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.