by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Schwarzes Marken ?
Though ostensibly a mecha action series with some harem elements, Schwarzes Marken has also pushed hard on the dramatic front all season. More often than not it has done so with at least mild success. However, it has also sometimes stumbled, and episode 9 is one example of that. It just doesn't come together well enough to be anywhere near as compelling as it aims to be.
The biggest culprit in the episode falling short is the “save Lise” philosophy, which first started to show problem signs last episode. When one of the good guys goes bad, there's a natural tendency to reach out to that character and try to redeem them; happens all of the time in anime, in fact. The problem in this case is that the series has not done an adequate job of laying the groundwork for that, and the setting (early 1980s East Germany, where everyone is naturally paranoid) is hardly conducive to that kind of cheery feeling. Lise simply wasn't around long enough to build a firmly-grounded sense of camaraderie with the rest of the 666 Squadron, some of whom were outright suspicious of her. And the person who tries the hardest – even more than Theodor, in fact – is one who has one of the weakest links to Lise: Pham. Claiming in this episode that Pham is the squadron's “big sis” seems like too little, too late, as sparse effort has gone into portraying her like that before now, and her being on Injured Reserve for the first few episodes of Lise's presence allowed almost no time for the two to interact directly enough to justify Pham's caring and loyalty towards Lise. That makes Pham getting killed off by Lise near the episode's end seem less like tragedy and more like Pham being careless and stupid. (Which, I suppose, is also tragic in a way.)
More successful has been the series' effort to portray Lise as a closet yandere type. Some of that came out last episode, but it hits full strength here. During a late conversation with Theodor, as they face off in TSFs during the rescue effort for 666 Squadron members, she reveals all the crap she went through – executions of asylum-seekers, informing on associates, seducing higher-ups, even being Axmann's (literal) pet – and pretty much implies that she endured it all to get her beloved brother back. The world can go to hell for all she cares, and to hell with any conscience she may have, as long as she has her Big Bro. (And oh yes, that's just another feather in Axmann's cap towards Biggest Bastard of the Year consideration. He's going to be hard to beat in that regard.) Yeah, that may have been her survival mechanism, but it's twisted her in such an unhealthy fashion that she isn't really redeemable anymore. Theodor would have done everyone – including himself – a favor by killing her when he had the chance near the end of this episode, but hey, there's still three more episodes to go and that's too early for her to kick the bucket. I will be surprised if she survives at the end, though; she seems like a classic casualty of the Communist system.
As for what actually happens in the episode, the rebels wind up hooking up with Axmann (who, unsurprisingly, survived) and surprise, surprise! He has a hidden base designed to carry on the fight even if the BETA do overrun things. With mecha from that facility and support from the general they made friends with last episode, they launch a rescue mission on Bebersee Base once the Werewolf Battalion mostly departs for the front line. Lise is lured out of the way by Axmann and Gretel, and the others invade the facility with the help of the mechanics, who take up arms at first opportunity. Some squadron members are rescued but they cannot find their chief prize – Irisdina – before the return of Lise and the approach of her allied forces mandates that they leave with who they have. As Theodor faces off against Lise, who has Gretel at her mercy, Pham gets herself killed trying to intervene, and Theodor almost takes Lise down but backs off at the last second. At least he acknowledges in the episode's epilogue that he has to stop looking at Lise as his precious sister; her actions have proven her to be an enemy.
The one other interesting point that the episode brings up – at least in an historical context, anyway – is the existence of the Stasi files. The files that Axmann describes here really did exist and really were as extensive as indicated; by some accounts they consisted of as much as 1 billion pieces of paper covering more than 6 million East Germans. I don't think any further proof is needed that that the level of paranoia in the series not only isn't an exaggeration for the time and place but may, in fact, even be understated.
Schwarzes Marken is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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