"Schwarzesmarken," the German word for "Black Marks." Set in the 1980s in an alternate timeline version of East Germany, Schwarzesmarken follows the East German Army's 666th TSF Squadron, also known as the "Black Marks." This special unit specializes in unconventional tactics using advanced technology. Their enemy? Beings of extraterrestrial origin, or the BETA, a fearsome and sometimes unpredictable enemy that seem dead set on destroying the human forces and taking the planet Earth for themselves and ripping it clean of its natural resources. Because the BETA come in all shapes and sizes, carrying any number of advanced alien technologies, the Black Marks must use the latest and most deadly weapons humanity can devise to drive them back.
Irisdina Bernhard is the commanding officer of the Black Marks. As a war hero, she has earned the respect of her country. However, her cold exterior and personality make her extremely hard to work under, especially for one of the most talented members of the squadron, Theodor Eberbach. Only time will tell if the many battles fought together will bring peace to the earth, and between the many combating personalities in the 666th TSF Squadron.
Schwarzesmarken takes place in an alternate universe of the Muv-Luv franchise, following the storyline of the light novels. A visual novel was released on November 27, 2015, and a second was announced for 2016.
Having seen a fair amount of sci-fi related series and mecha as one of my favorite genres, Schwaresmarken stands out as a strange show to me. It’s not because the series is set in the same universe as the Muv-Luv franchise or based on a light novel. Rather, the series is more like a political flair that’s masked by the intense violence of creatures, monstrosity known to their world as BETA.
First let’s get a few things out of the way. The series is a spin-off series based on the light novel. (although a visual novel also exists) Historically, the timeline began around the late 1970s
when BETA arrives in Eastern Europe. Eastern Germany gets besieged by them and mankind suffers heavy losses. That is, mankind builds the TSF (Tactical Surface Fighters) that basically translates into heavy duty mechanized machines designed to fight them. 5 years later, Eastern Germany is still suffering with its weakened forces and the Warsaw Pact isn’t holding them much longer either. However, they are supported by the infamous Nationale Volksarmee's 666th Tactical Surface Fighter Squadron, also known the “Black Marks”. The story tells of this infamous group as they fight for survival not only on the frontlines against BETA but also within its own forces, political struggles, and national conflicts.
Approaching this series with trepidation, Schwarzesmarken’s storytelling is sometimes decent, sometimes bad, and then sometimes just dreadful. There’s a lot of mixed feelings when diving into such a complex universe. Furthermore, the show is only a 1-cour so terms like ‘rushing’ or ‘butchered adaptation’ can be applied here. To be fair, enjoying this series at fullest would include an understanding of the Muv Luv universe. However, watching this series as a standalone is possible and the experience getting out of the show may be enjoyable. That is, if you really and I mean, really like what it has to offer.
Where to start really? The first episode easily establishes a few factors. BETA is on the rampage in Europe and the show isn’t shy to show death on screen with an immense amount of violence. There’s some emotional storytelling going on as well when we see pilots during their last moments. In essence, it should come to no surprise that Schwarzesmarken is trying to paint the idea of BETA being humanity’s ultimate enemy. Or is it really? Behind the frontlines, there’s a fair amount of political and interpersonal flair going on. You see, West and East Germany haven’t exactly been the best of friends. The show easily makes it clear that the two are only united for the purpose of surviving and destroying a common foe. By historical standards, the Warsaw Pact is a collective defense treaty but in this series, it’s almost like an armistice. West and East Germany have their own ideals so naturally, they can’t really get along. One of the major forces in the series besides the 666th squadron is Stasi, an official security force of German Democratic Republic that’s designed to enforce their laws. Spies, treason, and disobedience are met with punishment including death. Furthermore, they have control of a massive intelligence network that almost serves as this series’ version of Big Brother. Sounds scary right? To be quite honest, humanity’s enemies aren’t just BETA but also making an enemy of themselves. And it’s a sad story when we see the body counts.
As complex as the show seems, the characters aren’t too difficult to understand once you really see their background stories. Theodor, the main male protagonist has suffered losses in his life including the assumed death of his sister. Irisdina Bernhard, the captain of the squad has been rumored to backstab her own family to get to where she is in the present. Then, we have Katia who tries to desperately appeal to her ideal of “let’s put our differences aside! If we all unite, we can defeat the BETA!” Such an illusion really. The show makes it clear that there’s no genuine friendship between certain nations. Nonetheless, the character cast gives the most prominence for these three characters while the others are mainly supporting players. That’s sad to say as I’ve heard the light novels gave more characterization emphasis on characters like Sylvia, Pham, Beatrix, among others. As I’ve mentioned before, the adaptation serves more of a story to depict the nature of sci-fi warfare. The addition of the military, political conflicts, and personal battles are attempts to create an emotional story. Does it work? In some some ways, yes. However, the majority of the show feels like it tries to stuff down the viewers’ throats with emotions that really is weakly timed. Sure, characters die on and off but it does it really give strong reasons to why we should care about them? The first half of the show has several characters die for mankind’s cause. But to this end, I don’t find their losses to be memorable. It’s not just how predictable how some deaths occur but rather their lack of characterization. The only characters that seems to be relevant in the show are Theodor, Katia, and Irisdina. Later, we also see a surprise character return to the series although I can hardly call it that. In terms of relationship dynamics, that’s hardly anything to take home to. Theodor’s a cold guy who can work with others on a professional level but rarely ever opens up to others. His childhood is tragic and in a way, I guess we should feel sorry for him. Katia’s relationship is perhaps the lightest in the show and also inspires him to fight the good fight. Then, there’s Irisdina, probably the least trustworthy main character because of the rumored gossips about her past. Although on professional standards, she does have a good relationship with Theodor and Katia. The show also seems to establish that Irisdina and Beatrix (a prominent member of Stati) has some sort of history but that’s overshadowed by the actual conflicts going on. I refer to the one about war against BETA.
In terms artwork and design, it’s mostly mediocre level in terms of technical quality although I do give some praise to the studio for portraying the technological aspects of the series. It manages to capture the grim atmosphere with the bloodshed and death scenes. And while the pilot suits are designed to make the women look like eye candies, it is also quite convincing. Character expressions are important so the series did its best to capture their emotions. In retrospect, it did a fair job as every episode seems to make their reactions look and feel real. In addition, the TSF are designed with a decent amount of effort ranging from its arsenal, structure, and capabilities. Action wise, the show is powerful enough to convince us that it’s a sci-fi warfare despite the CGI. On the other hand, BETA’s designs looks silly with the insectoid-like eyes and absurd body proportions. They look like aliens that popped out of some B-movie.
Soundtrack is actually quite important now that I’ve taken the show at a close glance. Remember, the series is grim without much humor but portrayed as a sci-fi warfare story. In other words, the show did its best to portray that atmospheric setting with more melancholic music. Either way, it does seem to work out in that regards when delivering its intentions. However, character voice mannerism is a weak sign of the show as there’s nothing really a character that stands out individually. In fact, Katia’s voice sounds like a child for someone as part of the military. On the other hand, I do like how characters like Beatrix is portrayed with their manipulative nature expressed by voice acting.
After watching Schwarzesmarken, I have to conclude and say that the show is a brave attempt at making this into a memorable war story. But what does it really achieve? A poorly directed and produced series that seems to not be able to connect with itself. The story feels loose while the info dump has a strange pacing. Furthermore, there’s a lack of characterization on most of the 666th squad. I think the show is geared at more of an audience that is very familiar with the Muv Luv universe. To casual fans, the experience isn’t going to be something great and shouldn’t with what it presented.
There are two kinds of people that might watch Schwarzesmarken: those who have played the Muv-Luv trilogy and those who haven't. And depending on which side you fall on, your view on this anime will be quite different, although both sides will have their own problems with it, albeit totally different ones.
So before I get into this, there are a couple things I'd like to clarify for those who are unaware. Muv-Luv is a 3-part visual novel series released between 2002 and 2006, the last part of which, Muv-Luv Alternative, is widely considered to be one of the greatest visual novels ever made. However, ever
since its release now 10 years ago, the company behind it, Age, have done literally nothing other than create a myriad of side stories, spinoffs and fandiscs based on the Muv-Luv universe. They've never even tried to come up with a new franchise for a whole decade now, instead they've decided to just keep milking their one and only masterpiece until it can be milked no more, which is... understandable I guess, but still pretty saddening. In any case, the Muv-Luv trilogy has never gotten an anime adaptation and perhaps never will, but in 2012 there was actually an anime release... based on one of its countless spinoffs called Total Eclipse. Not only was this a rather strange decision since any anime-only viewers would miss out on tons of plot elements due to being unfamiliar with the main series, but also Total Eclipse turned out to be an incredibly mediocre anime in and of itself, focusing just as much on fanservice as actual story progression, if not more. And now, 4 years later, history repeats itself, as yet another one of the franchise's spinoffs has gotten adapted, namely Schwarzesmarken. But of course for any anime-only viewers, the exact same problems as last time still remain.
The good news however is that the story of Schwarzesmarken is largely separate from the one of the main story of Muv-Luv. This is because a) it's a prequel, taking place almost 20 years before the events of Alternative, b) the character cast is completely different, and c) it plays out on the other side of the planet, in Germany instead of Japan. So in that sense it works out fairly well as a standalone anime... but far from perfectly. This is because Schwarzesmarken intentionally leaves out just about all initial exposition about the state of the world itself, any detailed information about the BETA's functionalities and tendencies, as well as a lot of the planet's history ever since the BETA's initial sightings on Mars in 1958 and their eventual invasion of Earth in 1973. And this is all simply because the anime assumes that you already know all that from playing through Alternative. So it's not that the story won't make sense for anime-only viewers (it will), but you'll miss out on a lot of depth and detail. It also works the other way around as you'll be able to relate a lot more to events which have previously only been mentioned briefly in Alternative as it plays out in real time here instead of something which just happened far away and almost 20 years prior from the game's perspective.
Overall though, Schwarzesmarken is still a pretty big improvement over Total Eclipse at the very least. The tone is a lot more on point with what Muv-Luv is supposed to feel like, with a lot of death, drama, politics and tragic events (though not as much sci-fi). There is also pretty much no fanservice at all this time around which I'm very thankful for. So atmosphere-wise Schwarzesmarken is a lot more similar to the main series, but there are still some clear differences. The most notable one would probably be the direction the plot goes in, and specifically who the real enemies in the story are. In the main series, it's naturally the BETA that everyone is fighting since humanity's mere existence is on the line, but in Schwarzesmarken they almost feel like the secondary threat a lot of the time. Of course there are still a lot of battles between the human TSF squadrons and their alien invaders, but in this case there seems to be just as much internal conflict as external. This is because this takes place in Germany in the early 1980s, which of course means that it's in the middle of the country's split in two, I.E: West Germany and East Germany. The squadron the story primarily follows is the East German Army's 666th TSF Squadron, a.k.a. the "Schwarzesmarken". They do their part in fighting the BETA on a daily basis, but they see their western neighbors as just as much of a potential threat as the aliens themselves, and the west is of a similar mindset. It's almost like a three-way war going on, except that the two human sides are having more of a cold war standoff and throwing insults at each other most of the time, but occasionally end up clashing head-on as well. This is unsurprisingly also used as a consistent and reliable method for generating drama, as some characters find themselves on different political sides despite caring for each other on a personal level. And on top of that there's also the good old truth that killing off main characters is not exactly something Muv-Luv has ever been afraid to do, and although it might not exactly be on the level of the main series, Schwarzesmarken is still not afraid to do the same. It gives the post-apocalyptic story a much greater sense of realism and intensity that way, and it definitely pays off.
Schwarzesmarken is definitely not a bad anime by any means, but I still find it a bit difficult to actually recommend it to people. Because if you haven't played through the Muv-Luv trilogy prior to it, then you should definitely go do that first, and if you have played through it then try as you might but you'll find that it's almost impossible to not end up subconsciously comparing Schwarzesmarken to the main series as you're watching it. There will constantly be this nagging voice in the back of your head saying "I wish I was just replaying the real game instead". Schwarzesmarken isn't bad, but just by being part of the Muv-Luv universe the expectations on it will be so much higher than it ever has a chance of living up to, and Alternative is just such an incredible work of art that Schwarzesmarken ends up looking a lot worse than it actually is simply by being compared to something so unreasonable. I think the only way you can truly see Schwarzesmarken for what it is is by first playing through the visual novels and then literally forcing yourself to go into the anime with the lowest expectations possible. If you tell yourself prematurely that it's probably going to suck, then you might be positively surprised. But if you don't, you'll probably just be disappointed.
Though pretty much all these problems would be solved if Age just decided to actually adapt the real Muv-Luv series already... which I've actually heard some rumors as of late that it might happen in the future after Alternative's localization Kickstarter project turned out to be such a huge success a few months ago. Maybe in another 5-10 years, who knows. One can only hope.
So let me start off by saying "I F**KING HATE THIS SHOW." Really I do. And yet, I can't find myself giving this show any less than a 10.
However, the reason I hate this show is because the writers are dicks and they know it. So this whole show revolves around the Cold War Era. Much like in the U.S. with the Red Scare, there was a struggle in Eastern Germany about loyalty. People selling out their own friends and family for self-preservation. This is the shows main focus. The Mechas and Aliens are really second to the situation.
Well in the first few episodes
we met X-Chan. There is serious suspicion about this character whether X-Chan is a traitor or not. There is one scene in I believe the third episode where they show X-Chan's "evil smile"... and that is it. That is all we have to work on to determine whether or not X-Chan is truly a traitor or a Red Herring.
This is why this show is truly brilliant . As I kept watching I was searching for something, anything, to whether to trust our suspect or not. I kept playing all possible scenarios in my head, searched for something I missed, but to no avail because there was nothing there. There was nothing I could decrypt. All I could do is watch the events unfold. We don't even find out the truth till almost the very end.
This isn't an accident. The writers want you to squirm. They want you to wrench and search to try to figure it out knowing very well you can't. They want you to question everything and create evidence in your head that you believe true that probably is non-existent. This very well replicates the Red Scare in America. There was no way to truly tell if you could trust someone. There wasn't magical signals to tell. All you do is hope that you didn't get accused.
This show is probably one of the deepest anime out there. This whole show is a deconstruction of the mystery genre. There are no clues out there for you to find. All you can do is wait for something to happen even though every second you will try to figure it out. You will assure your self that you know the truth when you don't.
It almost doesn't matter whether X-Chan is a traitor or not. What matters is they are implanting that idea in your head. And that seed will sprout.
The fact that the average is a 7 is almost a joke to me. If I had to recommend a show to anyone I think this would have to be one of the first ones YOU MUST WATCH.
So about 10 hours ago I finished Schwarzesmarken.
Although it's not the best show of the season, it's the one I enjoyed the most. Surprising considering it goes up against KonoSuba.
Oh and don't stop watching straight after the credits end, there is always an after credits scene which is important to the story.
Historical Authenticity: I'm not allowed to use the word "accuracy" because there were no aliens in Germany. German text appears in place of Japanese when written down and from what I can tell it's very accurate. Ignore that Schwarzesmarken is grammatically incorrect. There is a reason behind that. The end
card reads "Fortsetzung folgt" which translates to Episode follows (or To be continued as Crunchyroll prefers.)
Overall from what I had seen the show remains faithful to East Germany, http://i.imgur.com/5E9KJU3.png?1. Aside from changing their plug sockets.
Story: As you know, 1980s East Germany. Poland has fallen leaving them the last barrier to western Europe. They had me caught at 1980s East Germany. I am interested in Cold War history and what is basically fascist rule. I always love the idea of secret police, such as the Stasi. Which is great because who appears in the show? That's right, the Staatssicherheit (German for State Security). I've never watched or played Muv-Luv but I am told politics plays a large role in them as it does in Schwarzesmarken. Remember the aliens attacked humanity? Yeah, they aren't the enemy. The Stasi are. From what I can tell that is the message of the show. The humans are your enemy. It's pretty thrilling. If I was to go any further I would be spoiling the show. Honestly you just need to watch it.
Art and Sound: I've been told the CGI in this show isn't as good as others but it's good enough to look at. It works as well considering the BETA are aliens are shouldn't look like anything on the Earth. As for character designs they are decent enough. As usual in anime the Asian one doesn't look Asian, but she is wonderful anyway. Same with the Polish one. There were two German stereotype girls and Irisdina's hair was pretty to look at. Katia wears too much eye liner.
As for sound I've been listening to the Ed song, Kanashimi ga Jidai wo Kakeru, while I write the review. It's peaceful. The Op song white forces gets you excited to watch the show and it was well implemented in the final episode. Voice acting was good and I don't think the actors and actresses messed up German pronunciation. There was a stand out song that played in episode 11 which was very epic for the situation. I'll find it hopefully.
Other than that I can't think of any stand out songs. Maybe I'll find them when I do a rewatch, hopefully that rewatch will be on Blu Ray.
Character: We needed two courses/24 episodes. Although I liked the characters as much as I could I still couldn't get attached to all of them.
Irisdina does have a prequel novel that I don't think has been translated by anyone yet but the show does manage to get you understand her views.
Theodore Eberbach is our harem leader, except the show never feels like a harem. If you watch the show you will see how the characters interact with each other.
Katia wears too much eye liner.
As for the other members of Schwarzesmarken they are good characters and as I said, you will need to watch the show to understand how they interact.
Enjoyment: I was "excited" to watch Schwarzesmarken every week. Just like how the people who watched One Punch Man felt.
As a person that likes politics and "history" this show was great for me. It was always tense and after episode 1 it showed how dark and deadly the show can be.
I enjoyed it so much I want to read the Light Novel and play the Visual novel.
What's that? It's on Steam Greenlight: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=651346103
Go vote for it if you want more from the Schwarzesmarken Kompanie.
They will take that as interest for a second visual novel and a translation for the Light Novel.
Overall: After opening the Steam link and listening to the opening for it I am feeling pretty good. The show has interesting themes and characters. It's a must watch for those that like political drama and the Muv-Luv universe.
In short you should watch it. It was wonderful.
"Der Weg geht weiter..."
Deutsche Demokratische Republik 666th TSF Kompanie, Schwarzesmarken.