FEATURE: Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog: "Schwarzes Marken"

The walls come tumblin' down in this 2016 TV anime based on the light novel / visual novel spin-off of "Muv-Luv"


What's “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”?


Picking a new anime to watch isn't as difficult as surviving an alien invasion, but a little guidance in choosing certainly couldn't hurt, and that's where “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog” comes in. Each week we provide additional info and cultural context to help anime fans determine whether or not they'd like to take an unknown series for a test drive.



What's Schwarzes Marken?


Schwarzes Marken is a 2016 mecha / science fiction TV anime with direction by Tetsuya Watanabe and animation by ixtl and Liden Films. Schwarzes Marken is part of the Muv-Luv franchise, and it is based on the series of light novels (written by Hiroyuki Uchida and illustrated by CARNELLIAN) as well as the visual novel developed and published by Âge. Crunchyroll describes the series as follows:



In 1983, the East German Army 666th TSF Squadron, “Schwarzes marken,” is a special-response force tasked with assaulting BETA forces. They specifically target Laser and Heavy Laser class BETA to disable their enemy’s immense firepower. This merciless team’s orders are given the highest priority, and they follow them so exactly that the 666th is known to ignore allied distress calls that would interfere with an ongoing mission, even if only for a moment.



A little clarification is in order: in Schwarzes Marken, the BETA are alien invaders whose name is an acronym for “Beings of Extra Terrestrial origin”. It could also stand for “Bug-Eyed Terrifying Aliens”, because the BETA are nasty, weird, and inimical to human life in a way similar to the Bugs in the Starship Troopers franchise.



While conventional military weapons (such as missiles, mortars, and bombs) are effective against swarms of BETA, the Laser-class and Heavy Laser-class strains are bred to blast any aerial threat out of the sky. As a result, humanity has developed the TSFs (“Tactical Surface Fighters”), a variety of low-flying bipedal mecha, to counter these threats.



The alien invasion isn't the only danger to humanity in Schwarzes Marken, because the bulk of the series explores this well-worn science fiction premise (a high tech war between human beings and an alien species) through a highly political lens. The protagonists must navigate and survive not only the BETA invasion but also the myriad dangers of an autocratic, totalitarian surveillance state.



Der Kommissar's In Town, Oh Oh Oh.


Schwarzes Marken is set in East Berlin during the height of the Cold War, and when the story begins the 666th TSF squadron are a fractured mess: their pilots suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and extreme paranoia, and their leader is an ice-cold tactician who has no compunctions about sacrificing lives in order to defeat the BETA. Only through tireless team-building in the face of an overwhelming threat does this framework begin to shift.



While the heroes may appear antipathetic at first glance, the human antagonists of Schwarzes Marken, the Stasi, are truly heinous. Based on the real life secret police who terrorized East Germany under military communist rule, the Stasi in Schwarzes Marken are so evil that it's almost comical. Through the tactics of treachery, torture, blackmail, intimidation, and assassination, the Stasi make life a living hell for anyone who obstructs their naked pursuit of power.



Clash of Worlds, Clash of Styles.


Visually speaking, Schwarzes Marken is a bit of a paradox, since the series combines traditional 2D animation for the characters with 3DCG for the dynamic action scenes between mecha and alien monsters. But this visual dissonance actually reinforces the themes of the story, which present humanity divided by politics and nationalism in the face of a greater threat.



Just as the human characters are divided, so too is there a sharp divide in the technology levels on display. The mecha design and prop design by Kanta Suzuki are as interesting as they are disparate. For example, the 666th TSF squadron pilots highly advanced, flying mecha with complex HUDs, but their weaponry is limited to melee weapons and machine guns, and outside of combat they make do with crummy desktop computers and microfiche. The contrast feels very Soviet.



Pathos and Paranoia.


At first, the cast of Schwarzes Marken appears to be mostly stock characters, the kind you could find in any series focused heavily on a state of total warfare. But as the series progresses, and as new dangers appear and secret alliances form, it's easy to get caught up in the emotional lives of the characters. Schwarzes Marken is a series with few heroes and a high body-count. It's high-stakes and high melodrama, with an overall tragic tone.



Service Not Available in All Alternative Universes.


Crunchyroll currently streams Schwarzes Marken in 208 territories worldwide, and the series is available in the original Japanese with subtitles in English, Spanish, Latin American Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Italian, and German.



Unfortunately, at the time of this writing there are no official English language adaptations of the original Schwarzes Marken light novels or the visual novel published in the United States. However, a general release version of the original Muv-Luv visual novel developed by Âge is published on the Steam platform by Degica, so it's possible to experience the story that started the franchise.



The grim setting and dark subject matter of Schwarzes Marken is not likely to appeal to all viewers, but if you like your mecha with a heavy dose of back-biting political intrigue and a distinctly “Sturm und Drang” sensibility with regard to its characters, please consider giving Schwarzes Marken a try.



Special thanks go to resident "BETA male" Andrew Collie (@VF5SS) for suggesting this week's subject for "Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog". Is there a series in Crunchyroll's catalog that you think needs some more love and attention? Please send in your suggestions via e-mail to [email protected] or post a Tweet to @gooberzilla. Your pick could inspire the next installment of “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”!


Paul Chapman is the host of The Greatest Movie EVER! Podcast and GME! Anime Fun Time.

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