Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse sort-of-review

As a fan, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse offers a rare glimpse to see the Alternativerse animated. That alone is candy for me. However, as a fan I also need to admit the faults of the product. Not doing that would be a stupid thing to do. Because of these, I can’t admit myself this to be a complete review.

While planning this review, I set myself a limitation that this body of work would be looked at as a standalone piece. There are the Light Novels, on which the animation is adapted from, but they’re their own piece. Then you have the Visual Novel, which is basically the definitive version of the story both in content and quality. Comparing the animation to either of these would be useless on some levels, but mostly because I haven’t paid any attention on the LN’s (you can check differences between the two in Type.94’s blog linked on the right) and I’m still clinging to the small non-existing hope that Total Eclipse will see a PC release. I admit that this is a pipe dream down the drain, as âge and ixtl seem to be concentrating on console releases most. Well, it’s not like I can’t get my hands on the PS3 release, but I would like to enjoy stories like it on my laptop next year…

While the show is mostly in 2D animation, all the major TSFs are in 3D
While the show is mostly in 2D animation, all the major TSFs are in 3D

Well, let’s start with the review proper.

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse is a story about about a project to make a new generation Tactical Surface Fighter (ie. giant robot) and the test pilots and personnel surrounding said project in a world where these machines are used to battle alien invaders.

Cast from left to right;
Cast from left to right; Inia, Cryska, Leon, Yui, Yuuya, Stella, Macaroni and Tarisa

The first two episodes are there to ease the viewer into the world and how it functions as well as into the background of one of our main heroines. After that we begin the story proper with the introduction of Yuuya Bridges, the main character of the story.

I won’t go into the details of the story too much, as a general overlook should suffice as to give you some idea on whether you want to watch the series or not.

The story isn’t a grand one, and realizing this makes the show look better. Total Eclipse is a side story through and through and you can feel it in pretty much every nook and cranny of it. While the beginning feels big and promises big things to come, it’s just there to showcase how screwed this world is and because the staff clearly had a hard task with those two first episodes, they came out as the best episodes the series has. It’s not that the plot overall is bad, just the opposite. It’s how the story is executed and presented where Total Eclipse fails the most.

After the two initial episodes, the six episodes or so are mainly character and further world introduction with heavy emphasize on the show’s main point that these characters are test pilots, thus we get to see them doing their test pilot stuff. That includes the obligatory beach episodes. While these do not hold too much actually advancing plot, all the characters and the surroundings get to shine. We get to know all of them pretty well and part of their background. Well, not all of them. Because of PLOT! we don’t get to know the Soviet Russian pilots Cryska Barchenowa and Inia Sestina and their commanding officer Sandek all that well, just some hints what they are like and some basic character introduction. Too bad really, because most of the middle arc of the series these two Russian main characters, Cryska and Inia, basically disappear and have little to no relevancy on the events and Yuuya’s story outside certain key scenes where they’re mostly treated as plot devices to further plans of their commanding officer.

That’s problematic, because the middle of the series is just filled with hot air and honestly, it’s a jarring thing to watch. The Kamchatka arc begins in episode 8 and end in episode 14, and they feel twice as long. They could have cut a lot of hot air out, or fill them with actual content rather than talking heads. Well, Japanese have made a new sort of craft out of no-animation scenes, where people just slide across the screen and the only animated part is their mouths.

Well, the whole Kamchatka arc would have been interesting, as it is about Yui and her railgun.

he wants to see my railgun

Basically, the railgun is big-ass gun that eats through BETA like red-hot rod through butter, which Yui was mostly developing and it’s one of the secrets of Japanese government. Basically, the Russians wanted it to be tested on their soil, so they could have the BETA overrun the base where the cast is residing and take the railgun to themselves. Why? Because people are dicks and Muv-Luv, Alternative especially, has never been too protective about our dickish nature. Well, things never go as planned and the BETA overrun everything a bit too much, the railgun gets busted and people barely survive. Soviets also sacrifice their men to rally up morale of their own troops, in which we see a loss of one of the fan-favourite characters. That’s the gist of it, and they could have done it all in four or five episodes and lose nothing too important.

There’s also a sad change in Yui’s character during the Kamchatka arc, where she turns from strict, no-nonsense hardass into wobbly jelly with marginal character traits from before. She gets better at the end, but how her character here is handled is really awkward and feels off.

The last nine episodes fare no better really, as we return to the test piloting in marginal amounts and see more build for Cryska’s character, which barely goes anywhere. This is also the start of Blue Flag contest, where different squads from across the world come to the base to mettle with each other. This is to test their machines, naturally. Of course, we get introduced to a new set of characters, which get more or less only a sliver of character development. Part of them are tied to Yuuya’s past, whereas Chinese Miku is just a Shampoo pastiche from Ranma ½. Nothing wrong in that really, but her presence really doesn’t contribute to anything but additional fanservice and slight new breeze to still air of the series.

Aaaanyway, while we see more TSF-on-TSF action and think that the show is picking up pace because of this, but no. Now a terrorist arc begins, which interrupts the whole Blue Flag contest. Oh yeah, Cryska has a whole episode dedicated to her and her character building, which would have been welcome earlier on rather than be tacked on. If they had given every character a whole episode, or crammed two into one, then this kind of thing would have been alright. Actually, that’s what they could have done, but I guess all characters outside Yuuya, Cryska, Yui and Inia do not matter all that much.

China doesn't care about Blue Flag, they just sent Cui there to blow off some steam
China doesn’t care about Blue Flag contest, they just sent Cui there to blow off some steam

Well, the end plot goes so that the terrorist take control of the base with the help of some other Soviets in order to release BETA that are kept for studies underneath the base. This is on order to have Laser-Class outside and prevent the bombers to level the base. Turns out the Americans were a bunch of dicks too and have set nuclear weapons under Alaska’s border, which automatically detonate if any BETA step on is region. This would basically kill all the Soviets residing in Alaskan soil (the US has “rented” the area for them) and render worldwide tensions even tighter. Of course, there terrorists were there to drive the refugees matter, while their helpers were some religious zealots and worked with Soviets, who betrayed all of them and it turned out everybody were fooled by some red headed nazi. Perhaps. The plot’s all over the place at the end really, but when you watch it and take your time to process the information, it all makes sense and has a meaning. Explaining it here like this most likely has caused me to type something unintentionally wrong, or I was not able to explain what the shit was going on.

And top of all that, Sandek allows Cryska and Inia open their Newtype psychic powers without constraints, and we have another Ruskie doing his own thing and using a capsulated psychic girl to affect them. It’s not explained at all, but we know that these Psychic children are grown artificially, and we see one of them inside a capsule the other Ruskie uses to mess with Cryska and Inia. Be it brainwash or something else, Cryska’s and Inia’s wish to protect a world goes all haywire as they go berserk and kill everything and everybody in their way. Cue for fight between them, Yui and Yuuya. Of course, we can’t kill any of the major cast members, so things are wrapped somewhat loosely together after that.

Because every mecha series needs its own power aura effect
Because every mecha series needs its own power aura effect

Ending of Total Eclipse is a direct reflection to on how small scale event Total Eclipse is in the larger picture. For what we know about the series and what the ending tells us is as follows; the XFJ Project was successful and Japan is gonna get their new machine at some time later. Yui has managed to fulfil her character growth from a bitch to a helpless love stricken goofball to a person who has made peace with herself. Cryska goes from unfeeling almost-Rei clone to be an actual person who has wishes and needs, and now has actual drives for herself. Overall, it sums up the show pretty well and showing that the characters have changed as has the status quo. Every episode advance the show and no episode returns to the previous status quo. Even when it looks like things are back to normal, there are changes that are seen. In this sense Total Eclipse is much better show than Star Trek: Voyager or Enterprise, but that’s not all that much. What has taken place had its effects, and they’re there to stay. Whatever happens afterwards Alternative, Total Eclipse’s events did have an effect on that too. After all, XJF project was about the new frontline unit for Japanese.

Of course, what really happens is seen in the Visual Novel where Yui gets shot  and survives, finds out that Yuuya is her brother, and Cryska wins in the love triangle but dies. However none of this has nothing to do with the animation so we’ll disregard every piece of it.

OOPS SPOILERS
OOPS SPOILERS

Now, Total Eclipse uses 2D and 3D animation. We all agree that TE doesn’t have the best animation and there are whole episodes that are out of model. I tend to be a person who doesn’t take notice of such things too much and I see no reason to dismiss off-model animation as long its fluid, and TE looks good when it’s in motion… outside few running scenes with Yui but they clearly spent their budget on more important scenes.

...like Yui running in her Fortified Suit
…like Yui running in her Fortified Suit

It’s a mixed bag and Total Eclipse does deserve it’s share of negative comments on the animation quality. However, the 3D models are great and have their weight with them. It’s clear that TSF’s movements and overall animation got decent amount of attention and it shows. The detailing for the TSFs is pretty good overall and the models do represent their respective machines as well as they should. After all, they are now the official models for the TSFs to be used in future VNs, I imagine. However, I see no proper excuse why every BETA shares the same model with their relative species, and it would have been better if they had made three or four variations of the models and spread them around. The sizes of the BETA were also in some contradiction with what we had seen in the Visual Novels, but that has nothing to do with the show itself so dismiss that.

One thing that Total Eclipse did well was the music and overall sound department. Background music didn’t really get into the action’s way, and often the vocal songs just heightened the scenes. When there wasn’t really anything happening, the music sounded nice. There are few bland songs here and there, but they all just work. Outside the first Opening song by Koda Kumi, which is one of the most ill fitting opening songs I’ve heard in a long damn time [And not just ill-fitting, the song is rather awful through and through, and an ear worm too], the music varies from meh to pretty damn decent. Well, opinions are opinions and yours may differ.

Is Total Eclipse good? is the question you might be asking now. The short answer for this would Yes, it is good. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s pretty decent and nowhere being abysmal. It just kinda is good, because calling it any other would make it sounds something more special that what it is. Describing anything with just Good is an offence, but seeing how Total Eclipse in the end was, it doesn’t any more colourful description outside that.

As a whole it lacks its own identity cohesive identity, but where the arcs are a bit too clearly defined. You could actually jump into the story almost at any of the arc’s beginning and you wouldn’t lose much, as a lot of resolutions and changes in the series and characters is repeated multiple times over, like Yuuya’s growth from a racist bastard into a person who admits his roots.

However, the elements that are made well in Total Eclipse do stand out, and while the last arc is a bit all over the place, it keeps its grip on the viewer just fine. It’s one of the better paced arcs too next to the first two episodes. The middle arc in Kamchatka suffers from most of the really awful pacing is the most jarring part of the whole series, with a lot of nothing happening between long periods of time. To contrast these are the tight action scenes, but it’s a bit too apparent that the staff has been rather new to the industry, as the action scenes may have some of the TSF units doing high speed manuvers, then only a second later be completely still while another one lands to next to it. These cut the flow of the scene a bit too much, to a halt actually.

It’s sad to say that Total Eclipse is for the fans. They get the most out of it, whereas the normal viewer with no previous experience with the franchise will be lost, sometimes at keypoints. While the BETA are an unknown threat, they are fleshed out a little bit more as the show goes on, but why are we hearing these things in the 14th + episode and not during the lesson we had in the first episode? Why are we flashing back to the lesson episode later on? Next to the BETA, the big question that is never answered or pointed out is why this world is using giant robots to battle this alien threat? While they can be waved away by saying that It’s just a robot anime, that excuse isn’t good at all.

Not see n DVD or BD
Not seen on DVD or BD

To meta-review a little bit, it’s well known that Total Eclipse had a small budget and an inexperienced staff. This is seen from beginning to end, and it didn’t help that the director was changed before Kamchatka arc began. While these might affect somebody’s opinions of the series, it shouldn’t; only the end-product matters. As an adaptation Total Eclipse fails at basic television rule of Show, don’t tell and that’s mainly because adapting a literary work to big or small screen isn’t all that easy. Type-94 has more on the differences between the Light Novels and the series, as well as other information that I see no reason to repeat. You can find his link on the link section on the right.

In the end, there’s two possible reactions to the series depending who is watching it. The first reaction is a small fascination, where the viewer might start looking for further information and end up reading the VNs, and possibly purchase some merchandise. However, the genre shift from Muv-Luv Extra to Unlimited can be a bit troublesome, if this person is not liking the high-school romance comedy.

The second reaction is dismissing it, and most likely dropping the series and wanting to continue no further.

Total Eclipse didn’t really manage to grasp any audience outside the fans, and while it did have an extensive marketing campaign for such a small budgeted product, it failed to strike through. However, during this past year and then some, I have seen numerous people getting interested in Muv-Luv as a franchise through Total Eclipse, and Total Eclipse can work as a nice appetiser before spending those tens of hours with the Visual Novels.

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