Age 20th Anniversary Broadcast “still breathing”

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.

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