NOTE: Episode 5′s blog is HERE, read it first!
NOTE 2: Ghostlightning at We Remember Love is also covering this series, check out his articles too –
With the petty rivalries that defined the second plot arc apparently resolved, as Yui and Yuuya finally get a chance to fight their differences out, the action jumps forward chronologically. The test pilots are now in the West Indies for a new exercise, this time in extreme-conditions combat – although there is a secondary purpose. In order to raise morale, the pilots will take part in a promotional photoshoot – setting up a neat comedic hook for the episode. Mixing comedy with serious military stories is a common cliché of the mecha subgenre, and in a series as sexed-up as Total Eclipse it seems a beach photo-opportunity is an inevitable result.
Actually pulling this off well, however, is immensely difficult. I mentioned in my article about Yamato 2199 that by focusing on black humour it if anything accentuated the bleakness of its setting, and after subsequently watching the original Space Battleship Yamato I saw how much had been changed to make this work. The original Yamato veered wildly from slapstick and risque Benny Hill humour with a drunken, flirtatious robot to scenes supposedly to be taken seriously, and in the end neither worked well. The shifts in tone were too frequent to make the series cohesive.
Unsurprisingly, Total Eclipse begins with comic lechery. Yuuya is dragged along by “VG”, his Italian comrade, to spy on girls bathing – comic misunderstandings occur, the peeping Tom gets his comeuppance and the whole scene plays out entirely as expected in any raunchy comedy. Far more interesting is a subsequent scene of Yui continuing to reflect on the potential repercussions of her stunt during the test flight – while it achieved its aim in galvanising Yuuya into action, it also knocked the morale of the unit – and Yui is also realising that it was a dangerous course of action that unnecessarily humiliated Yuuya’s wingmen. While the impulsiveness was exciting to watch and resolved an ongoing character conflict, it is now replaced by equally interesting introspection about what an officer’s duty really is.
This is all interrupted by an altercation between Tarisa and the Soviet pilots, which leads into the next comic interlude; scenes of the support crew at the beach and then a boat race intended as a team-building exercise. While much of sequence has been done for comic or sexual effect, it is implicitly providing more background about the mysterious Inia, who is both innocent and also inhuman in her ability to read people’s body language and personalities. As Inia pulls out of the race, apparently terrified, and subsequently Cryska falls ill, Yuuya is again given the chance to redeem himself by saving the day; as they end up separated from the others, it appears that the episode will not be a traditional comic interlude. Instead, the tension between Yui and Yuuya once again returns to prominence as Yui’s pride leads to her also becoming injured – although as an officer she realises that protecting Cryska is more important than herself. The slide back into bleakness continues as Yui suddenly recalls the previous time she failed to help someone adequately – the sight of her former comrade being devoured by BETA. That only now, as Yui reflects on her perceived weakness in injuring herself accidentally, is this trauma which defined the course of the narrative brought back up is interesting. While she is presented in previous episodes as coping via rational behaviour and a strong, if slightly vindictive attention to duty as an officer, the moments of private introspection provide the opposite side of the story.
This leads in turn to her over-reacting, refusing Yuuya’s help and returning to an exaggerated version of her usual professional self. That it is now Yuuya who is trying to do the right thing and be reasonable, and Yui who is a victim of pride, is a simple switch in characters but one which is contextualised within the plot so far. That Yuuya recognises this, and uses it as a means to give Yui a taste of her own medicine, makes it harder to be sympathetic for either; much of the strength of this narrative arc has been how both sides often have sympathetic viewpoints but express them bluntly and unhelpfully. This continues as the pair – and the unconscious Cryska – shelter in a cave and Yui continues to fail at expressing herself clearly. Almost inevitably, it is implied in this awkward conversation that there is to be some kind of romance between the two. More interesting is the revelation that Cryska has already worked it out – which further undermines Yui’s strong persona. The episode ends with Yuuya complaining about how for once Yui is not being the strong leader she usually is – further suggesting that the opposites have begun to attract.
Other Thoughts on This Episode and the Series So Far
This was really a disappointing episode; what little context and insight it gave into Yui’s personality was nothing that could not have been worked out by inference, and it was made explicit in a cliché way. The sexualised character designs were given full chance to be shown off for the first half, which counts as another strike against it, and the suggestion that this plotline will continue further suggests it may prove overlong and padded when the essentials could have been made clear in less time.
The decision to completely reject the comic relief very early on, and replace it with introspection and a closer look at Yui’s insecurities, had potential – but all it did was enforce the idea she is secretly passionate, irrational and filled with doubt about her role (which was more interestingly handled with the very short scene where she questioned her suitability as an officer). Presenting her as a damsel in distress in order to bring about the flashback sequence, and then a scene where she lets herself get closer to Yuuya and lets her usual persona slip, felt reductive. That said, Total Eclipse operates almost entirely in broad war-story stereotypes, and the cold officer with a heart of gold is just another. However, simple adherence to cliché with no real interesting approach is unrewarding to watch and while some of what was suggested in this episode is interesting, it was not interestingly portrayed.
Comparing it with the duel at the end of the previous episode is worthwhile; that sequence was dynamic and exciting, and also implicitly suggested a lot of what was made explicit in this episode through tired inner monologues and girlish blushing. It will be interesting to see where Total Eclipse goes with this storyline; for Yui to fall for Yuuya would be reductive and predictable, and undo a lot of the interesting narrative arcs suggested by the atypical initial episodes.