Schwarzes Marken ‒ Episode 6

In an action sense this is the quietest episode to date, with the mecha only making cameo appearances and not actually getting into any combat. In a dramatic sense, however, the episode is anything but quiet. Pieces are moving into place and the Big Picture is now starting to shape up. And the note the episode ends on is anything but trivial.

Most of what transpires involves the behind-the-scenes power struggle going on within the East German government. Axmann arrives to arrest Irisdina and plant suggestive comments about how Lise isn’t a spy for him, but most definitely could be a spy for someone else. Yes, it is a total dick move doubtless intended to foster distrust within the ranks. . . or is it really? We later find out, to my surprise, that Axmann actually just used the arrest as a pretext to have a talk with Irisdina. It seems that the Stasi is split into two factions: one that wants to strengthen close ties to the KGB and the Soviets and one which advocates for purer German nationalism. Axmann leads the latter faction, and Major Brehme is affiliated with the KGB-aligned faction, so Axmann actually wants to get the 666 Squadron aligned with his faction. While the episode doesn’t go into this explicitly, that would also suggest that he believes that Lise is working for someone in the other faction. Either way, the revolution where the Stasi seize total political power is actively in the works and seems likely to happen during a major upcoming BETA offensive that is bigger than any previous one, though it seems that each faction has its own ideas about how to carry it out. Meanwhile political officer Gretel sets out to Berlin with Theodor to recruit allies and turns up an unexpected one. It also, of course, finally allows her some feature time with Theodor.

That the Stasi is actually going ahead with this revolution is no surprise, as the series has been dropping intimations about this all along, but that there might be competing elements within the Stasi for who actually gets to take control is an unexpected twist. This does all, in a way, line up with history, as the actual Stasi was tightly-aligned with the KGB all along and in the mid-1980s a top secret document outlining how Stasi agents could seize de facto control of the government, even while painting it as a democracy, did exist; according to one source, it was actually even attempted in 1990. I can find no indication of a historical connection to the internal philosophical split being described in this series, however; if anyone is aware of accounts indicating that this isn’t just dramatic license, please post appropriate links in the response thread.

Regardless of whether or not that happened, the suspicions which encircles Lise are doubtless not far from reality. Theodor increasingly finds himself caught between wanting to trust Lise as his sister but not being entirely sure that he can, which leads him to reflexively – though perhaps not wholeheartedly – defend her when accusations get levied, something which Lise is painfully sensitive to. Lise certainly fosters this with all kinds of suspicious behavior; why was she specifically showing glancing at Katia right before the episode goes into its opener? Why was she approaching Katia and questioning her about what Theodor and Irisdina might be up to? And as the big red flag, why is she desperately trying to seduce him in the episode’s final scene? (This scene is the first real fan service shot in quite some time, too.) Sure, there are innocent explanations for all of this – after all, a not-blood sister trying to seduce her brother because of the dictates of harem formula is hardly unheard-of in anime – but the mindset that the series has been fostering so far makes that so hard to believe that her actually being innocent would be the bigger twist at this point. Hence in the sense of keeping the audience guessing, the series is a resounding success.

I am less certain that I buy that there is a deep philosophical split between Brehme and Axmann given how closely they have been shown working together so far. Is the perceived split between them just a front, or is that a writing hiccup? Either way, that and some shaky quality control are the minor flaws on what is otherwise an enjoyably tense episode.

Rating: B

Schwarzes Marken is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.