Dengeki Hobby Magazine 12/2002

July 24, 2016

Here’s a special bonus for everybody.  In the previous post I mentioned that in October 2002, Volks (specifically, their A-Brand division) unveiled figures for 5 Fubukis and Miki in her pilot suit.  A few years ago, I went digging through some old magazines in my closet, and I found this issue of Dengeki Hobby Magazine, which actually had a feature on those new figures.  It was a huge shock to discover that I owned something connected to Muv-Luv from so long ago, just sitting in my closet completely unbeknownst to me for over 10 years.

As a rule, I don’t post pictures on this site because I like to encourage people to buy them for themselves, but seeing as how this is a monthly magazine from 14 years ago, I think we can bend the rules a little.  So here we go:

Some things of note:

The article writer gives Age a few gentle jabs at how the game still hasn’t come out yet, which warms my heart a little – even in 2002, the Muv-Luv tradition was alive and well.  In fact, at the bottom of the first page, you can see the info box read “Release Date: 2002 – under adjustment”.  That’s not a release date, that’s an admission that they don’t have a release date.

At the end of the article, the writer explicitly points out that there is no mech labeled 03, clearly inviting speculation as to why.  Of course, now we know that the reason is because that’s Mikoto’s unit, and labeling it as such would have clearly shown that the Mikoto who pilots it writes her name with different, more girly kanji.  Nowadays it seems clear that Mikoto is the missing character in this lineup, but back in 2002, Unit 03 could easily have belonged to Sumika, Kashiwagi, Akane, or even Kasumi (who by this point had appeared in promotional materials, but whose role in the story was still a secret).

Finally, the article finishes off with a special comment from Kouki Yoshimune himself – although this is from so long ago that the name “Kouki Yoshimune” didn’t even exist yet.  During this time, he was known as “Yoshida to Iu Ikimono” (“The Creature Called Yoshida”).  Here’s what he had to say for this article:

I’ve heard that the modelers at A-Brand are starting to get worried that the robots in Muv-Luv are just a gag, and they won’t actually appear in the game at all (sweat).  For the record, they will indeed appear, so please be at ease!

The robots will appear starting about 1/3rd into the story, and these Fubuki models in particular will appear quite a bit.  Still, this is a bishoujo game, so we can’t give the mechs more focus than the characters themselves.  Instead, rather than focusing on one over the other, we are working to put all our efforts into both.  After all, if A-Brand is going to put in this much work, we can’t back down either.  Those of us working on the game are pouring our souls into making sure that we don’t lose to A-Brand’s figures!

To everyone reading Dengeki Hobby Magazine, I would be very happy if you take an interest in Muv-Luv after seeing these figures.  . . . But to be perfectly honest, I would have wanted these figures much earlier (cries).  If we had had these before, it would have been much easier to draw these robots . . .

It’s a pretty standard statement to give to a magazine, but what stands out to me is the “1/3” comment.  It suggests that, even this late into development (they would release Muv-Luv only 3 months later), they were still hoping to include all 3 chapters of Muv-Luv into a single game . . .


The Road to Muv-Luv

July 22, 2016

August 2000
According to creator Kouki Yoshimune, this is the time period during which he developed the plans for Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and Muv-Luv.  The two games were intended to complement each other, by focusing on the same theme from two different angles, and were intended to come out at roughly the same time.  In fact, the Hakuryo Hiiragi winter uniform seen in Muv-Luv was designed first, and the summer uniform seen in KimiNozo was designed afterwards by modifying the winter design.

October 2000
The gaming magazine Tech Gian announces both KimiNozo and Muv-Luv, with a tentative Autumn 2001 release window for both.

April 2001
Age announces that Muv-Luv will be released in November 2001.

July 21 2001
Tech Gian includes the first episode of Akane Maniax in this month’s issue.  The idea is that Akane Maniax will run for five months, ending in November, cleaning bridging the gap between the KimiNozo and Muv-Luv release dates.  This is the first time fans get a clear look at the Muv-Luv characters.

August 03 2001
Kimi ga Nozomu Eien is released to immense acclaim, selling far more copies than Age could have imagined.  Age begins to rethink their approach to Muv-Luv.  They had to scale back their original vision for Muv-Luv, due to both technical limitations and available manpower – however, the money coming in from KimiNozo could change that.  Age decides to funnel the profits from KimiNozo into making Muv-Luv even better.

September 10 2001
Accordingly, Age delays Muv-Luv from November 2001 to a “Winter 2001 – Spring 2002” release window.

February 23 2002
Age announces that Muv-Luv will be released on April 26 2002.

March 25 2002
Figure maker Volks puts up a teaser page featuring their future Muv-Luv offerings.  The illustration on the page shows Meiya wearing a strange pilot suit and a robot silhouette.  Fans begin to wonder if there might be a science-fiction/mecha component to Muv-Luv.

March 27 2002
Age delays Muv-Luv from April 26 2002 to June 28 2002.

April 03 2002
The Muv-Luv single CD is released from Lantis.  This was meant to coincide with the April release of Muv-Luv itself, before the game was delayed.

April 24 2002
The drama CD “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien Drama Theater Vol. 3: Akane” is released.  Chizuru plays a supporting role – this is the first time fans are able to hear one of the Muv-Luv characters voiced.

April 25 2002
Volks updates its site to show off its offerings for Dolls Party 7.  Among its offerings are “Meiya Mitsurugi: Type-99 Surface Pilot Fortified Suit”, “Takemikazuchi: Meiya Unit”, and “Takemikazuchi” (a white version of the Meiya Unit).  Volks does not offer any additional insight into what these terms mean or how they are related to Muv-Luv.  Fan speculation begins to intensify.

May 16 2002
Age delays Muv-Luv from June 28 2002 to “Winter 2002”.  Fans begin to grow increasingly frustrated.  Unlike the other delays, this is essentially an admission that Age themselves don’t know when the game will be finished.

May 23 2002
Age releases Akane Maniax as a fan-club exclusive game.  This version combines all 5 episodes from Tech Gian into a single game, and is fully voiced.  This is the first time fans are able to hear the voices of the full Muv-Luv cast (besides Meiya, who does not appear in Akane Maniax).

July 11 2002
Age releases a trial version of Muv-Luv through its fan club.  The trial plays from the beginning of the game to October 26, the day before the cooking competition.  Of note, this version features Kozue Yoshizumi as Meiya, rather than Kazumi Okushima.  Yoshizumi played Mayu in KimiNozo, and would eventually go on to play Meiya’s twin sister Yuuhi in Muv-Luv Alternative.

July 24 2002
Minami Kuribayashi holds a live performance at Shibuya Eggman.  During this concert, she performs the Muv-Luv Extra ending theme “I will” and the Unlimited ending theme “Harukanaru Furusato no Uta” for the first time.  As a secret special guest, Masaaki Endoh (then famous for Gaogaigar) appeared to announce and sing the Muv-Luv song “Carry on”.  At the time, it was unheard of for somebody as famous as Endoh to perform a song for an adult game.  Of course, this only sparked a new wave of speculation as fans tried to figure out how this song could fit into the game.

September 10 2002
Muv-Luv Prelude is released by Enterbrain.  Prelude is a small book containing new information on Muv-Luv, but more importantly contains an expanded Muv-Luv trial.  This version contains all the content from the original trial, plus a second part stretching from October 29 to November 1 (the early part of the lacrosse story).

October 25 2002
Volks updates its page with additional offerings.  These new offerings include “Fubuki: Takeru Shirogane Unit”, “Fubuki: Meiya Mitsurugi Unit”, “Fubuki: Chizuru Sakaki Unit”, “Fubuki: Kei Ayamine Unit”, “Fubuki: Miki Tamase Unit”, and “Miki Tamase: Type-99 Surface Pilot Fortified Suit”.

December 21 2002
This month’s issue of Tech Gian includes a Muv-Luv short story called “Your Name is Takeru”, taking place before the main story.  Like Akane Maniax, this version is unvoiced – it would eventually be collected in Muv-Luv Supplement (and later in Muv-Luv photonflowers) with voices.

December 29 2002
Age mercifully announces that Muv-Luv will be released on February 28 2003.  Recall that it has now been over half a year since Age made any official mention of a release schedule.

January 21 2003
This month’s issue of Tech Gian includes a second short story called “My Name is Meiya”.

February 28 2003
Betraying expectations, Age actually manages to release Muv-Luv on this date.  (Age would eventually admit that they were simply out of money and could not afford to keep pushing the release out.)  At the same time, they also announce that the third and final chapter of the game could not be finished in time, and was not included in this release.  As a result, the Takemikazuchi model that had introduced fans to the mecha side of Muv-Luv ends the game sitting in a hangar, unused – a particularly harsh blow for Volks, who now had to sell figures of it despite nobody ever having seen it in action.  The highly anticipated Masaaki Endoh song also fails to appear in the game.  And, of course, anybody playing the game to the end will find that the major mysteries of the story go completely unresolved.

Not to worry, Age assured fans.  The story for the third chapter was already complete, so the follow-up game should come out very shortly.

But that’s a story for another time . . .


Muv-Luv Released!

July 14, 2016

Today is quite a momentous day: the original Muv-Luv is now available in English from Steam!  Check it out here!

I got to take a quick peek at the game at Anime Expo, and I spent much of yesterday playing through the pre-release, and I’m thrilled to report that so far, the translation is amazing.  I have played this game numerous times for over 12 years and I have a very strong sense of how I would have wanted it to read in English, and this translation is right there.  To finally be able to play this game in English, and to know that it is how I always pictured it, is a strange and exciting feeling.

(They also went with “Surface Pilot” for the translation, which scores massive points with me.  This is the official English term used in all Muv-Luv media, so using this term in the English translation shows an immense respect for the franchise.  When I think back on how close they seemed to be to going with “Eishi”, I realize what a miracle it is that we get to enjoy this translation instead.)

If you’re only familiar with the old Muv-Luv release from 2003, you’re going to be shocked at the improvements made to the game since then.  I’ve mentioned some of them before, but for anybody still on the fence about supporting this release, I’ll go over them in greater detail:

This release seems to be based on the most recent version of the game, the PS3 version (this version was also used for the Vita release).  For Extra, this means the pre-menu OP is “LOVE STEP” by Minami Kuribayashi.  The in-game OP continues to be “Muv-Luv”, as in the 2003 release.  New EDs are included for the Chizuru, Kei, and Miki endings – “I will” remains the ED for Sumika and Meiya.  For Unlimited, the OP is now “sion” by Masami Okui rather than “Muv-Luv” – this is the only opening sequence from the old versions of either Muv-Luv or Alternative to be completely removed from the game.  The ED for Unlimited is unchanged.

The most obvious change from the 2003 version is that this game now uses the same system as Alternative.  The game appears in widescreen and without a dedicated dialogue box.  All sprites now have eye and mouth movement.

All TSF scenes in Unlimited have been completely redone in the Alternative style.  This includes using Alternative TSF sprites, and directed using the more advanced AGES techniques from Alternative.  The TSF HUD has been completely replaced with the Alternative HUD, including character comm sprites.

Music from Alternative now appears throughout Muv-Luv.  Most importantly, “Briefing” now plays during briefing scenes in Unlimited.

Reading it on the page, these changes may not seem like much.  But when you actually play the new version, I promise you will be blown away.  Muv-Luv now actually FEELS like the same game as Alternative.  It actually feels like a real trilogy, rather than different games separated by 3 years of development.

There’s also a small bonus for hardcore Muv-Luv fans.  There are some small differences in setting between the original 2003 Muv-Luv release and Alternative.  Most notably, in the original Muv-Luv the idea seems to be that Yuuhi was the Emperor of Japan, as Meiya is described as being related to the Emperor.  By the time they released Alternative, they changed their minds about that (I think I read once that they decided depicting the Emperor in their Imperial Japan fantasy was a bit too sticky, politically), so now Yuuhi is a Shogun nominated by the Emperor.  For the re-release of the original Muv-Luv, they actually went back and rewrote (and rerecorded) several lines to match up with this new setting.  It doesn’t really affect the story, but I appreciated that the original game no longer contradicted the later works.

Of course, it’s tradition in this industry for re-releases to include new artwork and CGs, so given that the PS3 version is the newest version, we get all the new art that wasn’t included in the original version.

I’ll put up another post dedicated to the actual game itself . . . eventually.  (Just like the Muv-Luv franchise, I don’t keep any deadlines I try to set for myself anyway.)


Schwarzesmarken 08-12

May 3, 2016

In the final stretch of the show, Schwarzesmarken transforms into a completely different story.  At the end of episode 7, the Schwarzesmarken squadron as we know it – the 666th TSF Squadron of the NVA – is effectively dismantled.  In its place we now follow a new Schwarzesmarken squadron, now part of a full-scale revolution.  Muv-Luv at its best has always been about human conflict, so it’s only right that the final phase of the show focuses not on humans vs. BETA, but the Revolution vs. the Stasi.

Lise, of course, remains the most fascinating character in the show.  This is a story that very cleanly splits characters into Good Guys and Bad Guys, so Lise stands out for being the only character whose loyalties are unclear.  I think she comes closest to telling the truth in episode 7, when she asks Theodor to run away with her to West Germany.  It was for that reason alone that she cooperated with the Stasi.  In a certain sense – certainly from Lise’s perspective – the great tragedy of the story is that Lise only managed to made contact with Theodor after he had thrown in with Irisdina.  If that contact had happened just a few months earlier, when Theodor still despised Irisdina, he would very likely have taken up Lise on her suggestion to flee for the border.  When I think about it like that, I can start to understand how the sense of betrayal Lise must have felt at that moment must have been indescribable.  At that moment, she was right on the cusp of accomplishing everything she had worked for, and in a very real sense it was because of Irisdina that Theodor pulled away.  If she had a little more time, she might have been able to convince Theodor, but both Irisdina and the Stasi began to move against each other, forcing her to pick a side.

The other great tragedy of Lise is that she was never able to buy into Irisdina’s vision of a revolution.  Lise despised the Stasi and would have cheered their destruction.  If she had chosen to side with the revolution, she could have been an immense help to them.  But she had spent too much time with the Stasi to truly believe they could ever be defeated.  She participated in mass executions.  She was a major part of the network of spies that stretched across the country.  She saw how all threats to the Stasi were systematically eliminated.  In her mind, the Stasi were invincible, and taking up arms against them was a suicide pact.  That was why she hated Irisdina – because she had seduced Theodor into a cause that could never be won.  When the time came to choose a side, at the end of episode 7, she believed her only option was to continue serving the Stasi, rather than betray them.  From that moment on, she had no plan.  Everything that she had worked for had led up to that moment when she asked Theodor to flee with her, and that moment was now gone.  All she could do now was continue working for the Stasi, and look for a moment to convince Theodor, as she tried in episode 9 during their fight.

Lise’s execution scene in episode 10 is another good example of the thought put into this adaptation.  In the original novels, Lise was actually captured and brought back to base, where she was blindfolded and executed by Theodor in front of the others.  They could have done the same in the anime, but it would take up time – they would need to show where Lise was now, how much time had passed, and just generally establish a new scene from scratch.  All of this would take time away from the execution scene itself.  As one of the most important scenes in the story, it was vital to take the time to keep the emotional throughline intact, rather than break it up by transitioning to another scene.  The anime version of this scene makes good use of the time they have to give Lise the emotional farewell she deserves.

The other aspect of this scene to keep in mind is that the original version of this scene pretty clearly calls back to Irisdina’s execution of her brother.  Theodor executes Lise in exactly the same manner that Irisdina was shown to have executed Jurgen.  It places Theodor in Irisdina’s shoes, as well as drawing some uncomfortable parallels between the Stasi (who forced Irisdina to kill Jurgen) and the revolution (who forced Theodor to kill Lise).  The anime version very clearly calls back to different scene, Irisdina’s execution of Inghild in episode 1.  The scene still places Theodor in Irisdina’s shoes, but the context is quite different.  Here, rather than something forced on him, the parallel suggests that Theodor’s execution was a mercy killing, something to bring peace to Lise at last.  It’s a very interesting, separate interpretation of what is still at its heart the same action, and when an adaptation can bring a new interpretation to a work, I always find it very fascinating.

At the very end of Lise’s life, she recognizes that Theodor is not going to quit the revolution despite her wishes, and so she dedicates her final words to helping him instead.  In the novels there’s a bit of an interesting story behind her last words.  Just as we see in the anime, in the novel she whispers something to Theodor that we, the audience, don’t get to hear.  Theodor reveals to the others that Lise told him where Irisdina was being held.  However, Beatrix reveals that she fully expected Lise to betray the Stasi in her last moments, and so had given Lise false intel, with the intent of luring the revolution into an ambush.  At the battle’s critical moment, however, Theodor reveals what it is that Lise really told him – that Lise also didn’t trust Beatrix, and had used her own connections to learn Irisdina’s true location.  The revolution then planned a decoy operation to lure Beatrix into believing her ambush had worked, while their true force would head for Irisdina.  It’s the story’s one last attempt to call Lise’s legacy into question, by suggesting that even her final attempt at helping Theodor could have unwittingly harmed him even further.  However, ultimately it doesn’t actually affect the course of the story – just like in the anime, the initial attack ends in retreat, so this maneuvering from both sides wound up not coming to much.  This is probably why the anime chose not to spend time on this part of the storyline, and simply revealed from the beginning that Lise had given them Irisdina’s true location.

So, speaking of Lise’s legacy, she of course left Theodor one last present, the Cheburashka Zwei.  (Incidentally, “Zwei” is written with the Japanese word “Kai”, often translated as “Custom”.  The anime is the first time we hear “Zwei” spoken aloud.  I like it a lot more than calling it the Cheburashka Custom.)  In contrast to the relatively subtle metaphor of the Shiranui Second, the Cheburashka Zwei goes for the blunt symbolism of combining Lise’s machine with Irisdina’s head.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with the direct approach, of course.  In the novels, the Zwei was introduced at the end of the 6th novel, directly after Lise’s execution.  I actually panicked a little as episode 11 started up and there was no mention of Theodor’s new TSF.  The introduction of the main character’s custom mech is always one of the high points of any mecha anime, and while I can understand that the anime doesn’t have a lot of time to waste and needs to cut out scenes that don’t move the story along, I would have been very sad if the Zwei was brought onto the show without the usual fanfare.  But I needn’t have worried – the anime simply moved the introduction to the end of episode 11, to coincide with Theodor being appointed squadron leader (which I don’t think specifically happened in the novels either – but since Gretel was gone and Theodor had the strongest TSF, I guess he was kind of squadron leader by default in the novels as well).  And of course, it came with all the typical mecha anime flourishes, including the vocal track performed by composer Evan Call that he was keen to promote in his interview.

(By the way, the Cheburashka Zwei actually appears in the opening credits – Theodor pilots it at the very end.  When the anime first started, and people were wondering if the show would actually cover the entire story, the presence of the Zwei was another clear piece of evidence that it would.  How many of you managed to notice it?)

That was a lot about Lise.  I guess we should talk about some of the other characters.  Katia steps up in a big way in these episodes, first in episode 8 when she reveals herself to Heim, and then in episode 12 when she makes her broadcast to the entire country.  What always stands out to me in these moments is how Katia has changed since we first met her.  Over the course of the story, she’s learned a lot about how this country works, and she’s lost much of her old innocence, but she hasn’t actually changed her core philosophy.  Faced with the reality of the world, she doesn’t back down from her frankly naive stance, but rather fortifies it with the strength to push forward in the face of reality.  Seeing her onstage in the final episode, I think it’s easy to imagine how another character from a different show might have presented her speech with the same simple-minded naivete that characterized her early appearances.  When I think of that, I really appreciate how difficult it must be to bring a character like Katia to a point where she can openly acknowledge the horrible things she’s seen, while still holding to her optimistic belief that we can do better.

Gretel is another character who really steps up during this last stretch of episodes.  More than anyone else, Gretel winds up occupying a position that nobody could have predicted at the beginning of the story, taking over as leader of the Schwarzesmarken squadron in Irisdina’s absence and serving as one of the heads of the revolution.  I like the story of Gretel’s journey a lot; in some ways I think she’s my favorite character.  That said, I get the feeling the author of Schwarzesmarken, Hiroki Uchida, got a little too attached to Gretel as well.  It shows in the way he portrays the end of her scene in the Stasi Files room.  In the novels, as she lays dying while the Stasi Files burn around her, she just so happens to come across a file near her that just so happens to contain a file on her old crush.  This is in reference to her Requiem side-story, in which a boy she liked was taken away by the Stasi.  This scene stood out to me when I first read it because, up to this point, Uchida had been very careful not to make such blatant references to the Requiem stories in the main series.  The main series had made several small references before – Kurt, for example, made some vague references to his Requiem story while talking to Katia – but these were bonuses for readers who had read the side-stories as well.  Readers who only read the main series and hadn’t read the side-stories would still be able to follow the plot.  Gretel’s scene here was the first time I felt that the audience would be completely lost without having read her Requiem story – they would have no idea what the file was, or why Gretel was so emotional upon reading it.  It felt like Uchida bent the rules a little because he wanted Gretel to have this moment, even if it meant some readers might be lost.  It’s an obvious moment for the anime to cut, and seeing the anime version of the scene, I remain convinced that the scene works better without such a complete coincidence coming out of nowhere, with no buildup in the main story whatsoever.

In the serialized version of the story, Gretel never appears again after this scene, leaving the impression that she had died.  I kind of liked the idea of her having a heroic death here.  However, when the story was collected as a novel, a special epilogue was added – the same one that appears at the end of the anime.  I find the reveal that Gretel had miraculously survived a little underwhelming.  The novel version of the scene strongly implies that the same boy from the Requiem story, whose file Gretel coincidentally found, also coincidentally happened to be a member of the revolution, and had coincidentally managed to arrive on the scene and save her at the last second.  I find this even more underwhelming.  It, again, feels like the author liked Gretel too much to allow her to die, and contrived a feel-good scenario to give Gretel a happy ending.  To be honest, there was a part of me that was kind of hoping the anime wouldn’t have time to include a scene showing Gretel surviving the fire.  But I guess that’s asking a little much.

There’s not a ton to say about Irisdina.  She barely appears, after all.  (When the 6th novel came out, people were wondering why Irisdina got to be on the cover when she doesn’t appear in the story at all.)  This last section of the story is very much about the people she brought together carrying on her will without her.  Series creator Kouki Yoshimune mentioned something interesting, that it’s possible Lise isn’t completely wrong to say that Irisdina is only using Theodor as a pawn.  I think it’s worth looking back at her character in that interpretation.  She does say, several times, that she doesn’t truly have a will of her own, that she lives only to serve the will of those who have passed on, like her brother.  It’s not outrageous to think that such a person might care more about how other people can serve that will than about the people themselves.  In episode 3, Irisdina outright admits that she made Theodor take care of Katia because she knew he would see Lise in her – that’s pretty emotionally manipulative of her.  I’m not sure I buy into it completely, but it’s an interesting idea worth thinking about.

I got the first Schwarzesmarken Blu-Ray disc in a while back, and I was surprised and pleased to find that each disc will come with a booklet with notes from author Hiroki Uchida on each episode.  One interesting thing that Uchida reveals in the notes for episode 2 is that, during the script meetings for the anime, he and director Tetsuya Watanabe had a long discussion about the scene where Irisdina executes her brother Jurgen.  This was right about the time that Uchida was about to start writing Bernhard im Schatten, a Schwarzesmarken prequel story focusing on Irisdina, Beatrix, and Jurgen, and Uchida mentions that the discussion they had helped shape the story he was about to write.  In episode 12, you can clearly see how this discussion also influenced the anime, as it is packed with references to the relationship between the three characters.  Almost none of these references existed in the original novel (in fact, I don’t think Jurgen even had a name at the time – he was just “Irisdina’s brother”).  These references especially help shed light on Beatrix’s state of mind, suggesting that she believes, in her own way, that she is carrying on Jurgen’s will in helping to save the world.  These new additions, along with her much more sympathetic portrayal in Bernhard im Schatten, help to make Beatrix a much more rounded character – she’s kind of a one-note villain in the original novels.

Now that I’m reevaluating Beatrix as a character, it occurs to me that she and Axemann are set up to represent different types of evil.  Beatrix is someone who believes wholeheartedly in what she is doing – it’s just that what she is doing is evil.  Axemann, however, has no ideology.  He seeks only to gain power for himself.  He was part of the Stasi because he held power there.  When things went south, he sought an alliance with the revolution, extracting a promise that he would be part of their new government.  When it looked like they were going to lose, he threw in with Beatrix and the Moscow faction.  And when the people started to rise up against them, he hoped to seek refuge with the CIA.  He has no cause – he will serve whoever will keep him in power.  So there’s something to think about: who is the greater evil?  The one who devotes herself mind and soul to an evil cause?  Or the one who serves, but has no loyalty to, an evil cause?

And that’s it for Schwarzesmarken.  Once Bernhard im Schatten finishes, it will be time for Age to move on to their next major Muv-Luv franchise, Duty -Lost Arcadia-.  Duty got its start in Hobby Japan’s Tactical Surface Fighter in Action series, and a Chronicles story featuring its characters is included with Photonmelodies.  However, these were merely a preview of the franchise.  Sometime this year (tentatively – you never know with these guys), they’re planning to launch the main series.  They already have an author for the series lined up – Ryou Yoshigami, currently writing a series of Psycho-Pass tie-in novels.  Several people involved with the series, including creator Kouki Yoshimune and Akira Yamazaki, have noted that since Duty features a German battalion set in the present day, it features a common German lineage with Schwarzesmarken, and they have hinted that surviving characters from Schwarzesmarken could conceivably appear in Duty (aged 18 years older, of course).  Who might appear in Duty?  Could it have anything to do with Yoshimune’s warning to pay attention to Theodor’s line from the final episode?

“Even if they call me an enemy of humanity . . .”


Anime! Anime! – Tetsuya Watanabe

March 24, 2016

(The original interview can be found here.)

– How did you get involved with this project?

Tetsuya Watanabe: I directed a show called “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”, and the company that created the original game was Age, who also made Schwarzesmarken.  I think that was how I was brought on.  I always want to make robot shows, but just as I was thinking the number of robot shows seems to be dropping, this project came to me.  I accepted since it would mean I could make a robot show.

– I’m sure you read the novels first.  What was your reaction?

Watanabe: I thought it was like a historical fiction novel dressed up as a robot story.  When I got the offer, I read through all the novels in a rush, and I was surprised.  I thought, “This is what they want to make into an anime!?” (laughs)  I thought it would be very difficult to turn this into a film format.

– Did you think turning the novel into an anime would go smoothly?

Watanabe: The novels describe a lot of things with great detail, so I can use those descriptions to help me.  But the story has a lot of volume to it, so to make it into an anime I have to work on the balance between battle scenes and character drama, and I worried a lot about what to take out and what to leave in.

– How did you resolve this?

Watanabe: The story editor Tatsuto Higuchi-san was a great help.  He would pick up a number of scenes that I had given up on.  He has a lot of experience working on tightly crammed shows, and he’s good at them.  I think he decided we could include them.

– Could you give us a more specific example?

Watanabe: What I talked with Higuchi-san about was picking up the major elements of the novels, and using them to build a story where the characters develop more linearly.  Irisdina is a character that the main character Theodor looks up to.  She’s like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999.  Theodor is somebody who winds up following in her footsteps.

– The novels have a number of heroines, so how did you depict them in the anime?

Watanabe: Irisdina is the heroine we focused on.  We pulled back on Katia and Lise so they aren’t heroines as much as in the novels.

– But in the first episode there’s a silhouette that looks like Lise.

Watanabe: That was foreshadowing for her reappearance.  Maybe I showed a little too much there.

– This story has the deadly fight against the alien BETA, but at the same time there are political elements mixed in, and it’s a very serious atmosphere.  How did you try to portray this atmosphere?

Watanabe: This is historical fiction, so for places like the Soviet Union and West and East Germany, we based them off their real-life counterparts to a certain extent.  It was a very challenging project.  There were areas where we wondered if it was OK to do this.  After getting involved in this project, I learned that the Stasi (East German secret police) that appears in the story was a real organization.  They did some truly terrible things.  There are people who really did suffer.  When I thought about that, I was very concerned about how far we should go to portray this.

– Were there any points that you were careful about as you built the novel’s worldview?

Watanabe: I felt I wanted to retain the novel’s image.  There’s a very suppressed feel to it, so for the anime I also wanted to keep things not too flashy, but not too plain.  Also, since the story is set in East Germany, the show will inevitably have an oppressive image about it.  People in my generation have that sense of what is beyond the Iron Curtain.  As much as possible, I tried to avoid making the show too heavy.

– How did you find portraying the specifics of the German country?

Watanabe: Germany has almost no mountains, so since I was raised in an area surrounded by mountains, drawing that landscape made me pretty nervous (laughs).  The scale is completely different from that of Japan.  The art director Katsufumi Hariu-san helped me out a lot.

– The TSFs performing NOE flight across the vast snowfield is an amazing sight.

Watanabe: The TSFs can’t fly very high since they’ll be shot down by the Laser-class BETA.  That’s why they fly as close to the ground as possible.  There were challenges to portraying it, but it helped that the flat snowfield was easy to draw.  During the first episode, we were still testing how flat we should make the ground, so we put in some bumps.  Then we established the Laserjagd.  As the episodes went on, we started to feel that it was OK not to have any bumps, so we wound up drawing it completely flat.

– The battle scenes are almost entirely in 3DCG.  How was working together with Sanzigen?

Watanabe: I had worked with Sanzigen before and I knew who they were, so working with them was easy.

– The BETA are CG as well.

Watanabe: I was concerned about that part.  The BETA are living creatures, but showing things like getting cut up is not easy to do in 3DCG.  You can’t open a hole in them, and even showing their heads getting blown off in battle is difficult to do.  We tested out a lot of different things in order to show it well.

– If you want the head blown off, you have to create a new CG model to show that, right?

Watanabe: That’s right.  If a TSF slices open a BETA with a sword, you have to create a new 3D model showing the torn-up texture where it was cut.  In addition, the BETA are a mysterious life-form so we don’t know what the cut area would even look like.  We don’t know if they have skeletons either.  We decided to play it like a samurai movie, where after a grunt character gets cut down, he screams and a lot of blood comes gushing out.  That made it possible to portray it.

– I’d like to talk about the Cast.  How was Kenichi Suzumura-san, who played the main character Theodor Eberbach?

Watanabe: He approached the role very seriously.  I knew he was someone I could count on.  After playing Shinn Asuka in Gundam Seed Destiny, he racked up a lot of experience in robot shows.  He pulled the cast forward this time as well.

– Evan Call-san’s music was memorable as well.  In our interview with him, he said we was glad to work on a robot show.

Watanabe: I’m happy to hear that.  After the dubbing for the first episode, our sound director Satoshi Motoyama said “This music is great!”  Music helps to convey a lot of a show’s depth.

– Thank you.  What do you think is the highlight of the show?

Watanabe: Of course I have to mention the battle scenes.  But I don’t want that to be the whole story.  As the novels progress, the memorable story of “Lise’s way of life” starts to come out, so I hoped to portray that well.  I also wanted to show Iris and Theodor’s growth.  I wanted to portray Iris, the perfect woman, and Theodor, who looks up to her and tries to catch up to her.  Coming up, there’s a scene that is kind of like a love scene between two robots.

– A robot love scene?

Watanabe: It’s a scene between Lise and Theodor, but I wanted to see if we could portray it with robots.  I hope you look forward to it.

– That sounds very interesting.  Finally, please leave us with a message.

Watanabe: I’m directing an Age show for the first time in a while.  I worked on robot shows my whole career, but when I had a hole in my schedule, Age asked me to do “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”.  After that, I fell in love with Age’s works.  Schwarzesmarken is full of that same appeal.  I hope you continue to watch and enjoy the show.


Anime! Anime! – Evan Call

March 19, 2016

(The original interview can be found here.)

– First off, I’d like to ask how you wound up composing music in Japan. What shows led you to have an interest in Japanese anime?

Evan Call: When I was kid, a friend of mine who liked Japanese anime got me to watch shows like Pokemon and Digimon. The show that had the most impact on me was Samurai 7 (2004, GONZO). I got hooked on that show and got into Japanese anime that way.

– How did you become affiliated with Elements Garden?

Evan: That was a real coincidence. After I graduated from the Berklee College of Music, I was wondering whether I should head to Hollywood to do film scores, but the Japanese anime and games I liked had a lot of different genres, so I thought that if I could break into that industry, I’d be able to write a wider selection of music, so I came here on a tourist visa. But, if I couldn’t find a job in 3 months my visa would expire, so I thought that if I couldn’t find a music job by then, I’d become an English teacher. Around that time, a roommate at the share house I was living in invited me to a party. It was a foreigners’ “Super Otaku Party”, so I thought I’d go (laughs). There, when I told a friend of my roommate that I wanted to write music, he said he’d talk to a friend of his, and introduced me to Junpei Fujita from Elements Garden. I sent him a demo and got invited to an interview, and I ended up joining them.

– So you didn’t get in through their recruitment process, but with a demo tape and interview.

Evan: At the time, they weren’t looking for people, but I think it was rare for them to get an application from a foreigner, so they set up an interview for me.

– What did you have on your demo tape?

Evan: A lot of things. Some songs I wrote in college and some orchestral samples.

– Was Elements Garden president Noriyasu Agematsu at the interview?

Evan: A lot of people were there, including Agematsu-san. They were all watching me and I got really nervous (laughs).

– I remember Agematsu-san mentioned you on Twitter in 2014. He said you were a composer to watch out for, and mentioned at the end that you were in fact a really good singer.

Evan: I do sing (laughs). During the application process for college there was a performance test. I wasn’t confident with an instrument so I chose to sing for my test. Lately I like singing rock but I also sing opera.

– You mentioned that you liked metal until you were 18, so what artists did you like?

Evan: I liked European power metal like Blind Guardian and Rhapsody of Fire. Those bands are symphonic power metal. I also liked northern European black metal. Guys who would use death vocals. I actually sing using death vocals for the Schwarzesmarken music (laughs).

– Your music often has a memorable symphonic metal sound to it, so that makes a lot of sense. I thought I heard a track that sounded like that in the Schwarzesmarken PC game, so were you involved with the game as well?

Evan: Yes, I was in charge of both. The anime and game BGMs are linked, so while there are some tracks that are only for the game, there are also some that will be in both.

– I assume you did the vocals for the song track?

Evan: Yes. In the middle I have the main theme motif, and I put the death vocals on top of that.

– You did the death vocals too?

Evan: That’s me (laughs). I hurt my throat then, and for a while I could barely speak (laughs).

– You’ve done the arrangements for songs like Nana Mizuki-san’s “Avalon no Oukan” and Minori Chihara-san’s “Arigatou, Daisuki”, and you’ve composed many other songs, so how do you go about that?

Evan: Generally I follow the orders of the producer, but as much as possible I always try to bring something even more than what they asked for. While I’m bringing my own originality into it, it’s not good to stray too far away from what the producer wanted, so it’s best if I can get something within that range. For example, on Mizuki-san’s “Avalon no Oukan”, we all submitted our own demos. They decided on Junpei Fujita-san’s catchy pop melody, but they also asked for the arrangement to be like my demo. I put in a bunch of orchestral tones.

– How did you get involved with Schwarzesmarken?

Evan: First, the offer came to our company. I was very interested in robot anime, and I thought my melody would be a great fit for it, so I wanted to do it no matter what. I submitted a demo and my profile, with a picture of me riding a horse attached.

– . . . A horse?

Evan: Well . . . (laughs), I didn’t have a lot of pictures of myself, and I thought I might as well send them one that stood out (laughs). It sounds like they really liked it (laughs).

– So they decided it based on your demo and the picture of you on a horse. Is the reason you “wanted to do it no matter what” because it was a robot show?

Evan: Yes. I knew it was a robot show, and when I heard the story I knew it would interesting. I felt I wanted to go all-out on this. I’m very happy to have been asked to do this.

– There have been a number of Muv-Luv franchises, so how did you approach the BGM for Schwarzesmarken?

Evan: Before I started production, I listened to all the previous Muv-Luv series soundtracks. But, I was told that even though this is the kind of BGM they had up to this point, I didn’t have to worry too much about matching them.

– How did you envision the music for Schwarzesmarken?

Evan: Schwarzesmarken is a dark story, just like the other Muv-Luv series. At the very first meeting, I was told to create something very serious. Actually, one of the composers for the previous soundtrack was Taku Iwasaki-san. The truth is, he is someone who influenced me very much. I felt very honored to inherit a project that he worked on. I was very moved when I heard Iwasaki-san’s music for “Rurouni Kenshin”. He is someone who inspired me to become a composer.

– When you become the composer for this series, what kind of meetings did you have with director Watanabe and sound director Satoshi Motoyama?

Evan: Their initial order of music had a ridiculous number of battle tracks (laughs).

– How many were there?

Evan: There were about 60 tracks total. About 15 were battle tracks. The main theme is pretty much a battle track in atmosphere, so there were a lot.

– What kind of image did you have in mind when making them?

Evan: Above all else, I wanted a sense of despair. The main theme is about 3 minutes long, and at the first meeting they told me they wanted each section to have a lot of different twists to it. What they wanted was for the first section to quickly lay out the main theme motif, the middle section to paint a drop of hope in a sea of despair, and the last section to blast out the main theme. I made sure to follow those instructions when creating it.

– I see. By the way, those 60 tracks are for the anime and game combined, right?

Evan: Yes. That would be too much for a 1-cour anime.

– Did sound director Motoyama put together the music order? Did director Watanabe say anything about it?

Evan: I spoke mostly with sound director Motoyama. Also, the game was going to come out first so in the beginning I had a lot of meetings with the game director Hayato Tashiro.

– Did you struggle with any tracks?

Evan: I did with the main theme. It’s a long track, and I was very particular about the orchestration. I also worked hard on the song track, since I did the singing as well. They were all a lot of fun.

– Did they ask you to include the death vocals?

Evan: They didn’t say anything about that. I included it on my own. It was just for my own self-satisfaction (laughs).

– Did you ever hear any reactions from anyone?

Evan: Hayato Tashiro-san told me it was very interesting. I felt like with almost 60 tracks, it would be OK to have one just for my own self-satisfaction (laughs). Of course, I would still have to make it fit in with the story.

– It’s a good match when the music you like to write also fits perfectly with the story.

Evan: Yeah, I really like Schwarzesmarken as well, so making the music was a lot of fun.

– What tracks in Schwarzesmarken do you really want people to listen to?

Evan: I want people to hear the song track I wrote! I haven’t heard whether or not they were going to use it in the anime, but I hope they do.

– What kind of story do you think Schwarzesmarken is?

Evan: It’s a story of people try to grasp hope while surrounded by despair. I almost cried when I read the story. I think it’s an amazing story.

– How did you feel after you finished writing all the music?

Evan: Sometimes I listen to it while I’m on the move. I’ll think to myself, “Hey, this is pretty good!” (laughs) There were times when it was painful, but it’s a show I like very much, and I had a lot of fun.

– What kind of music do you hope to make in the future?

Evan: I like this kind of story, so it would be nice to go in this direction. Of course I like the more slice-of-life stories too, and I want to work on more cheerful shows too, but I think right now the music for a world like Schwarzesmarken fits me best.

– Thank you. Finally please leave us a message.

Evan: I did my very best working on the Schwarzesmarken music. I would be happy if you enjoy the music alongside the story. I hope you enjoy the link between music and story!

– Thank you!


Schwarzesmarken 04-07

February 28, 2016

We’re through the middle stretch of episodes, which largely center around Lise and the question of where her loyalties lie. In the novels Lise’s return was a complete surprise, in my opinion one of the largest in the series. For both the game and the anime, Lise appears quite prominently in promotional materials, including listing her as a member of the Schwarzesmarken squadron on their web sites. The anime includes her in the OP and ED as well. I’m not sure I like that, but I guess it’s simply far too late to try to keep her a secret now that all the novels are out.

Episodes 4 and 5 tell the story of the 3rd novel, centering around Operation Neptune. I think anyone who’s read my Total Eclipse stuff knows I love exploring the international relationships of the Alternative world, so obviously I love getting to see the West German and American armies here. Schwarzesmarken mostly concerns itself with the internal strife within East Germany, so this is pretty much the only time when we get to see the shape of the larger world in this much detail. The scene at the end of episode 4, where we see exactly what the West thinks of East Germany, is a powerful scene, but one that has to tread a careful line – while it’s a common trope for a newly introduced team to look down on our good guys, in this particular case I think objectively most viewers would side with the West. Certainly this is not a show looking to glorify East Germany or prove its superiority over the West.

The story ends, then, not with an explicit rebuke of the West but with an alliance. It’s a powerful display of Katia’s ideals – by convincing the West German army to come to their aid, she hopes to build a bridge between the two Germanys. And it’s also a significant step forward for Irisdina’s plan – by coming together for a common goal, she hopes to prove themselves to the West and form friendships so that they might be more willing to come to the aid of the East Germans when things go south. The story ends with the Americans explicitly calling the Schwarzesmarken squadron their buddies, and with the West Germans offering a salute to them. This essentially serves as the halfway point of the story, and it’s a hopeful note to end on.

Episode 6 covers the 4th novel, which is a very talky novel with pretty much no action scenes at all. It’s basically concerned with moving the various pieces into place in preparation for the second half of the story. It’s here that we first learn of the split between the two factions of the Stasi. Beatrix’s Moscow faction, using the information they pulled from Marei’s interrogation, have begun a purge of top NVA officials, in preparation of an all-out coup. I always found this an especially tragic end for Marei, who Hannibal entrusted with his greatest secrets, only for her to leak them to the Stasi. Meanwhile, Axemann’s Berlin faction, feeling threatened by the Moscow faction, has begun trying to recruit the Schwarzesmarken squadron to their side. At the same time, Irisdina has begun trying to strengthen her hand as well, by trying to hook up with sympathizers in the capital. As I said, it mostly leads to a lot of talking, and setting up the conflicts that will come down the road. I’m not at all surprised they devoted only one episode for this novel; I would definitely have done the same.

As with all the novels, there are number of small scene cuts that don’t affect the story much. There is, however, one major cut to the novel: after Axemann publically accuses Lise of being a Stasi spy, Lise collapses and is taken to the infirmary. That night, she receives a call from Axemann himself, confirming that she is in fact a Stasi spy, and that contrary to what Axemann had said earlier, he is well aware of this. So why did he expose her to the rest of the squadron? As Pham notes, this allows Lise to deflect suspicion by confronting it head-on. The rest of the squadron already suspects her, so Axemann’s statement changed nothing except to allow Lise to address their suspicions directly, whereas before Irisdina and the others plotted against her in secret, and she was powerless to respond. By accusing them of suspecting her, Lise can force them to deny it and play on their sympathies.

It’s an interesting scene to cut, since it’s such an important scene in the novels and game (the first game actually ends right on this scene, a pretty brutal revelation to leave players hanging on). I think the anime staff was interested in exploring how the storyline plays without the reveal that Lise does in fact work for the Stasi. Certainly the scene where Sylvia and the rest of the squadron confront Lise on the rooftop plays out very differently. Despite the increasing suspicion laid on her, viewers still feel that there is a very real possibility that Lise is innocent, and that affects how the scene comes across immensely. Other scenes, like the infamous seduction scene, also come across very differently without that solid proof. And it really builds up the end of episode 7 – now, instead of learning of Lise’s true affiliation through a telephone call, we learn it when Lise holds a gun to Irisdina’s head. It’s definitely a much more shocking way to learn the truth. What I find especially interesting is how this one cut changes the feel of so many scenes afterwards, without actually changing the story. In a sense, the anime lets us see the same scenes from the novels from Theodor’s point of view – he continues to believe in Lise long after the novels have revealed that she can’t be trusted, and the anime lets us see things from that perspective. I’ve written before about how I’m interested in seeing different tellings of the same story, and this is a great example of it.

Episode 7 covers the 5th novel, and this time there are a number of bigger cuts to the story. Some of them follow logically from the cut from the previous episode. In the scene where Lise asks Theodor to flee with her to West Germany, in the novel she basically admits to Theodor that she had indeed worked with the Stasi, but that she only did it to reunite with him, and that her time with the Stasi has given her the opportunity to memorize the border patrol movements so they should be able to make it across the border. After Theodor makes it clear to Lise that he is going to stay and assist Irisdina with her revolution, Lise eventually offers to work with them and give them her knowledge of the Stasi in order to help their plans. That in turn leads to the ending we see in the episode, where Lise betrays them when the Stasi attack. That’s quite a chunk of story to cut away, but as mentioned before, this entire plotline was cut so that the reveal that Lise is working with the Stasi would come at this point instead of earlier. I’m a little more conflicted about these cuts than the ones in the previous episode, but ultimately, as I said, I understand that they wanted to present a different point of view to Lise’s story, so any reference to Lise working with the Stasi needed to be cut.

There was one scene that I was sad to see cut. Like most of the cuts the anime has made, this was not particularly important to the story; I just liked it a lot personally, so I feel like flagging it. In the anime, we see Gretel disguise herself by pulling her hair into a ponytail and taking off her glasses. In the novels, she actually is confronted by the Stasi, but convinces them she is not a soldier by pretending to piss herself (in reality, she had soaked a handkerchief with water). Afterwards, she reveals that she based her disguise – the ponytail, and just her general demeanor – on Katia, who, presumably, was the person who looked the least like a real soldier out of everyone she knew. She also admits that she drew on the idea of pissing herself from Katia as well. I liked this scene a lot because it really was the first time I thought Gretel was an awesome character. The novels come with an illustration for this scene which really does make Gretel look just like Katia. I was also amused by the idea that even Gretel had so internalized the idea of Katia pissing herself that one just naturally leads to the other.

Oh, I suppose I should probably say something about Katia pissing herself. Irisdina mentions it at the start of episode 2, but in the novels, Theodor comes back to this idea again and again. In fact, at times it seems like he’s not even capable of having a conversation with her without teasing her about this. The worst part comes at the end of episode 5 – as the Americans and West Germans are bringing the Schwarzesmarken squadron back to base, Theodor teases Katia about this over an open mic, meaning pratically everybody involved in Operation Neptune now knows about poor Katia pissing herself. It’s such an integral part of her character that it feels a little odd to watch the anime and not see it mentioned constantly, but the anime seems to want to set a more serious tone than the novels. I kind of miss it, but I also can’t complain too much if the anime wants to strike out the more comedic elements of the novel. There are many other such cuts that I approve quite highly of – for example, I find Annet to be a really annoying character in the novels (she’s essentially Schwarzesmarken’s version of Yifei – a girl with a very stereotypical high-school crush on Theodor that is completely at odds with the rest of the story).

I assume they cut down the 5th novel into one episode as well because they wanted more space for the final two novels, and if that’s the case, I can’t say I blame them. What’s coming up next is without question the best part of the story, and the anime staff apparently want the time to do it justice. The final act of the series is very, very different from what we’ve seen so far . . .