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.