Schwarzesmarken has been and will be compared to Total Eclipse no matter what. The two currently represents the only animated pieces that Muv-Luv currently has, and both are based a light novel source to an extent. The major difference the two have when it comes to the animation staff is that Total Eclipse was reported to have a team consisting of newcomers, mostly. Schwarzesmarken on the other hand seemed to have a team that already had a working history, and the director had his hands in Kimi ga Nozomu Eien adaptation, a thing that shows through if you know where to look from.
Type-94 wrote a worthy post on Schwarzesmarken, and I don’t personally feel a need to repeat too much what he said. You should read his piece as well, if you haven’t by this point.
The largest difference between Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse is that it was a character piece, but the way it portrayed its characters and how directly it adapted scenes that made sense in text form just looked awful on television, and largely were not fun to watch. To some this was an element that could be overlooked as the characters provided the main interest point, and Total Eclipse has a fanbase of its own. Certain sections felt too rushed compared to the rest of the series, and similar thing has been echoed with Schwarzesmarken.
With Schwarzesmarken there’s not much you can do. You have twelve episodes to go through seven books of story and then some. Tetsuya Watanabe, the director, already had experience in adapting Kimi ga Nozomu Eien’s story into tighter package and it shows. Whereas KGNE played out the strengths of the characters better than Total Eclipse, Schwarzesmarken is aired between the first and second visual novels. A reasoning has been made that this has allowed Watanabe to portray the events in a documentary-like fashion, where the events are more worth than the characters. They play out beat by beat, leaving less time for the characters to grow out. After all, Schwarzesmarken’s strengths are laid in the events and in its politics. Not to downplay the characters, but the whole setting Schwarzesmarken trumps over the characters in interest.
Total Eclipse’s first two episodes should’ve been a standalone television movie. It’s an excellent action piece with honest moments that resonate with the viewer. It not only explained the world, but also the themes and atmosphere the series would have, perhaps even franchise wide. Schwarzesmarken’s intro to the world is short and to the point; these events happened, this is the situation. It doesn’t waste in showcasing too much how people live or why things are like they are, the exact opposite Total Eclipse did. Granted, Muv-Luv has become far more mainstream, and Alternative’s setting has become somewhat known when it comes to niche franchise, and thus Schwarzesmarken didn’t need to have any sort of expanded introduction.
Total Eclipse eased watchers into the show, and then kicked in with whatever it had. Schwarzesmarken on the other hand just kicked in.
Schwarzesmarken being a sort of documentary piece that rolls onwards, it keeps things tight and fast. Some may call it rushed, but that is giving it too little credit. Yes, it is fast paced and each episode seems to be packed to the brim to give as much important events to the viewer in the allotted time as possible. I feel that this is not a show to marathon, as its pace is tiring to some extent, and the constant advanced beat of the show may just irritate in one go. One the other hand, Total Eclipse has ruts that look like nothing’s happening because they’re not shown, tiring the watcher with Yuuya’s near constant catchphrase.
Visually speaking, Schwarzesmarken looks pretty for a budget show. It clearly has a higher budget and the designs are pretty, ranging from almost classical Muv-Luv hair to very down to earth look. I have to especially mention the eyes, as they have slightly too thick look in the series compared to the illustrations, but they give each character a lot of personality and soul, something that’s lacking in many other modern shows. I may be a nostalgia goggles wearing 80’s-loving guy, but I do admit that current Japanese animation looks superbly beautiful, even at its lowest point. That’s the CG magic working for you.
Generally speaking, thus far during these six episodes Schwarzesmarken has looked better than Total Eclipse in general, but we’re still halfway through. A review on the series at this point would be largely meaningless, unless it was done episode-by-episode basis.
Discussion whether or not Schwarzesmarken is a good adaptation will come up like with it did with Total Eclipse. However, I do feel that Total Eclipse was the bad end of the stick on the long run, and it should be allowed to stand on its own legs more. Because of how Total Eclipse was received, I made a conscious decision not to read on Schwarzesmarken to the same extent. I was intending to read the first visual novel with the series, but that idea got scrapped a bit too fast due to issues. I’m still intending to stream it one of these days. I do believe each product should be taken as their own piece, be it book, movie or a television adaptation. Comparing each of them between each other and how they handle their characters can’t be directly compared without some allowances, and it’s not uncommon to prefer the first version you go through. Each version most likely changes things around, and under Watanabe’s direction Schwarzesmarken has combined some events into a smaller package, forgoing some events altogether and giving emphasize to others. To some changes like this is irksome, they expect a direct adaptation without any changes. Others expect adaptations to change to fit whatever medium they and allotted time they are given, and yours truly expects this approach.
Schwarzesmarken is all about the setting and the events, much like how Gundam W is more about the music and political struggle rather than about the Gundam pilots. Whether or its somewhat unconventional approach will be good enough to carry the series to good ratings is an open question at this point. Of course, the home release and merchandise sales will ultimately tell whether or not the show was successful. Generally, the current reception has been generally good.
I’ve enjoyed Schwarzesmarken thus far, but for different reasons than with Total Eclipse. Total Eclipse was more or less a show that had possibly good character moments and there a lot of those, but they’re mucked down. The writing is not the best, and it’s chock full of anime references that most people are not aware of, ranging from Gundam 0083 Stardust Memory to Ranma ½, from Saint Seiya to Macross. In that sense, it’s more traditional Muv-Luv than Schwarzesmarken, which has less otaku filling references and more about the history, which to some gives it more legitimacy as a standalone series.
I had a bias for Total Eclipse when it aired, but for some reason I’m lacking one for Schwarzesmarken. Buying the TE Blu-Ray’s Japanese release was a political decision on my part at the time, but with current atmosphere I may not need to do that. I think I’ve been rambling a bit too much without anything solid to say, outside It’s an adaptation, don’t expect it to play the same instruments as the original piece. This doesn’t even apply to Muv-Luv, as the light novels served more a basis or as a first draft for the final product that are the visual novels. The animations more or less work as a driving force to get people into the series and spread awareness of the franchise until… well, that’s for another time. Total Eclipse’s animation had a bullshit ending, I think we all can agree on that, but as long as Schwarzesmarken keeps itself tight as it has, it will have a proper ending that will close the series with a satisfying result. Of course, the second visual novel will have an extended ending.
I’ll be putting a similar sort-of review for Schwarzesmarken when the series is over in similar fashion what I did with Total Eclipse. In the meanwhile, I need to pick up some TSF for as comparison sometime soon.