Welcome to Type-94

October 21, 2019

Welcome!  I’ve been a fan of Muv-Luv since 2003, and I’ve been running this blog since 2012.  I started this blog to bring attention to the newly-announced Total Eclipse anime.  At the time, it was difficult for English-speaking fans to find information about Muv-Luv, so I hoped to fill that void at least a little.  I started out by translating interviews from the Total Eclipse cast and staff, and eventually I began providing my own commentary as well.

Below I’ve highlighted the posts I’ve devoted the most time into writing.  I hope you find them interesting.

Muv-Luv Trilogy:
The Road to Muv-Luv
The Road to Muv-Luv Alternative
The Path to Adulthood

Total Eclipse:
Total Eclipse 01-02
Total Eclipse 03-05
Total Eclipse 06-07
Total Eclipse 08-10
Total Eclipse 11-14
Total Eclipse 15-19
Total Eclipse 20-24

Man vs. Budget
Morality and Belief
Reverse Adaptation
Grow Up!

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse Game Review/Analysis

Schwarzesmarken 01-03
Schwarzesmarken 04-07
Schwarzesmarken 08-12

Let’s Do A Big Anime Rewatch!

July 30, 2021

The Muv-Luv Alternative anime is going to be airing starting in October, so it’s probably time to do a little something with the old blog. So let’s kick things off with a big anime rewatch!

I was already planning to go through all of the old Age/Muv-Luv anime to celebrate the new Alternative anime, just on my own time. But it occurred to me (as it has on numerous occasions over the past year, I assure you) that I’ve been letting this place go to waste, so I thought I’d try to get back into the swing of things by writing down some of my thoughts on the old shows as I go through them.

Here’s the tentative schedule I’m planning:

  • Week of August 2: Kimi ga Nozomu Eien 1-7
  • Week of August 9: Kimi ga Nozomu Eien 8-14
  • Week of August 16: Kimi ga Nozomu Eien OVAs (Akane Maniax, Ayu-Mayu Theater, Next Season)
  • Week of August 23: Total Eclipse 1-6
  • Week of August 30: Total Eclipse 7-12
  • Week of September 6: Total Eclipse 13-18
  • Week of September 13: Total Eclipse 19-24
  • Week of September 20: Schwarzesmarken 1-6
  • Week of September 27: Schwarzesmarken 7-12
  • And then in October… Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation!

This is, by the way, my planned schedule for actually watching these shows. The blog posts may come a little later than that, depending on how long they take to write. I don’t really plan on writing a lot (although I’ve certainly been wrong about that before) – just writing down whatever comes to mind, to warm up the old blogging muscles and prepare for what comes next.

My plan after that, once we enter October, is to write about the Alternative anime as it airs. On what schedule, I don’t know – that will probably depend a lot on how the anime is actually structured. I broke Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken up by story arcs, and that’s probably how I’ll do Alternative, but I might post more episode-by-episode commentary if the anime winds up doing a lot of interesting things regarding the adaptation.

I still have topics I want to write about regarding Alternative, but out of consideration for anybody coming in through the anime, I’ll hold off on those posts until after the anime finishes airing. If I get into a good blogging groove during the anime, I might post some more miscellaneous stuff (such as for Photonmelodies and The Day After). And then after the anime finishes, we’ll get back to more in-depth stuff about Alternative.

(And then some time after that, I’ll get tired about writing about Muv-Luv again, and we’ll take another long break until something else comes up… you guys know the drill by now.)

Muv-Luv Alternative Anime to Air on +Ultra Oct 2021

November 5, 2020

Today comes the surprise announcement that the Muv-Luv Alternative anime, which we’ve gotten news of in bits and pieces, will be airing on Fuji TV’s +Ultra anime block in Japan, starting October 2021. This is a major announcement that totally changes what we can expect from the anime in many ways.

The +Ultra block was formed in 2018 as a kind of spin-off of Fuji TV’s renowned Noitamina block, with +Ultra airing Wednesday night to complement Noitamina’s Thursday night schedule. +Ultra has had some successes, and although it hasn’t been around long enough to earn the same kind of reputation that Noitamina has, it’s still a pretty big deal for Muv-Luv to be airing there. I definitely feel that there’s a level of prestige here – it doesn’t necessarily mean the anime will be good, or that it will have tons of money lavished upon it, but it’s clearly not something that’s just being shoved out the door.

For English-language fans in particular, the most important thing to note about the +Ultra block is that it seems to be partnered with Netflix. Netflix, for their anime acquisitions, generally holds their shows back until the entire series is completed, including a full English dub, at which point it drops the entire series at once. Most likely, then, for people wanting to watch the official stream, they’ll probably have to wait until early 2022 to see it. Netflix shows tend to lose the week-to-week discussions that often take place as an anime is airing, and that’s a shame.

For all that, though, there are benefits as well. +Ultra shows have been branded as Netflix Originals when they hit the platform, giving them higher visibility for a large number of people. Netflix pushes their original shows, including their anime, pretty aggressively, and the idea that one day I might log onto Netflix and see a Muv-Luv banner at the very top is amazing to me. For people who care about English dubs, Netflix signed an deal last year agreeing to produce unionized dubs for their original shows, so we’re much more likely to get a high-quality dub (the Total Eclipse dub, for all that many of the main characters were well-acted, was really dragged down by the fact that it was made on the cheap and cut a lot of corners).

When the +Ultra block first launched, there were interviews suggesting that one of the main differences between +Ultra and Noitamina was that they intended for Noitamina to target the Japanese audience first and foremost, while +Ultra hoped to showcase programs with an international reach. That would fit in with the apparent partnership with Netflix as well. This seems like an easy fit for the Muv-Luv series, which I continue to believe Avex acquired in the hopes of transforming it into a global franchise. I would never have guessed in a million years that the anime would air on this block, but after having taken a few hours to reflect on it, it actually makes a lot more sense than I would have thought.

Writing that last paragraph just now, a new thought occurred to me – I wonder if the apparent decision to skip over Extra and Unlimited is itself part of a larger strategy to expand the franchise’s reach internationally. I think most fans of Muv-Luv understand on some level that the original trilogy, for all its brilliance, is 100% targeted at an existing otaku fanbase, one that is familiar with the tropes being played with in Extra and is willing, if not eager, to indulge in them. If you’re not a fan of those tropes, or at least if you’re not willing to tolerate them, you won’t form the emotional bond with the Extra world that is critical to experiencing Alternative. This barrier makes it difficult or impossible to recommend Muv-Luv as a “gateway drug”, one that introduces someone not steeped in the otaku fandom to the possibilities of the medium.

I’ve long maintained that Alternative loses its impact without Extra and Unlimited. I felt the same way about an animated adaptation of Alternative – but that was when I was still thinking of this anime like any other anime in any given season, trying to compete for the attentions of the hardcore otaku. But what if they’re thinking something different? What if, in accordance with +Ultra and Avex’s goals of reaching an international audience, they actually intend for the Alternative anime to be more accessible to a more casual fan? Then maybe it might make sense to retool the anime a little, de-emphasize the aspects that might be more off-putting, and create that “gateway drug” that might get a larger audience into anime, into visual novels, and of course, into the complete Muv-Luv trilogy (now conveniently available on Steam!).

Such a concept would have been inconceivable to me before today, because anime has largely stopped trying to appeal to more casual fans. I’ve long felt that anime needs to change course and go back to putting out shows that the “anime-curious” fan could pick up in order to survive, and I’ve long felt that platforms like Netflix are going to be necessary to do that. So you should know up front that that is absolutely coloring my vision on this and causing me to see patterns that aren’t necessarily there. But I keep going back to that vision of the Muv-Luv Alternative Netflix Original banner. Sometime in 2022, somebody is going to be browsing Netflix when he comes across an image of a Takemikazuchi staring back at him, and he’ll click on it just because it looks cool, knowing nothing about Muv-Luv (and possibly very little about anime). What’s that guy going to see when he begins watching? Is he going to be the target audience for what he’s about to start?

Just a few more notes about anime details: there are none. We still don’t have an announcement on the staff or studio behind it, nor have we gotten any sense of an episode count. +Ultra announced their entire 2021 lineup, but with Muv-Luv Alternative airing at the very end of 2021 in the fall, we don’t know if it will only run for 1 cour (12 episodes) or spill over into winter 2022 for 2 cours (24 episodes). +Ultra has aired shows with 24 episodes before, and it’s also granted one show a second season to be aired later. We’ll have to keep watching for more announcements later.

I know I haven’t been writing much about the upcoming anime, because quite honestly, I didn’t know what to think about it. I still don’t, really, despite now having written over a thousand words about what I’m thinking. But I think the potential is there for something really interesting to happen.

Photonmelodies Released!

August 2, 2020

The second of the Muv-Luv side-story collections, Muv-Luv Photonmelodies, is now available on Steam! Muv-Luv has put out bunch of side-stories spread across many different releases over the years, and eventually Age collected them into a pair of games to be released on the PS3, and now they’ve been ported to Steam.  While the first game, Photonflowers, collects a large number of shorter stories, this game collects only 3, much longer stories. So let’s do a quick introduction to them:

Altered Fable – A Shimmering Shard of Spacetime:

The one I’m sure everybody’s been waiting for – this story is set in the world that Takeru winds up in at the end of Alternative, a world similar to, but slightly different from, the original Extra world. The story picks up right where we left off in the final scene of Alternative, and from there, proceeds to go through the events of Extra again, only this time with the insanity turned up even more (and that’s quite a feat, considering Extra was already conceived as a typical visual novel with the insanity turned all the way up). The end of Alternative showed that Yuuhi and Kasumi had joined Takeru’s class, and this story winds up bringing in most of the new characters from Alternative, and a few new characters as well.

Despite the end of Alternative clearly leaving a hook for a fandisc to pick up, the Age staff insisted that they hadn’t been thinking of making a fandisc at the time they released Alternative. I find that a little hard to believe, but even if it’s true, the immense pressure from fans after Alternative’s release obviously convinced them to go forward with it, and Altered Fable was released a year after Alternative.

Technically, “Altered Fable” is the name of the entire fandisc. In addition to this story, called “A Shimmering Shard of Spacetime”, Altered Fable also included a sneak peak at Total Eclipse, an tactical RPG, and various goodies like a special recording of their radio show. In practice, though, most people tend to call this story “Altered Fable”, and use the two names interchangeably, so don’t sweat it if you see people switching back and forth on the name. I tend to call it “Altered Fable” because it’s so much simpler to say.

As I mentioned, the game was released only a year after Alternative, and was created by many of the same people who worked on the original trilogy. The main writer is Age’s main writer/director Hayato Tashiro, with several subwriters, and art is provided by Bou, just like the original series.

Some people might not realize how long ago Alternative came out, but Altered Fable definitely dates itself in one way: it features an extensive recurring parody of 24. Yes, that 24, and yes, that was a long time ago. Age used to do this kind of parody a LOT (and you’ll see another instance of it in Resurrection as well). Interestingly, the 24 parody characters are actually voiced by the same actors who dubbed those characters in Japan. For some reason, Age seemed to be able to round up some pretty major names back in the day, who they would then deploy in ridiculous parodies that, as Age was quite fond of boasting, were a complete waste of their talents.

Altered Fable is easily the same size as the original Extra (maybe larger), which means it is larger than the entire Photonflowers just by itself – you’re getting a pretty good deal on this game.

Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles – Adoration:

The remaining two stories are Chronicles stories that were made much later than Altered Fable, and it shows in the artstyle. Adoration was released as one of the stories in the Chronicles 02 game. It’s written by original creator Kouki Yoshimune, with art by Sou Miyata, the main Age artist at that time. Yoshimune has said that he consulted heavily with the younger staff at Age, to incorporate a more modern anime sensibility into the story, and I think it really shows.

Adoration is the first (and to date only) game to feature the characters of Duty -Lost Arcadia- (although at the time the franchise wasn’t called Duty, it was a subseries of TSFiA called The Euro Front). Age had plans for Duty to be the next Muv-Luv franchise after Schwarzesmarken, but things fell through and we haven’t really gotten anything since. Adoration is actually the longest and most detailed look we’ve gotten at the Duty characters. It’s the first time we’ve gotten to hear the Duty characters voiced (and I remain convinced a major reason Adoration even exists is to establish the voice actors for these characters in anticipation of a possible future anime or game featuring them).

Adoration actually isn’t told from the perspective of any of the Duty characters, though – it’s told from the perspective of an original character, a Royal Guard cadet from Japan sent to England as the final stage of his training. Adoration then chronicles his adventures interacting with the cast of Duty. It’s a highly comedic story, much closer to Unlimited’s light-hearted touch than the darkness of Alternative. Everybody is buying Photonmelodies for Altered Fable, but I think this is going to be a dark horse favorite for many people.

Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles – Resurrection:

Resurection was released as one of the stories in the Chronicles 03 game. It follows up on the positive reception to Adoration, and seeks to continue along the same lines. It is again written by Kouki Yoshimune alongside the younger writers at Age, with art again by Sou Miyata.

The idea behind Resurrection is simple – since Adoration was a hit with fans, let’s do the same thing again, only reversed. So where Adoration featured a Japanese protagonist traveling to Europe and getting into hijinks, Resurrection now features a European protagonist traveling to Japan and getting into hijinks. For its Japanese cast, Resurrection returns to Yokohama Base and the Isumi Valkyries, who we hadn’t seen for quite a while at the time this game came out. Resurrection provides the most detailed look at Miyata’s redesigns of the Alternative cast, which we got to see briefly in Confessions.

Both Adoration and Resurrection are considerably longer than the Chronicles stories we saw in Photonflowers, so there’s plenty of value in these two stories as well.

There’s more to talk about, but I’ll hold off on the more spoilery stuff until everybody’s gotten a chance to play Photonmelodies. So pick up Photonmelodies from Steam today and enjoy, and check back here in a month or two for more posts, including the story of the time Yoshimune tried to avoid spoiling his own game and failed…

Muv-Luv Expo: The Summer of (Muv) Luv

July 2, 2020

The Muv-Luv team just finished up its Anime Expo replacement stream, Muv-Luv Expo, and it was a real banger, so let’s go over what was announced.

The stream started off with its main announcements panel (which was awful nice of them, oftentimes companies hold off on their big announcements until the end of their event).  Here’s what they talked about:

Project Mikhail: The professional smartphone game.  They had shown off some gameplay videos at Age’s earlier C98 stream, but I wound up not blogging about it because it was largely in line with what we knew about it already.  This one is more of a 3D action game, and allows you to customize your own TSF, using parts from many different TSFs.  Battle is much more hands-on, as you can select your weapon payload and fighting style.

In this stream, though, they announced for the first time that the game is an MMO in which all of the players participate in a single shared world.  Furthermore, they stated that they would be taking advantage of Muv-Luv’s built-in setting of multiple timelines to suggest that the timeline of this game is separate from the “main” Alternative timeline, and that the collective actions of all the players can shape the path this timeline will take.  That’s a really intriguing idea, and it actually makes me a little interested in the possibilities of this game for the first time (I hadn’t really bought too much into either smartphone game before this).

Project Immortal: The fanmade smartphone game.  While Mikhail recruited developers with a lot of previous game development experience, Immortal is basically just one guy who was passionate enough to get approval from Anchor.  This one seems to have less real-time elements, with a turn-based strategy part, and an action part that seems much less complicated than Mikhail’s.  In this one, you don’t seem to be customizing your own TSF; rather you customize your units by combining different pilots, TSFs, and weapons.  I believe that in Mikhail you’re generally controlling a single character (representing yourself) with a custom TSF, while in Immortal you’re controlling an entire team of preexisting characters that you pull with a gacha system.

Both games are slated to release in 2021, and both games seem to be targeting both smartphones and PCs.

Muv-Luv Photonmelodies: Apparently this game was approved for Steam mere minutes before the stream started, so now they’re able to confirm that it will come out by the end of July.  I’ll put up a more detailed post about what’s in it once it’s released.  Suffice to say most players will be interested in the Altered Fable section, focusing on the world of Final Extra that appears at the end of Alternative.  There are two other Chronicles stories included, but let’s face it, nobody’s basing their decision to buy this game on those stories.

Muv-Luv Alternative Manga: Wow.  Talk about coming out of left field.  The manga for Alternative, drawn by artist Azusa Maxima, will be coming out digitally starting this month.  This is a great adaptation of Alternative that spans 17 (!) volumes, and took 10 (!) years to come out.  (It only just wrapped up 3 years ago!  That was around the time Alternative itself came out on Steam!)  That kind of time allows Maxima to insert a number of original events not covered in the original game, mostly fleshing out some of the side characters.

It’s a shame this is only covering the Alternative manga, as anybody trying to read the manga on its own won’t have the proper context for the story.  On the other hand, the Extra and Unlimited manga aren’t really anything to write home about, so maybe it’s for the best.  The Alternative manga is definitely the one that’s worth your time, regardless of how many times you’ve already played through the game.

I don’t know who’s publishing it (is Anchor doing it directly?), but I sure hope that whoever’s in charge of translating it is consulting the game’s translation.  I’ve seen multimedia projects being translated into English that do appear to refer to an existing translation to keep things consistent, and I hope that’s happening here.  It would be very difficult for the manga translation to live up to the game’s high standard otherwise, and that would be a shame.

Incidentally, while artist Azusa Maxima has a great artstyle that beautifully captures the spirit of Alternative, he also draws some very adorable SD art, to the point where he began providing the SD art for Age’s actual games.  In fact, you can see his SD art in both of the Chronicles stories included in Photonmelodies, also out this month.  Synergy!

The Anime: They showed off some design art for the Takemikazuchi that appeared in the anime trailer.  I remain unconvinced by the way they keep dodging the question of what exactly this is going to entail.  This is still very much in the early stages, so I continue to withhold judgement until we actually get some details.

The Artbook: Perhaps feeling bad for how Anime Expo’s cancellation means no convention goodies for fans, Anchor has made a digital version of their Comiket artbook Age Graphicers available for purchase.  This is a neat book collecting a lot of artwork, but be aware that it’s pretty thin, and quite a number of pages are devoted to games that will almost certainly never be released in English.  But be honest: if you had gone to Anime Expo, the amount they’re asking for this book is barely a rounding error, so go ahead and treat yourself if you’ve got the money.

Muv-Luv Unlimited: The Day After: They had already announced on their C98 stream that they were bringing this to Steam, so this announcement was no surprise.  On the C98 stream, they weren’t yet ready to commit to announcing this in English, but realistically, there’s no good reason to be putting this on Steam unless they planned on reaching a global audience.

I was pleasantly surprised by the much stronger confirmation that they’ll finally be releasing the final chapter, 04.  Maybe it’s just that it’s been so long since they’ve released a new game, but I was quite moved to see them talking about it with such confidence – they usually react to questions about finishing TDA by dodging the question with vague promises about the future.  They released some concept art of the final chapter, but we’ll skip talking about them here since some of them were pretty spoilery about previous chapters.

So what is The Day After?  Well, you may recall Unlimited ending with a handful of people being evacuated off Earth, the plan being to then drop G-Bombs on all the remaining Hives on the planet.  The Day After explores the aftermath of that operation, and it isn’t pretty.

Although the core cast is new, the supporting cast is largely made up of supporting characters from across all the different Muv-Luv franchises.  This is not a standalone franchise like Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken – finishing the original trilogy is an absolute requirement, and the game rewards familiarity with the shared universe.  For instance: while you can go into The Day After having only played the original trilogy, the upcoming Photonmelodies will introduce (or at least mention) THREE new characters who go on to appear in The Day After at some point.  More synergy!

Speaking of, another fairly prominent supporting character in The Day After makes her first appearance in the Alternative manga, in one of those original episodes I mentioned earlier.  In fact, depending on the release schedule of both the manga and The Day After, it’s possible she may appear in both at around the same time.  Even more synergy!

Mini-Concert: With the announcements complete, the stream moved on to a special pre-recorded mini-concert with Aki Misato and Minami Kuribayashi.  Aki Misato sang “Kizu wa Kaseki ni Naranai Keredo” (the ending theme to Chizuru’s route in Extra), “calling” (the ending theme to Alternative Chronicles), and “Saigo no Eden” (the opening theme to the upcoming The Day After).  Minami Kuribayashi then sang “Muv-Luv” (obviously, the opening theme to Muv-Luv and the ending theme to Alternative), “Doubt the World” (the second opening theme for the Total Eclipse anime), and “Divergence” (the opening theme for the old all-ages edition of Muv-Luv).  “Divergence” is a pretty strange choice, since it doesn’t play on the English version of the game.  But it’s a song I haven’t heard in a while, so it was nice to hear it here.

Chat with the Creators: This was an interesting segment where fans submitted questions for the creators directly through Twitter and Youtube chat.  Western fans may not realize it, but in Japan, creators don’t usually take such blunt questions, especially about projects that are still in development.  I thought the Japanese staff took it with admirably good humor, and responded seriously to each question.

Comedic highlights include Yoshimune taking it to Gundam Seed Destiny by saying nobody wants to see the old heroes overshadow the new, current heroes in The Day After.  He also responded to a question about the strongest TSF by saying that across all the Muv-Luv properties, it would be the Hinokagutsuchi, which is an extremely powerful gag robot from a gag game.

They also talked a little about the Yui/Anime route for Total Eclipse, which remains something I am very interested in reading one day.  Any time they bring the Yui route back into the conversation is time well spent as far as I’m concerned.  I know we’re not getting it any time soon, I just want them to know we haven’t forgotten about it.

Finally, I wanted to close out this recap by mentioning a couple of more serious notes that Yoshimune touched on.  In one, he mentioned how he always tries to write the international politics of Muv-Luv without ever allowing one side to become simply evil – all sides are in a desperate struggle for survival, and all sides are on some level justified in believing what they do is for the greater good.  In another, he mentioned how he always tries to keep in mind that every character, no matter how small the role, has their own life and their own story.  These are the very aspects of Muv-Luv that most appeal to me.  I’ve written about them before, but I don’t think Western fans have ever had the opportunity to hear Yoshimune himself talk about them so directly.  Muv-Luv is a massive work and everybody likes a different aspect of it, but I hope that there are some fans out there who heard what Yoshimune had to say today, and perhaps started thinking that maybe those are things that are important to them as well.  It would make me very happy to know that there are fans who see Muv-Luv the way I do.

Age 20th Anniversary Broadcast “still breathing”

October 22, 2019

What an event! A lot just happened, so let’s talk about what was announced and what it means for the future of Muv-Luv.

The event was streamed on both Muv-Luv’s Japanese and English official YouTube channels. The English stream was accompanied by a real-time translator. You can still watch the archived stream here.

The event took place at the Avex building in Tokyo. The event actually began around 11AM JST, with special themed food and a garage sale of much of Age’s excess merchandise that they’ve accumulated over the years. The stream itself began at 4PM JST, and generally played Age music for 2 hours until the talk event was scheduled to start at 6PM.

Shortly before the talk event was scheduled to start, though, they allocated a little time for a special opening act. After originally announcing his intention to hold an event, Yoshimune was contacted by a an indie game developer named Kitakuou, who wanted to make his own TSF game.  Yoshimune gave him a few minutes before the actual talk event to present his game concept to the audience.  He showed off a little gameplay, which I thought looked pretty cool – it reminded me of the Baldr series.  I think for this event he’s simply looking to raise awareness and get a buy-in from the official rights holders, and he’ll look to raise money to make this game in the future.

The talk event itself began afterwards.  Let’s talk about the people who were involved:

Kouki Yoshimune, I assume, needs no introduction – he’s the CEO Age, and he is basically the creator of Muv-Luv.

Tororo is the former CEO of Circus, another visual novel developer that was very close with Age in the Chiyoren days.

Nobukazu Sakai is the CEO of Minori, another visual novel developer.  They also did some events with Chiyoren back in the day, but they didn’t seem to be as close to them as Circus was.

Bamboo is the CEO of Overdrive, yet another visual novel developer.  He seems to have gotten close to Yoshimune a little later than the other two, probably sometime after Alternative was released.  As far as his relationship with Age, he’s probably most famous for helping produce a series of BETA hoodies, some of which were still available during the Muv-Luv Kickstarter.  He’s also the one who invited Age to Anime Expo back in 2010.

Mafia Kajita is not a CEO of anything; he is a writer, often writing articles for 4Gamer.net.  He seems to have gotten close to Yoshimune while writing up some articles about Age and Muv-Luv.  They’re close enough that Yoshimune has invited him to similar Age talk events in the past.  He’s listed as the “representative of the fans”, probably because he doesn’t really have any connection to the franchise beyond being a bag fan himself.

The MC of the event was Takao Yagi, who first met Yoshimune when he served as the director of Radio Total Eclipse.  They got along well enough that Yoshimune invited him to be a fellow host on Age’s own in-house radio program, which he worked on for almost 2 years.  Since then, he’s been invited back to be the MC for several Age talk events.

Anyway, as is probably clear at this point, the guests for this event basically consist of people that Yoshimune is good friends with, rather than people who may actually be involved in Muv-Luv.

After some introductory remarks, they moved on to looking back at Age’s 20-year history.  This was accompanied by a (very) detailed timeline of Age’s works, apparently put together by Age’s main writer/director Hayato Tashiro (who, as the commentators quip, may have a little too much love for the company’s history).  The timeline includes not just Age’s games, but also their tie-in drama CDs, manga, novels, anime, radio, and live events – yeah, it’s a little crowded and hard to read.  Yoshimune says they’ll probably put it on the website so people can actually read it.  From what I was able to read of it, there’s actually quite a bit of snark in it, so it may be worth it to go through it once it’s up.  They blaze through this part pretty quickly, and nothing of real interest comes up, so let’s skip to the next section, where they talked about:

Current (Old?) Projects: In this section, they mentioned the Android ports of Muv-Luv promised by the Kickstarter, the complete version of The Day After, and the final fan book for their old fan club Ageku no Hate.  They don’t really have a lot of updates for these projects, other than to acknowledge that they need to get done and that they still have every intention of doing so.

My personal impression has always been that Age regards TDA as a very low priority.  I think it’s pretty clear at this point that TDA (and the Chronicles series in general) was just a way for Age to occupy their time while all of the moving parts for the Total Eclipse anime and game lined up.  Once Total Eclipse was completed, they quit putting out the Chronicles series, and ever since then I suspect they’d rather focus their efforts on new projects instead.  This is especially true ever since Avex bought out Ixtl – I’m sure that Avex would rather they spend their time on what comes next instead of working on old projects.  And after seeing some of the stuff they introduced later in the stream, I’m not entirely sure I blame them.

Yoshimune insists that he is determined to get TDA out, and at one point even insists it will come out sometime next year (under the theory that setting a firm date will get things moving), but it still doesn’t sound like anybody is currently actively working on it, so I think I’m going to file that one under “wishful thinking”.

Afterwards, they had a cute section where Yoshimune pointed out a couple that had met each other because of KimiNozo, and they gifted the couple a pair of Mitsuki and Haruka illustrations by the original artist, Baka Ouji Persia / Gai Sugihara.

After that, they moved onto introducing their new projects.  They started with the surprise announcement that Totoro (who, you remember, had been introduced as the “former” CEO of Circus), is now working with Age as the Muv-luv general producer.  (They also announced more humorous titles for Sakai and Bamboo, but I’m pretty sure those were just gags.)  From there, they moved into their first major announcement:

Kimi ga Nozomu Eien Reboot: This project is what was being hinted at by the artwork posted to Age’s website a couple of months ago.  They didn’t announce any major details, except that, according Totoro, he would like it to connect to Muv-Luv.  I have some more thoughts on this below, in light of later announcements.

At this point, they showed off some video messages submitted by some pretty major guests:

Hajime Isayama, the creator of Attack on Titan, was first.  In the afterword to one of the Alternative manga volumes, Isayama proclaimed that he had “plagarized” Alternative, by which he obviously meant he was heavily inspired by it, but which was taken out of context and passed around the anime clickbait sites for a while.  Ever since then, Isayama has been a major promoter of Muv-Luv, giving interviews in support of their projects and even showing up at a couple of talk events.

Kumi Koda, the singer for the first Total Eclipse anime opening, was next.  According to Yoshimune, he had strongly pushed for Masami Okui (who had sang the original Total Eclipse opening) to do the anime opening as well, but the deal between Avex and Okui fell through at the last minute, and Avex offered Koda, one of their biggest names, as an apology.  Koda was on maternity leave at the time, but according to Yoshimune, she was very happy to work on this project.  To be honest, I’m a little surprised to see her here, as she’s much too big to be slumming it at the Age 20th anniversary, and I suspect that, much like with her original involvement, she’s making this appearance because of Avex, not because of Age or Muv-Luv.  Nevertheless, she sounds very positive here about her time working on Total Eclipse.

Granrodeo was up next.  These guys have a long history with Age.  The vocalist, Kishou Taniyama, was the voice of Takayuki in KimiNozo, and the way he tells it, one night while working on the KimiNozo anime, he went out for karaoke with Age publicist Saitou K and Lantis music producer Yoshiyuki Itou.  Apparently he impressed Itou enough that Itou offered him a character CD release for Takayuki, which is pretty unheard of for the male lead of a visual novel.  Taniyama credits this event with starting his music career.  Roughly a year later, Lantis was put in charge of the Japanese music for IGPX, a Cartoon Network co-production.  For some reason (possibly because it was a Cartoon Network project and not a lot was riding on the Japanese release), Itou decided to get creative and assigned KimiNozo-related artists to the project.  Taniyama (the voice of Takayuki) was paired with Masaaki Iizuka (a composer who worked on most of Age’s songs up to that point) for the opening theme, while Minami Kuribayashi (the voice of Haruka) and Chiaki Takahashi (the voice of Mitsuki) were paired for the ending theme.  Kuribayashi and Takahashi’s group Exige never did anything else, but Taniyama and Iizuka’s group Granrodeo went on to become a major anime band.  They would return to Age to do several songs for them as well.

Rounding out the video messages was Hironobu Kageyama, the leader of JAM Project.  He first got involved with Age when he was asked to write the lyrics for “Carry On”, a song to be sung by fellow JAM Project member Masaaki Endoh.  After Alternative was split off into its own game, he was brought back to write the opening theme and perform it as a member of JAM Project, as well as also writing and performing the insert song “Tsubasa”.  According to him, he was provided a massive tome containing the entire Alternative script, which is why the lyrics he wrote so perfectly match the game’s story.  He also tried playing through Muv-Luv itself to try to understand the story even better, but although he provided updates from time to time on his blog, I don’t think he ever got past the lacrosse section.

Afterwards, they brought in a couple of new employees at Anchor, Jun Kumano and Yoshiki Kajitani (who used to work at Square Enix), and they introduced the game they’ve been working on:

Project Mikhail: This is a 3D TSF action game intended for smartphones, although it will also be available on Steam.  They showed off some of the gameplay, which allows you control a TSF in combat, and it looks like the TSFs will also be highly customizable.  They intend for the game not to have any gacha elements; instead they’re looking at having the game run on a subscription model.  The projected release date is 2021, although they mention they will work hard to try to get it out in 2020.  Notably, they intend the game to be available in Japanese, English, and Chinese.

This may be a good time to mention that I strongly believe that a major reason Avex picked up Ixtl is because of the immense success of the Muv-Luv Kickstarter – the Total Eclipse anime didn’t make a ton of money for them, so I really think it’s the $1.2 million dollar Kickstarter that caught their eye.  Ever since Avex acquired them, they’ve been paying special attention to the overseas fans that funded the Kickstarter, including the real-time translation on this broadcast.  So the fact that this game is projected to be released in multiple languages lines up with that as well, and I would expect that to be part of the release plan for any future projects whenever feasible.

The demo for this game had a few of interesting aspects as well.  The first battle featured the Oguna Squadron, and showed 2 character portraits.  I don’t recognize Oguna 3,  but Oguna 8 kind of looks like Yuzuka from The Day After (albeit in a very strange, presumably placeholder artstyle).  The second battle features Ilfriede from Duty -Lost Arcadia- (this time identified by name), and her dialogue references the events of the Chronicles story Adoration.

That brings up a very interesting question, which is where exactly Duty -Lost Arcadia- fits into Age’s new plans.  Yoshimune seems to have confirmed on Twitter that there are no longer any plans to publish any Duty novels, so that story seems to have been left in limbo.  At the same time, Yoshimune has been very clear that they had intended to cover some very important plot points in Duty, including bringing the story of the Master from Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken to a conclusion.  Could they possibly use this game to cover the story of Duty instead?  Much like how they wound up using Strike Frontier to cover the story of Operation Zero?

There’s one last interesting detail about Project Mikhail, and it concerns the name itself.  Prior to KimiNozo and Muv-Luv, Age put out a game called “Kaseki no Uta”.  This game takes place in the far future, and heavily features a machine called the Mikhail System.  Essentially, in this world there are lifelike automatons called “dolls”, and the Mikhail System allows the user to enter a virtual world in order to “tune” these dolls, giving them a consciousness and molding their personality to the desired specs.  Yoshimune has hinted in the past that he specifically chose the word “tune” to describe what Takeru does to stabilize the 00 Unit, in order to imply that perhaps Kaseki no Uta takes place in the far future of the Alternative world, and that the Mikhail System is perhaps a much more advanced version of what Yuuko did to create the 00 Unit.  Yoshimune has generally dodged the question of whether Kaseki no Uta really is in the future of Alternative, or whether this is just a meaningless Easter egg with no greater implications.

Not only does Project Mikhail share the same namesake as the Mikhail System from Kaseki no Uta, the menu very clearly features a button labeled “Mikhail System”.  What does that mean?  Could that mean we’ll get some answers about the placement of Kaseki no Uta in the larger Age universe?  Or is just another Easter egg for long-time fans?

Afterwards, we got to the part I’m really excited about:

Muv-Luv Integrate: Yoshimune has been dropping hints about his ideas for “Alternative 2” for years and years now, and finally, he’s introduced a proper name and some concept art for the series, which suggests that he may finally be moving beyond just talking about and may actually be taking some steps to turn it into a reality.  He’s still cagey about the whole thing, saying he isn’t sure what format it will take or if it will actually ever be released, but I have been hungry for this for a very long time and I will take whatever hope he is offering.

This is the official sequel to Alternative, and the first story to really go beyond Operation Cherry Blossom in the timeline.  Let’s take a look at the images he introduced:

The first image is of one of the hives on the moon.  Yoshimune has hinted in the past that he would like to take the story all the way to destroying the hives on the moon.

The second image is of some TSFs inside a hive.  I don’t recognize the TSFs; they may be 4th or 5th generation.  Or I might just be bad at identifying TSFs.

The third image is pretty unclear.  There’s a massive hive in the background, much closer to civilization than I think hives usually are.  There are people on the ground – or, at least, people-shaped creatures, since their heads look kinda funky.  Are they new human-sized BETA?  Or are people actually turning into BETA?

The fourth image is quite shocking.  It’s pretty clearly the Statue of Liberty, destroyed and engulfed in flames while the BETA swarm around it.  Is America screwed in this new story?  In the background, it looks like there are two huge hives.  At first glance I thought they were attacking each other, but maybe they’re both under attack from human forces?

The fifth image is the most interesting one.  There are four characters, and upon closer examination, I think those four are, from the left: Ilfriede from Duty, Akane from Muv-Luv (she looks really different without her headband, but she’s got a Valkyries emblem and her hair and eye color generally match), Latrova from Total Eclipse, and Gretel from Schwarzesmarken.  That’s all four major Muv-Luv franchises represented in this picture.

Yoshimune says that he chose the name “Integrate” to mean “bringing everything together”, and he’s said in the past that his vision for Alternative 2 was to bring back many of the surviving characters from the different franchises.  This image really represents what I think he’s hoping for from this new story.  I don’t know how a fan of Muv-Luv can look at this picture and not get excited for what it could mean.

The last image shows what appears to be Yuuko looking rather shell-shocked, clutching what appears to be Kasumi’s stuffed rabbit thing.  She looks awfully bloodied up as well.  What happened to Yuuko?  Is it even Yuuko at all?

This more or less wrapped up the talk event.  They then transitioned to a mini-live concert.  Minami Kuribayashi came out first, and she performed “Rumbling Hearts” and “Muv-Luv”.  Afterwards, Rino came out and performed “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”.  Finally, the two of them sang “Precious Memories” together as a duet.

Afterwards, the stream faded into the event logo, but apparently, one last video was shown to the actual attendees, with the words:

Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation

Well that was quite mean of them, wasn’t it?

So, what does that mean?  If it means that they really are making Muv-Luv into an anime, then that could potentially mean that the earlier announced KimiNozo reboot, which was said to tie into Muv-Luv, might actually be intended to tie into this new anime.  Their Comiket book Exogularity 02 included updated character designs for both KimiNozo and Muv-Luv characters, so with the KimiNozo reboot pretty much confirmed to be using these character designs, perhaps the new Muv-Luv designs are intended to be used for the new anime.  In that way, both KimiNozo and Muv-Luv would share the same type of character design, tying the two stories together even more closely.

That was a massive event!  It was exactly the kind of event that Age needed right now.  Even though it was pretty sparse on details and firm dates, it still showed off quite a bit of the game design and some concept art, which goes a long way to proving that at least something really is happening behind the scenes.  Yoshimune confirmed that he would be starting up some live news streams again soon, so hopefully they can keep up this momentum and keep fans engaged with their future plans.

The Path to Adulthood

September 2, 2019

Muv-Luv can be a very difficult story to get a handle on while you’re in the process of playing it. You start the game, immediately you’re thrown into some crazy high school shenanigans. But wait, now you’re in a completely different world! Mechs, aliens, bwuh? Oh, now we have time loops too? It’s a crazy story and you’re just kind of hanging on for dear life as you go through it, so it can be hard to see how everything is supposed to fit together. But once you finish the story, you can step back and see how all the strange, disparate pieces come together in a very deliberate way. Once you strip away all the insane twists and turns and simply take in the story as a whole, it’s easy to recognize Muv-Luv as a very classic coming-of-age story. Literary types refer to this kind of story as a bildungsroman, a story focusing on showing the growth of the protagonist from a foolish child into a mature adult, often placing emphasis on the clash between the protagonist and society. Each chapter of Muv-Luv can be understood as representing a different stage in the process of growing up.

The first chapter, Extra, represents childhood. A bildungsroman usually starts with a very immature character, and Takeru is of course a deeply childish character in this chapter, lazy and carefree, generally not thinking about anything. But the world of Extra is also deeply childish as well. This is perfectly illustrated with the KimiNozo parody early in the game – even though KimiNozo and Extra technically take place in the same world, in KimiNozo Haruka is hit by a car and is sent into a coma for 3 years, while in Extra the same thing happens to Sumika (complete with KimiNozo music) and she just gets up and dusts herself off. In the world of Extra, bad things simply don’t happen.

The original Muv-Luv describes itself as a “super-cliched romance adventure”. In other words, it takes all the standard cliches of the genre and turns them up to 11. Where other games might have a rich girl with a mansion, Extra has a rich girl who levels an entire neighborhood in order to build a mansion so massive it literally changes the face of the map. A lot of Extra is simply about being able to play with the typical tropes of the genre and taking them to the next level without having to worry too much about keeping things grounded or realistic. That’s the kind of childish logic that the world of Extra is built on.

The second chapter, Unlimited, represents the transition from childhood to adolescence. In a typical coming-of-age story, a child one day comes to the powerful realization that the world extends far beyond his previously simplistic understanding of it. For the first time, he begins to grasp that the world can be a complicated and even dangerous place. In the real world, a child would come to this realization by seeing new aspects of the world he lives in, but through the power of science fiction and metaphor, Takeru is literally brought into a different world, where different rules apply. In this world, people are not allowed to sit back and enjoy life in innocence (like a child would) – they must work hard to earn their freedoms (like an adult would). Much of Unlimited, then, is devoted to Takeru coming to terms with the fact that this is the world he lives in now. He must discard any notion of returning to the days of his childhood, and devote himself to becoming an adult. This is the process of maturing that we would describe as adolescence, and by the end of this chapter, Takeru has fully completed this transition: he understands the nature of this world and accepts that he must work to contribute to it.

(I’ve often reflected on just how much the creators of Muv-Luv must love mecha shows, to cast their story this way: in this story, there are 2 worlds, one resembling the real world and one in which giant robots fight aliens. One of these worlds represents the world of childhood, and one represents the world of adulthood. It must take a special love of mechs to decide that it is our world that is the world of childhood, and the robot/alien world that is the world of adulthood.)

The first half of Alternative represents the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Takeru begins this chapter as an adolescent, aware of his responsibility to make a difference in this world, and ready to take his first steps in doing so. But although adolescents have the drive to change the world, they generally lack the experience and knowledge necessary to understand how to best do so. This lack of experience often leads them to believe that the solutions to the world’s problems are simpler than they really are. What’s more, once it becomes clear that society has not implemented these solutions they developed, they may come to the conclusion that this is because they have managed to come up with new solutions that society has not yet conceived of – in other worlds, they have greater insight into the world and its problems than society had up to this point. This is the reason adolescents are often known for questioning authority and clashing with authority figures. Adolescent fiction often targets this sentiment, by portraying teenage protagonists with special abilities that exceed those of their peers, who have special knowledge and insight that are lacking in the adults around them, and whose special talents are the key to saving the world.

In Takeru’s case, his special talents come from his 2 extra years spent in the Unlimited world. This extra training gives him abilities far beyond his squadmates, and he largely carries his squad during his time as a cadet. The time he spent in the previous world also makes him far more knowledgeable about future events than anybody, and even an adult as smart and powerful as Yuuko has to rely on his knowledge. And his unique ability to return to the world of Extra becomes essential to implementing Alternative IV and saving the world. All of these traits fit that standard adolescent mindset, and they instill in Takeru a sense that he alone is uniquely qualified to serve as this world’s savior, a fact that he reiterates to himself throughout this section of the story with an increasingly casual and self-evident tone.

But Takeru was wrong. On his first day as an “adult” (he and his team having become commissioned officers), he discovers that all the special abilities that he believed made him so superior don’t actually allow him to succeed in the adult world. He ends up breaking down in his cockpit, helpless, and has to be saved by the adults that he was so sure he was more important than. And of course, he winds up experiencing his greatest loss to date, the death of Marimo, and is forced to face the truth that the world is far more harsh and unforgiving than he had believed, even after having learned the truth of the world and becoming an adolescent. And so, with the world demanding that he move on to becoming an adult, he instead wishes with all his heart to return to the world of childhood.

In the real world, the “world of childhood” would be a more innocent mindset that Takeru would try to return to, but again, through the power of science fiction and metaphor, the world of childhood here is literally another world that Takeru can travel back to. As I mentioned before, the world of Extra is governed by different rules than the world of Alternative. In the world of Extra, bad things simply do not happen. Only now they do. By returning to the world of childhood, Takeru has tainted it with knowledge of the world of adulthood, and this knowledge destroys the innocence of childhood. This is perhaps Muv-Luv’s greatest innovation: by setting the entire first chapter in the world of Extra, the game sets up the player to think of the world of Extra as a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end. So when Takeru destroys the world of Extra, he isn’t robbing the Extra characters of a hypothetical future happiness – he is actually robbing the Extra characters of a concrete future happiness, one that we have already seen and that we know would have come to them with 100% certainty. This is the reason why Extra is an essential chapter of the story and cannot be skipped: it is absolutely vital to the experience that the player conceives of Extra as a complete, standalone story in its own right, with its own set of rules governing just how dark the story is allowed to get. This is a story where Meiya can be forced to leave the others and return home without any hope of meeting again – the story is allowed to get that dark, but it is not allowed to get darker than that. So when Takeru returns, there is a real sense that he is breaking the rules of Extra, that he is destroying something that should have been set in stone.

This is the most crucial part of the story, because it is the most crucial part of any bildungsroman. At his lowest point, Takeru must find the strength to accept his limits and learn how to find his place in society. It is because of this that I strongly feel that Muv-Luv is not a story about despair – it is a story about hope. Bad things happen in this story, yes, but this is not a story about bad things happening, it is a story about finding the strength to overcome those bad things. For such a story to work, the bad things that happen have to be very bad indeed – they have to be so bad that we can really believe that Takeru might not be able to overcome them, because we can really believe that we might not be able to overcome them ourselves if they were to happen to us. That’s what makes it a true accomplishment when Takeru actually overcomes them. In the end, Takeru does indeed find the strength to accept his responsibilities as an adult and returns to the Alternative world, now as a full-fledged commissioned officer, signifying the end of the first half of Alternative and the beginning of the second half.

(One thing I find interesting is the symbolic importance of the clothing that Takeru wears. For the first part of Alternative, Takeru spends this part of the story in a commissioned officer’s fortified suit, as if signifying that he considers himself an adult already, even while serving in a cadet squadron. Of course, after the 207th Squadron is commissioned, the whole team switches to the officer’s fortified suit for the XM3 trials. However, after Takeru’s failure during the battle, Takeru and his team switch back to their trainee uniforms for the scene where Takeru tries to recover from Marimo’s death, suggesting how they still have one more step they have to take before they can truly become adults.)

The second half of Alternative represents adulthood. This part of Alternative shows Takeru as a true adult, having transitioned from his adolescent mindset. In the first half of Alternative, Takeru was constantly talking about how he would save the world by himself. The actions he took – traveling to the Extra world and retrieving the formulas – were completely off the grid. Aside from Yuuko and Kasumi, nobody knew what he was up to – not his teammates, not the military, not anybody in the world of Alternative. But from this point on, Takeru operates as a standard member of the military. The vast majority of the story revolves around Takeru taking part in UN-sanctioned missions. Even his work with Sumika, while highly secretive, is an official part of the UN’s Alternative IV project, and many other people (like Lt. Pyatykh) are involved with it as well. A bildungsroman often deals with the conflict between the protagonist and society, and this conflict is often resolved with the protagonist coming to accept the values of the society. In this case, it is Takeru who has come to embrace the role that this society expects him to take.

Alternative places great emphasis on working in a group, instead of working as an individual. In Alternative military doctrine, the smallest valid military unit is the Element (a group of 2 TSFs) – individual action is not permitted. (Try not to pay too much attention to the numerous instances where pilots break their Elements for dramatic license.) But Alternative goes much further than that. Even a full TSF squadron is not enough – the Isumi Valkyries are talented pilots, but they are not overwhelmingly more powerful than any other squadron in the military. They cannot execute missions on their own; they must coordinate with other squadrons in order to accomplish anything. And even a whole fleet of TSFs is not enough – Alternative always makes sure to show that other types of military units, like ships, helicopters, or shuttles, are indispensable to the mission as well.

One of Alternative’s major messages is that the power of a single individual is extremely limited. To accomplish anything of importance requires the strength of an entire society, with each member of the society bringing their own unique strengths to bear on the problem at hand. Takeru winds up accomplishing great things, and can even be said to have saved the world, but he is only able to do so because he played his role in a vast operation involving every major society on the planet. And to emphasize this fact one last time, we learn at the end that even this effort didn’t result in a complete victory. Even after destroying the Superior and the Original Hive, there are still Hives left all over the world, and an unimaginable number of BETA left across the universe. Takeru and his team played their parts, and achieved a historic victory, but that is the limit of their strength. True victory will only come if the people that come afterwards play their part in achieving additional historic victories.

If the second half of Alternative represents the world of adulthood, then it can be said that after the final battle at the Original Hive, Takeru’s life in the world of adulthood comes to an end. But Takeru doesn’t really die – rather, like in the “fairy tale” of Muv-Luv’s tagline (“a fairy tale of love and courage”), Takeru vanishes into light and ascends directly into heaven. In the game’s Final Episode, Takeru is granted the wish he has been longing for the entire story – he has returned to the world of his childhood. But his wish wasn’t simply to return to this world. His experiences in Alternative prove beyond a doubt that “you can’t go home again” – what Takeru truly wishes for is not just to return to this world, but to return to the days of innocence that this world symbolizes, and he can’t do that with his knowledge of adulthood. That’s why the only way Takeru could even truly be happy here is to return to childhood completely. Alternative clearly shows the dangers of an adult trying to return to childhood – but now that he has fulfilled his responsibilities as an adult and has passed on, surely he has earned that reward?

The Final Episode of Alternative, then, represents the afterlife, a place in which Takeru is finally granted his greatest wish – to return to the carefree days of his youth, and spend his days with the people he loves in peace and innocence.

Memories of Age at Anime Expo

August 31, 2019

Muv-Luv creator Kouki Yoshimune has started planning a live event to be held on October 22 (the first day of Muv-Luv) celebrating Age’s 20-year anniversary. It’s still in the early stages (he seems to have just thought of even doing it less than 24 hours ago), and he created the hashtag #age20th to discuss the event and solicit ideas, but the hashtag quickly became a way for fans to celebrate Age’s 20th anniversary in general and share memories.

I wanted to share my own memories of what Age and their work has meant to me, but they’ve been a part of my life since 2003, and I have almost too many memories to mention. So I thought I would focus on a very special time instead – the years Age came to Anime Expo.

Age first came to Anime Expo in 2010, as a special guest of MangaGamer. Officially, their major guest was Minami Kuribayashi, the main singer for Age’s games. They also brought artists Sou Miyata (Total Eclipse, Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu) and Kyousuke Himukai (Owarinaki Natsu Towanaru Shirabe, The Day After). But what they didn’t announce was that Kouki Yoshimune himself would be coming along to take a look around. At the time, Muv-Luv was pretty much a complete unknown in America, and I can only assume that they thought nobody would be interested in meeting him – the artists, at least, could draw some shikishi for fans, even if nobody knew what they worked on. However, Age was running a weekly radio program at the time which I would listen to, and Yoshimune happened to mention on it that he would be taking a week off from the program to fly to America for the convention. For me, this was the biggest news I could hope for – I could never have imagined I might actually get a chance to meet this writer who I respected so much. So I packed my copies of Muv-Luv and Alternative and flew down to LA in hopes of meeting him.

At Anime Expo, MangaGamer had a massive booth in the exhibit hall, and they had set up a stage for their guest singers to perform at various times during the day. Off in the corner, they had also set up a special Age section, where Miyata and Himukai would draw shikishi and sign autographs for fans. Here Age staff would also sell Volks A3 TSF figures, which I imagine was something of a struggle since nobody knew what a TSF was. (In later years, Age staff would become fond of telling the story of an American fan who was looking at a Raptor figure, and finally asked a staff member, “Is the Raptor the strongest model in this universe too?” The staffer responded “Yeah!”, which convinced the fan to buy it.)

On the first day, I dropped by the booth to see Kuribayashi sing. Afterwards, I actually managed to spot Yoshimune hanging around off to the side, just observing this strange foreign convention. Mustering up all of my courage, I managed to approach him and, in my pitiful spoken Japanese, ask if he really was Kouki Yoshimune. He confirmed that he was, seemingly astonished that somebody in America might actually know him. He asked how I managed to recognize him, and I told him I recognized him from the pictures they post every week on their radio program’s website. I asked if he would sign my copies of Muv-Luv and Alternative, and he was delighted to. I’m pretty sure that makes me the very first person to get his autograph in America, and those copies remain one of my most prized possessions.

. . . By the third day, I saw him sweeping in when people would buy A3 figures, point to the box, and proudly proclaim “I wrote that!” in English. He would then more or less force his autograph onto the unsuspecting buyer. So if he was ever at all shy at the prospect of offering his autograph to a foreign audience, he obviously got over it. I remain amused at the idea that some of those fans may still have those boxes in their closet somewhere, completely unaware that the strange man who autographed them was actually the creator of Muv-Luv himself.

Two years later, Yoshimune would return to Anime Expo 2012, this time as an official guest. He was here to present the brand-new anime adaptation of Total Eclipse, set to premiere that summer season. This time around, he was accompanied by singers Minami Kuribayashi and Ayami, as well as Alternative manga artist Azusa Maxima. Things kicked off with a panel on the first day introducing the Total Eclipse anime. The panel was pretty sparesly attended, which was disappointing but not surprising, considering Muv-Luv was still not a well-known property in America. In one especially amusing moment, when the moderator asked Yoshimune to describe the world of Total Eclipse, he began by saying, “A man named Everett created the many-worlds interpretation, suggesting that there are many parallel worlds . . .” Meanwhile, the hapless translator looked on in increasing horror – I suspect he thought the answer was going to be something simple like “There are aliens, mechs fight them”, and was caught off guard by the incredibly complex answer he was going to be forced to translate.

Even worse was what happened at the end of the panel – Yoshimune announced that he wanted to say something important. He then began talking about the earthquake that had hit Japan the previous year, and how he had been moved to see many different countries come to their aid. He said that he was thankful for the opportunity to come to America and express his gratitude. When the time came for the translator to translate what Yoshimune had said into English, he froze up. I think he panicked at the weight of what Yoshimune had been saying, the sense that he had been saying something that was actually important and not just about silly cartoons, and the responsibility of it crushed him. He literally spent at least 2 minutes frozen in silent terror, which is an absolute eternity when the whole room is waiting for you to speak, and the panel literally cannot move forward until you finish. It was the most awkward moment I have ever experienced. Eventually Yoshimune led the entire room in clapping and encouragement just to cheer this guy up and get him to do his job and translate what Yoshimune had said.

On a lighter note, when explaining the background of the Alternative world, Yoshimune stated that it was the Americans who destroyed the 2nd BETA landing site, and the Americans who created the TSFs that allowed humanity to fight the BETA. (Yoshimune pretty obviously chose for this panel to focus on the things America did right for an American audience, skipping over America’s more problematic actions.) He concluded by declaring, in English, “Thank you America!” This, of course, ignited a passionate round of “USA! USA!”, which Yoshimune seemed amazed by. He spent the rest of the panel (and indeed the rest of the entire weekend) randomly goading the audience into more USA chants, and never seemed to tire of it.

On the third day, they scheduled an official preview screening of the first 2 episodes of Total Eclipse ahead of their debut on Japanese television. Unfortunately, the screening was heavily delayed, apparently due to both the previous event running over and the need to set up the room for the mini-concert they would be holding. My recollection is we had to wait outside the venue for over an hour. Towards the end, Alternative manga artist Azusa Maxima actually walked up and down the line, showing off a laptop playing a trailer for Alternative, in order to hype up the crowd. The actual screening went well; I was particularly excited, seeing as how it was the very first time we got to see a Muv-Luv property on the big screen. I had been expecting the screening to introduce Yuuya and Argos Flight, a story I was very familiar with, so it was an amazing moment when Yoshimune announced that what we would be watching was in fact a completely new story that had never been told before.

One memory that stands out is when the title of the episode, “The Imperial Capital Burns”, appeared on screen, some wiseass cried out “Spoiler warning!” Which, well, he kind of had a point, right?

The screening was the same as a similar screening they had held in Japan the day before – the especially gory parts were shown uncensored. The version that was aired on Japanese television and streamed on Crunchyroll was censored, meaning that for several months until the series was released on home video, only those of us at the Japan and Anime Expo screenings saw the uncensored version. After the screening, Yoshimune came back on stage to encourage us to watch the series that summer, and Minami Kuribayashi and Ayami came on stage to sing their Total Eclipse songs.

Yoshimune would return to Anime Expo in 2015 to support the newly announced Muv-Luv Kickstarter. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend that year. They announced that Muv-Luv would have a presence at Anime Expo just a week before the event began, and there was simply no way I could arrange to attend with such short notice. From the pictures and stories from the people in attendance, it looks like Degica set up a booth in the exhibit hall where Yoshimune would sign autographs. I would have loved to have been part of the festivities celebrating the official release of the original games in English, but I’m glad it sounds like everybody had a great time.

Yoshimune would return again the next year, for Anime Expo 2016, which I was determined to attend. Like the previous year, Degica set up a small booth where Yoshimune would hold autograph sessions. He would also hold little mini-panels at the booth, where about 15-20 of us would gather, and he would tell stories and answer questions about Muv-Luv. Notably, the booth featured an early demo build of the first Muv-Luv game that people could actually play. It was the first time I was able to see the English translation they would be using, and seeing it really put my heart at ease.

Muv-Luv was not able to score an actual panel in Anime Expo’s crowded schedule. Luckily for them though, popular artist Sayori was another guest at Anime Expo that year. Sayori had worked for Age for several years and was still on very good terms with Yoshimune, and together they arranged for Sayori’s own panel to bring Yoshimune on as a surprise guest, essentially transforming her panel into a combined Sayori / Muv-Luv panel. Unfortunately, the panel was held in a room far too small for the number of fans interested in Sayori, let alone Muv-Luv as well, and I wasn’t able to get in. Reports are that Yoshimune was as animated as usual, cracking jokes and telling lots of funny stories.

So that’s the story of the 3 times I managed to meet Kouki Yoshimune, and other Age/Muv-Luv related staff, at Anime Expo. I remain hopeful that whatever Age is up to, it may lead to another visit to America, and another opportunity for us American fans to show our support in person.

Photonflowers Released! (And hope for the future)

August 3, 2019

Photonflowers has been officially released (after a typical Muv-Luv style delay).  You can get it on Steam now, and you can read up on what exactly Photonflowers is in my earlier writeup.

But that’s not the only exciting news to hit the Muv-Luv world.  Both the Kickstarter page and lead translator Evan Ward’s Twitter account have posted images from the 2nd collection of Muv-Luv side stories, Muv-Luv Photonmelodies, showing that progress is well underway.

But the really big news is on the Japanese side, as Age has now posted a new page featuring a brand-new illustration of KimiNozo/Muv-Luv character Haruka Suzumiya, drawn by Kina Kazuharu, on the 18th anniversary of the original release of KimiNozo.  That may not sound like much, but it represents the first news from the company in a whole year.  Although they’ve advertised crossover events with the mobile games Super Robot Wars X-Ω and Phantasy Star Online 2, they haven’t so much as hinted at actual new content since their Comiket book Exogularity 02 last summer.  That book also featured hints of new designs for both Muv-Luv and KimiNozo characters, and while the art there wasn’t credited, it certainly looks like the same artstyle as what was just posted.

What exactly the image means, Age hasn’t said.  Many people have leapt to the obvious conclusion, that this image hints at a full-blown remake of KimiNozo.  (Age hinted at such a possibility back at Anime Expo 2016, although it’s not at all clear how serious they were being.)  Others have seized on what looks to be a hidden “0” at the bottom-right of the image, which could mean a full game version of Operation Zero.  Operation Zero covers the events surrounding the KimiNozo characters in the Alternative world 3 years ago.  Although they had hinted at such a story ever since their 10th anniversary video, it remained nothing but a hint until they finally adapted the story as a chapter in their mobile game Strike Frontier.  Afterwards, Age had posted 2 videos rendering that Strike Frontier chapter in AGES (they can be found here and here), but perhaps now they’re looking at creating a full game version of it, possibly with voices.  Or perhaps, like with the KimiIta remake and Confessions, they’re doing both – releasing a full remake with Operation Zero as a pack-in bonus.

Or perhaps it really is nothing more than what they’ve announced it to be – just a celebration of the 18th anniversary of KimiNozo.  But even that would be news – it at least shows that Age isn’t dead, that they consider it still worthwhile to keep fans engaged and hopeful for future projects.  After a whole year without any output from the company, even that would be newsworthy.

And speaking of voices, there was one last piece of news yesterday – Minami Kuribayashi, singer for most of Age’s games and the voice of Haruka and Kasumi, and who had been working under the single name Minami for the past few years, announced that she would be returning to the name Minami Kuribayashi, and will be celebrating the KimiNozo anniversary with a new version of her very first song, Rumbling Hearts, the theme song to KimiNozo.  Hopefully, it means Kuribayashi and Ixtl/Anchor/Avex have buried the hatchet and we’ll be seeing more from them soon.

It’s been quiet on both the Japanese and English sides for a very long time, but now both sides have unveiled some exciting news on the same weekend.  We can hope that this means the Muv-Luv franchise will finally start moving again.

Photonflowers Release

July 21, 2019

The Muv-Luv team has announced that Muv-Luv Photonflowers will be released in a few days, on July 22, so that means it’s time to come back and spend some time on this blog.

So, what is Photonflowers? Well, Age has created a ton of side-stories for Muv-Luv over the years, and eventually they collected most of them into a pair of games called Photonflowers and Photonmelodies. Since the stories in Photonflowers were made over such a long span of time, I thought going over the context in which they were written might give people some additional insight into them. So, let’s cover the stories in Photonflowers, in the order in which they were written:

Muv-Luv Side:

Extra Short Story Collection: The 4 non-Meiya stories were the earliest Muv-Luv stories to be released to the public. They actually started out as text stories hosted on the Muv-Luv website back in 2002 when the game was first announced. As such, they’re meant to introduce the characters and give a general sense of their personalities and relationships, as well as the general tone of the game. The actual Muv-Luv game itself makes several references to the events of these stories, particularly Sumika’s, and the game is clearly written with the understanding that many players will have already read these short stories.

Meiya Short Stories: The 2 Meiya short stories were also meant to introduce Meiya and her crew, but they were not hosted on the Muv-Luv website. Instead, they were included as a special bonus in 2 issues of Tech Gian, a visual novel magazine, a few months before the original Muv-Luv was released in 2003. Unlike the other short stories, which were only text and accompanying pictures, these stories were rendered in game format, although without any voice acting. Indeed, part of the purpose of these short stories was to show off Age’s new AGES graphics engine, which is why Meiya starts out the story by moving the camera in every direction. This kind of camera work was revolutionary in a visual novel at the time.

These 6 short stories were eventually gathered together in the Muv-Luv Supplement fandisc. For the 4 non-Meiya stories, this meant rendering them in game format for the first time. For the 2 Meiya stories, this meant including voice acting for the first time.

Before the Cherry Blossoms Bloom: This is a mid-sized story set after Sumika’s Extra story, and was originally the centerpiece of Muv-Luv Supplement. It was put together in something of a hurry as kind of an apology to fans after Age realized that they would not be able to release Alternative in 2004 as promised. I think one of the most interesting aspects of it is the expanded role it gives Kashiwagi, who was an extremely minor character in the original Extra. In this game, she is finally given a first name (Haruko), as well as numerous new sprites, allowing her to be portrayed as a more expressive character. We learn a lot more about her, and she gets to participate in hijinks alongside the other characters, helping to set her up for her larger role in Alternative.

All of the stories on the Muv-Luv side are credited to the same team as the original series, with the same team of writers (notably Age head writer Hayato Tashiro and series creator Kouki Yoshimune) and original artist Bou.

Alternative Side:

Atonement: Atonement is a short story depicting Marimo’s past. It is essentially an expanded telling of the story Marimo tells Takeru after the XM3 trials. Much like the Meiya short stories, it was originally released as a bonus pack-in game (without voices) in an issue of Tech Gian, just a few months after Alternative was released in 2006. It’s written by series creator Kouki Yoshimune with art by series artist Bou.

Inheritance: Inheritance is a short story focusing on Akira, Michiru’s sister, and is set shortly after Alternative. Like Atonement, Inheritance was a bonus pack-in game included with the Dengeki Hime magazine, just a month after Atonement was released. It’s also written by Kouki Yoshimune, with art by Gai Sugihara, the original artist for Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu (the game that Michiru and her sisters come from), as well as Kimi ga Nozomu Eien. Of special note are the voices for Michiru’s sisters, who are all carried over from the original KimiIta game – if you’ve ever played the KimiIta remake from 2011, you won’t recognize these original voices. If you listen hard, you might be able recognize Marika’s voice – she also played Mikoto in Muv-Luv. But no matter how hard you try, I doubt you’ll be able to recognize Akira’s voice – even though she also played Yuuko!

Both Atonement and Inheritance were eventually collected in Age’s 4th fanclub game, alongside Ayu-Mayu Alternative. Much like the Extra short stories, Age took this opportunity to add voices to the 2 stories. Since both of them were recorded at the same time, they both share the same quirk – much like Age’s first 2 fanclub releases, these 2 stories have all of the lines voiced, even the narration lines from Marimo and Akira. This collection was also the debut of the Chronicles opening and ending credits – the original magazine releases didn’t include them. As such, both Atonement and Inheritance share the same opening sequence, including CGs from both stories.

Chicken Divers: Chicken Divers is a short story depicting an orbital dive team during Operation 21st. It was actually originally a piece of fanfiction. However, Age was impressed with the story, and they happened to be looking for people to put out some smallers works for them, so they contacted the author, Wei Luxin, to license the story. He took down the story from his website, and Age included it in their first Lunatic Dawn book for Comiket. Later on, Age decided to render it in game format (without voices) and released it as part of their offerings for a later Comiket. The artist for the game version was Sou Miyata, who by this point had taken over as the main artist for Total Eclipse.

Rain Dancers: Rain Dancers is a short story depicting a European team field testing Typhoons in the 90s. After releasing Chicken Divers, Age asked Wei Luxin to write a new short story to be released in their newest Lunatic Dawn book for Comiket. Like Chicken Divers, a few Comikets later Age again rendered this story in game format. The artist for the game version was Azusa Maxima, who was drawing the manga adaptation of Alternative. Of note, this is the only story in Photonflowers not to have any connection with any characters or events from the original trilogy. However, Luxin named the lead character Monica Giacosa with the intention that she would be the older sister of Valerio Giacosa from Total Eclipse.

Both Chicken Divers and Rain Dancers were eventually collected in Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles 01. Since they were both existing stories, they were the obvious choice to kick of Age’s series of Chronicles game releases. Like with Atonement and Inheritance, voice were added to both stories at this time. They also share an interesting quirk – for Chronicles 01, Age experimented with adding lip flaps to the game CGs, not just character sprites. However, Age seems to have abandoned this idea afterward, so these 2 are the only Chronicles stories to include them. Like with Atonement and Inheritance, both Chicken Divers and Rain Dancers share the same opening sequence.

Confessions: Confessions is a mid-sized story depicting Michiru’s past. Like with Atonement, Confessions is basically an expanded telling of the story Michiru tells Takeru during their first meeting. Confessions was a bonus game included with the 2011 remake of Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu (although given their relative quality, many fans have taken to referring to Confessions as the main game and the KimiIta remake as the bonus game). Confessions is written by Kouki Yoshimune with art by Sou Miyata, who also drew the KimiIta remake. I imagine most Muv-Luv fans are surprised by the art, particularly during the beginning and ending when the entire Alternative cast is remade in Miyata’s artstyle. At the time, there seems to have been a push to get everybody redrawn by Miyata, who had become Age’s de facto lead artist, with the intention of using the Miyata versions for all future projects. The Miyata versions would appear again in the Chronicles story Resurrection (coming soon in Photonmelodies!), but otherwise these new versions of the characters wound up falling by the wayside after Miyata was removed from the company for, um, reasons.

That’s all the stories included in Photonflowers.  There are 3 more stories that will be included in Photonmelodies, including the one I’m sure everyone is waiting for, the one set in the Final Extra world.

(Also, if anybody is still interested in what I have to say about the original Muv-Luv trilogy, I actually have a number of articles written up – it became necessary to split them up due to how many topics I wanted to cover – and I’ll be posting them over the next few weeks.)