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 . . .”


Anime! Anime! – Tetsuya Watanabe

March 24, 2016

(The original interview can be found here.)

– How did you get involved with this project?

Tetsuya Watanabe: I directed a show called “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”, and the company that created the original game was Age, who also made Schwarzesmarken.  I think that was how I was brought on.  I always want to make robot shows, but just as I was thinking the number of robot shows seems to be dropping, this project came to me.  I accepted since it would mean I could make a robot show.

– I’m sure you read the novels first.  What was your reaction?

Watanabe: I thought it was like a historical fiction novel dressed up as a robot story.  When I got the offer, I read through all the novels in a rush, and I was surprised.  I thought, “This is what they want to make into an anime!?” (laughs)  I thought it would be very difficult to turn this into a film format.

– Did you think turning the novel into an anime would go smoothly?

Watanabe: The novels describe a lot of things with great detail, so I can use those descriptions to help me.  But the story has a lot of volume to it, so to make it into an anime I have to work on the balance between battle scenes and character drama, and I worried a lot about what to take out and what to leave in.

– How did you resolve this?

Watanabe: The story editor Tatsuto Higuchi-san was a great help.  He would pick up a number of scenes that I had given up on.  He has a lot of experience working on tightly crammed shows, and he’s good at them.  I think he decided we could include them.

– Could you give us a more specific example?

Watanabe: What I talked with Higuchi-san about was picking up the major elements of the novels, and using them to build a story where the characters develop more linearly.  Irisdina is a character that the main character Theodor looks up to.  She’s like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999.  Theodor is somebody who winds up following in her footsteps.

– The novels have a number of heroines, so how did you depict them in the anime?

Watanabe: Irisdina is the heroine we focused on.  We pulled back on Katia and Lise so they aren’t heroines as much as in the novels.

– But in the first episode there’s a silhouette that looks like Lise.

Watanabe: That was foreshadowing for her reappearance.  Maybe I showed a little too much there.

– This story has the deadly fight against the alien BETA, but at the same time there are political elements mixed in, and it’s a very serious atmosphere.  How did you try to portray this atmosphere?

Watanabe: This is historical fiction, so for places like the Soviet Union and West and East Germany, we based them off their real-life counterparts to a certain extent.  It was a very challenging project.  There were areas where we wondered if it was OK to do this.  After getting involved in this project, I learned that the Stasi (East German secret police) that appears in the story was a real organization.  They did some truly terrible things.  There are people who really did suffer.  When I thought about that, I was very concerned about how far we should go to portray this.

– Were there any points that you were careful about as you built the novel’s worldview?

Watanabe: I felt I wanted to retain the novel’s image.  There’s a very suppressed feel to it, so for the anime I also wanted to keep things not too flashy, but not too plain.  Also, since the story is set in East Germany, the show will inevitably have an oppressive image about it.  People in my generation have that sense of what is beyond the Iron Curtain.  As much as possible, I tried to avoid making the show too heavy.

– How did you find portraying the specifics of the German country?

Watanabe: Germany has almost no mountains, so since I was raised in an area surrounded by mountains, drawing that landscape made me pretty nervous (laughs).  The scale is completely different from that of Japan.  The art director Katsufumi Hariu-san helped me out a lot.

– The TSFs performing NOE flight across the vast snowfield is an amazing sight.

Watanabe: The TSFs can’t fly very high since they’ll be shot down by the Laser-class BETA.  That’s why they fly as close to the ground as possible.  There were challenges to portraying it, but it helped that the flat snowfield was easy to draw.  During the first episode, we were still testing how flat we should make the ground, so we put in some bumps.  Then we established the Laserjagd.  As the episodes went on, we started to feel that it was OK not to have any bumps, so we wound up drawing it completely flat.

– The battle scenes are almost entirely in 3DCG.  How was working together with Sanzigen?

Watanabe: I had worked with Sanzigen before and I knew who they were, so working with them was easy.

– The BETA are CG as well.

Watanabe: I was concerned about that part.  The BETA are living creatures, but showing things like getting cut up is not easy to do in 3DCG.  You can’t open a hole in them, and even showing their heads getting blown off in battle is difficult to do.  We tested out a lot of different things in order to show it well.

– If you want the head blown off, you have to create a new CG model to show that, right?

Watanabe: That’s right.  If a TSF slices open a BETA with a sword, you have to create a new 3D model showing the torn-up texture where it was cut.  In addition, the BETA are a mysterious life-form so we don’t know what the cut area would even look like.  We don’t know if they have skeletons either.  We decided to play it like a samurai movie, where after a grunt character gets cut down, he screams and a lot of blood comes gushing out.  That made it possible to portray it.

– I’d like to talk about the Cast.  How was Kenichi Suzumura-san, who played the main character Theodor Eberbach?

Watanabe: He approached the role very seriously.  I knew he was someone I could count on.  After playing Shinn Asuka in Gundam Seed Destiny, he racked up a lot of experience in robot shows.  He pulled the cast forward this time as well.

– Evan Call-san’s music was memorable as well.  In our interview with him, he said we was glad to work on a robot show.

Watanabe: I’m happy to hear that.  After the dubbing for the first episode, our sound director Satoshi Motoyama said “This music is great!”  Music helps to convey a lot of a show’s depth.

– Thank you.  What do you think is the highlight of the show?

Watanabe: Of course I have to mention the battle scenes.  But I don’t want that to be the whole story.  As the novels progress, the memorable story of “Lise’s way of life” starts to come out, so I hoped to portray that well.  I also wanted to show Iris and Theodor’s growth.  I wanted to portray Iris, the perfect woman, and Theodor, who looks up to her and tries to catch up to her.  Coming up, there’s a scene that is kind of like a love scene between two robots.

– A robot love scene?

Watanabe: It’s a scene between Lise and Theodor, but I wanted to see if we could portray it with robots.  I hope you look forward to it.

– That sounds very interesting.  Finally, please leave us with a message.

Watanabe: I’m directing an Age show for the first time in a while.  I worked on robot shows my whole career, but when I had a hole in my schedule, Age asked me to do “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”.  After that, I fell in love with Age’s works.  Schwarzesmarken is full of that same appeal.  I hope you continue to watch and enjoy the show.


Anime! Anime! – Evan Call

March 19, 2016

(The original interview can be found here.)

– First off, I’d like to ask how you wound up composing music in Japan. What shows led you to have an interest in Japanese anime?

Evan Call: When I was kid, a friend of mine who liked Japanese anime got me to watch shows like Pokemon and Digimon. The show that had the most impact on me was Samurai 7 (2004, GONZO). I got hooked on that show and got into Japanese anime that way.

– How did you become affiliated with Elements Garden?

Evan: That was a real coincidence. After I graduated from the Berklee College of Music, I was wondering whether I should head to Hollywood to do film scores, but the Japanese anime and games I liked had a lot of different genres, so I thought that if I could break into that industry, I’d be able to write a wider selection of music, so I came here on a tourist visa. But, if I couldn’t find a job in 3 months my visa would expire, so I thought that if I couldn’t find a music job by then, I’d become an English teacher. Around that time, a roommate at the share house I was living in invited me to a party. It was a foreigners’ “Super Otaku Party”, so I thought I’d go (laughs). There, when I told a friend of my roommate that I wanted to write music, he said he’d talk to a friend of his, and introduced me to Junpei Fujita from Elements Garden. I sent him a demo and got invited to an interview, and I ended up joining them.

– So you didn’t get in through their recruitment process, but with a demo tape and interview.

Evan: At the time, they weren’t looking for people, but I think it was rare for them to get an application from a foreigner, so they set up an interview for me.

– What did you have on your demo tape?

Evan: A lot of things. Some songs I wrote in college and some orchestral samples.

– Was Elements Garden president Noriyasu Agematsu at the interview?

Evan: A lot of people were there, including Agematsu-san. They were all watching me and I got really nervous (laughs).

– I remember Agematsu-san mentioned you on Twitter in 2014. He said you were a composer to watch out for, and mentioned at the end that you were in fact a really good singer.

Evan: I do sing (laughs). During the application process for college there was a performance test. I wasn’t confident with an instrument so I chose to sing for my test. Lately I like singing rock but I also sing opera.

– You mentioned that you liked metal until you were 18, so what artists did you like?

Evan: I liked European power metal like Blind Guardian and Rhapsody of Fire. Those bands are symphonic power metal. I also liked northern European black metal. Guys who would use death vocals. I actually sing using death vocals for the Schwarzesmarken music (laughs).

– Your music often has a memorable symphonic metal sound to it, so that makes a lot of sense. I thought I heard a track that sounded like that in the Schwarzesmarken PC game, so were you involved with the game as well?

Evan: Yes, I was in charge of both. The anime and game BGMs are linked, so while there are some tracks that are only for the game, there are also some that will be in both.

– I assume you did the vocals for the song track?

Evan: Yes. In the middle I have the main theme motif, and I put the death vocals on top of that.

– You did the death vocals too?

Evan: That’s me (laughs). I hurt my throat then, and for a while I could barely speak (laughs).

– You’ve done the arrangements for songs like Nana Mizuki-san’s “Avalon no Oukan” and Minori Chihara-san’s “Arigatou, Daisuki”, and you’ve composed many other songs, so how do you go about that?

Evan: Generally I follow the orders of the producer, but as much as possible I always try to bring something even more than what they asked for. While I’m bringing my own originality into it, it’s not good to stray too far away from what the producer wanted, so it’s best if I can get something within that range. For example, on Mizuki-san’s “Avalon no Oukan”, we all submitted our own demos. They decided on Junpei Fujita-san’s catchy pop melody, but they also asked for the arrangement to be like my demo. I put in a bunch of orchestral tones.

– How did you get involved with Schwarzesmarken?

Evan: First, the offer came to our company. I was very interested in robot anime, and I thought my melody would be a great fit for it, so I wanted to do it no matter what. I submitted a demo and my profile, with a picture of me riding a horse attached.

– . . . A horse?

Evan: Well . . . (laughs), I didn’t have a lot of pictures of myself, and I thought I might as well send them one that stood out (laughs). It sounds like they really liked it (laughs).

– So they decided it based on your demo and the picture of you on a horse. Is the reason you “wanted to do it no matter what” because it was a robot show?

Evan: Yes. I knew it was a robot show, and when I heard the story I knew it would interesting. I felt I wanted to go all-out on this. I’m very happy to have been asked to do this.

– There have been a number of Muv-Luv franchises, so how did you approach the BGM for Schwarzesmarken?

Evan: Before I started production, I listened to all the previous Muv-Luv series soundtracks. But, I was told that even though this is the kind of BGM they had up to this point, I didn’t have to worry too much about matching them.

– How did you envision the music for Schwarzesmarken?

Evan: Schwarzesmarken is a dark story, just like the other Muv-Luv series. At the very first meeting, I was told to create something very serious. Actually, one of the composers for the previous soundtrack was Taku Iwasaki-san. The truth is, he is someone who influenced me very much. I felt very honored to inherit a project that he worked on. I was very moved when I heard Iwasaki-san’s music for “Rurouni Kenshin”. He is someone who inspired me to become a composer.

– When you become the composer for this series, what kind of meetings did you have with director Watanabe and sound director Satoshi Motoyama?

Evan: Their initial order of music had a ridiculous number of battle tracks (laughs).

– How many were there?

Evan: There were about 60 tracks total. About 15 were battle tracks. The main theme is pretty much a battle track in atmosphere, so there were a lot.

– What kind of image did you have in mind when making them?

Evan: Above all else, I wanted a sense of despair. The main theme is about 3 minutes long, and at the first meeting they told me they wanted each section to have a lot of different twists to it. What they wanted was for the first section to quickly lay out the main theme motif, the middle section to paint a drop of hope in a sea of despair, and the last section to blast out the main theme. I made sure to follow those instructions when creating it.

– I see. By the way, those 60 tracks are for the anime and game combined, right?

Evan: Yes. That would be too much for a 1-cour anime.

– Did sound director Motoyama put together the music order? Did director Watanabe say anything about it?

Evan: I spoke mostly with sound director Motoyama. Also, the game was going to come out first so in the beginning I had a lot of meetings with the game director Hayato Tashiro.

– Did you struggle with any tracks?

Evan: I did with the main theme. It’s a long track, and I was very particular about the orchestration. I also worked hard on the song track, since I did the singing as well. They were all a lot of fun.

– Did they ask you to include the death vocals?

Evan: They didn’t say anything about that. I included it on my own. It was just for my own self-satisfaction (laughs).

– Did you ever hear any reactions from anyone?

Evan: Hayato Tashiro-san told me it was very interesting. I felt like with almost 60 tracks, it would be OK to have one just for my own self-satisfaction (laughs). Of course, I would still have to make it fit in with the story.

– It’s a good match when the music you like to write also fits perfectly with the story.

Evan: Yeah, I really like Schwarzesmarken as well, so making the music was a lot of fun.

– What tracks in Schwarzesmarken do you really want people to listen to?

Evan: I want people to hear the song track I wrote! I haven’t heard whether or not they were going to use it in the anime, but I hope they do.

– What kind of story do you think Schwarzesmarken is?

Evan: It’s a story of people try to grasp hope while surrounded by despair. I almost cried when I read the story. I think it’s an amazing story.

– How did you feel after you finished writing all the music?

Evan: Sometimes I listen to it while I’m on the move. I’ll think to myself, “Hey, this is pretty good!” (laughs) There were times when it was painful, but it’s a show I like very much, and I had a lot of fun.

– What kind of music do you hope to make in the future?

Evan: I like this kind of story, so it would be nice to go in this direction. Of course I like the more slice-of-life stories too, and I want to work on more cheerful shows too, but I think right now the music for a world like Schwarzesmarken fits me best.

– Thank you. Finally please leave us a message.

Evan: I did my very best working on the Schwarzesmarken music. I would be happy if you enjoy the music alongside the story. I hope you enjoy the link between music and story!

– Thank you!


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 . . .


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.


Schwarzesmarken 01-03

January 31, 2016

Pretty much any in-depth discussion of the Schwarzesmarken anime so far has to center on the show’s episode count. At only 12 episodes, this is going to be a much faster-paced anime than Total Eclipse (or, for that matter, most anime in general). This is actually much less of a problem than it may first seem. Total Eclipse was an in-depth character study, and it needed the breathing room to build up its character relationships. Schwarzesmarken is more of a political thriller, where character development is less important than the tension created by the plot. In fact, it may even be to the show’s benefit to keep things moving at a fast pace, not allowing viewers to catch their breath.

It helps, immensely, to have a director like Tetsuya Watanabe at the helm. He was the director of the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien anime, which was also heavily arranged from the original work. The high school era of KimiNozo took up almost half of the original game, but the anime fits the whole story into only two episodes. And yet, these two episodes feel completely natural. They convey the entire story necessary to understand the rest of the series, and nothing feels missing from them. The rest of the series continued to show an amazing understanding of how to translate from a game medium to television. It was that attention to detail that I believed in when Watanabe was announced as the director of Schwarzesmarken. Watanabe is even credited alongside the anime’s story editor Tatsuto Higuchi for writing the script to the first episode, suggesting a pretty heavy involvement in arranging the story.

Given only 12 episodes to adapt 7 novels, Watanabe has made the decision to combine the first two novels into a single story, essentially by combining the final battle of the first novel with the first battle of the second novel. The way it’s done is virtually seamless, to the point where I highly doubt any anime viewer would be able to tell that these three episodes used to be two separate stories. Here’s a good example of what was involved in combining the two novels together: in the original novels, the Schwarzesmarken were originally assigned to Cottbus Base, under the command of Holzer Hannibal. After Hannibal’s death at the end of the first novel, the team is reassigned to Bebersee Base in the second novel. In the anime, the team starts at Bebersee Base, which is now the one under Hannibal’s command. This allows them to remove all of the material in the second novel related to the team being reassigned, which is pretty superfluous and doesn’t contribute to the actual story. All of this is done without the anime viewer noticing that anything is missing. It’s those kinds of details which I find very impressive.

Let’s take a look at the characters of the story. Combining the first two novels into one story turns out to be quite a genius move for Theodor’s character, since Theodor actually goes through a similar character arc in both novels. By the end of the first novel, he’s thrown his lot in with Katia, but in the second novel, he again goes through the process of giving Katia the cold shoulder and then learning to accept her. By compressing them into a single story, Theodor’s character growth becomes much easier to follow. Now it’s the threat of Katia being stranded at Fort Neuenhagen that drives Theodor’s original revelation that, much as he may deny it, he cannot betray Katia. It is, again, a solid way to get Theodor’s character across in a shorter amount of time.

By the end of this storyline, it is revealed that Irisdina sold out and ultimately killed her brother Jurgen at his behest, in order to keep her safe – she would likely have been killed alongside her brother otherwise. In the years since, she has worked in secret to carry on her brother’s will and overthrow the Stasi. I don’t remember if it’s ever explicitly mentioned in the novels, but it’s definitely strongly implied that this is the hidden reason behind the people she has recruited for her squadron. Theodor hates the Stasi for what they did to his family. Sylvia is Polish. Pham is a 2nd-generation Vietnamese. Inghild was a Junker. These characters aren’t just included for the sake of diversity – Irisdina has purposely scouted pilots who have reason to hate or fear the status quo in East Germany, and who could potentially be persuaded to take part in a revolution against the Stasi.

As for Katia, she’s a pretty straightforward character thus far. Although she is, for the most part, a flighty girl who doesn’t understand the real world, episode 3 does a lot to show that she is in the process of growing beyond that. Her best scene is at the end of episode 3, when she allows Theodor to burn the only picture of her father, to prevent such incriminating evidence from ever falling into the hands of the Stasi. It’s a clear sign that she is now growing capable of acknowledging the world around her.

The scenes with Hannibal and his second-in-command, Marei Heisenberg, reminded me that the game adaptation of the novels adopted an odd philosophy in which the story is told from Theodor’s perspective as much as possible. That means that most scenes involving Hannibal and Marei were cut entirely – I believe the only time they ever show up in the game is in the single scene shown at the end of episode 2, where Theodor is present as Hannibal dies. That means that Hannibal’s early hints that there is more to Irisdina than the rumors suggest are cut. Marei’s storyline, which as we saw at the end of episode 3 continues on past Hannibal’s death, is cut as well. Virtually all scenes with the Stasi are cut for the same reason – we only see Beatrix and Axmann when they interact directly with the Schwarzesmarken squadron. The game doesn’t follow this rule 100% – all of the scenes at Fort Neuenhagen are told from Katia’s perspective, and are too important to simply cut completely – but it’s still very odd. Games usually are told from a single POV, but the Muv-Luv games have been very active about breaking this rule, so I’m puzzled why they suddenly felt the need to change this. Luckily, the television medium generally embraces different perspectives, so the anime is free to leave these scenes in. It’s an interesting look at how the medium a story is being told in can change the way the story is told.

Kurt Griebel, the soldier who looked after Katia at Fort Neuenhagen, has an interesting history in publication. He first showed up in the 33rd installment of TSFiA, a monthly column in Hobby Japan magazine that depicted short scenes in Muv-Luv history. A few months later, he made his major debut in a short story included in TSF Cross Operation 2. This story, like all short stories included in the Cross Operation series, was eventually republished in a series of short-story collections called Schwarzesmarken Requiem. This short story was intended as a teaser for Schwarzesmarken, which was set to debut a few months later. The story focuses on Kurt’s tank unit, and includes only a short appearance by the Schwarzesmarken squadron at the very end, when Irisdina ignores his unit’s cries for help. At the time, while other writers had written short stories or segments of TSFiA, only series creator Kouki Yoshimune had written for a major Muv-Luv franchise, so I was a little worried about finally letting someone else write a full-length story. This short story went a long way towards convincing me that Schwarzesmarken writer Hiroki Uchida was going to do a good job here.

Kurt’s second-in-command, Vivi, also has an interesting history. In the novels, she didn’t even have a name – she just shows up, gives Katia a hard time, then gets eaten less than 10 pages later. The game mercifully grants her a name and a little more screentime, letting her appear alongside Kurt when he is first introduced. The anime is even more merciful, granting her a somewhat tragic death, whereas in the novel her death is almost comical. (Well, I laughed, anyway. Maybe that was mean of me, in retrospect.) Vivi’s actress, Moemi Otaka, also happens to be working as an assistant on Age’s weekly Nico Live broadcasts at the moment.

Let’s close out with some notes on the production. This time around, the theme songs are performed by the show’s lead characters – Yoshino Nanjou (Lise) is the vocalist for OP artist fripside, while Nozomi Yamamoto (Irisdina) and Minami Tanaka (Katia) sing the ED together. Some interesting names can be found in the OP credits as well. Akira Yamazaki is actually credited as a producer for the anime – Yoshimune describes him as the man who runs a lot of the day-to-day work on the Muv-Luv franchise nowadays, and he worked closely with Hiroki Uchida and their editor on the Schwarzesmarken novels. Fans may also recognize his name as the writer of The Day After. For the Total Eclipse anime, he was credited as a Setting Supervisor, but it looks he moved up for this anime. Speaking of the Total Eclipse anime, there’s another familiar name in the credits – Hiroyuki Taiga, one of the mechanical designers and mechanical animation directors from TE, is back for Schwarzesmarken as a “TSF director”. That only makes sense – this way, Schwarzesmarken can build on the technical know-how from the previous anime rather than starting from scratch.

Both the novels and the game make heavy use of spoken German, such as Irisdina’s common phrase “Achtung” and the squadron’s call numbers. The anime replaces pretty much all of these with Japanese. The reasoning, apparently, is that the novels and game use Japanese text, which can show both kanji and furigana to indicate both the German pronunciation and the Japanese meaning. The anime can only use the spoken word, so there is a risk that viewers will not understand the German words being used. This is a pretty fair reason, particularly for call numbers, since it is important to be able to keep track of people on the battlefield. It also makes a lot of sense since technically the characters are supposed to be speaking German all the time, so a mix of Japanese and German words isn’t very logical. Uchida is the first to admit that the use of German words in the story is just to make it sound cool.

One final note for those people watching the show on Crunchyroll – this time around, they seem to have gotten someone who actually knows what they’re doing, since the subtitles avoid the major flaws that plagued their TE subs. That means using “Pilot” instead of “Eishi”, translating military ranks correctly, and sparing us the embarrassing sight of Germans using Japanese phrases and honorifics. This is a particularly good sign if a future US release winds up using these subtitles as well. If only the person working on this show could go back and redo the Total Eclipse subs . . .


Schwarzesmarken Episode Count

January 10, 2016

Today is the premiere of the Schwarzesmarken anime! I hope everybody has already watched the first episode.

As I did with Total Eclipse, I’ll be grouping posts by arc, so the first big anime post will come when the first storyline finishes, likely next week. There also haven’t been any major interviews in magazines like Newtype like there were for Total Eclipse either, but that will likely change now that the show has started airing, so I’ll keep an eye out for those as well.

After the first episode aired, the official anime site put up a Discography page, which unfortunately confirms what fans have been speculating over the past month – the home video release will be 6 volumes at the same price for each, a standard release for 12-episode shows. Other preorder pages, such as at Amazon, confirm that each release will indeed be 2 episodes each.

Split-cour shows, in which a second season of 12 episodes airs later in the year, have become more common, but that’s not what’s happening here either. As I mentioned before, Age has confirmed that the intention is for the anime to go through the complete story, followed by a “winter” release of the second game. In other words, by the time they release the second game (likely in April or May), the anime should already have finished the story.

Finally, the first episode pretty clearly shows the anime’s intention to move quickly through the story. At the pace shown in the first episode, I believe it is indeed possible to get through the entire story in 12 episodes, with some judicious cutting.

I’ll have more to say on this topic in the first major anime post, but for now I’ll just say that I have faith in director Tetsuya Watanabe to fit the story into a single season, and that the first episode was a strong example of how to move quickly without losing track of the story.


Schwarzesmarken Official Anime Announcement

September 18, 2015

The Schwarzesmarken anime has been officially announced.  (As I mentioned before, the previous news was a kind of “pre-announcement”.)  As predicted, it will air in January, just a month after the first game is released.  The official website is here, and the official Twitter account is here.

For the past few days, a teaser site has been up, which leaked info little by little.  It was designed so that at first even the title was hidden – a true “teaser” – which doesn’t really work when your company name is in the URL and your company only makes one thing.  But, oh well.

Here’s the staff/cast listing:

Staff:

Original Work: Kouki Yoshimune
Original Scenario: Hiroki Uchida
Character Concept: Carnelian
Director: Tetsuya Watanabe
Story Editor: Tatsuto Higuchi
Character Design: Shuuichi Hara
Sound Director: Satoshi Motoyama
Music Producer: Evan Call
Music Production: Elements Garden
3DCGI: Sanzigen
Animation Production: Ixtl x Liden Films

Cast:

Theodor Eberbach – Kenichi Suzumura
Irisdina Bernhard – Nozomi Yamamoto
Katia Waldheim – Minami Tanaka
Lise Hohenstein – Yoshino Nanjou
Gretel Jeckeln – Kiyono Yasuno
Anett Hosenfeld – Chika Anzai
Sylvia Kschessinska – Michiyo Murase
Pham Thi-Rang – Emiri Katou
Walther Kruger – Kenta Miyake
Beatrix Brehme – Yukari Tamura
Heinz Axmann – Ken Narita
Kirce Steinhoff – Manami Numakura

The director is the big news here, in my eyes.  It’s Tetsuya Watanabe, the director of the original Kimi ga Nozomu Eien TV anime and followup Akane Maniax OVA.  He did an amazing job on these, at a time when anime based on erogames were rare and of generally poor quality.  Before these, he directed the Zone of the Enders anime, and after these, he did Soukou no Strain, both of which were solid mecha shows that dared to wander off the beaten path a bit.  He hasn’t directed anything major since then, sadly, but he’s continued to get steady work as a storyboarder.

Way back when, the final episode of Akane Maniax ended with a handover from the KimiNozo to the Muv-Luv cast.  Yoshimune has confirmed that this was exactly what it looked like – a teaser for the Muv-Luv anime that was in the planning stages.  Unfortunately, as we all know, the project fell through and the sponsors scattered like the wind, never to return.  But if the stars had aligned, I think it’s very likely that Watanabe, with his experience directing ZOE and storyboarding numerous Sunrise mecha shows, would have been first in line for that job.  It’s great to see him get the job he should have had, albeit in a very different form, over 10 years later.

I have always held the KimiNozo anime up as an example of how great anime can be when its staff is dedicated to telling a good story, without feeling excessively bound by the original work.  The tides have shifted since then, and I doubt he will have the same freedom here.  Hardcore fans no longer tolerate the kind of major changes that he made to KimiNozo.  But it’s still reassuring to know that somebody with his sensibilities is in the driver’s seat.  And who knows, the Total Eclipse anime still featured several major changes that I applauded, so maybe he’ll get freer reign than I think.

The story editor is Tatsuto Higuchi, who leaves behind a string of failed Sunrise shows (Sora Kake Girl, Cross Ange) in his wake.  Luckily, this is an adaptation, not an original show, so he’s not going to be asked to do much, other than copy what’s in the novels and make changes according to what Watanabe tells him.  He’s the weak link here, but I trust Watanabe much more than I distrust this guy.

The music is being done by Evan Call, a recent addition to Elements Garden.  Like with Total Eclipse, the music for the anime and games are being developed together.  They’ve shown a few clips of the game with music included, and it sounds great.  FripSide (whose lead singer Yoshino Nanjou is also playing Lise) is doing the theme to the first game; they haven’t announced who’s doing the songs for the anime yet, but given how closely the anime and games are being developed, I think it’s likely they’ll also work on the anime.

The animation will be done by Liden Films, with Sanzigen on CG.  This is pretty much as expected.  Ixtl and Sanzigen are literally next-door neighbors in the same building, and Sanzigen actually helped out a little on the Total Eclipse game.  As for Liden Films, I believe the head of Sanzigen helped found that company, and they also work in the same building as Sanzigen and Ixtl.  Liden Films worked on shows like Terra Formers and Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches, while Sanzigen is probably most famous for Arpeggio of Blue Steel.  But, as expected for two companies with such close ties, they also work together quite often, currently on The Heroic Legend of Arslan.  They do good work, but I have zero interest in art so I can’t say just how good they are.

As for the cast, this is the first Muv-Luv franchise to be cast with “modern” actors.  It’s hard not to notice just how much younger and inexperienced they are compared to the other franchises.  For example, Nozomi Yamamoto and Minami Tanaka, the two female leads, hadn’t even started in the industry when Schwarzesmarken started up.  Age cast both Total Eclipse and Duty -Lost Arcadia- themselves, grabbing big-name veteran actors that they were familiar with.  Schwarzesmarken has very clearly been cast by the anime producers, drawing on current popular names and trends.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but they’ve released clips of all the actors and the difference is very noticeable.  Luckily, they’ll be anchored by the male actors, all veterans, and by the great Yukari Tamura, playing one of the lead bad guys.

(People have humorously noted that the leads for the three major Muv-Luv franchises are now headed by the leads for the three Gundam Seed anime franchises – Souichirou Hoshi (Kira in Seed) as Takeru, Daisuke Ono (Sven in Stargazer) as Yuuya, and Kenichi Suzumura (Shinn in Destiny) as Theodor.)

Animate has some brief comments from the leads:

Kenichi Suzumura (Theodor): I had heard a long time ago that they were hoping to make this work into an anime.  I’m very happy that this anime is finally happening.  We are recording the show while being overwhelmed by its constant foreshadowing and profound worldview, but I still want to do all I can to breathe life into this work.  Please give us your support!

Minami Tanaka (Katia): I remember that when I first read this story, I thought that Katia was the one I connected with the most!  I think Katia is like an oasis in the middle of this serious story.  I want people to pay attention to how the Company and the others around her change as they get involved with Katia.  I’ve never had to do this kind of acting before so I’m very nervous while recording, but I’m surrounded by more experienced people in the studio, so I hope I can grow along with Katia as the story progresses.  And I hope people look forward to seeing how Theodor changes as Katia keeps sticking to him.  I’m looking forward to all the recording sessions ahead of me!

Nozomi Yamamoto (Irisdina): Irisdina is the commander of the 666th TSF Company even though she’s a woman, so she’s more than a little unreachable to me.  That’s why I’m going to try to face her even in my everyday life by trial and error.  Schwarzesmarken will expand into many places like games and anime so I hope you will enjoy them all.  Please give us your passionate support.

Yoshino Nanjou (Lise): Even though we have the concept of fighting the enemy, this is a very interesting ensemble play portraying an era in which you can’t trust others, even your own relatives.  Please watch with me together to see how Lise can live in such an era.  There are a lot of difficult words and serious moments so it’s a very tense recording studio, but it’s a very friendly place during breaks (laughs).  Please look forward to the broadcast!

As I did with Total Eclipse, I will translate any interviews I find interesting, and I’ll post up episode reviews when the show starts up in January.  In preparation, I should probably start rereading the novels . . .