NOTE: Episode 3′s blog is HERE, read it first!
NOTE 2: Ghostlightning at We Remember Love is also covering this series, check out his articles too –
From the drama and tension of last week’s petty rivalries, episode 4 of Total Eclipse launches the viewer straight back into a frantic flight across the testing ground – although this time the enemy is the TSF itself. Yuuya, all arrogance and skill in the previous battle, is now swearing at a new TSF that is simply too high-performance for him to control well. It transpires, as he ends the test flight early, that he has been assigned the unit (a pilot training TSF based around the latest Japanese-built units) by Yui as a placeholder while the latest experiment, the Type 97, is being put together. For an ace to be given advanced pilot training is shown to be a humiliation and Yuuya’s response is shown thus to be equal parts resentment at Yui and at his own failure to master his new TSF. The scene in which Yuuya is given these orders shows in a short sequence how Yui is adapting to command; she is capable of obeying and enforcing the rules of the XFJ project, but has yet to get the respect of her subordinates.
Note: Further to information in the comments from someone more familiar with the source material, a couple of slight changes were made; the series was not entirely clear about some things – a difficulty in adapting something.
As the other members of Yui’s team watch the altercation, the engineer Vincent provides exposition; Yuuya is Japanese-American and Yui sees his insubordination as a slight on her nation as well as her position of authority. It is apparent that she considers it shameful for a fellow Japanese soldier, even one living in and fighting for the US, to fail to meet the expectations she is held to. This appeal to Yuuya’s past, rather than his current life as the cocksure American pilot, gives her a way to jab at him and undermine his facade. Yet while her victory is shown in this effective scene, the viewer is also seeing fractures in the team – while they are not on the front lines, and there is comparatively less risk, their inability to effectively work together as a military unit calls into doubt their future as soldiers. Yuuya’s confidence has been shaken and his conflict with Yui has worsened; for some reason he is ashamed of his Japanese heritage and identifies solely as an American. However, when even Vincent reminds him of his duties as a TSF pilot, he is apparently able to put the conflict behind him – although the illusion of a strong and unified team, challenged in the previous episode, is now all but gone.
However, despite this tension, the team can at least provide an illusion of competency and teamwork; in the next round of wargames, Yuuya has set aside his personal quarrel and is now determined to master his new TSF as a matter of pride. Even Tarisa, shown before to be the other disruptive element, acts in good humour as they begin a joint operation with a pair of Russian pilots. What follows is a simulated battle against the BETA – and the viewer now has high expectations. They have seen the pilots engaged in almost for-fun duels against each other, and now see if these so-called “aces” are in any way useful on the battlefield. Yuuya’s inexperience is made clear as he cannot comprehend the nature of the BETA threat – it is Tarisa and the European pilots who have the actual combat experience and the first-hand knowledge of the enemy. Yuuya fights aggressively, not changing his strategy from the previous engagement and hoping the Japanese TSF’s agility will win through – and ends up surrounded in a situation almost mimicking the massacre of Yui’s former squadron. It falls to Inia and Cryska to save him, and the entire unit end up surrounded and forced to carve their way through the horde.
This time, though, Yuuya does not react by lashing out; his anger is with himself for letting the team down, although he shifts it onto the machine he sees himself as forced to pilot. Again, Yui intercedes with cold authority, berating him not only for his inadequacy as a pilot but his failure to do adequate research of the TSF’s capabilities and his poor strategies that resulted from this lack of intel. A dressing-down like that brings back his arrogance, and Yui lets him rant about the TSF’s supposed failings before reminding him that it is entirely standard for a Japanese unit. It is at this point that the first proper reference to Yui’s past is brought up – she claims that even the trainees she saw die were better pilots and in better control of their TSFs than Yuuya. The viewer, having seen the prologue episodes and having seen how the cadets fared (reinforced by selective flashbacks in this episode), sees this speech now in a controlled way; when Yui claims Bridges is a poor pilot, the viewer knows precisely what she is judging his skill against.
As Yuuya broods on this disciplining, refusing to accept what Yui has said, he meets Inia – portrayed even more as an innocent, childlike figure whose winsome behaviour makes her seem almost more ineffectual than Yui’s former squadron – but who has been seen to be able to fight when needed as part of a two-pilot team. The tension of the previous scene is being gradually defused, first with Inia’s innocence and then with a humorous scene with Tarisa and her comrades in the shower. While Yui’s criticisms are sincere and intended to shame him into performing better, the others see it as a chance to make fun of the seemingly stuck-up American. While the others are shown enjoying some home comforts, Yuuya is led into the Russian quarter of the base – a more industrial and unwelcoming area which even Inia is not entirely familiar with. The revelation that Inia’s friend “Misha” is in fact her teddy bear is both the culmination of the release of tension and also a moment of apparent shock – the Russian army is seemingly enlisting children to fight.
As Cryska bursts in on the scene ready to shoot the apparent trespasser, the viewer is shown a flashback to Yuuya’s past intended to explain his resentment of the Japanese. It transpires that the American side of his family disliked his Japanese relatives and instilled in him prejudice from a young age – and anti-Japanese feeling was strong in the society he grew up in. The flashback turns into a nightmare as Yuuya tries to reconcile the prejudice he faced as a child with Yui’s own disgust at an apparent disgrace to her nation – and then it is subsequently revealed Yuuya has been arrested by Cryska as a spy. Facing torture at the hands of the Russians, who suspect him to be a Japanese agent, Yuuya is only saved by Yui’s intercession – a fact which his wingmen remind him of. Even so, he is ungracious – and this is noted by his comrades. The team is subsequently once again brought together in a moment of relaxation – although this still sits awkwardly alongside Yuuya’s all too evident failure as a pilot and as a soldier.
The episode ends once again with a confrontation between Yuuya and Yui – and once again she cuts his arrogance down. He tries to speak his mind and insult Yui, but she simply reminds him again and again of his inadequacy as a pilot, using her combat experience and first-hand knowledge of the BETA as a way of impressing upon him her seniority. It has taken Yuuya’s arrogance and insubordination to reveal Yui’s true character – the hard-edged veteran who the viewer may have suspected she had become following her trauma.
Thoughts on This Episode and the Series so Far
If episode 3 made me interested in Total Eclipse, episode 4 confirmed that it is set to be an interesting series; the conflict between Yuuya and Yui played out in a way that neatly built and released tension, and his continued unwillingness to show any kind of contrition or admit his failings suggests this will be a continuing narrative arc. While the conflict would have worked on its own, with Yui simply presented as a veteran soldier faced with an insubordinate junior, the fact that the series began by showing in graphic detail the cause of her trauma and the extent of her combat experience makes her even more sympathetic. Her moral high ground is not simply implied, but has been made exceptionally clear to the viewer.
Yuuya on the other hand is made a little more sympathetic by his own flashbacks, but remains positioned as the antagonist; it is far harder to sympathise with him despite his family issues because he is failing in his duty. Were he a capable soldier who was simply insubordinate, he would be a stock antihero archetype – but his apparent unwillingness to change or even consider Yui’s position – even when she saves his life – combined with his ineptitude as a pilot and status as a danger to his squadron – makes him impossible to like.
The third set of characters brought into prominence are Cryska and Inia – a closing scene in which Cryska reminds Inia that they are alone, the only members of their family, as well as the depiction of a child soldier almost blithe in her naivete living in a bleak industrial facility raises questions about the nature of the setting. The Russians appear to pursue an isolationist policy, resenting even attempts at co-operation except in military terms.
Finally, there is one other hint as to a potential future plot arc; a second look at some kind of weapon blueprint first seen in the hands of Yui’s uncle in Episode 1, and shown again in her office in this episode. With the end-credits panning over a new TSF for Yuuya, the viewer is reminded that while the pilots may be squabbling and unable to work together, the war is still going on and others on the base have not lost sight of this.