Officially known by the rather long name Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. This series was mentioned to me out of the blue to help me clear my palate after the disastrous results of mixing the latest episode of Valvrave with the penultimate episodes of Code Geass' season one. Hey, it worked.
Total Eclipse is strange in that I've never heard of it... ever. In fact, my research into it revealed that it seems to be rather unknown anime everywhere. Most of the review sites that I've visited to assist me with deciding on the series in this marathon had nothing. Those that did were few in number. This is especially unsettling considering Total Eclipse is made by the same studio behind the rather popular Log Horizon airing this season.
I got extremely curious since the promotional material and synopsis sounded way too promising when compared to the utter lack of coverage on the series. I even dug into Kotaku to see Richard Eisenbeis did anything on this...
So, this is the basic synopsis: Earth has discovered an alien life form known as the BETA on the moon. The kicker? The BETA make landfall on Earth in 1973 and proceed to systematically destroy the whole of Eurasia. In an effort to stop them, Earth produces the Tactical Surface Fighter (TSF). Essentially a giant mech; just go with it.
To make things more interesting, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) never broke up in this timeline and the United Nations (UN) has essentially become an anti-BETA organization that attempts to support the displaced populations of countries in Eurasia. The European Union has similarly become a military alliance of European countries that are attempting to hold off the BETA from Europe as they spill over from Eurasia.
In any case, the TSFs don't work as intended. In 1998, Kyoto comes under attack after losing battle after battle with the BETA. With Eurasia overrun and Kyoto now in the spotlight, it seems like everything is about to unravel for Japan.
This is also where we join the story, following the exploits of a young girl named Yui Takamura and her friends as trainees of the Kyoto Royal Guard. They get deployed to hold Kyoto against the oncoming hordes of BETA.
Be aware that I'm carefully tiptoeing past spoilers all over the place so you all watch this the same way I did: without a clue. It is much better if you do it this way. As such, sometimes I'll be extremely vague in this review. If you want to avoid this entirely, just go to the Verdict section. I always keep that one clean.
Alright guys, this show is basically a cross between Attack on Titan, Pacific Rim, Infinite Stratos, and Top Gun (yes, that Top Gun). The synopsis should have explained the Attack on Titan reference pretty well. The world is under siege, etc. Pacific Rim comes from the multi-national coalition of TSF test pilots that work day and night to perfect the TSF units they send to the front. Infinite Stratos comes from the fanservice, general similarities, one of the characters being the combination of Rin and Laura, and... something of a harem forms (you'll see).
Bonus points for getting the person who did the opening for Infinite Stratos to also do the Total Eclipse opening. Update: An interesting aside, Kuribashi Minami (who did the second opening) actually did the opening music for the Muv-Luv visual novel (which I've since played), so this comment is a bit silly. Top Gun comes from the conglomeration of ace pilots that have all been gathered in one place. Invariably, some of the themes carried over.
Somehow this freaky combination (that sounds like it should be terrible) is pretty good. It makes for a show that I was unconsciously seeking for the last couple of months.
However, unlike the pretty fun loving Pacific Rim, Infinite Stratos, and Top Gun, this series takes the brutality aspect of Attack on Titan to heart. This world sucks on the front lines. It will let you know it in the early episodes. While the show isn't nearly as consistently brutal as Attack on Titan, it certainly has some horrifying moments.
Despite this, I liked the serviceable balance that they hit between the brutal, gritty reality of war and the more lighthearted Top Gun-eske squadron antics that go on.
Because this is a show about test pilots, they needed to be creative with how to have drama. This comes to the surface with a decidedly sociopolitical analysis of a world under siege. What we get is a rather cerebral show that investigates the motivations of soldiers and entire countries after they no longer have a home. Smash this up against a world where the United States and the Soviet Union are still technically in a cold war (oh yes, they totally touch on this subject) and the situation for a multinational team of test pilots can get dangerous.
The soundtrack can be a bit mixed and dissonant at times, but I think they nailed it when it counted. For example, some battle music that I really enjoyed from the 5th episode called "Apocalypse of Destiny":
Oh right, and the recap episode? "Hey guys! Let's just toss in a Two Steps from Hell song and up the awesome status." Even if it was only for five seconds, the awesome cannot be stopped. The song? United We Stand, Divided We Fall:
Oh Satelight, you geniuses. You scored big with me by using an audio clip five seconds long and using the most appropriately named one to boot.
This is far closer to what I wanted to see out of Attack on Titan (at least in the early episodes of Total Eclipse). I repeatedly said that I hated the stealth-mecha plot device of Attack on Titan, so it seems really hilarious that I'm saying a mecha show did it better. Nevertheless, Total Eclipse takes a human-centric view on the world. The show makes it very clear that the only reason anyone is living right now is because thousands of soldiers die on a regular basis to stop BETA offensives. In fact, the TSFs are portrayed as being pretty bad when used in combat. Even the ace pilots die rather regularly. There is no silver bullet in this series.
But, in a way, it overshoots a bit and becomes too lighthearted sometimes. I'm willing to give it a pass though since the sociopolitical examination they pull off makes the test pilots' story rather twisting and watchable.
In particular (in my honest opinion), Yui gets a great setup. This is an example of character development gone right. While some of the other characters get a questionable amount of backstory building and screen time, Yui's intentions and motivations are made incredibly clear and her personality makes a great deal of sense.
In addition, the series takes on the rather difficult subject of soldiers and the battlefield. It examines the motivations of soldiers and how the battlefield has no remorse, especially in a world where there is no surrendering to the enemy and the enemy is ruthless (They eat humans. Sup Attack on Titan?). The show also looks at how the battlefield can change a soldier and how this can effect the character.
I liked the protagonist's growth over the series. To be completely honest, a great deal of the growth feels much akin to Tom Cruise's character in Top Gun: an ace pilot that is a bit too sure that gets a crash course in the reality of being a pilot.
Oh yes, and the first arc. Well, you'll see. Spoilers.
By far the biggest problem with Total Eclipse is the fanservice. It is absolutely all over the place and it constantly feels over-the-top for what is otherwise a rather serious show. It feels especially weird to juxtapose so much fanservice with the very unsettling battles with the BETA. Because we get so bogged down in the weird amounts of fanservice and the weird sort-of harem antics, the show sort of loses its way for a bit of its run. I'm not blind to this, this is a major problem.
In this vein, the show gets a bit too lighthearted for its own good. Come on guys, people are dying out there and this is happening? This gets lampshaded and handwaved by a character by pointing out that their dead comrades on the front line would have wanted them to be able to do this. Still, come on guys.
The series started pretty strong, lost its way, and managed to pick itself back up to return (at least mostly) to where it was. I'm willing to overlook this personally because I was far and wide more interested in the character analysis going on here and the underlying thematic conflicts than the actual plot.
Extremely valid criticism of the show for the normal person though. The fanservice is over-the-top and out-of-place at times while the show gets a bit too lighthearted. That said, I was fine with it.
The vast majority of the characters don't get a sizable introduction or a very deep backstory fill. I almost didn't remember to include this though since I didn't notice it much myself. The important characters get fleshed out plenty (see that one section in "Great").
Lastly, there is little-to-no resolution of many open plot points at the end. In fact, it is guaranteed that this was meant to be a lead in for a second season. Unfortunately, it has only been a year so we can't know if it will happen or not. Furthermore, I pointed out how obscure that this series appears to be. I'm not sure it made a big enough splash for a second season to be honest. Still, it provides some closure, so you aren't totally at a loss.
I think that this is hovering pretty high in the good category, but it gets a bit drawn back by a couple of specific things; the biggest drawback is the gratuitous fanservice that just goes so over the top that I'm not sure I can forgive it entirely. I get pretty close though. If this hadn't been the case, I think that this show would have rocketed into the great. Still, I personally think this show is incredibly watchable when you consider all of the elements and I have to say: this show should have had more coverage than it did.
The show tries to be an occasionally brutal, yet sometimes lighthearted, mecha show. This, of course, narrows the window of interested parties instantly.
This is probably going to be best for someone who likes any combination of the shows I listed in the good section (Attack on Titan, Pacific Rim, Infinite Stratos, Top Gun). It takes a couple of chances in the first few episodes that I thought really paid off and made the show a lot better than it could have been. It has a portion of the brutality of Attack on Titan with the "all in this together" attitude of Pacific Rim. In addition, the lighthearted appeal of Infinite Stratos somehow worked its way in and the "cool pilots" feeling of Top Gun comes through too.
Of course, this is one of those series that doesn't do much to resolve some of the plot. There is still a chance for a season two, so I think we'll all hold out some hope. That said, the important plot elements were mostly resolved (it isn't like a cliffhanger or anything), but there are some open questions and, of course, the romantic plot.
I think this show already has the Dark Horse award nailed down this month if I had to predict. This is probably due to their decidedly interesting approach to the first three episodes that I think hooked me pretty damn well.
If you were to ask me if you should watch this series, I would probably say yes in a heartbeat. The fanservice is definitely a bit much, but if you make it past that, there's something really special hidden beneath the surface.
Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein.
Again, nothing on tap. Code Geass might be on the way.
This is part of my Anime Review Marathon that I began in October 2013 to record my thoughts as I watch a variety of anime on my ever growing backlog. These reviews won't come out on a consistent basis, they'll come out when I feel I have seen enough of a series to pass a judgement on it, although usually I will finish the whole series before the review.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner.