Royal Guard, and the conflict with the senior officers, all of which get more or less equal focus.

The second half focuses almost entirely on Takeru explaining his video game approach to TSF piloting, and it definitely flows much more smoothly because of that focus. This seems similar to last week, which also devoted its second half almost entirely to covering the upcoming BETA attack from Sadogashima. In general, this anime seems to be trying to keep its focus on the events where Takeru is actively trying to change the timeline – last week, he was trying to prevent the BETA attack, and this week, he’s trying to make changes to how a TSF is operated. By contrast, events where Takeru is largely only reacting to things that also occurred in his previous timeline tend to be glossed over with a minimum of explanation.

(Both episodes also throw in a final plot point in its very final minutes – episode 3 with the CCSE island exercise, and episode 4 with the impending HSST drop. Neither one of them handles it all that well, although at least the HSST drop will get more follow-up next episode.)

Since this episode is our first real look at Sumika, it’s also our first chance to hear Sumika’s new voice. And my opinion is, it sounds fantastic. Sumika is definitely the character I was most concerned about, because she has such a unique voice. The new voice doesn’t match completely – the old voice is just too distinct for that – but it comes a lot closer than I would have thought. Honestly, all of the new voices just sound astonishingly close to the original. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a full recast where the entire new cast sounds so much like the old cast.

Just as with last week, this episode draws from the manga adaptation for inspiration, this time in using the SD Fubuki to illustrate Takeru’s explanation of combos and cancels. As I mentioned last week, if the anime is drawing heavily from the manga, then that spells good things later on, since there are a number of manga-original scenes that I would love to see animated.

It’s also worth noting that the manga adaptation also plows through this early section extremely quickly. Not to the extent that the anime does, of course, but it’s still clear that the manga wanted to hurry up and get through this first part of the story so it can focus more on the part of the story that’s actually really good. Once it got past this section, it slowed down considerably and spent a lot of time allowing scenes to play out, including, as I mentioned, adding new scenes to supplement the story. That’s one of several reasons why I suspect the anime is going to do the same thing. We’re already through the worst of it by this point – the next episode should be the last one covering this section of the story, and given the material it will be covering, it should be much more coherent than the previous episodes. And after that, we’ll begin to enter the true story of Alternative, and I suspect we’ll start seeing what this anime can really do.


Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 03

October 21, 2021

That was a massive improvement on the previous episode.

As I mentioned last time, the show is significantly better when it isn’t loaded up with flashbacks to Extra and Unlimited. So of this episode’s two halves, the first half, which is mostly dedicated to introducing Kasumi, is the weaker one. Unfortunately, too much of Kasumi’s character is tied up in the mysteries introduced in Unlimited, particularly her final “Takeru-chan” scene that explicitly suggests a possible connection to Sumika, so even though the flashbacks generally hurt the flow of the anime, there’s simply no getting around the need for them in this scene.

I particularly liked the inclusion of the TSFs discovering the human brains within the Yokohama Hive at the beginning of this episode, since the episode uses it to tie in directly with Kasumi’s introduction, maintaining that theme throughout the first half of the episode. It’s precisely because these early episodes of an Alternative-only adaptation are so complicated by their very nature that I think it’s important for the show to make it easier for new viewers to follow the immediate story. What is the importance of the cylinders with the human brains inside to the actual story of Alternative? If this scene had been shown at the beginning of the story, like it is in the game, it becomes just one more aspect of the show that would confuse new viewers. By including it here, it becomes another aspect of Kasumi’s backstory that is covered in the episode’s first half, so viewers understand the importance of it by the episode’s end.

The second half of the episode is the more important one, because it illustrates Takeru trying to change the course of history for the first time, meaning it’s the first time the show is actually pushing Takeru’s story forward rather than drowning in flashbacks to the past. And this section of the episode just works. Takeru’s conundrum in trying to change the future in a concrete, measurable way is told well, and the episode also gets across the ruthless ends-justifies-the-means morality that embodies Muv-Luv, where Takeru is considered naive for thinking that he can change the world without sacrifices. And even though this story also depends heavily on knowledge from Unlimited, the information is conveyed with a map that Takeru presents to Yuuko, rather than through flashbacks, which makes the whole thing go down much more easily. As I said before, if this represents what the show will be like once it gets away from the need for all these flashbacks, then I’m feeling pretty good about it.

The final moments of the episode, which blaze through the entire Comprehensive Combat Skill Evaluation, are probably the most controversial part of the episode, but in my mind, there’s no question they made the correct decision to skip it. The entire island storyline contains critical character development – in Unlimited. In Alternative, it’s included because of the nature of the time loop, but it’s just long and boring, with no major plot or character development whatsoever. To the extent that anything interesting happens in it, it’s exclusively by comparing the developments in Alternative with the same developments in Unlimited, showing how Takeru can get through the exercise much more easily now with his increased physical capabilities and knowledge of the future. In other words, it’s another section of the story which the anime would have to load with flashbacks for the story to make any sense at all, without any major benefits to the show in return. So it’s absolutely the correct decision to skip it, both because it’s a boring section of the story and because the anime needs to cut down on flashbacks in general. The idea that Takeru can change the future is already well established with the BETA attack storyline earlier, and the truncated CCSE works well as a capstone to this episode emphasizing that point, rather than as a storyline in itself.

In general, I think I’m coming around to the idea that, for an adaptation like this to work, references to the previous installments of the story should be kept to a minimum, so that new viewers aren’t being constantly reminded of scenes they didn’t see. The scenes of Takeru laying out his suspicions that Kasumi reminds him of Sumika are too important to cut, so they need to stay in. On the other hand, I would probably have cut lines like the one where Takeru implies he didn’t get Kasumi to introduce herself properly last time, since those kinds of lines yank the viewer back into Unlimited without a compelling plot or character development reason. Kasumi’s personality comes across fine in the rest of the episode even without them.

For the same reason, I’m OK with the episode cutting out the bulk of Mikoto’s introduction. Her introductory scene is another one that is almost completely dependent on comparisons with Unlimited, which will just bog down the episode even more. The anime instead treats it as a segue into the BETA attack story that dominates the second half of the episode, by reminding Takeru about the passage of time and the need for action before the December 24 deadline.

I was intrigued to find that several aspects of the episode are drawn from the expanded manga adaptation of Alternative, rather than from the original game itself. This includes the cameo appearance from the Valkyries, an original scene from the manga which is duplicated almost exactly in the anime. A major reason I find this interesting is because I had predicted in my previous post about the breakdown of anime episodes that this block of 12 episodes will end with a major story arc, and the manga heavily expands on this story arc with a lot of new scenes, including a number of scenes set before that arc which develop the world of Alternative more thoroughly than the original game did. Might we possibly get those kinds of scenes depicted in the anime as well? I would be very fascinated if this means we’ll get to see more scenes in the anime that weren’t in the game. If the anime is cutting stuff like the island arc to make room for new worldbuilding scenes, that’s a deal I’ll gladly take.

I’m particularly interested in another scene in this episode that is original to the manga, during the BETA attack where Meiya worries about the people living in harm’s way. Maybe it’s intentional or maybe it’s just coincidence, but that makes 3 out of 3 episodes now that specifically draws attention to the plight of the Japanese citizens and the role of the government in protecting them – Komaki explicitly blames the government for letting them down in episode 1, Takeru and Meiya have a conversation about civilians and their relationship with the government in episode 2, and now Meiya worries about civilians caught up in a military operation in episode 3. What interests me is that 2 out of 3 of these examples were not in the original game, meaning the anime seems to have made a deliberate choice to include these scenes.

So: a strong improvement on the last episode, especially in its second half, with the promise that things may only continue to improve as the anime begins to move away from the need to refer to previous events and starts establishing its own storyline.

Crazed Speculation About the Alternative Anime’s Story Structure

October 18, 2021

In this post, we’ll talk about how the Alternative anime might play out. We’re obviously going to be going into Alternative spoilers, so new anime viewers please skip this post.

Read the rest of this entry »

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 02

October 16, 2021

I’m not going to lie: that was a rough episode.

I think most people understand why, so I’m not going to belabor the point. As the first episode to introduce the main cast and story, it absolutely needed to be accessible to new viewers, and it just isn’t. I know some people will just shake their heads and say that it was simply never possible to start with Alternative and have the story make sense, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. With the right amount of effort put into adjusting the script, this episode could have been at least reasonably understandable for people new to the franchise, and I think it’s a shame that that level of effort wasn’t put in.

I’m not going to pretend to understand the mindset of the people who made the show. It’s very possible that they genuinely believed this to be the best way of presenting the story. But I will also say that nowadays anime fans have a well-known hatred for changing the source material. I’ve seen several interviews with producers and the like where they’ve straight up said that they’re too afraid to make changes to an anime adaptation because they know fans will revolt against them. From my perspective, this was a shift in anime fandom that solidified around the mid-to-late 2000s – prior to that, it was much more common for anime adaptations to change things around. I’ve long said that something like the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien anime – which freely changed things around to make the story flow better as a standalone dramatic show – could never be made in today’s environment. I had hoped that a similar process could be applied to Muv-Luv Alternative to make it more understandable to a new audience. Again, I can’t know exactly what the anime staff members were thinking, but it’s hard for me not to suspect that this aversion to change was at least part of why this episode turned out so literally.

The hell of it is that the anime has already made a lot of changes to appeal to a new audience. The character redesigns and the new voice actors are the biggest change, of course. I’ve already pointed out how they changed the fortified suits to remove the chin section, and the visuals for the opening theme reveal that they’ve revamped the trainee suits, just as everyone has always suspected they would have to. And obviously, they’ve added the anime-original episode 1 to ease new viewers into this world. I suppose I took these changes to mean that this anime was willing to make radical changes to the original work, which is why I was taken aback by just how “faithful” this episode was to the source material.

Maybe the biggest problem with the episode is its failure to identify for the viewer which parts of the story are supposed to be confusing. Some parts of the episode – mainly the flashbacks to previous events that Takeru has experienced – are supposed to be fairly straightforward, and only become confusing because the episode plows through them so quickly. But other parts of the episode are supposed to be confusing on purpose, such as why Yuuko allows Takeru into the base and goes along with what he is saying, or just what exactly Alternative IV is and how it is related to fitting billions of parallel circuits together. These are things that Takeru himself doesn’t understand, and they are supposed to be questions that the audience should keep in mind as we go through the story. The episode fails to differentiate between the two, and I have a feeling new viewers come away with no idea that some of these are things that are OK not to understand at the moment.

I think the most frustrating thing about how difficult this episode was to get into is that I actually enjoyed the parts that didn’t deal with trying to explain the previous chapters of the story. Once the episode moved out of Yuuko’s office and got on with moving the story along, I really got into it. I like the new character designs, and I like the new voice actors. According to Yoshimune and the cast members themselves, the new actors were cast based largely on their ability to sound like the original cast, and I think they all sound the way they should. By the time the episode closes on Takeru and Meiya’s nighttime conversation, I was wishing I could see even more. I feel like this show is going to get much better once it moves away from the need to constantly reference unseen events from the previous chapters of the story. I just hope that at least some people stick around that long to see it.

I still don’t like the opening and ending themes, but the visuals do a lot to make them more palatable, especially the opening. Evan Call delivers some excellent background music, just as he did on Schwarzesmarken. Having just come off a rewatch of Schwarzesmarken, it’s immediately obvious that his work here is a straight continuation of what he was doing there, but that’s no bad thing.

For new viewers, the best way to watch the series right now is to focus on the revelation that Takeru has near the end of this episode, that he needs to graduate and move up the chain of command as quickly as possible. The episode helpfully provides a flashback showing why that’s so important – in the previous timeline, the base commander refused to tell Takeru and the others exactly what Project Alternative entailed, because they were mere cadets and could not be trusted with that level of responsibility. So this time around, Takeru focuses on the immediate goal of graduating more quickly than last time, so that they can be more of use when the time comes. This is a concept introduced early in this series that will tie into many of its larger themes, and even an episode as convoluted as this one makes sure to emphasize this thematic line throughout the episode for viewers to follow.

For viewers who have already played the game, I can only say that there is a frustrating tendency for veteran fans to “gatekeep” the experiences of new fans. They insist that there is only one “true” way to experience a work, and any other way is by definition inferior. I despise this mindset and I have spent a lot of time trying to combat it. I think it’s clear from the posts I’ve made on this site that I love seeing fresh, different interpretations of an existing work. My favorite parts of watching the older KimiNozo and Muv-Luv shows have been when they’ve diverged from the source material to do something that makes the show better. Certainly I would have loved to have seen the entire Muv-Luv story brought to life as an anime. But the moment the decision was made to make an anime of Alternative only, the anime ceased to be a faithful adaptation of the game, and became something else entirely. It won’t deliver the same experience as playing the game – that’s simply impossible. It’ll be a completely different experience, and that’s not a bad thing at all. That remains true regardless of how the anime actually turns out.

Anyway, after seeing this episode, I have some thoughts on how the anime’s story structure will shake out, which I’ll split into its own, spoiler-marked post.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 01

October 7, 2021

15 years after the game was first released, 5 years after the last related anime episode aired, and 2 years after this project was first announced, today the first episode of the Muv-Luv Alternative anime aired. No matter how things turn out from this point on, this is an exciting moment for us all.

The first episode, as had already been announced, is an anime-original episode taking place 3 years prior to the main story. Its main objective is to introduce the world of Muv-Luv Alternative and show off an amazing battle between TSFs and BETA. It inevitably invites comparisons to the first two episodes of the Total Eclipse anime, which did exactly the same thing. This episode takes place roughly 1-2 months after those Total Eclipse episodes – the capital of Kyoto has fallen, as depicted in those earlier episodes, and the BETA have now made their way east to Sadogashima.

Our point of view character for this episode is Sayoko Komaki. Komaki is a pre-existing character, although she didn’t appear in the original game – she was created for the manga adaptation. (Azusa Maxima, the artist for the Alternative manga, seems over the moon that one of his creations scored the lead role for the very first episode of the anime.) From there, Komaki made her way into a major role in the side game Muv-Luv Unlimited: The Day After. Both the manga and the TDA games are now available in English, by the way.

Most of the other characters are new to this episode. The only ones who have appeared elsewhere are the naval officers Hisaya Ozawa and Tomohiko Abe. They are minor characters from the original game who also made cameos in the second episode of Total Eclipse, where they served the same purpose they do here – to stand around helplessly as another part of Japan falls to the BETA. To be honest, seeing them here again, unable to save Sadogashima just as they were unable to save Kyoto, really drives home the despair that permeates this world. I can only imagine that their lives must just be a constant repetition of this exact scenario, hopping from place to place only to keep losing to the BETA.

Incidentally, none of these three returning characters are voiced by their old actors. It seems pretty clear, then, that everybody has been replaced, with Norio Wakamoto only returning as Radhabinod due to the impossibility of finding anyone else who sounds like him.

Comparing this episode with the first two episodes of Total Eclipse, what’s clear to me is that, by using two episodes instead of one, Total Eclipse was able to establish its new characters much more thoroughly, by devoting the entire first episode to characterization and world-building and then the entire second episode to battle. By having to do all of these things in a single episode, this story more or less gives up on trying to establish its characters to that extent. Komaki is our lead character, and everybody else gets the bare minimum needed to understand how they are related to her, and nothing more.

Instead of characterization, this episode focuses on showcasing the actual battle. A lot of that means simply enjoying the fight sequences as they unfold, of course. But the battle also helps establish the power balance between the TSFS and the BETA for new viewers. The reason humanity loses in this episode is not because a BETA is stronger than a TSF – we regularly see each individual TSF kill tens, even hundreds of BETA throughout the episode. It’s because there’s just so damn many of them, that even the ability of each individual TSF to kill hundreds of BETA seemingly makes no difference in the long run. This episode is more interested in setting that tone than telling a story about these characters.

We also get little glimpses of the politics at play in this world. Komaki complains at one point that their government isn’t doing enough to take care of its people, when talking to Kusano about forced evacuations. And when the BETA attack, the American forces don’t respond to the Japanese calls for help, in violation of the security treaty that is supposed to bind America to come to Japan’s aid when it is under attack. These small, seemingly throwaway lines help illustrate that the world is not fully united in response to the BETA, and these threads will become more important as the series progresses.

Did anyone notice that the fortified suits depicted in this episode are missing the chin section? It’s definitely a deliberate design decision, not some kind of animation mistake. Azusa Maxima suggested that the reason could be to cut down on the difficulty of animating the mouth movements when the pilots talk, which is not an insignificant amount of work. Maxima is not part of the anime staff, but the show’s director, Yukio Nishimoto, retweeted his comment, so maybe he’s on to something. If that is the reason for the design change, then I think it’s a reasonable change to make, one which saves time and energy on the animation without sacrificing a major part of the suit design.

So, we all agree that the walls in this episode are a clear reference to Attack on Titan, right? The visual language used to depict them is just too obvious to ignore, and it’s utterly unlike any existing depiction in Muv-Luv. As a lot of people may know, Attack on Titan creator Hajime Isayama is a big fan of Muv-Luv, and has openly cited Alternative as one of the inspirations for his manga. So this episode seems to be simply paying him a little tribute in return.

The little girl who Komaki saves in this episode (who doesn’t even get a name – she’s listed in the credits as simply “The Sadogashima Girl”) is voiced by Isekaijoucho, one of the members of Virtual Witch Phenomenon, the group responsible for the anime’s opening theme. She’s one of the few characters to survive the episode, and the direction seems to linger on her a little more than necessary, even taking into consideration her role in the episode giving Komaki a small measure of hope at the end. Do they just feel like highlighting a special cameo from an associated music act? I would certainly be interested if they plan on bringing her back somewhere down the line.

Speaking of characters the episode dropped hints about, there’s also Komaki’s wingman Kusano. Now, Kusano won’t be coming back – he died in the episode’s most memorably gruesome segment. But what should we make of his statement that he came from Yokohama? Yokohama is where the bulk of the series proper will take place. Does Kusano have a larger connection to the story? Or is this just the show’s way of segueing from this opening episode to the main storyline?

Anime Rewatch 2021: Schwarzesmarken 11-12

October 6, 2021

Original Post

It’s the end of Schwarzesmarken, which means it’s time for a massive beat-down brawl with the Stasi. This seventh, final novel gets two episodes to play with, and most of it is devoted to TSF-on-TSF action. One thing that strikes me, watching these episodes again, is how little the BETA figure into them. We get occasional shots of them, alongside stern warnings that they really are dangerous, but ultimately they’re cleaned up offscreen by the international forces. No, this is a show about domestic politics, and by this point we’re far more invested in the fight against the Stasi than the BETA.

The major non-action sequence in this block of episodes is, of course, Katia’s broadcast. I’m always impressed by the speech she delivers here. She’s no longer the naive child we met at the beginning of the story, who assumed that things would always turn out okay. She’s seen the true cruelty of the world by this point, but rather than turning jaded and cynical, she’s only become even more devoted to her high-minded ideals. It’s a naivety that is now backed by hard-won wisdom and strength. I find her a fascinating character for that.

The other major sequence is Gretel facing off against Axemann for the Stasi Files. Unlike other interesting characters like Katia and Lise who were always intended to be the main leads, Gretel always struck me as a supporting character whose role expanded as the author became more infatuated with her. In some ways she’s almost like the “good” version of Lise – someone who despised the system yet saw no option but to be a part of it, only to be successfully convinced by Theodor and Irisdina that it could be possible to rebel against the system and win. Maybe that’s why she emerged from the sidelines to become one of the story’s best characters.

The image boards we’ve seen of Muv-Luv Integrate suggest that Gretel will be a part of that story, so it seems likely we’ll get to see more of her one day. But what about Theodor? As I keep harping on, I’m sure people want to see exactly what happens to bring Theodor from the end of Schwarzesmarken to the way he is in the present-day of Alternative. I’m sure Age hasn’t forgotten about him, so hopefully we’ll see his story play out in one of the many projects they’re currently planning.

And that’s the end! I have now managed to cover every episode of an Age anime series in this rewatch. So check back tomorrow, where we’ll talk about a brand new episode of a brand new series!

Anime Rewatch 2021: Schwarzesmarken 8-10

October 5, 2021

Original Post

This is what we’ve been waiting for – the anime has rushed through the last few novels so that it will have enough episodes to devote to this last section of the story. This sixth novel gets 3 full episodes dedicated to it, more than any other novel in the series, and it shows. These episodes actually have time to breathe, to allow its major emotional moments to land with the strength that they deserve.

Episode 8 is Katia’s story. The entire episode is a build-up to her big reveal to Heim at the end that she is Alfred Strachwitz’s daughter, and that she volunteers to unveil herself to the public to push the revolution forward. Although the story doesn’t say so explicitly, the truth is that we’ve basically seen the last of Irisdina from this point until the final moments of the series, so Irisdina is no longer a major player in the series. Instead, these last few episodes focus on the seeds that Irisdina has sown throughout the story, and the way Katia steps forward to be the face of the revolution, exposing herself to immense danger, is the largest of those seeds bearing fruit.

We also get a small flashback of Gretel in Berlin, which I talked about a little last time. Interestingly, in the anime Susi berates her for her “Katia” disguise, claiming there’s no way such a flimsy ruse would fool the Stasi – in the fifth novel, Gretel actually does manage to dodge some soldiers by pretending to be like Katia and pissing herself. I can’t help but feel like the anime is passing judgment on the novels, by insisting that there’s no way that scene would actually have played out that way. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it, but it is true that the anime plays things with a much more serious tone than the novels do, cutting out many of the lighter moments and comic relief.

The other two episodes in this block are largely dedicated to Lise, whose story comes to an end here. There’s a lot to say about Lise, but looking over my original post on these episodes, I already wrote a lot about her motivations there. I’ll just reiterate here that, despite going full Stasi in these episodes, she was never a true believer in the system. Her Requiem short story, which she refers to briefly to Theodor, explains exactly what she went through after the Stasi captured her, and it’s a tragic story. She sides with them here because, after being so thoroughly broken by them, she just can’t bring herself to believe that the revolution can defeat them. She asks Theodor multiple times to drop everything and run for the border with her rather than fight a battle they can’t win, and it’s in those moments when we see her true feelings. It’s her greatest wish to leave all of this behind, and it’s her greatest tragedy that Theodor can no longer do that with her.

I mentioned in my original post that the ending to episode 10 was changed slightly for the anime. In the novels, Lise was taken prisoner and brought back to base, where Susi forced Theodor to carry out a formal execution. The anime changes it so that Theodor puts her out of her misery in her TSF’s cockpit. The anime Blu-rays come with liner notes written by the original author, Hiroki Uchida, and for this episode he explains that he had actually considered writing Lise’s death scene this way for the novels as well, but that in the end he felt that the formal execution scene fit the novel structure better. But he was still fond of his unused death scene, and he was happy when the director, Tetsuya Watanabe, proposed a similar idea for the anime.

Anime Rewatch 2021: Schwarzesmarken 6-7

October 4, 2021

Original Post

With only 12 episodes to cover 7 novels, cuts have to be made somewhere, and the biggest cuts are made here. Episode 6 covers the entirety of the fourth novel, while episode 7 covers the entirety of the fifth. That’s a lot of story to get through in a very short amount of time.

The fourth novel that episode 6 covers is a very talky one, so the anime blows through it without having to cut too many dramatic moments, focusing more on cutting down the dialogue to its essentials. You can really feel how quickly the episode needs to go by how fast characters are moved from place to place. Irisdina is taken away for interrogation – this was apparently a big enough deal that the first of the Schwarzesmarken game adaptations actually ends on this note – but she returns only 2 minutes later. Theodor accompanies Gretel to Berlin for a lengthy mission, but he also makes it back to base before the episode ends.

For all that, though, the episode still manages to hit hard with its Lise material. With Axemann now explicitly accusing Lise of being a Stasi spy, the suspicions that have been boiling beneath the surface now explode into the open. Lise is now able to confront the others about their misgivings candidly, and manipulate their sympathies in her favor. It of course all leads to the final moments of the episode, where Lise makes her move on Theodor. All of Lise’s scenes just work, so it’s a credit to the anime staff that the episode flows as well as it does, despite having to get through so much material. They had to sacrifice the ending credits to have enough time to cover everything, but it’s well worth it.

Episode 7, which covers the fifth novel, doesn’t work quite as well. The entire episode is one long protracted battle with the BETA, so there isn’t nearly as much material that can be cut down. The anime staff doesn’t really have a choice but to keep their heads down and plow through it as fast as possible. The battle in this episode doesn’t have any particularly larger significance, and the most important plot points concern the Stasi coup, which mostly takes in the background, so I do think it’s pretty clear why the anime staff designated this episode to take the biggest hit in terms of pacing. The episode moves at a breakneck pace, and at the end, it abruptly cuts to the ED, not even having enough time to close out the episode properly.

The worst part of the episode is the fact that the Stasi attack on the Scharzesmarken and Lise’s betrayal should be one of the biggest moments of the series, but it’s relegated to the post-credits of this episode and it isn’t given nearly the amount of time to play out that it should. We also lose out on some comedic Gretel material in Berlin, which is superfluous to the plot and absolutely should be cut in this situation, but it was funny stuff that I really liked, and I’m sad we don’t get to see it.

All of this cutting and rushing isn’t for nothing, though – by getting through these novels as quickly as possible, the anime makes room for the upcoming story arc, which is where things really heat up . . .

Anime Rewatch 2021: Schwarzesmarken 4-5

October 3, 2021

Original Post

These two episodes cover the events of the third novel, introducing Lise into the squadron and then sending them to participate in Operation Neptune, a massive international battle. As I mentioned before, Lise has been heavily present in the anime so far (not to mention in the opening and ending sequences), so her joining the Schwarzesmarken squadron is no surprise to anime viewers. It was played like a much bigger event in the novels.

The events of Operation Neptune suffer a bit from having to rush through the entire story in only 12 episodes. If this show had gotten 24 episodes, this storyline would essentially have become the finale to the first cour, a massive operation that dwarfs everything up to this point. But because we enter into it starting with episode 4, we don’t really get that sense of raising the stakes. The actual events of this story arc are presented fairly faithfully, without many changes. It’s the intended scale of the operation that gets a little lost in the show’s frenetic pacing.

This is the story arc in Scharzesmarken that comes closest to exploring the international relations that I loved in Muv-Luv and Total Eclipse. The West German characters add an interesting dynamic to the series, somewhat similar to Leon and Sharon’s introduction in Total Eclipse, and while they come back later, it’s a shame that we don’t get to see even more of them. I would have also liked to have gotten to know the American characters better. But ultimately, Schwarzesmarken is more concerned with the domestic situation in East Germany, so this is really the only story arc where it makes time for its international cast. Couple that with the fact that this is the beginning of Gretel’s transformation into one of the show’s most compelling characters, and it should be clear why I have a lot of love for this section of the story.

Anime Rewatch 2021: Schwarzesmarken 1-3

October 3, 2021

Original Post

The running theme for these Schwarzesmarken posts is likely going to be the speed at which this anime has to move. It was given only 12 episodes rather than 24 like Total Eclipse was, despite the fact that both novel series are roughly the same length. This anime works hard to make sure all of the main plot points are presented in a strong and satisfying way – it’s the slower character moments that receive the brunt of the cutting.

As I mentioned in my old post, what’s most remarkable about this opening set of episodes is that it combines the first two novels into a single adventure, rather than two separate stories. It actually works a lot better than one might think. In the first novel, that critical scene of Theodor and Katia burning the picture of her father occurs after Katia’s first deployment, which ends in victory. In the anime, that deployment is combined with the second novel’s Fort Neuenhagen storyline, and Theodor and Katia burn the photo only after Katia is rescued from there. It raises the stakes much higher for the two of them early on, and it makes that moment of them burning the photo, signaling that Theodor has chosen to stand with Katia, much more impactful.

The downside to moving so quickly is that we lose a lot of the sense of what the early novels were like. In the anime, the truth about Irisdina’s past and the reason why she sold her brother out is revealed almost instantly. In the novels, because that revelation happens deep into the second novel, we spend a little more time seeing Theodor look at her as a Stasi rat. That way, it feels like a bigger moment when Irisdina takes Theodor into her confidence, whereas the anime moves too quickly in redeeming Irisdina for that moment to land as effectively. If the anime’s runtime had been doubled, the scene of Irisdina and Theodor in the old church would probably have taken place around episode 5 or 6, which seems more like the kind of pacing the novels had, allowing a few episodes of Irisdina being treated more like a suspicious character.

Another thing we lose out on is seeing more of the early relationship between Theodor and Katia. Theodor throws his lot in with Katia at the end of the Fort Neuenhagen storyline, meaning Lise is then transferred to the squadron immediately afterwards. In the novels, we get a little more time seeing Theodor and Katia grow closer, so Lise’s reappearance feels like a major disruption to their existing relationship, whereas the anime simply moved too fast to establish a relationship for Lise to disrupt.

Lise also feels like she gets a lot of screentime in these early episodes, despite appearing (mostly) in flashback. In the novels, I feel like her flashback appearances were spread out much more, and she didn’t seem like such a major presence early on, so it was a bit of a surprise when she transfers in. (I haven’t gone back to the novels to check, but I also get the feeling the flashbacks in the novels were more centered around the entire family, including their father and mother, whereas the anime flashbacks focus much more on Lise herself.) The anime compresses the story so much that her flashbacks take up a much larger percentage of the runtime. All of that is, of course, on top of her clear appearances in the opening and ending, as well as her obvious cameo as a Stasi at the end of the first episode.

Watching this again so soon after director Tetsuya Watanabe’s previous work on Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, I couldn’t help but notice the same tricks he used there to compress the high school storyline. There are several instances where the show jumps forward in time, then uses quick flashbacks to fill in the details, cutting down on the time needed for that exposition. One example is when the show suddenly cuts to Theodor searching for Katia’s father, then cuts to a quick flashback of Katia asking him to do so. That removes the need for an entire scene explicitly showing Katia calling Theodor out and explaining what she wants him to do. That’s an interesting trick I never would have noticed if I hadn’t watched both shows in succession.

The two shows also share the traits of not having episode titles (both only use episode numbers) and not having next episode trailers (KimiNozo filled the time with the Ayu-Mayu Theater shorts, whereas Schwarzesmarken often filled the time with post-credit scenes). Other shows directed by Watanabe have both these things, so I wonder if this was just a quirk that he assigned to the Age shows he directed.