Directors: Takayuki Inagaki (episodes 1-2), Masaomi Ando (episodes 3 and onwards)
Writer (of original light novel): Yoshimune Kouki
Animation Studios: ixtl, Satelight
Version Watched: Subbed
Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse (hereafter referred to as Total Eclipse) is an anime based on a light novel inspired by a visual novel, the latter of which I have already read. Keep in mind that this review will be written from that perspective, though the only relation the show has to the visual novel is its setting. Total Eclipse is a reasonably entertaining look at one of the less interesting aspects of the Muv-Luv Alternative world. It does a good job of exploring its focus but falls short of the original work that inspired it.
In a world on the brink of destruction, beset by horrific alien life forms known as the BETA, humanity’s only hope is the production of powerful mech-like weapons called Tactical Surface Fighters (TSFs). In an effort to pool the world’s resources, the United Nations has pulled together test pilots from a number of representative countries to help develop new versions of these TSFs to fight back against the BETA. Yuuya Bridges, a Japanese American, is one such talented pilot selected to join the UN team. While success of the project is his only goal, he will only be able to achieve it if his new commander and colleagues can help him work through the spectres of his past.
Behind every army there is a research and development team supporting them and it’s not often you get to see that background group. Though Total Eclipse does feature some semi-front-line scenarios featuring the BETA, the majority of the series focuses on the human component of warfare. This means that you’re in for a heavy helping of home-team infighting as well as slice of life plotlines. Given the setting, I’m rather impressed (cue sarcasm) that both onsen and beach episodes make an appearance. The idea of humanity’s defenders continuing to fight amongst themselves while facing utter annihilation is hard to swallow, but at the same time it is difficult to deny the possibility of it happening. Total Eclipse does a good (though hopefully exaggerated) job of showcasing international conflicts in the Muv-Luv Alternative world while still taking time to step back and appreciate the day-to-day lives of the people involved in TSF development.
That’s not to say that is anime itself is beyond reproach, however. If I hadn’t already been fully informed about Total Eclipse’s setting by the visual novel, I wouldn’t have been nearly as interested in its story. Because the fight against the BETA is a secondary issue in the anime, it means you get very little information about them, which is a shame because their background is hugely interesting and was a big draw for me in Muv-Luv Alternative. In fact, there’s even some Total-Eclipse-exclusive plot background information that is never shared during the show, leaving a number of loose ends at its conclusion and an implication of a second season that was never realized. Perhaps for the same reason there’s also a frustrating amount of implied romance that is never acted on. As well as this, much of the character development shown early on seems unnatural and forced and the constant switching from blood-pumping combat to relatively dull slice of life content is somewhat tiresome.
Total Eclipse uses a large amount of very nice CG animation to show off its TSFs. The quality of their looks and movements is excellent. Unfortunately the choreography of the combat scenes doesn’t live up to the animation’s capabilities, with relatively boring and short-lived fights, as well as a number of very cliché techniques (e.g. TSF spins around while shooting, instantly killing the mysteriously circular group of enemies around it). Those of you who have read the visual novel will recognize that most of the TSF pilots are terrible, though newcomers to the franchise probably won’t notice. I have no complaints about the general animation though, with it having both good character designs and overall quality.
Summary – While humanity’s fight against the BETA is the most interesting aspect of the Muv-Luv Alternative universe, Total Eclipse does a good job portraying the events happening behind the scenes of the main conflict. Having said that, I felt that there were a bit too many slice of life shenanigans given the seriousness of the setting, as well an unfortunate number of unresolved/unexplained plotlines left over at the end of the show. Seeing the TSFs animated is wonderful, and the CG animation is wonderfully done, but the action scenes are strangely unsatisfying. If you’ve read the visual novel I would definitely recommend watching this just to get more out of the franchise, though Total Eclipse would still be entertaining if you were new to Muv-Luv entirely.
Score: 7.5/10 – Enjoyable