Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse Part 1 (Episodes 1-12) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 299 minutes approx.
Back in 1967, the world was all about peace, love, Sgt. Pepper, being groovy and wearing flowers in your hair. In an alternate timeline however 1967 was the year an alien life form called BETA (Beings of the Extra Terrestrial origin which is Adversary of human race) was discovered on the Moon. Five years later BETA invaded earth, leading to the development of mecha defence craft called Tactical Surface Fighters (TSF) as a means of defence.
Fast forward to 1997 and Yui Takamura, the daughter of one of the developers of the TSF, has enrolled in Kyoto Royal Guard Academy to train as TSF pilot along with her friends Aki Iwami, Izumi Noto, Shimako Kai and Kazusa Yamashiro. A year later the BETA have landed in Japan’s capital, pushing Yui and her friends onto the front line alongside the Japanese military to defend Kyoto.
On first inspection Muv-Luv Alternative might seem to be a title which could challenge the negative preconceptions which accompany any new mecha show, with its origins found in the adult visual novel Muv-Luv, later stripped of its erotic content when released as a PC game. This anime adaptation is thankfully based on the light novel series, which appeared following the original game’s sequels and became a manga series, but while the adult material has been excised, the opportunity to include some fan service clearly couldn’t be passed up.
The first two episodes in this series are surprisingly potent and make for a powerful opening, beginning with some character building in the first chapter then delivering some hard hitting and violent action in the second. In what is a bold move – mini spoiler alert – everyone but Yui is killed by the BETA, denying us a team of spunky female mecha pilots to defend earth instead of the usual milquetoast boys!
But this has a purpose as the story jumps ahead another five years and Yui is now a Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Guard and a TSF expert developer. The story from heron in focuses on the global defence effort to repel the BETA with the next generation of TSF pilots. The United Nations has commissioned an international test corp. project called PROMINENCE to further develop new TSF weaponry which Yui has been asked to join, taking her and a select group of pilots on a globetrotting mission to test the new TSF.
A team known as Argos Flight is made up of Turkish commander Ibrahim Doğulu and test pilots Tarisa Manandal from Nepal, Italy’s Valerio Giacosa and Swede Stella Bremer. They are joined by a Japanese-American named Yuuya Bridges who denies his Asian side but is Asian enough to have a “will they-won’t they?” relationship with Yui, and later welcome Russian pilot team Cryska Barchenowa and Inia Sestina, known as the Scarlet Twins, who remain distant from the others.
Despite everyone speaking Japanese, the characters are defined by mild stereotypes, such as the Russians being cold to everyone Italian Valerio being everyone’s friend and Stella being a typical Swedish busty blonde. Aesthetically there is little to distinguish them from the others so one could argue this is a necessary evil.
Yui may have been signposted as the chief protagonist at the start of the series but that baton has been passed onto Yuuya, reaffirming the status quo insofar as having a weak male lead instead of a strong female one. Yuuya is no Shinji Ikari but aside from having a chip on his shoulder about his Asian heritage, he is also the only pilot to have no combat experience – thus he needs the rest of Argos to cover him while he handles Yui’s latest weapon, something which becomes a bane to his ego.
Action fans will be disappointed to learn that this is a character driven show, with much of the time allotted to dealing with the interpersonal relationships within Argos and with other nations as they travel around the world. It’s not always an easy ride – the group experience hostilities from the locals in Kamchatka, while are welcomed in the West Indies, all additional stresses they don’t need when they are required to stand together during a BETA attack.
When the action does come it is fast paced, dramatic and often very brutal. The BETA are rendered in CGI and resemble mutant beetle like creatures with teeth and a fast developing chitinous skins that require Yuuya’s railgun for effective penetration. The mecha are standard designs but aren’t as cumbersome as older models, blessed with the power of flight, adding plenty to the scale of the battles.
Satelight handles the animation and have produced a visually strong looking show, creating a suitably convincing approximation of a futuristic earth in 2003 that retains enough recognition for what it is essentially a war torn setting. The above mentioned battle scenes may be sparse in frequency but they are a treat to watch and deftly animated, not shy in exposing the gruesome consequences incurred on the battlefield, both human and BETA.
This first volume ends in the midst of a BETA attack so there is sufficient incentive to stick around for part two, but this may not be the case for everyone. Mecha usually means action for hardcore fans so the extensive character building might be off putting, worthwhile as it is, it does slow the pace down a bit.
Whether the episode in which Yui and Cryska talk out their differences clad only in bikinis can win the cynical over remains to be seen, although the fan service aspect – along with the tight fitting pilot uniforms – is a tad irritating considering how tough and independent the women are in the show.
The reliance on tired and familiar conventions is something which holds Muv-Luv Alternative back from being a breakaway show for the moment, carrying just enough strong points to keep hopes high for part two to deliver the killer punch it is capable of.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Rating – ***
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