Despite being only two episodes in, I feel that I’ve learned a wealth of information from Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. First, eating super chunky jambalaya is a terrible idea when watching people get torn apart by gnashing alien jaws, their blood and vitals giving the drab walls of an abandoned building a sorely needed festive flair. Second, the reason that the main characters in Total Eclipse are almost exclusively angsty young women is for the sake of having their inevitable, increasingly gruesome deaths and ever-growing mental trauma resonate with the audience to a greater degree, something that worked as well as my plans to polish off leftovers while watching a show that seems tailor-made to churn stomachs like fleshy butter.
Just to clarify my point ahead of time, I thought that the episode did a good job of encapsulating the hopeless struggle that the characters faced against the BETA aliens. It was appropriately visceral, often delving into brutality with enough restraint so as not to fall into the same pitfalls that other serious-minded excessively violent shows risk; it knows that the best kill is not overkill.
Most importantly, it built very well to a crescendo of blood-spurting, limb-chomping goodness that ranks with the best of sci-fi horror as far as being a squeamish watch goes. Even if it borders on clichéd at times (I’m depressed at how everybody’s dying, but wait, there’s a baby fresh from the oven crying in the corner, so I guess I have resolve now!), the execution is pulled off with few enough flaws for me to nitpick. However, there are plenty of aesthetic choices that baffle me, chief among which is the idea to make a gaggle of teenage girls the focus of the first couple of episodes when they’re almost immediately picked off like screaming truffles.
Now, I understand that the world of Total Eclipse is a bleak one where humanity’s forcing teenage girls to join and die in the fighting, and I’m fully aware that there are certain demographics that lend themselves to scrappy, sympathetic roles better than others, with teenage girls ranking just below kittens and Pixar characters on the scale, still standing several leagues above men. Throw them into a war as cannon fodder before they can even make heads or tails of what’s happening, and there’s a surefire recipe for the audience to care what happens to them… so long as they’re developed reasonably well.
However, Total Eclipse flubs developing this crucial plot point past a few superficial early attempts in order to focus on the encroaching carnage of battle. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it succeeds at making the battle a painful, nail-biting experience, it just drives home the futility of attempting to characterize the girls when they just end up appetizers for the never-ending horde of BETA. In the end, Yui’s character benefits more from the trauma of seeing her friends eaten alive than she does from any pre-battle shallow attempts at character building, and it’d be the exact same if those friends were grizzled space marines, puppies, or dudes.
Ironically, the seasoned veterans biting the dust had much more of an impact. It’s expected for girls fresh out of mech boot camp to suffer some losses due to inexperience, but seeing their hardened teachers have their lives snuffed out in an instant really brings the gravity of the situation crashing down; if the instructors who taught them everything they know are dropping like flies, what chance do the girls have of survival? The episode would have been slightly more engaging for me if the focus was instead on the instructors trying and failing to keep their students from ending up as BETA chow.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that making Yui’s cadre the focus of the first couple of episodes in place of the overall desperation of the conflict felt like a cheap ploy for sympathy that didn’t really hit the mark where it intended to. Total Eclipse could have just focused on the entirety of the frenzied conflict before making Yui and her trauma take center stage in the last few minutes, and it wouldn’t have been any different.
All of my positive points from the second paragraph still apply, and the red shirts constantly being picked off the mortal coil lends an air of urgency, but the attempts at character development are token and unneeded; hell, I’m left doubting the necessity of most of the first episode. To summarize, the second episode was much better than the first, but Total Eclipse still doesn’t so much write coherently as it does halfheartedly connect clichés with ironic deaths and human slurry, often at the same time.