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.