Schwarzesmarken- When the secret police are worse than aliens

I’m not the biggest fan of the Muv Luv series, I can admit to this but I can also admit that I’m relatively interested in the series for reasons other than seeing busty girls wear colorful, tight suits. The Muv Luv universe loves to be violent and traumatic with its disgusting looking aliens but it also loves juxtaposing wartime atrocities with the perennial Japanese regular-day influence. As far as I know about the original trilogy, the front cover of it definitely looks like a bait and switch and the previously animated Total Eclipse still felt more of a harem series than an actual military drama series. This rendition doesn’t cut down the harem part but it’s nowhere nearly as obvious as TE.

So since the original trilogy is hassle to get to and with already mediocre thoughts on Total Eclipse, I can say with certainty that Schwarzesmarken was actually enjoyable to watch, even with expected adaptation decay.

Been a while since I’ve said this but this is also the first time I was so enamored with character design (IE: Like a good amount of them instead of watching an entire series for a single character). So, Disclaimer: The pictures below are probably (definitely) skewed into just showcasing the pretty girls from the series but I assure you right now that I actually have some things to say about the rest.

The Setting

Taking place in the oh-so bleak alternate timeline where humanity had the unfortunate run in with some freaky looking aliens, the story features the divided country of Germany where both sides struggle for survival against the BETA threat in the aftermath of the 2nd World war. The East German special task force, the 666th squad, known as the Schwarzesmarken are the titular unit the series follows and they are the premier unit of their country. Theodor Eberbach is our protagonist with an immense chip on his shoulder for his commanding officer Irisdina Bernhard and the government’s secret police, the Stasi (which is an extremely fun word to say). The country not only struggles to keep the BETA at bay but also struggle against the Stasi in their race for political upheaval and the 666th Squad is caught in the middle of it.

The setting itself is pretty interesting with all the Cold War and East vs West tendencies and generally being different than most of the things I watch. The constant reminder of doom and distrust going on with characters like this is definitely more interesting, even with the fact that most of the cast is pretty girls. Out of all the Muvluv stuff I actually decided to pick up, this setting definitely feels the most interesting.

The Characters

Walter not included
Walter not included

Theodor was an enjoyable protagonist that started out as a loner who eventually became a wholesome team player who dedicated his life to protect the ones he treasured when previously, he was just a tongue clicking misanthrope with trust issues. It seems to me that everyone with some issues with their little sister tend to get some decent characterization. Irisdina was the beautiful squad leader who was a major character but gets relegated to the “idol worship” status by everyone else later in the series while she’s the driving point in ideals that eventually changes Theo’s outlook on life. Her entire “arc” is finished when the assumption that she sold her family out to the Stasi was actually at their request for her to survive. Katia is our quintessential cute and clumsy girl that joins the squad as the replacement for the girl that died in the very first episode that nobody cares about. Katia happens to be the smartest person in the series as she’s perfectly correct in her “idealistic” belief that everyone should be fighting the BETA together instead of tearing each other apart. I didn’t find myself disliking her since she actually pulled through with her ideals and ended up a lot less annoying than I thought. She’s the 2nd biggest influence on Theodor to become a better person, acting as a surrogate sister for the one he lost.

Then that turns out to be wrong as Lise shows up in the halfway point of the series and she is under immediate suspicion as she was previously separated from her brother by the Stasi themselves. Theodor is faced with the cruel reality that the sister he treasured might be the squad’s biggest enemy. As far as the other squadmembers go, only two to three more actually matter in the adaptation. We have Gretel Jecklyn, the (cute) bespectacled political officer who, like other characters, starts out as a hardass but finally warms up. Pham is the out of place Asian girl that happens to be the nicest human being in the squad so if someone was going to warm up to anyone first, Pham was the go-to. Anette is the only one who cared about the girl who died in the first episode and she goes from a cowering wreck to a reliable fighter so that was nice to see. Finally we have Walter and Sylwia, both who barely get any sort of explanation on their history but apparently the two have something going on.

As far out-of-squad characters go, there are only three worth mentioning. First we got Axemann, the “leader” of the Stasi who is mostly there to have the ever-present evil smile on his face while he plots for a good chunk of the series before anything happens, much less revealed. Beatrix is the true last boss where she was teased from the first episode as a ruthless Stasi operative and pilot. It was strange hearing Yukari Tamura voice someone who looked so obviously evil with those sexy eyes and prominent lips. Kirke is a name not many people remember but everyone remembers her for the series’s own acknowledgment at how she has a terrific ass. As you can plainly see, the series is a character-fest and that’s a very good thing, the plot itself of fighting aliens was done enough in previous installments of the Muv Luv universe so having some interwoven deceit and a few obvious ones made for a diverse cast of semi-developed characters.

The Presentation

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Schwarzesmarken started out as a Light novel series that got turned into a visual novel last year and only now became an anime. The original character design was handled by Carnelian, a favorite of mine from older times. I always liked how Carnelian’s style drew eyes, general expressions, and outfits so a series like this was perfect for it. Sadly, I really can’t say the same for how the transition went. A lot of frames look completely silly and the mechs aren’t all that flattering but I won’t take any points off when it comes to the mechs since the action was pretty entertaining. My main complaint goes to some embarrassingly dull faces but I assume blurays will solve that issue but in the end, it thankfully doesn’t detract from the show all that much. This is mostly because it’s Theo’s face that gets the unfortunate treatment in most of his appearances but he conversely gets a lot of good facial expressions as well, especially near the end. Given the setting, I did like the color choices that emphasized the grim nature of the series, especially when aliens are compounded with the constant threat of the Stasi. Visuals were a definite downgrade but nothing to condemn the series for.

As far as music goes, I was never the biggest fan of Fripside but I will commend Lise’s seiyuu who was the singer for the band. Speaking of voices, Theodor had some great lines aside from all the tongue clicking. Beatrix gets another mention because I like Yukari Tamura a lot but from some videos, she seemed a lot more “into it” in the Visual novel version. The music also accompanies the fighting sequences pretty well but none that stick out on their own. The ending sequences was particularly nice though but I also accredit that to ogling the gratuitous shots of Iris, Lise, and Katia with their suits a bit torn. Progression wise, the story is definitely the stronger part of the series that’s already supported by a decent cast of characters. Theo gets his issues worked out with Katia and Iris, Lise joins the team and gets on everyone’s suspicions, and then the resulting BETA forces makes the country panic which lets the Stasi move in.

The Verdict

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As much as adaptation decay and semi-original stuff happening here and there, Schwarzesmarken’s focus on plot and its characters manages to salvage the adaptation. While only around half the crew was actually developed and the Stasi weren’t given enough focus, the plot allowed for all of that to move at a brisk pace and have the characters constantly move around and actually do things. Said pacing also led to some of the more carefree and “fanservice” scenes be cut out, which honestly just adds more to the tense atmosphere. If checking out the CG’s gave any of these scenes away, we basically got a snowball fight and pool scene cut out. In the end however, it was still a series that someone that isn’t completely familiar with the other Muv Luvs can definitely get into given its focus on the characters and the recognizable setting of post war Germany.

Unfortunately the source materials probably won’t get translated anytime soon so if the series interests you, this would be a half-decent way to go but it was still enjoyable nonetheless. While I speak as someone who only watched the anime while being supplemented by information derived from the source, I still think this was something worth watching for the story it set out to tell. Between Shoujo Tachi and this series, theses were the only two with some serious plot and I found myself waiting to see them the most. Where it might attract viewers thanks to the lovely showcase of girls, the plot lends itself to be watched and semblances of personality also keep the girls from being completely useless and one-dimensional.

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