by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Schwarzes Marken ?
The fifth episode has a pre-closer ending on one of its highest and most positive notes to date. So of course that means that its epilogue must end on one of its darkest and most ominous notes.
The positive note results from the first deliberately coordinated effort between the 666 Squadron and Huckebein Battalion, the West German TSF squadron which we were introduced to last episode. That does not, of course, come about without some strife. The prickly brunette from last episode, whom we learn this episode is Kirke (perhaps should actually be Circe?) Steinhoff, abjectly despises East Germans; in fact, she insists that they are not Germans at all, which understandably rankles certain 666 Squadron members. Fortunately the West German Captain is more amenable to cooperation. Gretel, who takes a lot of heat from her superior for how the unit needed to rely on West German help last episode, also has to be convinced that the best way to promote East German glory is to save the day when the NATO block's plans go awry. Meanwhile Theodor finds himself being wary about his sister's questions about where his priorities lie. Are those questions being subtly probing or just innocent concern?
That leads into what is probably the main focal point of the episode: the contrasting tactical approaches between the East and the West. The West's carefully-controlled methods are very effective at mopping up mass number of foes, but they depend so much on predictions that their flexibility proves limited when the unexpected happens: a second wave of attackers arises outside of the designed strike zone, requiring a laserjagd to deal with that wave's Laser-class BETA. With the Huckebein Batallion's special missiles being of limited effectiveness until the Laser-class are dealt with, the 666 takes the lead, and continues to do so even when a Fort-class shows up. The mettle of the 666 makes much of a positive impression under those circumstances. However, everything they accomplished could soon be undermined by what happens in the can't-miss epilogue which suggests that the Stasi has harshly dealt with the last person who may have been able to protect the 666 Squadron from its political foes.
Although none of this is an especially complex take on the story ideas being covered, the episode nonetheless puts everything together pretty well. It provides a satisfying amount of action on the mecha front while also scattering throughout elements of the political situation and small doses of character development; seeing Gretel try to convince her commander, even after having been chewed out, that taking over the 666 from Irisdina would be a bad idea all around was a particularly nice touch, as it shows that she has learned her lessons from the previous episode about where she stands in a practical sense. I have no doubt that the tensions and name-calling between the West and East German forces are probably a realistic representation of real-world conflicts, but given how well they cooperate late in the episode, it will be interesting to see how smoothly (or not) things go between then going forward. From a more cynical viewpoint, the tensions easing a bit also will allow an opportunity for Kirke to be drawn into Theodor's harem. Admittedly, though, the series has yet to engage in harem-grade antics.
Outside of the mecha/BETA battles the artistic effort is wholly unimpressive – as may be evident in the screenshot, staying on-model in the non-mecha scenes is a frequent issue – but those battles continue to look good. Technical issues aside, the series also continues to balance its storytelling and action elements well, and that's really all you can ask from it at this point.
Schwarzes Marken is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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