Review for Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse Part 1
Muv Luv? Seriously, Muv Luv? I know anime shows get daft, often incomprehensible titles at times, shows like FLCL, Kiddy Grade, Birdy the Mighty Decode, but Muv Luv might just be scraping the bottom of the naming barrel, a couple of random syllables strung together, with an Alternative: Total Eclipse tacked on to give some imagined depth. Maybe in the course of the next 24 episodes, we’ll find out what Muv Luv actually means, but somehow I doubt it. Sometimes I think these titles are deliberately chosen to induce the most embarrassment when asking for them in a shop. That might have been a problem with Kiddy Grade, but there aren’t that many DVD shops left today to cause that particular shame and potential slap in the face with Muv Luv.
I also had a major flash of déjà vu when I looked at the premise of the story. Incidentally, it’s another giant robot show from MVM in the same month that they release the first part of Captain Earth, which in a sense means that they are competing against themselves in August. This giant robot show takes place in a world with an alternative history, where in the late sixties humanity discovers alien life, and finds it to be hostile. They call it BETA, and in 1973 it invades. What follows is a major world war against the BETA, and we join the story in the late nineties, as the alien menace encroaches on Japan, having overwhelmed the mainland. I thought MVM had already released this show a few years back, only called Gunparade March, which essentially has the same premise. Two episodes of Muv Luv disabused me of that notion, as this show has a whole lot more visceral blood and guts to it. While I’m reviewing the DVD release, Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse is also available on Blu-ray from MVM.
In an alternate history, mankind’s first contact with aliens happened in the sixties on the moon. It wasn’t a peaceful encounter. In 1973, the Beings of Extra Terrestrial origin that are Adversaries of the human race, BETA invaded the Earth with overwhelming impact. In 1997, Yui Takamura was a high school student, in the Japanese Imperial capital of Kyoto, looking forward to graduating and joining the military with her friends, piloting the TSFs, the Tactical Surface Fighters against the BETA. The giant robots are the pride of the Japanese military, and embody all that is brave and honourable. And then in 1998, having overwhelmed East Asia, the BETA landed on Japanese soil... It was a bloody, disastrous rout.
In 2001, the American Yuuya Bridges heads north to Alaska, to join an elite unit, made up of refugees of the lands already devoured by the BETA, that will train on the latest model TSFs, sharing tactics and intelligence, all to turn the tide against the alien menace. But he’s been training on the brute force machines of the US military, and he is unaccustomed to the touchy controls of the Japanese machines that they will be flying. Worse, the commander of his unit is the native Japanese Yui Takamura. Yuuya doesn’t like the native Japanese; as a 2nd generation mixed blood, he’s always got hate for his Japanese side, and he’s come to resent that part of his heritage. Meanwhile, Yui isn’t too pleased to see this impure Japanese American either.
The first 12 episodes of Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse are presented across 2 discs from MVM.
1. The Imperial Capital Burns – Part 1
2. The Imperial Capital Burns – Part 2
3. Prominent Yukon
4. A Flock of Hazy Moons
5. The Right Stuff
7. Wanderer’s Whereabouts
8. Far East Battle Lines
9. Falling Tears
11. BETA Offensive
12. The End of a Deadly Battle
Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer on these dual layer discs. It’s a native PAL transfer, coming the usual route of Sentai via Hanabee to MVM. The image is clear and sharp, and the show gets a strong, effective colour palette that reflects the drama of the story well. The world design is certainly well-considered, although the alternative history of this world isn’t too different aesthetically speaking, except for the giant robots. A fair bit of effort has gone into animating the mecha and the alien beasts that they fight, and the action sequences certainly look good in the show. The same can be said of the character designs, which are appealing if consistent with the mainstream anime feel, and there’s a whole lot of fan service. The skintight plug suits that the female mecha pilots wear leave little to the imagination. The character animation on the other hand is comparatively lacking, and while the characters stay on model for the most part, the animators take a lot of shortcuts with the animation, especially by the time episode 7 comes around.
Muv Luv gets a choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese with optional subtitles and signs on this DVD release. These being Hanabee authored discs, the default is Japanese with English subtitles, what I’d choose anyway. The Japanese audio was fine, with voice actors suited to their characters, and the action sequences coming across with sufficient impact. I quite liked the theme songs as well; the opening has a vocoder R&B vibe to it that’s very catchy. I checked that the Sentai dub exists, and indeed it does, and it had me switching back to the Japanese audio with undue haste as usual. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typographical error. One oddity is the use of the word Eishi for the TSF pilots. To my ears that’s the Japanese pronunciation of Ace, which makes more sense for Western audiences. Once in the subtitles, someone actually forgot, and used ‘ace’ instead.
The disc presents its contents with static menus, and each episode is followed by a translated, silent English credit reel. The only extras are on disc 2, and amount to the Textless Credits, and while the menu lists opening and closing animations, plural, there is only one of each on this disc.
In terms of trailers, you’ll find Captain Earth, Majestic Prince, and Humanity Has Declined.
Gunparade March was a surprisingly entertaining show. Based on a videogame, but it didn’t show, it had a cast of likeable characters, an interesting alternative history to the world, of alien conquest and hard fought defence, and it found a nice hook to hang the whole show on, that of a romance between an apparently easy-going male lead and a militant ‘devoted to the cause’ female. You should look it up if you have the chance; it’s also available from MVM.
You can guess where I’m going with this, as Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse is no Gunparade March. It too is based on a videogame, although this time the Muv Luv videogame franchise is an erotic one, and judging by the number of female characters potentially available to the male lead of this show, sanitised for a general audience as it is, means that its origins are all too plain to see. It’s practically the same set-up as Gunparade March; just shifting its alien invasion to the seventies rather than WW2, and it’s a United Nations task force fighting against it, rather than just a Japanese one. But the young pilots are there, the giant robots are there, and it too has a storyline running through it of a potential relationship between a relatively easy-going male lead, and a militant ‘devoted to the cause’ female. And Muv Luv gets it wrong for the most part.
It certainly makes an impact with its opening two episodes though, introducing the main character, Yui Takamura three years previously at high school, somewhat isolated from the horrors of the war, and eagerly looking forward with her friends to serving her nation, accruing honour. Don’t bother learning the names of those friends, as what follows appears to set Muv Luv’s approach in stone, when the BETA attack Japan, after apparently overrunning the mainland of Asia. They’re relentless beasts, and genuinely terrifying, as they devour all before them, including the people, and including Yui’s friends in pretty graphic detail.
And then we jump forward three years to Alaska, where Yui is now a Lieutenant, and helping train a UN elite force on the latest technology and giant robot hardware to battle the BETA. You can forget the graphic bloodshed, and desperate battle for survival as what follows is half a series of training exercises. And this is where Muv Luv’s greatest weakness comes in. We meet the important characters, most importantly Yuuya Bridges, half Japanese half American, and the relatively easygoing male protagonist of the show. I say relatively, as he still has a stick up his ass. This UN elite force that gathers include a Turk, a Swede, a Nepali, an Italian, a couple of Russians, and they all relate to each other through xenophobia. That’s the level of character writing that we have to deal with here. Even Yuuya’s unit, consisting of him, the Italian guy, the Nepali and Swedish girls first relate to each other through a little needling and national stereotypes, but as for Yuuya and Yui, it’s hate at first sight, Yuuya hating the prideful Japanese girl, coloured by how he was treated by his family when his father abandoned them, and with Yui hating the half-breed. Later on the Russian girls get physically attacked by Georgians and Kazakhs who hate the elite Russians.
This constant in character writing made me tired. When there’s so much vituperative and bile being spewed by the characters in the show, I become less inclined to watch. There’s no depth to them, no layers of interest, and later when it looks like Yuuya and Yui are switching from hate to romance, it also becomes impossible to believe. The first few episodes are annoyance, mutual hate and training sequences, but then they go to the West Indies for tropical weather training, which involves the girls in swimsuits on the beach, and Yuuya, Yui and one of the Russians becoming stranded on a desert island for an episode. This felt like the nadir of the show for me but suddenly the final five episodes perked me right back up.
They get transferred again, this time to Siberia for live fire training against the BETA. It turns out here that Mainland Asia did not fall to the BETA, and neither did the Imperial Capital of Kyoto. So much for continuity! But more importantly, the storyline becomes interesting here, more complicated, as the UN forces are hosted by the Soviet military, supposedly meant to work together, but once again xenophobia gets in the way of the soldiers, but more importantly the Soviets have their own agenda when it comes to the live fire tests, especially the live fire test of an experimental railgun. There are factions in the Soviet military working, not only against the UN, but against their own people as well, all for the sake of military secrets.
The opening two episodes of Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse promise something that the series is patently not going to deliver. They’re followed by five episodes of somewhat un-engaging character abrasiveness as they cast get acquainted during their initial training. The final five episodes in this collection grab the interest again, as the plot thickens, and the show finally reveals depth and complexity. It makes me want to see what happens next in part 2, but what doesn’t help is the character writing, which is shallow, spiteful and lacking in realism. It’s like it was written in the 1970s.