NOTE: Episode 6′s blog is HERE, read it first!
NOTE 2: Ghostlightning at We Remember Love is also covering this series, check out his articles too –
To begin with, an apology for the lack of an article on episode 7, but I was on holiday when it aired, and when I caught up with it it was such a dreadfully dull and formulaic continuation of episode 6 I could find nothing interesting to say about it. So I didn’t write an article about it.
Episode 8, refreshingly after two episodes of utter nonsense on a desert island, begins with a return to the series’ military roots; deep within the USSR, a BETA attack is met by massed TSF forces and apparently repulsed. Although this is only a short scene, it confirms what has been suggested in previous episodes about anti-BETA strategies; TSFs fulfil a role similar to ground-attack aircraft or gunships where possible, avoiding the enemy’s melee-focused strategy when laser cover is absent. This engagement is used to introduce the main plot of this arc; the test pilots working alongside Russian forces to continue to evaluate TSF performance. As the pilots joke about as normal, Yuuya seems distant as he reflects on the events on the island – while the arc was a step backwards in characterisation terms for almost everyone it did continue to cement his role in the story, perhaps unnecessarily. Significantly in terms of the plot, this episode marks Yuuya’s first actual combat experience, and it begins with the sight of a TSF crashing; almost echoing Yui’s own first sight of the fate of most pilots. As Vincent continues to make light of what has happened before, while Yuuya tries to retain his distant persona, the viewer is introduced to the Russian personnel; as distant and enigmatic as the two pilots who have already been key to the story.
The role of the test pilots in this operation will be to test the new TSFs on the front line, as well as a new weapon (hinted at in the first episode) – a railgun designed for use on the new Shiranui model TSFs. At this announcement, Yuuya’s expected petulance returns as he complains the new weapon – designed for long range fire support – leaves him too far out of the fight to make a name for himself. As Vincent has pointed out, this mission marks his first opportunity to speak to Yui since their inadvertant intimacy, and the conversation between the two of them following the briefing is stilted and professional. As they look over the new equipment, the scene shows a new, formerly-suppressed, genuine professional relationship has emerged; Yuuya no longer strikes out childishly at Yui’s strategies or Japanese technology, but tries to offer a balanced opinion of what he is presented with. This in turn forces Yui to admit that the weapon is only a stopgap measure, unsuited to Japanese TSF doctrine and unwieldy to use. That finally they are both acting like soldiers rather than lovestruck teens forces Yui to apologise for her former conduct – a scene which almost seems like an apology to the viewer for what has gone before.
A subsequent flashback suggests that Yui is acting like this because Yuuya’s comments have hit close to home; the shortcomings of the new gun he has identified were not unknown to her, and she is shown opposing the test which apparently has been ordered by a higher authority. The powerlessness of the soldiers in the face of international treaties and deals sets up a simple but expected dramatic tension in a war story; Total Eclipse is continuing to hit the beats of its genre in short order. The officers in charge – Yui and her superior – both agree that all they can do is try to ensure their comrades return alive. This sudden return to seriousness, and plunging back into the main war plot in earnest after a silly diversion is a good development; unremitting seriousness alone becomes ludicrous, while showing the downtime between battles makes those battles more traumatic. The problem with episodes 6-7 of Total Eclipse was that in the name of humour and cleavage, characterisation suffered and Yui did a complete about-face of character. Everything, however, seems to be back on track here.
The lengths to which Yui is prepared to go to protect others (implied to be a result of her past trauma) is then shown to include a disregard for orders and even her own reputation; she tells Yuuya to abandon the weapon test if it looks to be a dangerous situation on the condition he destroys the weapon, preventing other nations from getting intelligence about it. That even in an organisation allegedy determined to foster co-operation against a larger threat these petty rivalries and secrets persist makes the world of Total Eclipse seem more believable; while it’s illogical behaviour in an alien invasion scenario, it’s also entirely probable behaviour in a Cold War setting. When she says her main priority is protecting the Shiranui Mk2 and its pilot, it is less clear-cut which she considers more important after the change of character seen in the island episodes; while her apparent warming to Yuuya may yet be a sign of a romantic involvement, the tone of the rest of this episode has suggested a purely professional relationship.
That Yui follows up on this conversation with a far more personal one, reliving again the deaths of her comrades to explain to Yuuya precisely how horrific combat is, suggests that the two are so intertwined (her national pride and desire to protect a potential wonder-weapon, and her emerging feelings for Yuuya) that there is now little difference. What this has done is softened Yuuya’s character still further; their duel brought out his will to succeed, but it has taken a moment of intimacy on top of it to make him appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Now, he defuses this situation with professionalism.
However, such a sudden change in his personality, on the back of two episodes that seemed very reductive in character terms, risks making Total Eclipse seem inconsistent and badly paced; the intent seems worthwhile (bringing clearly to light how both Yuuya and Yui are coming to terms with their failings) but the utter lack of subtlety that the series revels in makes even moments like this seem a little unconvincing and contrived. The girlishness and romanticism seems too forward for a character established in the way Yui has, while Yuuya’s transformation into a model soldier feels insincere and perhaps simply him trying to make amends with her.
The episode continues in this serious vein by shifting from a scene where Tarisa complains about the icy reception the Soviets have given their guests to one where the base personnel – introduced in a panning shot early on – are bullying Inia and Cryska. While the Soviets are wary and resentful of foreigners in their base, they are positively hostile to their fellow soldiers, seeing test pilots as cowards and a perceived “enemy”. It is revealed that most of the actual Russian population escaped to Alaska at the start of the war, leaving the satellite states to do the fighting – and this is the cause of conflict. The scene swiftly dives into awkward stereotype and sexism as Total Eclipse proves that it is still tied heavily to genre cliché – unsurprisingly, Yuuya saves the day before anything untoward happens, but the entire sequence is lazily handled.
While the execution and course of events is not very good, it still provides some useful exposition; the viewer now knows that the actual Russian army is very distinct from the remainder of the forces fighting for the USSR, and that the war in Eastern Europe is so bad that children are being pressed into service. The picture now of the Soviet front line is of undisciplined and immature soldiers beaten into line by their commanders, resentful of what they see as the cowardice of other nations.
The episode concludes with another echo of the opening arc; an update on BETA troop movements and a plan being made for another last stand against an overwhelming force. Again, there is an inexperienced protagonist – although this time there is the promise of large-scale strategic-level combat rather than a small single-unit action – and a new, genuine ace pilot has been introduced in the form of the Soviet officer who ultimately saved Yuuya from her undisciplined subordinates. Whether or not experimental weapons and seasoned aces will prove any use in a horde invasion scenario remains to be seen.