Thursday, January 31, 2013

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse (Total Harem would be more accurate)

Despite knowing next to nothing about this show, I had high expectations for Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. All I knew was that it involved mecha- to which I have no objection, with a cast of pretty girls (again, no objections, for obvious reasons). I was not disappointed on both counts, as should be apparent from the illustration above, but still...

Anyway, a brief summary. Ugly alien monstrosities named 'BETA' have invaded earth, and large swaths of Eurasia have fallen. Humanity rallied back and managed to stem the invasion using Tactical Surface Fighters (TSF for short), humanoid mecha variations of real world fighter jets. The main cast are a group of elite pilots sent by their respective governments to conduct tests on next generation TSFs at a United Nations base in Alaska.

My experience with mecha up to this point has mostly been with the Gundam series, though to be honest I have become rather tired with the formulaic beam spamming combat, deus ex machina doomsday machines, meaningless annoying rivalries, and inexplicable Houdini stunts.

My only complaint about the mecha portion of this show was that there simply wasn't enough of it. The battles scenes we were treated to were brief, but crisp and fast. There is admittedly a limit to how exciting a fight against ugly aliens can be though- imagine yourself going against a swarm of cockroaches, though a painful death can occur at any time- frightening but not very exciting. It is somewhat grim to be forced to admit that the fight scenes between TSF pilots are the highlight of the show, being a test of piloting skills, mecha capabilities, clashing egos, and a fair bit of luck. The mecha designs are fabulous too, which helps a lot. There just isn't enough of it.

As for the mainly female cast- after watching the first episode I thought the rest of the series would play out as a darker version of Strike Witches, albeit with a plot worth mentioning. Episode 1 focused on Takamura Yui, a high schooler (I think) and TSF trainee. She is given an interesting background, being the daughter of an Imperial Royal Guard (basically a samurai family serving the Emperor- or was it the Shogun?), with an uncle serving in the higher echelons of the military. Trouble comes fast in this episode- the BETA attack Japan and the rookie pilot is basically baptized in blood.

This paragraph may or may not be a spoiler, depending on your taste. I was shocked to find out that Yui was not the main character of Total Eclipse, but Yuuya Bridges, a half-Japanese USAF pilot. Simply put, he's the star of the show, the heavens shine rainbows on him, and his very presence causes females to ovulate. I spent the following 24 episodes hoping for Yui to get more combat action, but Yuuya took the spotlight.

At the very least, they did a good job with Yuuya's story. The production team (or writer of the light novel, really) did something rarely seen in Japanese anime: the so-called 'half' was ostracized as a child for his ancestry, not idealized as an exotic creature. As a result he develops an irrational disliking for Japanese people and culture, going out of his way to declare himself to be a red-blooded American. This causes a fair amount of trouble due to him being assigned as a test pilot for a Japanese TSF, under a team commanded by none other than an older Yui, a 'yamato nadeshiko' in the flesh.

The background scenery was well thought out and refreshing as well, showing features rarely ever picked up on by other mecha shows that I've seen. Called away from the front-lines to a 'safe posting', the test pilots are discriminated against by front-line veterans. It is emphasized that the Soviet Union is not a country, but rather a federation of states, with Russians being elite citizens, and other races being third class cannon fodder; and of course there's the cultural confusion between Soviets trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and the  free-living Americans. The only problem I had on this point was that a major group- the Eurasian refugees, only became prominent late in the show, seemingly popping out of nowhere- forgivable, seeing as there's still space for a second season.

Since it's based on a visual novel series, I can't really complain about the direction in which the show went (harem, ahem), nor can I say much about how the characters are played- love or blame the original author as you see fit. For my part I consider Yui's character as wasted, seeing as how they turned her from a strong female character who lost her innocence in episode 1, into a hesitant, doe-eyed tsundere beauty whose main role is to be plucked away from danger.

Season 2, if there is one, will probably be more of the same, although perhaps with a darker tone. I can't say I was disappointed with Total Eclipse, though. My impression of the series, as a newbie to the franchise: it could have been epic. However considering the fact that Total Eclipse was supposedly (as alleged by some anime bloggers, and perhaps mentioned by some people in the production team) made to be a sales vehicle to sell an upcoming Muv Luv game, and that the studio was mostly bound to follow the original material, they did a pretty good job with it.

TL;DR: Needs more Yui action. It just happens that there's a lovely Yui figma on the market- curses, I've fallen into their trap, haven't I?

P.s. I predict a sudden spike in page views from Mother Russia after this post, for obvious reasons...

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