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)