Being influenced is unavoidable. Ripping content is not. Let’s use MLA Total Eclipse as an example

Why is that we allow Hollywood, and technically any entertainment industry, to get scot free from recycling same ideas to the point of plagiarism? While we all can agree that everything has been invented is true to an extent, why do we do not condemn blatant recycling of ideas? James Cameron’s Avatar has been blamed to rip off Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves among other sources, and I agree. The film has no original content from script up. Angry Birds is a complete and utter ripoff of Crush the Castle, which was a ripoff of some other game with the same content. This isn’t acceptable, and yet it happens. Even the creators say that it’s OK to copy ideas and elements. You know what? It’s not. It’s completely unacceptable for product like Avatar and Angry Birds to exist without any penalties. I will not for any reason spent one cent in either product or their franchise family, nor anything similar because of their attitude and disrespect towards the audience or to business honesty. As long as they keep producing this sort of crap, they can only blame themselves for people wanting to pirate their stuff. Then again, perhaps the best thing would be to ignore them completley, as even pirating some of this stuff is giving them too much credit.

But Aalt, you’re a Muv-Luv fan and that’s schlockfull of ripped off material. Now I see somebody has mixed blatant stealing to using archetypes and elements that are not really unique to one or five things. Muv-Luv, unlike what people seem to think, has original content. âge’s employees are well known for their well-versed history and in-depth information on various animated series, movies, games and literature that they constantly lampoon, reference and nudge at. Never are these the focus or the main content, unlike with some other products out there. Certainly there are numerous things that we can call âge out on taking certain things from existing products. For example, Tekkuman is not a homage or a reference, it’s a blatant ripoff. Yet something like that is never the main focus, just another addition on limited releases aimed for the fans themselves. It’s still really forgivable, but it’s not really the content that majority of the audience will experience.

That’s what I really want to discuss in this post by using Total Eclipse and âge; how authors dance between the line of taking blatant elements from somewhere else, and using something that already exists in the culture at large either regionally or globally. There’s so much stuff in Total Eclipse alone that really isn’t ripped or blatantly stolen but rather adapted and made into âge’s own content. Not really the best way to make new content (which usually leads into products like Avatar) but these are not always just that. Most of the time they’re an unconscious influence, that come out as something original, but still contain the origin in some form. Both Avatar and Angry Birds are examples of blatant plagiarism rather than being influenced. But let’s get this show rollin’.

Let’s start talking about the overall stuff that affects Muv-Luv visually; the Fortified Suits.

Left is set of Satoshi Urushihara's three armour clad ladies, and right is Tsukuyomi from Muv-Luv Alternative
Left is set of Satoshi Urushihara’s three armour clad ladies, and right is Tsukuyomi from Muv-Luv Alternative

Skin tight pilot suits or uniforms are nothing new when it comes to Japanese animation and comics. From Mazinger Z on the pilots have had these pilot suits that hug the body from crevice to crevice. Go Nagai is well known for his eye to draw suits that seem to follow every line of the body, and this carries in pretty much every giant robot work he has worked on. Even Gundam franchise has these kind of suits, and Evangelion is only one of the long continued tradition of pilots wearing practically nothing. Overall, skin tight suits make the pilot practically naked when we regard the lines of the body. Satoshi Urushihara’s work above illustrates his take on the subject; don’t play with it, show it. Urushihara overall has a style that shows a lot of bare skin, especially from the chest area. In similar way âge’s fortified suits follow similar philosophy; the trainee suits are transparent, and it’s not until later on the pilots get a coloured membrane. The similarity above is uncanny, and while I can’t accurately say the release year of Urushihara’s artwork, I’m throwing a somewhat educated guess that it came first. If you compare the two suits, you can see numerous similarities with each other outside colour. The overall composition, whether intentional or not, follows the same idea of hugging the body and giving the shoulders extra mass. Legs have long unified line that ismainly broken from knee downwards. These are mostly for practical reasons and appear pretty much everywhere, but that we all have unconscious design choices which we are unable to control, to an extent, which we are unable to control to an extent. However, even if the suits looks similar, the function and intricate details are completely different; the only carrying theme in the end is the nakedness. Actually, if you’d colour one of the exposed areas from the left side ladies, you’d end up with somewhat similar look to the Fortified Suit. Actually, Urushihara has a similar near-transparent suits in his gallery, but I have no picture at hand to illustrate it further. Total Eclipse makes this into a fanservice elements early on, but also shows the original content at the same time, how the suits are put on. It’s original content with an influence, but the verdict on this is very grey zone. Skin tight suits are nothing new, and outside Urushihara’s works we haven’t seen anything that’s even remotely as similar. Evangelion’s plugsuits don’t count if you’re thinking of using that argument. In function the plugsuits are not even similar, and outside skin tightness they’re completely different.

There’s a fine line between a homage and a ripoff, we all know this. Total Eclipse overall is a homage to Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory in many ways, as well as taking some cues from Top Gun and shares similarities with any other test pilot centric story. For example, Stardust Memory, Macross PLUS and Total Eclipse all share mock battle elements that most likely were planned and created separately, but because they adhere to same ideas of giant robot sci-fi, these elements are rather close to each other. For example, paint bullets are a frequently seen trope in mecha mock battles next to simulated bullets (that Muv-Luv also uses.) Ruined cities and large open fields are other places we naturally see, and usually these mock battles end in the newly introduced pilot somehow managing to get overhand over his older peers. Total Eclipse even has this certain trope where the machine does fast acceleration in form of a jump or sudden transformation to kick up a notch and to show he means business. These are even more so elements that just are shared; they’re not ripped off or plagiarised as they follow the same mindset and cues in the genre. Of course, in Muv-Luv you need to mind your boosted jumping a bit more than in Gundam or Macross due to the Laser-Class. Some things might seem similar, but a mock battle that takes place early in Total Eclipse (in episode 3 or 4, I forgot) is completely original content despite it being the same thing as in Stardust Memory and Macross PLUS. Might as well throw a mock battle from Full Metal Panic! to the mix while we’re at it.

While we’re talking about Stardust Memories, Yuuya, the main character of Total Eclipse, likes carrots. This is a nudge to the fans about Stardust Memories, where the main character Kou Uraki hates carrots with a fiery passion. This kind of thing is neat, as it adds intertextuality in Total Eclipse, thou there’s quite a lot of that. It’s sort of âge’s trademark to an extent.

There’s another nudge in the first episode of Total Eclipse, where we see a bunch of Gekishin units practicing their sword swing while the current main cast is running laps in full gear. To a casual viewer this is cute and might actually draw a smile; what reason there would be to have a robot to swing their swords? This is pretty neat scene for two reasons; long-time mecha fans recognize this scene as a homage to Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster where a similar scene takes place.


However, this scene also solidifies the information given in the Muv-Luv Visual Novels, where it is stated that the pilots need to accumulate motion data for their Tactical Surface Fighter, (TSF) the machines of the series. As they accumulate motion data, the easier controlling a TSF becomes as it sort of learns the habits of the pilot.

Before we go any deeper into Total Eclipse, it should be rather clear that this series follows certain genre tropes closely, almost to the book. For newcomer only larger derivations from the generic mecha action will put out while people who are into this stuff should notice far more different details. Bug War isn’t that common trope in mecha genre, and BETA are arather unintelligent fighting force compared to pretty much any other series out there. The TSFs are weak in direct comparison to other giant robots, but then again the whole world is different from most other settings. Being faithful to the genre’s tropes is something that can’t be avoided. âge has managed to avoid a bullet from making a derivative body of work, and have managed to create something that can stand on its own.  However, forty years of mecha animation and even longer time of science fiction tend to go over every possible nook and cranny the genre can give out without going completely balls and not just stepping outside the box, but outside the planet.  Loss of loved superior officer.  Fighting against unbeatable enemy and when everything’s looking good, your squadmate gets hit. Broken down unit, that gets rebuilt into something better, sometimes also known as the Mid-season upgrade. A rash test pilot who breaks stuff (Kyousuke Nanbu, anyone?) The list is numerous, but somehow Total Eclipse seems to be one of the few stories that are just a small part of the whole story, and yet manage to affect much larger scale. By this I mean that the events of TE themselves have an effect that is built on, unlike with the 80’s Gundam OVAs that have no real reason to exist outside after thought reason. This is actually a really good point of Muv-Luv as a franchise as of now; we have a frame to work with, we know a lot of events and situations, but these events have not yet been expanded on. At one point we knew that the Shiranui would yield the Shiranui Second at some point, and Total Eclipse is basically the story of how that unit became to be. The series, and the franchise, has set points without content. If âge manages their brand well, these should be filled as the time goes by with quality content between decent time intervals and refrain from doing contradictory stories and events.

At this point I wish to open a dialogue with my readers, with both people who know much of the mecha genre and to those who have read this out of interest; What sort of repeating motifs, scenery and stereotypes you expect in a series that has giant robots? I wish to open this dialogue, because a similar question can be applied to all genres across the board; we expect certain things from the service providers, and if we do not get them we usually get ticked off. Clichés and stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re used is far more important than just putting them in.

With this, let’s turn our discussion into more in-depth for a moment here and let’s focus on four characters that reflect influenced/ripped-off matter at hand.

Cryska Barchenowa on the left, her surrogate little sister Inia Sestina on the right
Cryska Barchenowa on the left, her surrogate little sister Inia Sestina on the right

Inia and Cryska are pair of Russian psychics. In âge BETA-verse the Soviets have engineered technology on how to make test tube babies that have acertain level of psychic powers. Cryska’s powers are somewhat open and never clearly said. Most likely she’s one of the earlier batch and has a very limited capability to use any of her talents, unlike Inia who is younger and can read people’s emotions and thoughts as colours. This is interesting to note, as Muv-Luv Alternative’s Yashiro Kasumi is also a Sestina, but has far more potent ability than Inia. Anyway, the two are basically clones made for warfare against the BETA, and are in a significant role to a certain Soviet experiment that actually is going on all the way from the third episode well to the revelation on the latter side of the series, where it turns out that there is a sort of control unit that can cause the two to move into sort of a berserk state. We see this state here and there, and this is also the reason the two are known as The Scarlet Twins.

Inia and Cryska are but their outside appearance sort of Rei (from Evangelion) clones; very light hair, cold attitude to other people (especially with Cryska’s case) and of course, the test tube element, although here it’s more like a bronze vat of sorts. The comparison is not completely off, as Rei follows a certain trope that basically states that all artificial people need to grow emotions over time. Inia’s a sort of good exception where she is good with people, but tends to confuse and scare them. That, and Cryska’s an overzealous guardian. The two are actually a good contrast to each other, as Inia follows the Ple rule of cloned kids; be a kid without a worry. Ple clones were basically mass produced psychic pilots in Mobile Suit ZZ Gundam, which either had strict army life as it was the only one they ever knew, even inside the tanks they grew in. This is why the Rei comparison falls flat, as Cryska’s not an emotionless doll. To be completely accurate, both Inia and Cryska start from the same starting line as their predecessors, but veer off from either of these courses. They do resemble Ple clones more thou, just not in appearance.

While the need of soldier clones (to fight the enemy) is similar, even there is an inherent difference. One of the Alternative plans was to get a person with psychic abilities to get in contact with the BETA to open a dialogue, and thus they are not inherently made to wage war. Inia is one of the Sestina series, who were bred for this purpose. This is different from Ple, who were made to be soldiers and nothing more, and from Rei who was just so Gendo could have some fun. While the influence is there, the starting point and the build-up is radically different and the content is nothing less of original. Even Cryska’s reason to get to know Yuuya better stems from Inia’s interest in him, and as she learn more and more about Yuuya and spends time with him, Cryska begins to grow feelings towards him. Naturally, being a person grown in a barrel she doesn’t truly realize what these feelings are until the very end of the series, which is also in the âge’s YouTube: 10th Anniversary PV.

Directly to contrast the well handled Russian psychics we have the 1st Lieutenant of the Bao-Feng Test Flight, Cui Yifei, also known as the Chinese Miku.  You may also know her as another Chinese character from an older show, where her name was Shampoo.

Guess which one is Shampoo and which one is Cui Yifei
Guess which one is Shampoo and which one is Cui Yifei

As a character both of the above share far too many things to be a coincidence, starting from the Chinese citizen aspect. Both are made to be somewhat obnoxious within the series, really pushy, naming themselves as the bride and wife of the lead character of their respective series and seem to be pretty damn good fighters, thou both of them ultimately fail as well. Hell, even their hairstyles have a passing resemblance of womanly awesome hair bangs and those Chinese hair bums that even Chun-Li kind of has. Cui is pretty clearly a homage character to the extent that I’m calling her a ripoff.  There’s even a fight in Total Eclipse between the Cui and Yuuya in similar fashion to Ranma and Shampoo, even leading to almost exact same conclusion of forced marriage by snoo snoo. On top of that, both Cui and Shampoo try to kiss their main man after the fight, difference being that Shampoo manages to do so. I do understand that it’s âge’s thing to do characters and references like this, but this is just too much. It could’ve been interextuality if Cui’s character had been more akin to something else. But no, change Cui’s and Shampoo’s place and nothing would change outside Total Eclipse having more Chinese flavoured Japanese. It’s a shame really, as I do like Cui as a character and as an element in Total Eclipse. She is the best maru after all. The staff just never did anything with her.

I really wish we’d see less of this, far less. This isn’t influence any more, this is lifting a character from somewhere else, and because Cui continues to be one of the main supporting characters until she gets beaten by a terrorist in a TSF fight, her presence can’t be ignored either.

Actually, let’s stop here for a moment and throw out a  different take on Cui. Let me give a small run on how she acts within the adaptation.

First of all, Cui is a bold, somewhat overpowering and really generic happy-go-lucky type of girl character. The largest difference (and pretty much the only one) Cui has with Shampoo is that she loves to talk a lot more and in perfect Japanese/English/whatever language they are really talking. Nevertheless, when she arrives at Yukon base, Cui takes steps to confront Yuuya about their upcoming mock battle to intimidate him and to get in his face. She willingly seeks him out. During the battle she’s enjoying herself and due to her overconfidence she ends up losing the battle, but falls for Yuuya. After the mock battle she goes all out on Yuuya and tells him that it’s A-OK to fall into her. From now on she’s calling Yuuya her Husband.

You are cordially invited to fuWHOOPS wrong show
You are cordially invited to fuWHOOPS wrong show!

Cui’s a Chinese soldier, so I assume that she’s been waging war on the Eurasian mainland against the BETA rather than near coast regions where the support from marine forces are a constant.  To further use this as her background story, Cui has seen many of her comrades die because of these horrendously difficult regions. Japan has it easy; the nation is surrounded by water, so it’s not really hard to get artillery support from  wanted angle, unlike in inland China. All men she has fought with have died, and the only men who are still alive are the higher ranking officers who constantly screw her over. For Cui, men are weak. She can only trust those who maintain her TSF and her comrades in arms, who are all women. She’s grown hard, somewhat bitter and cold. Gender has no meaning for her. Because of an incident on some mission , say , a large amount of her squadron was annihilited in an important battle, the remains of her squadron is moved elsewhere or the Bao-Feng Test Flight. Some people know she’s a good pilot, and rather than just feeding her to BETA somebody managed to get her into this position. She dislikes this. Her family and friends have all died and now her chance of revenge has been taken away from her just to ensure she keeps living. Somebody must pay alongside the weak men in government who do nothing but watch all the good soldiers die. But Cui’s a soldier too and a damn good one. She abides her time and recognizes that her skills can be used to bring forth a new generation TSF that will help the future generations to fight BETA with more vigor. Perhaps that can be her revenge.

When Bao-Feng Test Flight enters the competition held in Yukon base, she’s doing good. Her name has reached Yui. Understandably, Yui would be a bit uneasy to let someone like Yuuya against a battlefield veteran. In this fight we’d see a slim change in Cui’s attitude; outside the TSF she seems a bit distant to anyone else except her own men, but in the cockpit she becomes a beast yearning for revenge. The Fortified Suit automatically makes her blood boil and she goes all out, calling Yuuya to attack, just like in the show but with a bit more derange in the mix. And the unthinkable happens; she’s starting to enjoy the battle. She’s fighting against someone who’s at the same level as with her. This would actually further show how good pilot Yuuya is, and he has managed to adapt to work with the Shiranui Second. The battle would still go the same, showcasing the slight difference in tactics and in PB Blades. And Cui would lose. Forthe first time in her life, she loses in strenght against a man. In the cockpit we would see the same scene as in the series, but it would contrast so much against her usual appearance. After this, she’d walk up to Yuuya and do make a similar confession, just slightly more reserved but just as overpowering. Bit by bit, Cui would open up to Yuuya and show her more feminine side to him and he would fill her thoughts. This would also be a valid reason why Bao-Feng Test Flight would lose against the Infinities so easily (outside the fact that the F-22A Raptor has stealth) as she is having harder and harder time to concentrate on the driving force she had before. The things she believed, men being weak and her only trusting those close to her, have been proven wrong and without thinking she has pushed herself into Yuuya’s life in a way she never really imagined before. It’s all messed up, and she needs to figure it out before she can return on getting her revenge on the BETA.

There are a lot of parallels with Yui there. However, Cui still being energetic and overpowering would still be part of character, but she’d need to work with it a bit more. This would’ve asked for few more episodes to flesh her character out more, episodes which they didn’t have. Well, they could’ve used the hot springs episode for that rather than for fanservice. However, as she is now, she’s nothing but a Shampoo copy, and not a very good on at that.

Speaking of Yui, let’s talk about her character.

Yui’s character can be described as a Japanese wife for better or worse. She’s the only constant Japanese in Total Eclipse we see constantly (Yuuya’s half Japanese/American so he doesn’t count) and she’s the person the audience is intended to identify with. Sadly, a lot more people identidy with Yuuya or some other, as we’re not all Japanese. Yui as a character has been born and raised in an Imperial Japan where certain things have not changed. Her character contrasts real world Japan in a way, where certain old values are nearly lost whereas they’re clearly embodied in Yui. She’s reserved, sticks to the ranks, has that high Japanese pride and is proud of many things. Yui’s flavour is strong and she comes out as rather antagonistic from the third episode onwards until the end of the island arc, where she mellows a little bit and learns the world outside her. After all, Yui’s experience about the world are is rather limited. She has fought fought against the BETA, lost a lot friends and yet she’s been going up the ladders in order to ensure that she doesn’t see any of her loved ones die any more. The Shiranui Second is her labour of love in many ways. You can see that Yui is not really a character that’s taken from anywhere like in Cui’s case; she’s more like an archetype that’s been thrown into a situation and then allowed to grow from there. It’s similar to James Bond, who at his core is a womanizing secret agent. We’ve had few of this kind of character, like Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible movies. The TV-series was better but anyways. There are a lot of things that wouldn’t get a modern Japanese women to blush like a burning rose petal, like getting on first name basis with a close friend. Yui’s attitude towards Yuuya stems from here, as she’s trying to become more like a woman of the world and break the barriers she has, but ends up being a bit stupid at times and not really allowing herself to show any proper emotions outside blushing here and there. In Yui’s mind, it’s the man’s part to start something romantic, but seeing there’s not only Cryska close to Yuuya but Cui as well, Yui’s running out of time and possibilities. I’m completely sure she could pull some string to get Yuuya to continue working on the next generations Japanese TSFs because of his experience with both American and Japanese TSFs, but before that she might get shot in the head. Yui’s character is influenced by the environment she’s been deviced in. You can’t really steal something that is a certain changing constant in your culture, in this case âge’s culture. And really, Yui would make almost a perfect traditional Japanese wife for Yuuya, if he wasn’t humping the Shiranui Second or Berkut. The man got his interests in somewhere else. Nevertheless, Yui’s character gets the most growth across the whole show, and the first two episodes just give a really good background for her. Yui’s development is directly proportional to the size of her frontal assets as the show goes towards the end.

Overall, Yui goes through rather large change in character in the series, which is also applies to her frontal assets
Classy picture here right there. C’mon, bring in the pain

The reason why I asked you to think about things you expect from different series was to give you some food for thought. The modern Japanese animation had this weird obsession of having two certain kinds of episodes no matter what; a beach episode and a hot springs episode. These are expected from the local audience for some reason even if they don’t add anything to the series themselves. This can’t be called being ripped off or being influenced, it’s something you’re expected to do and because of that you just need to do it. While the hot springs episode was completely original for the series, and a rather disappointing episode in general which didn’t add to the series’ content at all, the island episodes were rather important in order to draw closer the three main characters and further elaborate their relationship with each other. There Yuuya had to face both Cryska and Yui, and Cryska came forth with her intentions of getting to know Yuuya because of Inia while Yui opened herself a bit more as she learned of Yuuya’s childhood.

The real life reason why the island arc in the series exists is because the writing staff noticed that Total Eclipse was becoming relatively popular with the fans. Originally Total Eclipse was made to advertise the TSF toys from various makers, such Kaiyodo’s Revoltechs and the A3 toyline from Volks. The writers threw the characters to the island arc for few months, away from all the tension while they planned the rest of the story. They had no real plans how to continue the story, and with this they bought enough time to actually build a proper middle and ending for the beginning. It was a somewhat clever way to both give out some fanservice to the audience, and actually further the characters while tackling the problems they had built for themselves.

Another overly Japanese element in Total Eclipse, that’s kind of overplayed at times, is the idea of man and horse as one. Jinba ittai it’s called. Those who drive a car know the idea; know the machine, work with the car rather than going against it and feel it as a part of you. Total Eclipse uses way overblown Japanese example of this, but then again it’s a cultural thing. I can’t talk about all cultures out there, but this kind of idea of becoming one with the thing you’re driving isn’t uncommon at all. This actually shows some of âge’s writers’ inability to recognize to foreign characters and cultures to an extent, but we need to make a note that these guys manage to do it much better than most Japanese writers. Hell, most of the time all foreigners are either bad stereotypes or a generic white guy named Jack Bauer. It’s completely understandable why Yui would use the Japanese approach to the concept, but it’s completely stupid to assume that Yuuya, or any other of the TSF pilots for the matter, wouldn’t have a clue about what it is. This is an example of the worse kind of influence, where the influence has overpowered the writer to the point where it keeps from doing any further research or blinds the author of facts around him. Being properly influenced asks you to do a lot of research, but this sort of influence is what half-assed people use. Well, the main audience is the Japanese fans, but that really doesn’t allow this sort of idiocy.

You can ask this German guy about being one with his machine while riding a horse who is ridden by his best friend
You can ask this German guy about being one with his machine while riding a horse who is ridden by his best friend

Total Eclipse most likely has the most international cast in some time when it comes to these Japanese cartoons. Most, if not all, characters are influenced by some stereo- and archetypes. Tarisa’s the short and passionate, Macaroni’s the ladies men who always gets shunned by the ladies, Stella’s rather nonchalant outside her work, but always does her best and never leaves you in a pinch and Yuuya’s the hothead who needs to face his own limits before getting better and better. It’s really hard to escape these sort of influences, and recognizing that they’re influences, working with them and adapting them to build your own content is extremely important. Otherwise you’re going to end with same level of crap as the previous example. Research is the key in success in any field, and reseach takes time. With proper research and good amount of influence, while still avoiding ripping off characters and content, you can end up with good products, like Kimagure Orange Road, Starship Troopers, Mega Man 2, Castlevania III and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien to name few from the similar fields.

Overall, Total Eclipse is a product that isn’t afraid of what it is. It shows love to the preceding series. Many of the people who were familiar with the genre recognized these references and we had our laughs. For newcomers the show might’ve been a bit too cryptic, but nevertheless a marginally enjoyable experience. The show is really bogged down the bad adaptation from text format, but the overall product is original enough to say that it can be judged on its own. Total Eclipse isn’t perhaps the best example of what Muv-Luv can offer, bit but it’s a good glimpse. It has a fair share of new content and does its own thing. Total Eclipse is not Avatar that takes existing materials and puts it into new clothes and calls it an original product. For better or worse, TE is as good example of a product that isn’t afraid of reference and lampoon the genre, but doesn’t stick to the influence too much outside few hickups where it turns into a simple copy/paste function, most notable point being Cui Yifei.

While we can certainly say that whatever we do is influenced by everything around us, that’s just basic psychology, we can recognize when we’re going overboard with the influence and choose to go against it. Way too often we allow rip-offs to be called something that just influenced the product. Even I have said that product X has been inspired by product Z, when in all reality I’ve basically made a carbon copy of the product Z. It’s my own Cui Yifei.