Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse Volume 2

If you spotted my previous review of the first half of Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse, you’ll recall that I was pretty pleasantly surprised by it. The mix of gnarly, full-on aliens-versus-mecha action, sporadic gore and character drama were interesting enough to keep it watchable, and the tense cliffhanger that marked the show’s midway point did a good job of securing interest in its remaining episodes. So, having picked over the show’s technical aspects in my review of the first set, it’s actually kind of fun to be able to sit down and focus on the rest of the series on the strength of its conclusion.

After that cliffhanger the first collection left things on, my hopes were high for a decent follow-through and some escalation of the stakes. Series leads Takamura and Bridges, plus the rest of their TSF squad, were faced with an incoming horde of blood-crazed BETA aliens, including one of a previously unseen ‘oh crap, let’s just run away now’ variety. Given the grisly scenes of the series’ opening, it really looked like this could be the turning point for the show, and Episodes 13 thru 24 held the promise of more of that visceral mecha vs. aliens action. Surely this was where things would amp up, I told myself. There was only one way to go from here. The BETA threat had arrived in the story properly now! Bring on the blood-soaked mecha action!

But… no. Instead, Muv Luv pulls possibly the most disappointing bait and switch I‘ve seen in anime all year. Rather than making good on the promise of intense robot action, the wrap-up to Episode 12’s nail biting finale – though solid enough – doesn’t pack that big a punch. And from there, the show begins a downward spiral into mediocrity, not to mention its weakest material.

I appreciate it may be a part of the Muv Luv visual novel’s mechanics, but this spin-off show really did NOT need to plumb the awkward, irritating depths of harem non-comedy it embraces in its third quarter. As new characters appear, so does an extra thread to the already-present love triangle, with Bridges and Takamura’s blossoming romance threatened by an overbearing new cast member and a deepening connection between Bridges and the Russian Cryska Barchenowa. This beefing up of the romantic plot strands isn’t completely unsuccessful, but the devotion of several episodes to it, complete with a flesh-tastically awkward hot springs episode, really isn’t the direction I’d hoped the show would travel in. Or even, if we’re considering any form of logical storytelling, the direction it SHOULD be taking.

Here’s the big problem: When a show like Muv Luv Alternative, which is already standing on fairly slippery ground, wanders into such dull and uninspiring territory, all its inherent flaws become immediately more visible. Of course, a story can explore whatever territory its creators feel inclined to venture into. But if you dangle the prospect of all-out action and then steer away from it, you had better make sure whatever else you deliver is top notch. But rather than growing wings and soaring, as I’d hoped it might, Muv Luv Alternative crashes and burns.

How should I describe the litany of its sins? Where do I begin?

Well, there’s the quality of character-focused stuff, for starters, which admittedly isn’t terrible. But it also isn’t especially remarkable. I mentioned in my review of Part 1 that I felt Yuuya could have benefited from a little more establishing of his back-story, which the show does deliver here. But when it arrives, it’s mired in cliché and feels underdone – a far cry from how well his love interest Takamura’s was handled.

There’s also the show’s disappointing determination to keep ploughing on in the clumsy fashion it seems to have adopted. The already discomfiting fan-service element is wheeled out again, feeling even more forced and out of place than before. New characters and sub-plots appear with scarcely enough time to solidify within the short number of episodes they’re given. But the most unforgivable sin, for me, is the lazy and contemptible way the final human antagonists are depicted. NATURALLY the terrorists who appear in the show’s final quarter are religious fanatics, fond of declaring their murderous deeds are all for the glory of God. Because faith very clearly encourages and steers people toward senseless acts of violence. Obviously. Thanks for furthering that socially irresponsible, overly-simplified and damaging stereotype, Muv Luv. Because popular entertainment really needs more of that. This kind of half-assed writing and characterisation actually makes me angry – and were I watching the show for my own pleasure rather than for purposes of review, it would have been an instant quit point.

But where Muv Luv Alternative really reveals its newfound levels of crapitude is in the jaw-droppingly inept writing and terrible dialogue its characters are suddenly given to spout. Some of it is unintentionally laugh-out-loud hilarious.

“I came back to check that you were alive,” Yuuya says earnestly to Takamura at one point, before adding, “ You were, by the way.”

Seriously? You felt you had to add a qualifier to that, Yuuya?

“Is Inia with you?” Cryska Barchenowa demands of Yuuya later on, even though it’s abundantly clear from the scene’s framing that she isn’t.

But the crème de la crème of these script gaffes is Yuuya’s heart-to-heart with a pretty redheaded barmaid, endowed with one of the dub’s typically over-the-top international accents. After she delivers a comedically thickly inflected pep-talk, Yuuya ingenuously asks her “You’re French, right?”

Thank you, Muv Luv – you damn near hospitalised me with that one. See it for yourselves and you’ll understand why. In a world where so many genuinely superb scripts are pitched to the entertainment industry and rejected, THIS is a great example of why those spurned writers so often feel rightly embittered.

All in all, this is a crushingly disappointing conclusion to a series that SHOULD have been much, much better. If you can accept it for what it is and feel like my complaints against it are things you can live with, then you’ll probably have an okay time with it. There’s enough mecha action in the last few episodes to satisfy fans who come to it for that, at least. But this second collection is simply too far-steeped in mediocrity and truly bad writing to make buying the show in two halves worthwhile.

Sorry an’ all. I really WANTED to fall in Muv Luv with this one. But at the very best, and even looking at it through the rosiest of tints, it’ll only ever be a guilty pleasure.

5 / 10