by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Schwarzes Marken ?
Schwarzes Marken may have its flaws, but at least its production staff understands how to give it a proper climax and resolution. The result is a finale which may have some disagreeable elements but, on the whole, is a satisfying conclusion to the story.
The disagreeable elements primarily concern who lives and who dies at the end and how that is handled. On the plus side, it looks like Gretel did survive
her crash being shot last episode. (Or at least I assume that's who they're showing in the hospital at the end; her hair being cut that short really threw me off at first.) On the minus side, Irisdina doesn't survive. There are a number of entirely logical reasons for that on a story level: taking out Axmann in what turned out to be a mutual kill was a satisfying way to go out, her death removes any romantic complications for Theodor and Katia, and her dying is symbolic atonement for having to kill her brother. She even says herself (in a comment which may or may not have been intended as “meta”) that she had fulfilled her purpose by inspiring the revolution and fostering candidates to carry on after her. Still, she's the character I most wanted to see come through this. By comparison, Silvia and Walther going down fighting is no surprise or disappointment, as they are the most disposable members of the 666 Squadron, and the series never really seemed to know what to do with Sylvia in particular.
And then there's Anett. Her survival probably should be surprising, but the series has made a morbid running joke out of how many of her companions die because of her incompetence and/or shortage of skill. Sylvia (quite ironically) goes out protecting her, and Irisdina's death can be pinned on her too; she really should have just shot Axmann herself instead of dramatically tossing the gun to Irisdina, which gave Axmann just enough time to pull his own gun. I also have to nitpick about how Irisdina's death scene was handled. If Theodor had time to take Irisdina to a spot where she could see Berlin and witness a final sunrise, then they certainly had time to get her proper medical care. That really bugged me, since it seemed like a wasteful case of stretching practicality for the sake of dramatics. If a medic had been present to proclaim that Irisdina's wounds were fatal, then that might have been a different story, but that was not shown to be the case here.
Otherwise, the episode shined through all of the dark artwork and rough-edged character designs. As expected, Katia is taken to a broadcast point while Theodor and the rest of the surviving 666 Squadron duel Brehme and the Werewolf Brigade in the skies and streets of Berlin. Though the mecha battle was a pretty typical back-and-forth affair, Katia's heartfelt appeal was the star here. It actually didn't come off as naïve or cheesy, and the public uprising in response was a fitting touch; in some respects it echoes what would happen in our actual history a few years later. An even more fitting touch was how the protesters tipped off the 666 Squadron to Axmann taking Irisdina (who he and his assistant had broken out of prison) somewhere unspecified; since this could be seen as a case of Stasi's mindset coming back to bite them in the end, the irony is delicious. Irisdina's blistering rebuke and fight with Axmann is a satisfying cap to the whole spirit of revolution aspect to the story, as is Theodor's parallel rejection of Brehme's ideology that an absolute police state is the most effective path to the future.
Lingering in all of this are a couple of big ideas. One is the ideological conflict over the nature of governance and the nation-state. While that is hardly a unique angle to this series (and curiously, it seems to come up much more in mecha series than any other type of anime), in this case the nation's survival is more literally than figuratively dependent on how that shakes out. Brehme's argument is that the police state does force a united front toward outside threats, while the messiness of greater freedoms can make consensus on this difficult to muster. I seriously doubt that the series was actually trying to make real-world political commentary here, but it wouldn't be hard to read some into this series. (Could the BETA be equated to terrorists, for instance?) The series does bail itself out of the tragedy that the ideological conflict could have led to – i.e., Berlin getting overrun by the BETA because of the two sides fighting it out amongst themselves – by having the West German forces comes to the rescue at the last minute. Hence it dodges the potential to show devastating consequences for such an untimely internal struggle.
That spins into the other big idea: the state of the common citizens in all of this. Neither side is ever shown making any effort to minimize collateral damage – or, for that matter, showing any concern about it. I've mentioned that before about the whole situation at the front line: ideals seem to trump responsibility. Both sides give lip service to seeing their position winning as the key to holding off the BETA, but the actions of both show that those concerns aren't taken much to heart. This puts the effort in stark contrast to GATE, where the JSDF does actually back up its rhetoric with action. Was this just a writing flaw or a deliberate attempt to make a subtle statement about how the public suffers in these kinds of affairs? I am inclined to believe the former but can't rule out the latter.
Those familiar with the overall Muv-Luv timeline know that the hopeful nature of the series' ending is only a temporary reprieve, since within a couple of years, the BETA will have overrun all of Germany anyway. I can't help but wonder if the internecine conflicts displayed here contributed to that, even if only by hastening the inevitable. That would be the ultimate judgment on this (relatively realistic) interpretation of East Germany.
Schwarzes Marken is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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