It’s not every day that an anime is adapted from something I care about. Muv Luv Alternative Total Eclipse is an adaption from a light novel a spin-off of the original Muv Luv visual novels. I haven’t read the light novel, but I have played the original games and it’s with those as a reference that I sat down to watch Total Eclipse. The visual novels are highly regarded and I personally found them to be one of the most enjoyable mecha stories I’ve encountered. Turns out going into Total Eclipse with expectations of high quality was a mistake.
In the world of Muv Luv an alien invasion of creatures called BETA occurred in the 1960s, and ever since then humanity has fought a losing battle up until the early 2000s, which is when the games and Total Eclipse take place. It’s an alternative history where Japan is still ruled by an emperor and everything is a curious mix of old and new. The assault of the BETA has been escalating in scale over time and humanity has been on the losing side the entire war. With only 1 billion humans left on the planet and the BETA pushing their lines further into human occupied territory, it seems like breakthrough inventions are required to turn the tide.
To fans of the original games watching this show has been painful. Not only is it cheap looking, but more importantly it seems to miss the point of what made the games great in their story. If you made a list of everything that happens in Total Eclipse it would seem like it’s faithful to the themes and issues brought up in the original. For example it brings up the point that different countries and factions within them all have their own idea of how to best win the war. They’re not about to wait for their turn to see their plans realized, so while they on the face of it are all working together, they will not hesitate to stab each other in the back if an opening presents itself. The execution of these ideas and just about everything else in the show is ham fisted and dumb compared to the games.
During the first couple of episodes though I thought Total Eclipse did reasonably well as a spin-off to the games. The apocalyptic atmosphere of the visual novels was present with Kyoto being evacuated in the first episode and it didn’t hold back in killing characters in gruesome ways. What the Muv Luv games really hammered home was that the BETA are ruthless killing machines, and that anyone who just happens to stand too close to them will probably die instantly. Total Eclipse did a good job of establishing the BETA as extremely dangerous as well. I also liked the opening theme which felt appropriate to the perpetual war setting in its droning monotone style. The first two episodes were just a prologue though to the “real” story of Total Eclipse which so far 13 episodes in seems a bit pointless in the grand scheme of things.
Establishing characters isn’t something Total Eclipse does very well. In the show we meet a team of UN test pilots who evaluate prototype gear before they’re mass produced and shipped off to the front lines. Our main character is Yuuya Bridges who is a new addition to the team. We learn that Yuuya has some baggage from his childhood that still haunts him, but we don’t learn much about what happened to him in that gap between being a child and joining the UN test pilots. This lack of information hurts the show as we’re not given enough information to care about him when tests go wrong. He just comes off as a whiny jerk that can’t stop thinking about what happened long ago in his childhood.
The only character who receives meaningful levels of development is Yui who leads the test projects. She was the main character in the first two flashback episodes. In the present time she’s hardened by war and serious about achieving the best results from the tests. She doesn’t seem to have anything meaningful to teach the UN test pilots though. Her methods only tend to make the test pilots angry, rather than teach them anything important. We occasionally see more flashbacks to her past, but they don’t do much to help us understand what her goals are. If the audience had something to latch on to with any of the characters as a goal we’d like to see them achieve then we might care. But as it is stuff just sort of happens now and then and there’s no real end in sight for anything. There’s no sense of an overarching story going on, just small story arcs which have little to no meaning for the war effort or the people involved in the incidents.
In the visual novel originals the story took place right among the people who played a direct role in deciding the outcome of the entire war. Total Eclipse takes place somewhere else where nothing of importance is happening. Having the story take place in some other place of no consequence might not have been a problem depending on the type of story it was trying to tell. In the flashback sequences we see the initial invasion of Japan and the loss of innocence for an entire generation of new soldiers. The flashback setting is much more interesting to me than the actual story in Total Eclipse. With the second half of the series yet to air we’ll have to see if it goes into a story arc which will redeem it somewhat, but so far it looks like it will go down in history as another dumb and forgettable action show. What a waste of good source material.