Muv-Luv Alternative - Total Eclipse logo

A revered series’ spin-off that could have become a hit, but in the end was mediocre at best.

STORY

Total Eclipse is a spin-off to supposedly one of the best visual novel series, Muv-Luv. The VN series starts as a typical harem story (Muv-Luv Extra), which after completing the routes for the two main heroines, grant the player access to the second storyline, set in a future full of alien invaders and despair (Muv-Luv Unlimited). After a rather disastrous ending, the protagonist wakes up in an alternate scenario and tries to prevent the tragedy from happening (Muv-Luv Alternative).

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As the title of the anime suggests, Total Eclipse is set in the Alternative universe. The BETA, an alien species that mankind met for the first time in 1967 on  the Moon, has landed on Earth and devastate a significant portion of the surface. The overwhelmed humans try to stop the relentless advance of the alien adversary, but it seems that they are fighting a losing battle. The only hope for repelling the BETA lies in the Tactical Surface Fighters (TSFs), which are your typical anime mechs, reminiscent of the Variable Fighters found in all the Macross series (though the ones in Muv-Luv cannot transform into fighters).

The plot of Total Eclipse follows the elite group of test pilots who are tasked with perfecting the revolutionary XFJ-01a Shiranui Second, a new TSF that can help to eventually win the war. Yuuya Bridges, a Japanese-American pilot, is chosen as the test pilot of the protytpe unit while the entire project is overseen by Takamura Yui, a veteran pilot who has survived the initial attack of BETA on Japan. The two have to face endless waves of BETA, bureaucratic mess and international conspiracies as well as the feelings blooming between the two of them.

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Unfortunately, what sounds like a great premise turns out bland and unattractive after a couple of episodes. While the initial two episodes presenting the teenage years of Yui and the fall of Kyoto were quite dark and rather interesting, the rest of the series failed to follow their track. Most of the time, the problems deal more with Yuuya’s attitude and a possible Russian conspiracy than the actual fight against BETA. The last arc about the terrorists overtaking Yukon Base starts out quite interesting, but in the end lacks an emotional impact to make it truly likeable.

Of course, it needs to be noted that the anime series is merely an introduction to the yet-to-be-released VN of the same name, where all the good storylines will appear, but it’s regrettable that the anime is more of a harem series with mechs than a mecha show with elements of romance.

CHARACTERS

Bland, annoying, shallow… There are many adjectives that you can use to describe the characters of Total Eclipse, but I doubt any of them is positive. Bridges is an annoying brat with serious attitude problems. He’s arrogant, incompetent and generally a pain in the neck for everybody around. What’s more, he’s a total idiot when it comes to love – and there is no worse sight in an anime than a protagonist who doesn’t even *register* potential love interests.

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Yui is a wasted potential; after being emotionally scarred during the Fall of Kyoto, you’d expect she would act different than how it’s presented in the show. While seeing her flustered over her feelings for Yuuya was kinda sweet, it nevertheless didn’t suit her character at all.

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At least the two characters mentioned above undergo some kind of change during the course of the series; the same cannot be told about the rest of the crew. The remaining test pilots are as one-dimensional as it gets and the villains are just plain evil. One look at the Russian generals is more than enough to know that they’re treacherous bastards. Yay for an interesting characterisation :P

VISUALS

The graphics are perhaps the biggest let down of Total Eclipse. The art is very inconsistent and characters are often drawn in such a bad way that I had to wonder whether this is some cheap ecchi show or a serious addition to a well-know series.

Animation also leaves much to be desired – it was at the very best average during some scenes, and cringe-worthy during some others. All the battles are done in CGI, but that doesn’t help much – it’s the type similar to the one used in Macross Frontier, which means it’s totally visible it’s your ordinary run-of-the-mill CGI. You’d think that after the Rebuilt of Evangelion movies and the Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn OVAs the industry would understand that cell-shaded CGI resembling drawings is the way to go as far as mechs are concerned.

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The design of TSFs is a whole another issue, though aimed more at the creators of the source material rather than the people responsible for the development of the anime. Each TSF is based on a real world plane – therefore we can see the F-16s, F-15s, MiG-29s, SU-37s and F-22s. However, the designs are unnecessarily cluttered are hard to distinguish between. And none of them bears any resemblance to their real world inspirations – and I’m talking from a point of view of an aviation fan, who could differentiate between various American fighters before he could write.

AUDIO

The audio is there; that’s for certain. I think I even heard some music while watching the episodes. But unfortunately, it’s far from memorable; the creators didn’t use any of the VN music, which is a shame, seeing how some of the VN tracks are considered essential parts to building the atmosphere of the Muv-Luv universe. The only thing stuck in my mind are the two OPs, which are quite catchy, and the first ED, a sad and moving piece that’s well-suited to end episodes of a series like this.

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As for the cast, we see some big names here: Ono Diasuke, Sugita Tomokazu, Tanaka Rie, Nakahara Mai, but I don’t think they really had a chance to shine here. The characters they play and their dialogues are just far too cheesy to allow seiyuu of this class to show off their skills.

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SUMMARY

In the end, Total Eclipse is a pile of wasted potential. What could have been a tale of the dramatic struggle of humanity against the inevitable doom as well as a moving story of the dark side of human nature turned out to be a trivial story that could hardly find its focus. To add salt to injury, the animation and art are terrible to the point of inducing a serious toothache from all the cringing. Definitely not what you’d expect from a mecha series.

FINAL VERDICT – 5/10

(a poor-man’s mecha show that has little to offer anybody except for perhaps die-hard Muv-Luv fans)

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