NOTE: Episode 2’s blog is HERE, read it first!
NOTE 2: Ghostlightning at We Remember Love is also covering this series, check out his articles too –
NOTE 3: I wrote an article about this series, among others, for Ghostlightning at We Remember Love HERE
After the shocking scenes of slaughter that defined episode 2, to have episode 3 begin with a return to the “safe” simulated combat of the series’ opening is a much-needed release of tension. The viewer is introduced in quick succession to an entire new squadron of pilots, with their own conflicts and rivalries, and given a fresh sense of place – the action has moved from wartorn Japan to peaceful Canada, a staging ground and apparently an advanced training centre for TSF squadrons. The viewer is introduced to a new pilot in training, engaged in a tense high-speed battle with an anonymous ace pilot which almost destroys a transport bringing fresh personnel to the base. The exposition remains limited, and this time the viewer is more attuned to the setting’s context and questions whether these pilots, with their arrogance and flashy maneuvers, will fare any better than Yui’s former wingmen.
NOTE: There were some name confusions on my part in the original article which have since been corrected. Apologies for any confusion.
While these new characters appear to be similar broad-strokes military fiction archetypes to those who have been introduced and slain, the most interesting development comes after the mock battle. The apparent new protagonist, Tarisa, is defeated and crash-lands, vowing to get revenge on her opponent – who turns out to be two women, Inia and Cryska, piloting a two-seater TSF. During the combat sequence, the viewer is only shown Cryska’s perspective – she is confident, aggressive and merciless – but after the fight it is Inia who gets the attention. Cryska’s co-pilot is far more humanised and traumatised, worried that Tarisa may not have survived the crash (while during the fight, she talks and acts like the rounds used are live and threatens to “kill” Tarisa) and worried that they both may eventually die in battle. The established sisterly relationship shows signs that it will develop as a key point of drama – and already the viewer is worried for the pair since they have seen the stakes.
The episode continues in this expository fashion with the new arrivals being given a tour of Yukon Base – apparently an international task force of the best TSF pilots and the most advanced weapons is being formed there with an eye for further experimental weapons testing, joint research and development and pilot training. The new pilots have the arrogance of those who have not seen combat (with the exception of Cryska, who remains the most sympathetic character after Yui – who the viewer has had longer to build up a picture of), buoyed by the presence of so much firepower. However, the project also has a secondary significance – it is largely comprised of delegations from nations which have been overrun by the BETA. The dialogue on this tour between Tarisa, the American Yuuya and his fellow countryman Vincent clearly lays out the conflict in their characters – North America, it is to be gathered, has avoided much of the invasion and is being used as neutral ground – and Tarisa, whose country has been overrun and who has apparently seen loss, is naturally cold towards the American delegation. This bringing together of a new team, both of experienced combat veterans and apparently new test pilots, with cutting-edge machines, marks a clear move in the story from a grand-scale war story about soldiers against the horde to a more character-driven plotline about the people behind the scenes.
The international team assembled is led by Yui, now in a command role – she has gone from being a rank-and-file soldier who survived to now a leader herself, and is immediately presented as at the heart of a new challenge – she is in an unfamiliar installation in a foreign country, leading a diverse and apparently uncooperative team under the command of a weapons development firm. The focus is no longer on fighting the BETA at all, but on working to help others as Yui and her team are ordered to test the new XFJ-series TSFs. What is more, the training is shown to be significantly different to that introduced in episode 1 – this time, the simulation takes into account a greater level of intelligence about the BETA, and more focused on combined arms and combat tactics rather than TSF operation. Interestingly, it is in this most controlled of situations – the professional, scientific weapons test – that the most strict military discipline is observed and the arrogant and cheeky Tarisa stands out as not fitting in this ethos. The viewer, watching this in the light of episode 2’s slaughter, is likely to be less amenable to such horseplay since they have seen its logical endpoint. The fact that her attitude is met only with stony professionalism from the American pilot Bridges sets this even clearer in context; they are all soldiers, with a clear duty which must be upheld. Even a simple act like Tarisa and Bridges swapping units in order to appease her is shown to be a significant break in protocol – it requires both TSFs to be recalibrated and adjusted for their new pilots, apparently a lengthy and complex process.
What follows is a mock battle that gives the viewer a much clearer picture of the capabilities of TSFs, given they are now in the hands of seasoned pilots. Comparing this to the scrappy, awkward training of Yui’s former squad shows precisely how inexperienced and underprepared they were for facing the BETA. The pilots have a friendly rivalry, but it is still a professional one distinct from Tarisa’s immaturity – and their ability to work together (cast into doubt by the rivalries hinted at in their introduction) is unparalleled. The fight is not cold and dispassionate, as episode 2’s was, or slightly pathetic as episode 1’s was – it is a tense and visually impressive dogfight. It is also a form of passive exposition, using a controlled fight to show the personalities, tactics and skills of the new cast of characters while the operators, officers and engineers provide commentary on this. By the end of the fight, the viewer is familiar with these new characters and their relationship – a professional yet friendly one. They are clearly true soldiers, not frightened rookies – and even Tarisa’s immaturity becomes more tolerable since it has been shown to be backed up with a kind of skill.
Yet even so, the final scene of the episode brings this all back down to earth; Yui is not prepared to tolerate Bridges’ good-humoured and irreverent tone and dismisses him. For all the episode has done to distance its setting and cast from the main storyline of the BETA invasion, there is one character – Total Eclipse‘s original protagonist – who cannot escape it.
Thoughts on This Episode and the Series So Far
With this episode my interest in Total Eclipse has increased significantly. For a start, it evokes strongly one of my favourite animated SF films, Macross Plus – which also focuses on the rivalry between test pilots. Secondly, it justifies the extended exposition of the first two episodes in creating a situation where the protagonist has moved on in a largely atypical way for the genre – someone who has been defeated in her first battle is now in an advisory role helping others avoid the fate of her unit.
That said, I also still have issues with it. The uniform designs are still ridiculous, and there is even more focus on how sexed-up the female characters are. Similarly, the decision to introduce the genuinely interesting dynamic between Inia and Cryska, and their two-seater TSF, and then put it to one side to focus on the other characters, was a little disappointing – a little more on the conflict between the irreverent members of Argo Flight and the more serious voices than simply Yui’s confrontation with Bridges would have been good. That said, there is a lot more of the series to come and it is likely that these will become major plot points.