…it’s kind of hard to go in cold to a show that’s spin-off of a sequel of a sequel which is an AU spin-off of a spin-off [of an X-rated text adventure]- @jpmeyer, on Twitter
This may or may not become a full series blog in the vein of my Eureka Seven articles and before we begin, a few notes. Firstly, there is no way I am typing this series’ title out in full every time. It will be called MLATE or possibly just Total Eclipse. Secondly, I know nothing about the source material that it’s based on. This is entirely blind, judging the series as a series in its own right.
Note: following a point raised in the comments, I have edited this article to address a slight inaccuracy and clarify my meaning.
A requirement, in my mind, of any first episode of a science-fiction series is either to provide necessary exposition, or to leave the setting sufficiently mysterious yet compelling that continuing to watch is appealing. Total Eclipse chooses the former, laying down its simple conceit in a straightforward narrated introduction. In a world where the space race took place early, mankind ran into aliens on Mars known as BETA (the first of many painfully awkward acronyms being thrown out here, standing for Beings of Extra-Terrestrial (origin) Adversarial to Earth) which proceeded to quite happily destroy the fledgling space program and then move on to Earth itself.
The remainder of the episode is spent introducing the rest of the world that the series depicts; it is set in a futuristic Kyoto which has remained safe from BETA attacks, and focuses on a group of TSF (Tactical Surface Fighter – Starship Troopers-esque fighting suits) pilot cadets being prepared to go off and fight the BETA. The young age of the cadets and the description of low survival rates (a pilot apparently survives on average eight minutes on the frontline) is used as a simple deivce to present humanity as being under serious threat from these enemies, although at no point during the first half of the episode are they shown. Indeed, rather than depict an attack by the BETA or any kind of action involving trained soldiers, the viewer learns about their capabilities via the context of a wargame exercise; notably that they have some kind of highly efficient anti-aircraft weapons necessitating fighting at ground level or low altitudes and hence the use of the TSFs. As a justification for this technology, it is no more or less contrived than many SF series, and the Heinlein influence is very clear through the mass conscription and the way in which this is accepted by society as a vital step, inscrutable alien foe and high technology. Indeed, a scene in which the protagonist talks about her future with her family heavily evokes a “service equals citizenship” mindset. Even if Heinlein was opposed to the
mechanism of conscription, his fetishisation of the soldier as a true citizen in Starship Troopers can be argued as a more subtle rationalisation of it.
A subsequent mock battle between TSF units provides a better picture of humanity’s capability to fight; the TSFs are armed with conventional ballistic weapons and large metal blades for close combat – instantly understandable technology. By focusing on the training that pilots go through, the viewer is able to learn a lot about the setting in a short space of time – the nature of weapons, tactics and by implication and context the nature of the threat. Furthermore, the setting of a military school also allows the viewer to learn about the characters; we are not introduced to them in situ at the front, already affected by war, but instead see them at rest, and enjoying family life. It is a simple way of building sympathy and pathos which suggests that there will be tragedy to come, but at the same time the depiction of areas of Earth that have maintained a state of comparative normalcy also provides some implicit clue as to the extent of the BETA’s occupation.
This status quo is then shattered by a reminder of the threat posed; a crashed TSF and its brutally killed pilot. The cadets are told that anyone who can’t bear to look should drop out of the training program, and one of the characters we have been briefly introduced to is gone. At this point the story skips ahead a year, and the scene changes to the front lines where the viewer is told that the Japanese mainland is now under attack. A montage of scenes of traditional military force being deployed, while the BETA remain faceless and unseen, gives the impression of a series of defeats while still maintaining the suspense. Even at the end of this sequence, when the viewer gets a brief glimpse of turtle-like creatures emerging from the ocean and shrugging off tank shells, the battle is not shown – only its results in the form of a grieving woman who has lost her partner in it. Gradually further tales of loss come out, and again the focus is personal rather than strategic; rather than showing defeats in military terms, or exposition about the enemy via action, the viewer learns of events at the rate the characters do. When battle is finally joined, and the main characters sent to fight, it is as a last resort in response to the “professionals” – the main body of the army – being routed. The viewer gets another glimpse of the BETA, this time eating their enemies and shooting damaged, fleeing TSFs from the sky – and the episode ends with the main characters going off to fight an enemy the viewer has no real understanding of, and is questioning whether even the characters do.
Other Thoughts on the Episode and Series So Far
Having written about what the episode does well above, and how it works as a piece of SF, will I be watching more? At the moment, yes. Total Eclipse is hardly groundbreaking, and certainly borrows heavily from Starship Troopers but I think this is no bad thing. By setting up and knocking down the school setting cliché within one episode, and moving straight into military drama, while also keeping the enemy’s nature a secret from the viewer, there is a good sense of dramatic tension built up that makes the eventual battle not the exciting, adrenaline-packed catharsis you might expect but a tense and mysterious affair. Episode 2 is likely to show this action, and the cliffhanger ending works well in delaying – and thus calling into question – the “release” of actual battle. Indeed, the next episode sequence simply has a dying soldier crying out for someone to end their life quickly – hardly the sort of exciting preview that suggests an epic battle is in order.
That said, I do not like the character designs or outfits. The mechanical design is standard – a little too heavy on “real-world” military aesthetic with guns heavily inspired by the P90, but there is little to dislike about the TSFs when they’re shown in motion. However, the pilot suit design is horrendous. The series’ source material was intended to titillate as much as thrill in terms of action, and so the military uniforms are highly fetishised in a way that doesn’t sit well with me. It is not simply a matter of them being sexualised in this way that irks me, but also that it is impractically done; the resulting uniform appears to contain vast amounts of superfluous detailing which doesn’t protect anywhere important and is not justified (unlike the need for TSFs) in-setting. I personally like science-fiction which has a good justification or sensible reasonining for its unrealistic elements, and Total Eclipse‘s uniforms do not seem to have this save for accentuating the female figure – something which doesn’t sit happily or logically alongside a setting of a dying, alien-ravaged Earth.