So a little backstory with this franchise. I completely dismissed Schwarzesmarken when it first came out just because it is attached to Muv Luv: Alternative . A series that I just didn’t care about when it started airing. Muv Luv just completely lost me about half way through it’s two cour run. Not exactly the sort of feeling that makes you immediately want to jump into anything attached to it. My interest in Schwarzesmarken came around when Raistlin talked me about it on twitter, then a whole bunch of other people expressed how much they liked it quite a bit (ok, that’s an understatement) as well. I think you can guess what happened next, I watched Schwarzesmarken. I guess it’s a mecha series, so I had to check it out. It’s really hard to not listen to other people’s enthusiasm sometimes, you know?
The year is 1983 and the Cold War because the USSR and it’s communist ally states against the Western European Free States and the rest of NATO is still on. Schwarzesmarken takes place in Eastern Germany. You know what that means, right? Lots of conspiracy, subjugation on the public by secret police, random troop purges, and all sorts of horribleness that you’ve probably heard about in history class and television. Plenty to build the series around already. Do you know what would make this whole scenario worse? A space bug invasion. An alien species called the Beta took up residence in Eastern Europe and constantly want to go West against the Eastern Border of East Germany. This is where our main cast comes in.
Schwarzesarken, also known as the East German Army’s 666th Special Response Unit against the Beta, is our protagonist unit. They are by far the most talented group when it comes to defeating the Beta in the whole Eastern European army while also being a very rag tag group of people with a lot of personality behind them. Well, most of them. I can’t say that for every single character, but I will get to that in a moment. They each also some amount of history regarding the East German Secret Police or the Stasi and yet have some love for their country despite how horrible it treats them. It’s the reason why Irisdina, their leader, is also a freedom fighter and wants to see more democracy in Eastern Europe. Oh, and to defeat the Beta too. I suppose they are still around I suppose and being threatening.
One of the most interesting things about this series is how lackadaisal the Beta are treated. They are still considered a threat and have cool varieties and such, but they are just plot elements like a time bomb and adds extra stress and variability of interactions. One faction from one country might feel indebted to another country because they were saved. Or they could just be used to keep a squadron busy during an important event in an organic matter. It’s all completely legitimate. It’s the character interactions, the pressing of the Stasi on the country, and the twists and turns that made this anime work and I have no complaints plot wise. It’s well set up, well paced, and everything.
The one person that I can’t say anything of that about is our main character, Theodor Eberbach. While he has a dramatic past like everyone else, he just doesn’t have any sort of personality because he’s a walking charisma vacuum who has no personality to me. Maybe that’s supposed to represent the coldness of this environment because they are constantly pushed down on by someone, but it doesn’t work. Especially when every female character around him does have a personality. My favorite character in Schwarzesmarken is Irisdina, the leader. She has so much going on for her. Her gorgeous looks, her endless charisma and enthusiasm, piloting skill, and how she is just a great leader. Irisdina has a reputation for being an insider for the Stasi, but the truth is far from that. She is a beacon of freedom after all.
If there is on thing that annoys me from a character front, it’s how obvious some of the mysteries around the two short ones that appear under special conditions are. I do have to give some credit to Schwarzesmarken for not trying to hide everything from it’s audience in any dumb sort of way, but there could have been more cleverness to how these characters were approached. Katia, the young brunet, West German character that showed up at the beginning and Lise, Theodor’s blonde adoptive sister, could have easily had their roles switched to keep everyone guessing a little. All you had to do is mess around with the reveal because not even switching what characters did what action would have made it a least more surprising. Then again, this anime is based on a light novel and a visual novel, so the road was already set. I guess there are some fans that would be upset if things were changed too much.
The visual aspects of Schwarzesmarken are very in and out for me. I do love all the different character designs and how most of this cast of mecha pilots are female. You don’t see that very often these days, so this is something special. I don’t even mind all the grey and drab places in this series, because the show takes place in East Germany during the cold war and the crew are apart of the military. There are not going to be any bright background colors at all. What I don’t like are what the characters wear half the time. I really like the Schwarzesmarken green uniforms that they wear when not piloting, but I have the body suits they wear when piloting. I’m used to skin tight suits in mecha anime because that’s just a thing, but having an almost clear, plastic-like fabric around the chest area is obviously supposed to guide the viewer’s eye to it. Not necessary, guys.
Then there are the Beta and Mecha designs in Schwarzesmarken to talk about. I really do like the different sorts of Beta designs put out onto these battle fields. You would think that endless amounts of cg space bugs that are meant to die would be boring, but that’s is far from the case here. There is always the new model that shows up to change everything up, and I really like that aspect. Bugs are very adaptable after all. On the other side, I really don’t like the mecha designs at all. Even if they have well choreographed movements, which they do most of the time, they are still horrible too look at. I mean, they all have incredibly broad shoulders with just a boring design over all. The worst part is we know that there are different models based off different sorts of jet planes from different countries, but you can hardly tell the difference from one mecha to another. Maybe the color of each mech? That’s about it really. These things fly in the air, but that’s just not believable enough for me. Why couldn’t they be transforming mechs like the Valkyries in Macross.? It would have fit this anime’s motif better.
With everything that I have said about Schwarzesmarken, I am very mixed about how I feel about it. Still, I think the positives that I have in my mind slightly more then out weigh the negatives. All the mysteries and twists that work just work incredibly well. I like the fact that Schwarzesmarken has a mostly female cast of pilots and characters that cause the main cast a lot of political problems. I even like all the mecha battles in the mecha that I just complained were horrible looking. Add in the great pacing of this anime and the fact that it accomplishes a lot in one cour, and you have my answer. It’s an above average mecha show that I think a lot of people enjoy. Well, a lot of people seemed to enjoy it already, so I am just another voice in the wind.