Schwarzes Marken
Episodes 1-2

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Schwarzes Marken ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Schwarzes Marken ?

My comments on episode 1 and a general overview of the series can be found in the Preview Guide (see the last entry in the listing). Thus this review will instead focus on episode 2. I should also be clear that I am familiar with the anime version of Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse but not the source material that both it and this series are based on, so review comments will be limited to an anime-only perspective.

Although Schwarzes Marken is unquestionably a sensationalist work, its second episode does reinforce that it is going to cleave close to actual history – or at least as close as a series which introduces aliens and high-tech mecha in the early 1980s can be, anyway. When Stasi Lt. Colonel Heize Axmann, who is already giving GATE's Prince Zorzal (aka Prince Asshole) a run for his money as the season's biggest bastard, arrives in force after the 666 Squadron's first mission with Katia, the uniform he wears is virtually an exact replica of an actual Stasi officer's uniform. His behavior and that of Major Beatrix Brehme (the brunette beauty) is largely consistent with the well-documented tactics of the historical Stasi, and the flashback to the speech Beatrix gave during her academy days would be well in line with the philosophies expected of those who would get recruited to be Stasi officers. While this might have the ring of the Nazi SS to some, the Stasi were actually influenced much more directly (and worked closely with) the KGB.

All that being said, the portrayal is still probably exaggerated a bit for effect. Would even the Stasi have been narrow-minded enough to risk an important defensive position by stranding an able commander out on the battlefield without promised support? That this happens late in the episode should surprise no one, as it is telegraphed in painfully blunt fashion several minutes before it actually happens and is the ideal (if over-the-top) way to emphasize the Stasi's ruthlessness. More believable is the scenario where an inconvenient soldier (in this case Katia) is deliberately maneuvered into a dangerous assignment, namely supporting a fort in danger of being overrun by the BETA; after all, no less than David, King of the Jews, was guilty of that, and it would certainly get around the resistance that the 666's commander and even political officer (a ruling party loyalist commonly-assigned to important units in Communist countries) had to her being interrogated by the Stasi.

All of this does also reinforce the theme that I suspected would be prevalent based on the first episode: that mankind's enemy is as much itself as the BETA. The conflict between keeping ideologically pure and uniting to fight a common enemy permeates almost every aspect of this episode, too. While most of the soldiers of the 666 are accepting of Katia, the white-haired one has no tolerance for Katia's rhetoric about the two Germanys working together against the BETA, and Theodor insists that she keep quiet about both that and her hunt for her East German father, whom Theodor comes to suspect was erased just like his own father was – and it's not like Axmann didn't outright say that if she was persecuted for treason, so would he. We are still given the impression that Theodor, despite having issues with Katia, is seeing a bit of his own sister and circumstances in her, but that wars with his fear of the Stasi. In the meantime the 666 is called upon to spearhead the counterattack against a new BETA offensive which could threaten even Berlin, while intimations are given that the story about Irisdina turning in her own brother may be a smokescreen for the real truth. (But really, did anyone expect otherwise based on her behavior so far?) Axmann explaining that to the 666 is easily the most awkward part of the writing and the only part which smacks of info-dumping.

While the musical score does lay on the dramatic overtones too thickly at times, the combination of it, the political danger, and the battle scenes invokes a fair amount of tension; anyone who has seen Muv-Luv Alternative knows that the franchise isn't too shy about killing off named characters, so there is an actual threat of characters dying. The mecha battles involving bloodily shooting up the creepy, CG-animated BETA are satisfying, two. Character animation does all-too-frequently struggle to stay on model, the way large breasts show through the uniforms is more of a distraction than appealing fan service, and the writing is sometimes awkward, but so far the series is at least making a legitimate effort to be grim and compelling.

Rating: B

Schwarzes Marken is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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