(12ish episodes ?)
What’s it about ?
Yet another iteration of the sprawling Muv-Luv Alternative franchise, this time adapting a bunch of prequel light novels. And by this, I mean “with different characters and set in a whole other continent”, so this should be accessible enough for anyone new to the franchise.
This is nominally set in East Germany in the 1980s, although with the massive invasion of nasty aliens since the 1960s, it’s basically alternate-history science-fiction, with mecha thrown-in for good measure. (Yeah, I’m as weirded out as you by a franchise that started out as standard dating-sim visual novels now churning out grimdark milSF.)
Theodor, our protagonist, is a young mecha pilot in the elite 666th unit (the titular Schwarzesmarken). He can’t have been here for long, as he’s still chaffing around basic orders like “don’t be a dick, protect your teammates !” This is at least semi-understandable given how he’s experienced first hand the brutality of the Stasi (the East German political police), with his whole family but him dying in a botched escape attempt to the West ; this isn’t an environment conducive to trust.
Irisdina, his team captain, doesn’t help matter by infamously being an informant who reportedly sold out her own brother. She claims she’s trying to turn a new leaf in atonement, but he doesn’t trust her at all. Once burned, twice shy.
Katia is a West German pilot they rescue on the anti-alien front. Despite this accident of fate being rather suspicious, Irisdina makes the choice to trust her and recruit her for the 666th. Katia is enough of an East-fetishizing idealist (“the war against aliens would go so much better if the West and the East worked together !”, yeah don’t say this too loud in front of the Stasi commissars) to accept… Although there’s obviously more to her than that. Which makes it all the more a pain in the ass for Theodor, who’s stuck training her after being the one to rescue her.
Decent enough ; the aliens certainly look very freaky, and alien indeed. The show itself doesn’t go overboard with fanservice despite the design for female pilot suits it’s stuck with in this franchise… but the ED clearly milks it for maximum titillation.
This is a happy surprise ; instead of being fetishized, East Germany is depicted as awful a place as it should be if you’re bothering to set a story there. The only weird bit is that they somehow have a competent army in the 1980s despite the politics being even more awful than in reality, but I take this as a genre convention.
I’m also pleasently surprised by the tone ; yes, this is quite dark indeed, but there’s a point to it, and the show is in no hurry to kill off massive amounts of main characters right off the bat for shock value (unlike Total Eclipse). Indeed, it wisely focuses on East Germany itself rather than the actual fight against the aliens, giving the characters a chance for a decent resolution of their story despite this being a prequel (after all, the aliens will still be around for the sequels).
On the other hand, it’s everything but subtle, the main characters are more than a bit annoying, and I’m just not in the mood for grimdark milSF. But hey, nice try.