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In 1973 the aliens attacked. Nicknamed “BETA,” these monsters proved nigh on unbeatable, and soon most of Europe and Asia was uninhabitable. Humanoid robot weapons, known as Tactical Surface Fighters (TSFs) were developed to help combat the BETA, but it is not an easy battle. As a student, Yui Takamura finds herself in a deadly battle as an untried cadet, something which will have a terrible effect on the rest of her life. Nevertheless, she remains in the Imperial Royal Guards and years later as a lieutenant is in charge of an international group based in Alaska working on ways to combat the BETA. This brings her into contact with Yuuya Bridges, a Japanese American pilot with some issues of his own...
Based on a romance visual novel that got a sci fi spin-off, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse is a bit of a strange bird. In places its origins in the ero-zone are quite obvious – the women are luxuriously drawn with a variety of figures to appeal to the player, personalities fit fairly cleanly into set patterns, and episode six throws everyone into bathing suits. But then there are some ways in which Total Eclipse rises above its origins, such as in the first two episodes. Serving as a prologue to the rest of the series, episodes one and two take us to Yui's final days as a high school student. She's training to be a TSF pilot with a group of close-knit friends, and everything seems, if not to be rainbows and buttercups, at least to be moving in a pattern we've seen before in shows like Godannar. Then the flesh hits the fan – BETA attack and Yui and her friends are forced into battle. These episodes, especially the second one, are nothing short of brutal. The girls' terror is palpable as the hideous monsters attack and blood spatters the once-immaculate surfaces of their TSFs. This is the brutality of war on a level that we don't often see in a show about cute girls, and it sets the stage for Yui's personality shift in later episodes.
With episode three, we jump forward several years. Yui is now a lieutenant in the Imperial Royal Guards and has been sent to Alaska to head up an international training effort. At this point we shift point of view characters to Yuuya Bridges, an angry Japanese American man who seems to have a bone to pick with everyone. Yuuya isn't thrilled that he needs to learn to pilot a Japanese TSF, doesn't like Yui, and for that matter doesn't seem to get along that well with the other three members of the contingent, Nepalese Tarisa, Italian Valerio, and Swedish Stella. He's clearly got a chip on his shoulder, which we do find out about fairly early on, saving him from being a totally unlikable character.
Part of what makes this show interesting is the fact that both Yui and Yuuya have reasons for acting as they do. Yuuya, it seems, has been the victim of prejudice because of his Japanese heritage. This is shown in scenes that are reminiscent of WWII-era America with its Japanese internment camps, and the subtitles use the derogatory term “Japs” much as it was used then. This gives Total Eclipse an unexpected but believable background, showing us the political make-up of the world as well as giving Yuuya a reason to be so prickly.
He remains the point of view character for the next four episodes, which only runs into problems when we briefly get inside Yui's head in episode six. This is where the romantic subplot becomes little more obvious, but Yui's reactions and thoughts feel tacked on. It isn't that it doesn't seem possible for her to have the feelings that she does, but more that they appear to come out of the blue because we haven't gotten her thoughts before this. The fact that she is generally drawn with a reserved facial expression doesn't help. Since Total Eclipse has gone out of its way to explain other emotional facets of the two main characters, this is a bit of a let down.
Visually this show is a mixed bag. Characters are generally attractive and distinctive, even so-called “Scarlet Twins” Inia and Cryska, but they are thrown in with mechs and aliens that are less beautifully drawn and animated. (This goes more for the monsters than the robots.) The plug suits worn by both male and female pilots follow the basic anime laws of form-fitting and slightly revealing, with the women's showcasing their breasts in a strangely metallic material, like an oil slick made out of fabric, and with a solid section over their groins that somehow manages to look more like pubic hair than on the male version of the suit. All have little pharoah-style beards on the chins, as if a helmet was supposed to attach. As you can doubtless guess, there really isn't much skimping on the fanservice – the aforementioned bathing suit episode shows off a few different styles (note to animators: a bra top that doesn't cover the lower part of the breast provides no support) and also giving female viewers an eyeful of Yuuya's sculpted chest. There's also a scene in an earlier episode where Inia and Cryska bathe together, and small jiggly moments abound. For the most part, however, the fanservice doesn't detract from the rest of the story, episode six being the exception rather than the rule.
When it is being serious, showing the consequences of war and the prejudices that result, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse is a surprisingly good show. Paying attention to the emotional responses that would plague our hero and heroine, not to mention flat out showing the realities of war and not skirting around hurtful language, there's a fair amount of depth to this that belies popular prejudices against its erogame origins. Nods to those same roots can bring down the show a little, and the latest episode clearly is not up to the level of the earlier ones, but if it can get back to the harshness and balance it out with better presented romance, this really has potential to be a very promising show.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Shows real consequences for war and gives characters relatively believable reasons for being as they are, at least in Yuuya and Yui's cases. Some good world building details.
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