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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Zettai Karen Children: The Unlimited – Hyoubu Kyousuke – 08

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In the continuation of the flashback, Captain Saotome Eiji picks Hyoubu to duel with the new Zero prototype fighter, piloted by the officer Fujiko knocked over. Hyoubu is able to shake off his father’s misgivings and summon the power to defeat the Zero. Just then, an American submarine enters Japanese waters, chasing down three dolphins who use telepathy to request asylum. The ESP team and Hyoubu save them, but a few years later, when Japanese surrender is imminent after the first atom bomb is dropped, Eiji shoots Hyoubu in response to one of the dolphins’ premonitions. Hyoubu doesn’t die, kills Eiji, and swears revenge against all normal humans.

Watching Hyoubu’s past, we can’t help but look back to Muv-Luv Alternative, which wasted no time painting the picture of Yui’s horrible, bloody past and engendering our emotional investment and sympathy for her character throughout the series. Rather than tell Hyoubu’s story early in the series, The Unlimited chose the middle of this cour, putting the present-day story on pause. We’re not sure we’re on board with this order. Don’t get us wrong; the last two episodes were great backstory, but it came at the expense of the present story’s momentum. Muv-Luv’s Yui’s story being told before we meet her as an adult was a clear calculation to put us firmly in her corner.

Perhaps this was also a calculation: show us Hyoubu the Bad Guy first and let us form our own opinions, then show us his past to either reinforce or subvert those opinions. In any case, everything we’ll see of Hyoubu (and Fujiko) from this point onward will be informed by the knowledge he was built up and then discarded by the military, and was powerless to stop the defeat of his country. Things went downhill for him so fast; and Eiji’s decision to eliminate him before he could muster an ESP army and destroy mankind…that was a rough hand to be dealt. But just because we’re kinda sympathetic to Hyoubu doesn’t mean he’s not every bit the threat to humanity Eiji believed.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 05

Yuuya begins training in his new Type 94 Shiranui Type 2, and is just as frustrated with it as we was with the Type 97. Lt. Takamura tells him ‘a man and horse must be one’, and Vincent reiterates that fighting the natural tendencies of the TSF won’t get him anywhere. After a belated welcoming party, Argos Flight goes on another training mission, which is interrupted by Takamura herself. She quickly takes out everyone and spars with Yuuya, who adjusts his piloting style and manages to knock her sword away. On her way back to HQ Yui encounters Inia, who greets her and then runs away.

The battle of wills between Yuuya and Yui continues next week, and was just on the verge of becoming stale when Yui decided to go out and teach Yuuya a firsthand lesson in how to handle one’s TSF. As Vincent astutely points out, they’re actually pretty alike; in that neither back down when they should, and neither are totally honest with themselves. Deep down they probably both see themselves in one another, which pisses them off even more. Yui may go on about how useless he is, but as her shower scene makes clear, she’s irked by his fast progress and potential for greatness.

This isn’t surprising, since Yui probably blames herself for not being able to save any of her friends years ago. Ever since then she’s built up a thicker and tougher armor around herself, but that trauma still festers. Still, her job is to polish the rough ore of Argos into a shimmering gem of BETA-killing, and so her surprise crashing of their training mission also made sense. Her goal was to either beat the hell out of him, or get him to trust his TSF enough to defend himself…and it worked. Now, if only we knew what the heck Inia is up to, and why she keeps showing up and calling people nice…


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)