Schwarzesmarken – 02

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Shortly after her first training sortie with the Black Marks, which goes quite well, and being introduced to the kindly, beautiful Lt. Pham, Katia quickly meets the darker side of her new country, the Stasi, who arrive in force to take her into custody for questioning.

Bernhard resists the handover of a soldier under her command, even a brand new one, and challenges both Lt. Col. Axmann and her academy rival Major Brehme to produce a reason for the arrest, and is actually backed up by her unit’s political commisar, Gretel Jeckeln.

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The Stasi leave empty-handed without a fight, but they promise they’ll be back when, not if, they get something on Katia. And between her big mouth (talking about things like wishing for both Germanys working together to fight the BETA) and asking Theodor to look through documents on a certain general who is actually her father, they might not have to wait long to have an excuse.

Theodor, who clicks his tongue enough to make a drinking game, certainly doesn’t like being in another situation where the Stasi spotlight is on him and his loyalties are questioned. There are no second chances, so feeling particularly selfish about his well-being, he considers doing…something on the battlefield to solve his “Katia Problem.”

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But he doesn’t. Instead, when she’s about to be pounced on by a BETA, he actually saves her. Perhaps, in the heat of battle, Theodor is compelled to do the right thing, not what’s best for his own skin. Their operation is crippled when the Stasi, who promised to send reinforcements, instead simply sit at HQ sipping tea, leaving the 666th out to dry.

They lose their CO, and both Katia and Pham are somewhat inexplicably called upon personally to help defend Fort Neuenhagen, where their TSFs are damaged and where they wake up, not knowing if they’re prisoners or not at a place whose soldiers call “Hell on Earth.”

“Fine” is the best way to describe this episode. It wasn’t bad, but nothing really stood out. Theodor remains a bland, tongue-clicking boob, Katia strikes me as way too idealistic for her own good, the visuals are nothing special.

As Oigakkosan mentioned last week, the show is also juggling too many premises. It seems far more interested in the shades-of-gray political conflict than the war with the BETA, who are, like the enemy in Kantai Collection, are just pure, bland, malice…but also extraneous. This show is eliciting too much meh in me to continue.

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Schwarzesmarken – 01 (First Impressions)

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A recent deciphering of ancient papyrus fragments indicates the number of the beast is 616 rather than 666, but never mind; 666 is still a pretty apropriate number for the East German “Black Marks” TSF squadron that stars in the new Muv-Luv Alternative spin-off, Schwarzmarken.

They go into the thickest BETA shit and kill everything they see, prioritizing that over answering distress calls. In fact, all of East German society seems to have a fundamental trust deficiency; never a good problem to have in a military unit utilizing cutting-edge mecha and fighting a merciless alien foe.

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In such a tenuous situation, something’s going to give now and again, and it ain’t gonna be the BETA. Rather, the nerve of a PTSD-suffering comrade complicates the operation. Another pilot has to stay behind and calm her, and then ends up getting thrashed.

Her commanding officer, Irisdina Bernhard, has to finish what the BETA started. But she might not have had to if only Theodor Eberbach had done something other than suck his teeth and complain about having to deal with an “insane” pilot.

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In an op in which only Theodor and Irisdina sortie, they recover an injured but alive pilot who bears an uncanny resemblance to Theodor’s little sister Lise, from whom he got separated from during an apparent Stasi purge in which their parents were gunned down as they ran for their lives. As far as Theodor knows, he’s all that’s left of his family, and this kid pilot he’s found is a visceral reminder of how helpless he was.

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Rather than allow that feeling of helplessness consume him, Theodor clearly built a wall around himself, only looking out for number one from now on, and always feeling put out and annoyed if he has to deal with anyone. Regardless, or even on a lark, Irisdina assigns him to train the recovered West German pilot, Katia Waldheim, after she requests asylum and to join the 666th.

Katia has a big mouth, as befits someone from a freer country than the GDR, which is apparently fully stocked with people who’d stab you in the back as soon as look at you. Theodor almost calls out Irisdina as a Stasi informant, which isn’t to say she isn’t.

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He warns Katia to watch her back, because no one else will, including him…but I wonder about that. If anyone can thaw his frozen-solid heart, it’s the upbeat and optimistic Katia, who again, reminds him so much of the sister he couldn’t protect. Or perhaps he’ll have a freezing effect on her heart, to go along with the freezing temperatures. We’ll have to see.

After the credits, we look in on an even more unpleasant Stasi unit led by a somewhat sadistic male-female pair rounding up suspected Western collaborators and shooting them. Among the soldiers standing fast in the shadows is one whose silhouette indicates she’s Theodor’s sister Lise.

This show may look like it was made ten years ago, but its bleak scenario in which the BETA aren’t the only enemy—and may not even be most immediately worst one—is a darkly enticing one. The question is, when will the dreaded hot spring episode rear its head?

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – 02

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This week Chiyo doesn’t make any notable progress in advancing her relationship with Nozaki-kun. But that’s to be expected in just the second episode, when several quirky characters who appear in the OP still need to be introduced. This episode unveils two of them: Nozaki’s friend Mikoshiba “Mikorin” Mikoto in the first half, and Chiyo’s friend Seo Yuzuki in the second. Both feel like fun additions that expand the show’s avenues for comedy.

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In that regard, the two are getting closer in that they now know each another’s friends. What’s so funny is, neither really knows why the other is friends with them at all, as they’re both quite the handful. Mikoshiba is a playboy immensely popular with the girls, but he’s embarrassed of his own over-the-top flirtations. Despite his looks and typical behavior, he’s a super-shy dude.

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He and Chiyo don’t quite get along at first, and Chiyo mostly tolerates him as he looks down on her, then relying on her to keep busy at Nozaki’s studio. After a game-show inspired “draw-off”, it’s established he’s not good at drawing anything…except for the flowers and details that surround characters, which he’s really good at; though not enough restraint with that element makes for irritating heroes. (The draw-off also shows Chiyo’s really good at classical rendering.)

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What’s great is that Nozaki uses Mikorin’s personality as a model, not for his heroes, but for his heroines, something made plain as day to Chiyo after a cursory gaze at one of Nozaki’s pages. When he wants to come up with a new model and asks Chiyo if she knows anyone appropriate for a shojo character, Chiyo comes up with her friend Seo Yuzuki.

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Yuzuki just happens to be running for her life from teachers like some kind of delinquent, and when Chiyo tells Nozaki Yuzuki gets people angry easily, Yuzuki demonstrates it right in front of him, though not intentionally. She’s simply extremely oblivious, also ably demonstrated as she walks through a photo being taken, over wet calligraphy ink, and right between a guy confessing to a girl.

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Her antics on the basketball court—and the way in which the team (and ostensibly other sports teams) use her as an example of what not to do—are also a reliable source of laughs, especially considering she believes her problem is she’s too perfect. Still, her charm and charisma wear Nozaki down until he’s happily taking her half of the work a teacher assigned them. Sometimes she can seem like pure evil, yet she the singing voice of an angel.

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She really reminds us of a more oblivious Himeko. In fact, the whole episode had a similar air to Sket Dance’s excellent ninth episode, in which a mangaka is looking for interesting characters around school, and the Sket-dan make a highly unconvincing case for themselves until the last minute. Nozaki and Chiyo need similar convincing that there’s more Mikorin and Chiyo than their very evident negative qualities they exude at first blush.

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Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 23

With RLF-controlled TSFs on the way with guided rounds, Yui takes Sendak’s advice to split their forces, leaving Yuuya behind alone to cover their retreat. Yuuya is surrounded, but bailed out by Inia in the Terminator. Yui, Cryska and the others return to Yuuya and Inia, and all the enemy TSFs are taken out. The last one, piloted by Mariem’s sister Gisele, self-destructs when Cui reaches for her weapon, but Cui ejects in time to survive. Meanwhile, after failing to sway Dogulu, Mariem broadcasts the RLF’s demands and actions taken, including releasing Laser-class Beta from the research lab to take out American bombers. She also publicly reveals the secret “Red Shift” plan, which would destroy the heart of Alaska to create a new defense line, abandoning the USSR and Eurasia.

This week Yui, Yuuya, and the test pilots prove they’re no slouches in real-deal combat, taking out all 24 TSFs the terrorists deployed. The group also proves that even when the head of an operation is cut off (the UN leadership, HQ, and even Lt. Dogulu are out of action this week), they can still cast aside their individual cultural or national prejudices to work as a cohesive combat team. The only problem is, the RLF are no longer the only threat on the field. They’ve released Beta, and if those Beta reach a certain line, a line of hydrogen bombs will nuke the shit out of Alaska, killing the entire cast of this series! But wait, there’s more! As Mariem Zarner states her intentions and demands to the world, the Major is commandeering a TSF with some modifications made to it.

This will probably ensure this major’s a wild card in the impending finale. It would seem his desire to rule over “supermen” (is he talking about Cryska and Inia?) trumps whatever humanitarian goals the RLF claims to have. And Dogulu said it best: being a trod-upon refugee who’s had a tough life still doesn’t give you the right to kill people. Mariem isn’t hearing it, and when she learns her sister was KIA, she decides to make revenge her leading motivator. Will Cui ever get that date with Yuuya, or will they be annihilated in a massive nuclear fireball? We doubt the ending will be that nihilistic. We wouldn’t even be surprised if next week isn’t actually the end of this story.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 14

Moments from defeat, Yuuya is bailed out by Latrova and the Zhar battalion, who wipe out the Beta surrounding him. The Soviet bombers start bombing the base, killing five of Latrova’s Eishis. Laser-Class Betas take out the bombers, saving Zhar. Latrova orders Kayl and Tonya to escort Yuuya to safety. She pursues an unknown signal while the rest of her battalion attempt to destroy the Laser-Classes. Just as Argos is about to pull out of the USSR, ending their joint exercises, Yuuya hobbles home, to everyone’s joy and relief. Later, news comes that Zhar Battalion was victorious in holding the front, but were was lost in the process. A new “Second Phase” Shiranui is unveiled.

Numerous times while conversing, Latrova mocks Yuuya’s Soviet conspiracy theories as not only stupid, but irrelevant. He and she are Eishis – the only remotely effective weapon against the Beta. They have neither the time nor the inclination to worry about politics. She has a point – it’s a strenuous job without worrying about the moral implications. But she also shows her softer side in voicing her belief that Eishis have a unique power to protect those things closest to them. Fikatsia Latrova lost her husband and son because she lost sight of her primary duty, and perhaps shared Yuuya’s suspicions. Now she has a new family with Zhar Battalion, and she intends to protect them to the end.

To do so, she covers their rear by going after a lightning-fast, mysterious TSF that’s shadowing her, but we never see the result. But she knew that both she and her battalion probably weren’t coming out of this alive. When she sends two of her comrades off with Yuuya with orders not to return, she’s actually saving their lives by excluding them from the impending battle. Of course, they disobey and return after dropping Yuuya off, likely joining their commander’s fate. But much to Yui’s relief, Yuuya returns, with Shiranui in almost one piece, and the unveiling of its replacement marks the end of the Soviet arc and the start of the next chapter in humanity’s struggle against the vile Beta.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 13

Yuuya cannot fight effectively or flee with Yui aboard Shiranui, so he transfers her to Stella. They use a taxiway to try to take off, but Yuuya doesn’t have enough power, so he opens a path for Stella to escape, leaving him on the ground, surrounded by Beta. Meanwhile, Lt. Sendak’s superior orders the Kamchatsky base bombed with no traces left behind.

Nothing’s simple for Yui, Yuuya, and Stella this week. With Yui safe, all they need to do is blow up the cannon and escape the base. Yuuya intentionally aims low, saving the core module so he can carry it with him, but a Beta shears off the arm he was going to carry it with. Because Yui isn’t in a plug suit (there aren’t spare ones aboard the TSF?), Yuuya has to take it easy or risk killing her. And even when he passes her off to Stella, his Shiranui is simply so beaten up he can barely do anything.

With all these logistical issues at hand, Sendak insists he can still retrieve the cannon by ordering Zhar to “rescue” the UN guys. But his boss cuts his losses and orders the base razed. Which means while Stella and Yui are out of harm’s way (for now), Yuuya is about to face dual dilemmas: a company of Beta all up in his grille, and death from above (and shucks, he didn’t even hear Yui insisting he call her by her first name!) Still, Yuuya seems to see this as an opportunity to prove himself yet again, and we’re confident he’ll pull through somehow.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 12

Yui is saved when Yamamoto pins the tank Beta with the forklift, and she saves him by killing it. They get back to work, arguing over who should stay behind to detonate the prototype. After successfully exposing the cannon’s core modules, Yamamoto goes below and is ambushed by Beta. Yui can only put him out of his misery, and it isn’t long until she too is surrounded. Yuuya saves her at the last second, and pulls the shrapnel out of her arm while Stella covers them. The main force of the Beta are converging on the hangar.

There were times during this episode when we started to wonder whether really would be the end of Lt. Takamura Yui. After all, she’s dead-set on scuttling the cannon, bushido dictates she sacrifice herself to protect others, and we flashed back to when she was still a bright-eyed student in Kyoto. Also, she’s not the only main character. While killing her off would be piss us off to no end, it would no doubt be a bold, audacious move, no doubt providing fresh motivation for Yuuya. But the question we asked at the end of last week’s review is answered in the affirmative, and that works for us, too.

Unfortunately, Corporal Yamamoto – who had a target on his back the moment we first saw him – isn’t so lucky, though you could say he died with honor. Doing so didn’t require staying alive as the Beta eat him, which is why Yui’s mercy shot was fully justified. And while we still maintain they’re pretty stupid looking, they can also be downright frightening in such close quarters, dwarfing the tiny, delicate Yui. Yuuya’s peril-extending first-aid aside, Yui’s still not leaving until that cannon is destroyed. The cannon that, we reiterate, is the potential savior of mankind. Silly humans…


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 10

Bridges returns to congratulations from his friends and more scorn and mocking from Latrova’s men. He sits out the victory party, and begs Yui to let him go on a close-range melee sortie, she tells him she’ll do what she can. During his 36 hours of standby, Latrova approaches him, telling him to cut ties with those who “spoil him”. He participates in the mopping-up of the remnants of the Beta, but another, larger surprise force suddenly approaches the base – from underground.

The humans in this series are in a tough spot. They now possess a weapon that can quickly obliterate an entire charging army of Beta in one shot (Yuuya kills more than 3,000 of them). But there’s only one Type 99 rifle, and the Japanese don’t want to share the technology. Also, being a new and highly secrative piece of kit, it’s fussy; shutting down without warning and unable to be reactivated. Those who could fix it are in Japan, and aren’t coming. The Beta may be the humans’ ultimate undoing, but all their distrust of one another isn’t helping matters.

Yuuya shows more growth in this episode, letting all the sarcastic remarks slide, being respectful to Lt. Takamura, and even agreeing with her when she suggests he sit out a sortie. He’s caught the interest of Cmdr Latrova (much to her unit’s unease), who insists if he’s going to continue growing, he has to stop blaming others and hanging out with those who let him. Ironically, this commander of a group of grunts from conquered nations is Russian, the nationality they despise. We also learn she’s fighting for her kid, whom she had to give away, and for all the children of her country. With a surprise Beta attack on the base imminent, it will be all hands on deck – and Yuuya will likely get the close-range combat experience he’s itching for.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 09

Cmdr. Latrova briefs her Zhar Battalion and the three test flights, including Argos, that will participate in the operation against the Beta. She has a low opinion of Argos, and warns them to stay out of the way. Yuuya breaks up another scuffle between the Zhar pilots and Scarlet Twins, but Cryska doesn’t want his help. The day of the battle arrives, and there aren’t enough tanks to hold back the waves of Beta. Yuuya begs Latrova to withdraw her forces so he can get an open shot with the EM cannon. They eventually do, and he wipes out the entire Beta force with one shot. The mission successful, Takamura orders him back to base.

Finally, an actual battle! Though, because of Argos Flight’s position (in the back of the front line, not actually on it), Yuuya doesn’t quite experience the Eight Minutes of Death. He kinda just holds his position the whole time while everyone else supports him. This doesn’t ingratiate him with the Zhar Patch Kids, but then they’re just stupid punk kids. Unfortunately only one of them gets killed off. Frankly, we were hoping they’d get more comeuppance for ganging up on Inia a second time. Instead, Yuuya takes the high ground (literally and figuratively).

He beats the rotten odds set up by the Soviets, who seemed intent on not allowing the weapon test, even though that’s the whole reason Argos and Yuuya are there. Thanks to a moment of common sense by Latrova, he gets his chance, and the railgun makes quite the statement. Give every Eishi one of those cannons and adequate time to set it up (whic is a bit of an ordeal), and the Beta don’t stand a chance. Victorious, Takamura offers heartfelt thanks to Yuuya, and he thanks her in return. Not letting himself get provoked by kids; not sabotaging the mission by acting selfishly; being nice to Yui – who is this kid, and what have they done with the real Yuuya Bridges? :)


Rating: 6 (Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 03

Ensign Yuuya Bridges transfers from Nevada to Yukon Base in Alaska, joining a international group of elite TSF pilots called Argos Flight: Stella Bremer from Sweden, Valerio Giacosa from Italy; Tarisa Manandal from Nepal; and lieutenants Takamura Yui from Japan and Ibraham Doglu from Turkey. Bridges and Stella team up against Tarisa and VG in a mock battle. Bridges is able to use himself as a decoy in order to get the cocky Tarisa in the right position for Stella to snipe her. Though he won the battle, Takamura isn’t impressed.

With Takamura the only survivor in last week’s dark bloodbath, the series serves up a fresh cast; the one we’ll probably be following the rest of the series. We like how casually the group comes together; no barrage of dozens of characters. The episode doesn’t try to do too much, after all, we’re still a little disoriented after the events of the first two episodes, which covered years; this week only covers days. But those first episodes painted a vivid picture of the trials Takamura Yui went through to get to where she is now: a lieutenant in an elite UN corps that may be humanity’s last best hope of survival. It also explains why she doesn’t like Bridges.

Of the members of Argos, only Bridges and his pal Vincent are from the US, a country not under Beta occupation. It’s apparent his life’s been a lot easier than Yui’s, nor he hasn’t seen any of the horrors she’s lived through (i.e., he hasn’t seen any friends get EATEN). The way he wins the battle – letting the enemy get right on top of him and relying on Stella to bail him out – probably wouldn’t work in a real batle against the Beta. At this point, we still like Yui the best, followed Stella (nicknamed “Venus”) and Valerio (“Macaroni”), where were inoffensive enough. But “Top Gun” Bridges seems like kind of a dick, while Tarisa (“Chobi”) is a shrill, irritating, arrogant little brat. Here’s hoping they mellow out a little.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 02

Takamura Yui’s trainee unit is sent out to face the BETA, but they find themselves quickly overrun and without sufficient ammo. As her allies fall all around her, all Yui can do is fall back. She, Izumo and Yamashiro are given cover by their instructor, but are still intercepted by BETA. Izumo and Yamashiro are eaten before Yui’s eyes, and she’s saved at the last moment by an elite mecha. She wakes up in a medical camp; Kyoto has fallen. She witnesses a birth, breaks down, and vows to reject extintion for the rest of her days, something she still lives by three years later.

Last week we heard a whole lot about the BETA invading, but didn’t actually see a whole lot of focused combat, or the ensuing invasions. The tension built up was all about impending doom. Well, the doom comes this week, and in spades. The BETA are every bit the implacable, merciless foe we labeled them last week and then some. They not only destroy humans and their civilization, but they eat humans too, in a disturbing, visceral spectacle of gore. While mostly obscured by darkness, still evoked strong feelings of dread and disgust and a sinking feeling in our stomach. On a larger scale, the images of the Japanese Navy bombarding its own capital – destorying 1200 years of history and sending national morale into the toilet – are no easier to watch.

Now we know why the characters were so bland last week: because they never made it past this week. The sole survivor of the last two episodes is Takamura Yui. This is bold and gutsy. How many recent series have killed so many people in its first two episodes? This opening one-two punch thus serves as an elaborate and vivid backstory for Yui, showing us exactly all she’s endured to become the person we’ll see in the following episodes. The emotional investment Total Eclipse earned from us was held and intensified. Having gone through hell and back with Yui, we find ourselves hating the BETA as much as she does, and can’t wait to see how she’ll start fighting back. We’ll need a ray of hope soon…we can only wallow in hell so long.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 01

Mankind makes first contact with a hostile extra-terrestrial race classified as “BETA” in 1967. Thirty years later, Earth has been invaded, and Japan is one of the last countries not directly under siege. Still, the enemy is coming, and shogun vasssal Takamura Yui and her classmates are being quickly trained for battle. One year later, in 1998, the capital Kyoto is under siege, and Yui’s trainee squad is one of the last lines of defense.

Aliens invade Earth and girls in skintight bodysuits have to fight them! Sound familiar? Well, with Total Eclipse, it’s all in the execution, and despite some flaws (more on them later), it does a very effective job selling the very real peril Yui, her comrades, and all humanity faces. This is a seemingly hopeless fight, and all the humans can seem to do is fall back and die before the implacable, merciless BETA. This encroaching darkness builds slowly as the episode progreses, culminating in Yui & Co. charging into their first battle. Once engaged with the BETA, the average soldier lasts eight minutes. Harsh stuff indeed – and not the environment you’d want high school girls in.

While this first episode successfully drew out the right emotions, it did stumble on a couple of technical points. The production values are uneven, and the CGI is not very well integrated with the conventional animation. Some vehicles – like the Mecha – are detailed CG models, but ordinary cars and trucks are hand-drawn and choppy. The character designs are somewhat plain and uninspired, and the mecha themselves, more often than not, just look like huge lumbering targets that can barely get out of their own way. After the eye candy smorgasbord that was Aquarion Evol, this is definitely a step down in quality, but as long as we’re emotionally invested – and we are so far – we can see ourselves getting used to it.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)