NOTE: Episode 1′s blog is HERE, read it first.
Episode one of Total Eclipse ended with its inexperienced protagonists headed into combat with the still-mysterious BETA threat, and it is the beginning of this episode which provides the “release” to the tension that it built up; the viewer, at the same time as the characters, is shown the true nature of the enemy.
The implied anti-aircraft power of the “Laser” BETA is shown to come from a physically weak but immensely powerful organic weapon platform a little like a frog, while the main body of the force is woodlouse-like creatures with armoured bodies and weak rear sections, and a spider-like creature with claws and a human-like head. Their strength, for the most part, is in melee combat and so the battle which ensues is an easily-understood fight against a horde; the BETA’s aim is to close to a range where their main forces can smash the TSFs while the Lasers limit the maneuverability of the human forces. Immediately, the TSFs are shown to be lacking – while their weapons are easily proof against the BETA when they attack from the right angles, and their maneuverability is enough to get the desirable firing lines, they still die easily to the enemy’s weapons if they are not careful, and inexperienced pilots are easy prey.
One by one, the protagonist Yui sees her squad wiped out by the BETA and this begins to take its toll on their morale; every bit of intelligence they have been given is proven false – first the enemy attack in greater numbers than predicted, and then the Lasers prove able to attack in ways that efficiently undo any countermeasures the TSFs can deploy – it is only when naval artillery contributes to the fight that they are not wiped out entirely. It is the fallibility of military intelligence in the face of a numerous and apparently mindless enemy that leads to the humans’ defeat; the BETA’s superior numbers and willingness to accept casualties and attack undeterred while each TSF downed shakes the novice pilots further leads to their advantage increasing with each success. Each BETA that kills a human pilot shows further that they have been lied to by their superiors and when the squadron leader dies to a Laser shot while falling back to a supposedly secure position, the inevitability of defeat is made clear.
Indeed, the inherent weakness of the human forces is shown clearly by this massacre; humans, being emotional beings in the face of an insectoid horde, cannot divorce combat from emotional response and so are unable to retain focus – and it is this which kills them. Pilots die celebrating minor victories against a single wave of BETA because they have lost focus on the mission at hand and their own mortality. When eventually Yui’s team makes it to safety, fleeing a barrage of laser fire, all she can do to help them regroup is remind them they have beaten the “deadly eight minutes” – they are better than average. It is no strategic victory, surviving against the BETA, merely a few pilots beating the odds. Scenes of experienced (male) TSF pilots massacred while reloading shows the inherent failure of human technology; while the BETA can simply throw bodies at the defending humans, the TSFs cannot keep kililng incessantly. The only victory that can be gleaned from this situation is a well-managed fighting retreat on the back of sacrifice, as a sequence where the pilots’ superior officer buys them time shows. If there is one thing the second episode of Total Eclipse shows, it is that this is no war that humanity can win in open battle.
This initial conflict ends ingloriously with a BETA ambush apparently wiping out Yui’s squad as they move to rearm and counterattack; she is left alone, her TSF out of commission, with only a pistol to protect her from the BETA forces which now occupy the city. As she tries to find her comrades, she only discovers evidence of their deaths; a wingman’s wrecked TSF and a discarded good luck charm closely followed by smaller BETA eating the corpse of the pilot. From the almost comedic training montages of the first episode, this shift into gory combat and the brutal deaths of the almost-likeable characters is a stark one. It is intimated that the BETA eat humans as the pilots talk, but this does not make the shot of the dead Izumi (Yui’s wingman) being devoured any less shocking – the tone of the series has completely changed. However, this horrific sequence is not over; the viewer, along with Yui, sees her second wingman – and by now the only other survivor from the first episode – slowly killed by BETA overrunning her crashed TSF and ripping it open to get at the pilot within. The pilot is shown screaming for a mercy killing before the BETA eat her with Yui watching, but when the moment of truth comes she is unable to do it; she misses, and is forced to see the consequences of failure.
This scene, if anything could do so, shows the end of the militaristic ideal in the most sadistic way. This is not the story of a heroic human stand against incomprehensible but defeatable aliens, this is a war for survival against a horrific threat that cannot be stopped and when Yui is “saved” from the BETA (who have by now eaten before her eyes both her wingmen and are moving on to her) the viewer is left to question precisely how desirable this state of affairs is. She has lived, but seen everyone she knows killed in awful ways, and her hometown occupied by the aliens. This part of the series ends with her questioning whether life is even worth living if humanity has no future, at which point the narrative skips forward three years further. Yui’s voice becomes the narrator’s, and she claims that rather than losing hope, she will continue to fight to stop further destruction – these two episodes have simply served as an extended prologue rather than the introduction to a continuous narrative, and the real story will be Yui trying to do her duty as a soldier and survivor rather than the story of the cadets seen in the first episode.
Other Thoughts on the Episode and the Series So Far
To kill most of the introduced cast in one episode is a gutsy move; the scenes of the BETA slaughtering TSF pilots and eating those who did not die instantly are certainly horrifying. However, the impact of these scenes on a level beyond simple revulsion at the thought of alien lice and spider-like creatures consuming flesh is limited. With only one episode to get to know the cast, limited as their characters are, what we see is not so much an emotionally draining scene (although the implication is that for Yui it is, since she has a level of familiarity with these characters the viewer does not) but instead a horror show. The two-part depiction of the fall of Kyoto has little emotional power beyond the self-evident showing of the power of the BETA and the nature of the threat; it is narrative exposition. It neatly shows Yui’s motivation (seeing her entire unit killed in a variety of unpleasant ways) but has little emotional effect beyond a simple “this is awful” response.
Part of the success of other horde-versus-man sci-fi is the loss of characters with which the viewer has identified, and the gradual showing of the inability of confidence and traditional force to prevail; Total Eclipse rushes this with a superflux of violence which denatures the viewer with a sort of shell-shock. While the simple, literal connotations of this violence are undeniably evident (I found this episode quite breathtaking despite it showing little explicity), the deaths have less effect because with only a single twenty-five minute piece of exposition and introduction to contextualise the relationships that are being broken up, it is hard to respond to what is seen on a level beyond “people dying is bad.”
Will I continue to watch (and write about) Total Eclipse? Yes. If I have now seen the prologue, and have even an imperfect understanding of Yui’s motivations and the course of the narrative, I am prepared to continue with it. Many of the questions posed in episode one have been answered (the nature of the BETA, the threat posed, and so on), but I do not necessarily feel like there has been catharsis since it is only shown through death and defeat. The question which remains is how can man win, or indeed can man win?