Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 14

October 13, 2022

One of my favorite Muv-Luv memories doesn’t really have anything to do with the game itself. It happened several years after Alternative came out, when series creator Kouki Yoshimune one day tweeted out:

“Hey, ever since the weekend started, people have been reaching out to me with stuff like ‘Marimo CHOMP’, what happened all of a sudden?”

Well, what happened was the 3rd episode of Madoka Magica had aired that Friday, and a lot of people were making comparisons between Madoka’s Mami and Muv-Luv’s Marimo. Yoshimune had mentioned before that he doesn’t really watch anime anymore, so he had no idea. I like the image of him scrolling through his Twitter feed, wondering why so many people seemed to have spontaneously decided to tag him about a game that came out years ago.

Anyway, this episode.

What always strikes me about that final scene is how shocking it is. Now, by that I don’t mean how sickeningly gruesome it is (although it is). And I don’t mean how it suddenly comes on without warning (although it does). What I mean is that it preys on the audience’s expectations about how a story is supposed to flow. We’ve all seen a ton of stories, and we get used to the typical ebb and flow of it. We get used to how a story transitions from a happy “high” point to a tragic “low” point, and then back again. The coup arc was, on the whole, a “low” point where the characters are put through the wringer. It’s then followed up by the events of the previous episode, where Takeru goes back to his world, gets the formulas that will save the world, and meets Sumika again. We’re definitely swinging back to a high point here. It’s followed up by the graduation, another happy high point for everybody, and it continues on with the XM3 trials, which Takeru and his team are crushing. So when the BETA attack, it’s a surprising twist, but it’s one we’re prepared for – we’ve spent enough time on a high point that we instinctively understand it’s about time for another low point.

And it is a low point. Takeru is brought down lower than he’s ever been before. This is, by a wide margin, the worst low point he’s had yet. So after he’s been put through such an ordeal, we understand Marimo’s speech to Takeru as the start of another high point, transitioning him past his failure during the last attack. That’s why Marimo’s death is so shocking: because it is very carefully targeted to take place at the exact moment when we least expect another low point. It betrays our instinctive understanding of how stories “should” work. And it works precisely because Takeru has just experienced his worst low point ever. He’s already been taken down lower than we thought possible, given how the story has worked up to this point, so we just can’t conceive of the idea that he could be taken down even lower so quickly.

This effect is, if anything, even more amplified in the anime, where we not only perceive highs and lows in terms of the overall story, but also in terms of individual episodes. Takeru failing in the XM3 attack is the “theme” of the episode; it’s what the episode is about. By the time Marimo is comforting Takeru, we already perceive the episode as over – even if we aren’t watching the clock specifically, we all have enough of a sense of how long an episode is that we know there’s no more time left to do anything else. And again, because Takeru has already been brought so low, we instinctively assume that the final minutes of the episode will be dedicated to wrapping that plot thread up.

There are a few points about the big scene that I find interesting in terms of the choices made. The first is the speed at which it happens. The game lingers on that fateful moment for quite a few lines. In the anime, the BETA comes in and does the deed almost instantly, and the whole thing is over before Takeru can even process what happened. I think that’s an intriguing choice that plays on the strengths of an anime – you really can’t convey that kind of speed in any other medium, be it game, manga, or novel. There’s something a little terrifying about that kind of speed, that a person can simply be alive one moment and dead the next. I’ve seen a number of people play through the game who stop at that moment, trying to understand what is happening before clicking onward – the game doesn’t move forward until the player chooses to. The anime, left alone, moves forward regardless of whether the viewer is ready to or not.

The second thing I want to mention is, somewhat ironically given my first point, how the anime stretches the moment out. The game acts like the BETA gives it one good chomp and it’s over. The anime actually depicts this fucker CHEWING on it for a while afterwards. That’s the part that really disturbed me, watching this episode.

The last thing I want to note is how Takeru witnesses the act. In the game, he hears it happening behind him, and when he turns around, it’s already in progress. In the anime, he turns around first, and sees the whole thing happen from beginning to end. From Takeru’s perspective, that just seems much more traumatizing – to see Marimo smiling, and then to watch the whole thing play out afterwards.

Ugh. I don’t feel so good. Can we talk about something else?

I mentioned before that Takeru is brought down to his lowest point during the attack during the XM3 trials. And he really is. In fact, in watching this episode, I started to feel like you don’t really see a lead character brought this low in anime anymore. Too much of anime nowadays is steeped in wish fulfillment – fans want to see themselves in the main character, and they definitely don’t want to see themselves taken down to this level. (I’m reminded of a tweet – which I sadly can’t find anymore – about someone who met Yoshimune at Anime Expo, and told him they loved the world of Alternative and wanted to be part of it, and his response was, “What are you, a masochist?”) Even when a lead is wrong or makes a mistake, they still retain a level of dignity that makes people want to be them. But Takeru has no dignity at the end of this – he’s reduced to curling up in his cockpit, wetting himself, screaming that he doesn’t want to die. It feels like something from another generation. And well, that’s because it is. But that never really occurred to me until today.

The hell of it is, Marimo is kind of right when she says he didn’t do too badly out there. Speaking solely about the results of his actions, he doesn’t have a lot to be sorry about. If he were just a regular newbie soldier, his performance would be pretty commendable. The problem Takeru has is, he got it into his head that he is much, much more than a regular soldier. His experience, both in his original world playing video games, and in the previous loop undergoing training, made him an exceptional surface pilot. His understanding of those video games allowed him to conceive of the XM3 operating system. His knowledge of the previous loop allowed him to predict the future. And his ability to travel between worlds allowed him to obtain the formulas that will help complete the 00 Unit.

And so he started thinking he was much better than just a normal soldier – he operated on a different level than them. He was even starting to throw around terms like “humanity’s savior” with a disturbing certainty. And all of that was building up to this moment, the moment when he first encounters the BETA in a real battle – and he discovers, far too late, that none of that shit really matters in a battle, and all of those normal soldiers he looked down on were far more experienced and useful than he was. It’s a terrifying thing to learn about yourself, after having spent so long believing your own bull.

Poor guy. Hard to believe that wasn’t even the worst thing that happened to him this episode.

As I mentioned before, I’m transitioning back to doing arc-based posts, because it’s easier for me to write about the themes of an entire arc – it’s hard for me to write about the theme of an individual episode while trying to avoid spoiling later episodes of the arc. I made an exception for this episode, since it’s, well, this episode, but starting next episode, I know the show is going to return to being difficult to write about in one-episode segments, so I’ll see you guys in a few weeks.

I started this post off with a tweet, so let’s close out with another tweet. I’ve been watching reactions to this episode all day (the phrase “Marimo-chan” actually entered the top 10 trending topics in Japan for a couple of hours!), and my vote goes to this guy:

“After finishing THAT scene in Muv-Luv, I put on the latest episode of Golden Kamuy, and at the start of the episode, this kid goes ‘You guys eat moss balls (Japanese word: Marimo)?’, and well, I just couldn’t help but laugh.”


Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 13

October 9, 2022

The new season of Muv-Luv Alternative is here, so it’s time to share a few thoughts on it. The actual episode is pretty straightforward, but let’s start by talking about the new theme songs, since there’s where a lot of the interest in the new season is coming from thus far.

The new opening theme is, of course, the topic that everybody’s excited about. It’s a collaboration between JAM Project and Minami Kuribayashi, the two main singers associated with the original Muv-Luv trilogy. Just the fact of their involvement is exciting enough for existing fans of the franchise, but it also helps that the song is, as expected, an absolute joy to listen to. The lyrics are written by Masami Okui, who is famous among Muv-Luv fans for having played through the entire trilogy back when she first got involved with the franchise. She’s a big fan of the franchise (she’s a particularly big Meiya fan), and she even showed up on the live stream where the opening theme was announced to help promote the new season. It was an especially nice moment for her since she was basically cheated twice – not only did JAM Project not get to work on Season 1, but Okui didn’t get to work on the Total Eclipse anime, despite doing the theme for that game as well.

What’s especially frustrating about the way JAM Project and Minami Kuribayashi have been treated is, Lantis (the label that they belong to) was involved in this anime since Season 1 – Stereo Dive Foundation, the project responsible for the first ending theme, is a Lantis project as well. Since Avex owns Anchor – meaning they essentially own Muv-Luv – I could understand if they wanted to use their own artists for the entire anime. But there’s no reason to bring Lantis into the mix unless they intended for the original artists like JAM and Kuribayashi to be part of the anime from the beginning. So it seems pretty clear to me that this was the plan from the start – use Season 1 to promote their newer acts, then bring on JAM and Kuribayashi for Season 2. And that’s disappointing, because Lantis is usually better than that about retaining the original singers, despite their age – JAM Project did the theme for Getter Robo Arc last year, while Minami Kuribayashi came back to do the theme to Season 2 of The Devil is a Part-Timer just last season.

…Look, I am not a purist by any stretch of the imagination – my track record clearly shows I like it when adaptations do new things. I was sad that Masami Okui didn’t get to do the Total Eclipse anime, but I was perfectly fine with Kumi Koda’s opening theme song. I feel like I gave Season 1’s theme songs a chance to win me over as well. Ultimately, what’s important is that the theme songs set the right tone. Somebody should be able to listen to the opening and ending themes and end up with a good sense of what sort of show they go with. And the theme songs for Season 1 completely fail to do that – they are far too light-hearted and upbeat. Watching them open and close the coup episodes was a painful experience in tonal whiplash.

Which is why I’m happy to report that Season 2’s ending theme is a winner as well. It’s done by V.W.P, the same group that did Season 1’s opening theme. But unlike that season’s chipper, bubblegum sound, their new song is an emotional ballad that’s perfect for closing out this season’s episodes. I wish they had put in a similar effort to match the show’s tone back in Season 1, but I’m glad they got a chance to redeem themselves.

Since we’re on the topic of V.W.P, we might as well talk about the Sadogashima girl, an original character who is voiced by one of their members. She showed up as a civilian in episode 1, the anime-original fall of Sadogashima, then reappeared at the end of Season 1, apparently as a member of the Isumi Valkyries. This so-far unnamed girl appears in both the opening and ending sequences this season, where her status as a member of the Valkyries is pretty much confirmed – she appears alongside the Valkyries in both sequences, and a shot of the full Valkyries team in their TSFs during the opening sequence depicts an extra unit that presumably belongs to her. Adding a new member to the Valkyries is an odd move, but this season is the time for the anime to show what they plan on doing with her. As I said, I enjoy when adaptations try new things, so I’m interested to see what kind of story they have planned with her.

The opening and ending themes are not the most important thing in an anime – plenty of really strong, top-tier shows have been burdened with lousy theme songs, and overcome them. But nevertheless, watching the new opening sequence illustrates just how good it feels when the theme song matches the show. It instantly puts you in a better mood, and makes you more receptive to the show itself.

OK, that was a lot of talk about a 90-second opening and 90-second ending. What about the other 20 minutes of the episode? Well, it’s a fairly slow first episode that covers two main plot threads – the first half shows Takeru returning to his original world to retrieve the theory that he asked Yuuko for on his last trip, while the second half shows Takeru’s unit graduating and becoming commissioned officers. What’s strange about the episode is, both plot threads were already shown in the final scenes of episode 12, which closed out Season 1. Although I thought it pretty unlikely, those scenes did make me worried that they might intend to skip over this episode entirely and start Season 2 with the events of the next episode.

It’s a good thing they didn’t go down that path, then, because this is a good episode that does a lot, both for the story in general, and for this anime in particular. For the story in general, this episode reiterates the stakes involved in a compelling manner. The first half shows Takeru interacting with his old world much more thoroughly than during his first visit, and emphasizes the difference between the two versions of his squad members, as well as clearly depicting his ultimate desire, to return to this world for good. The second half shows Takeru accomplishing the immediate goal he set for himself back in the beginning of Alternative, to graduate as soon as possible and make himself and his squad ready to contribute to the fight against the BETA. These are strong emotional beats for Takeru, and I’m glad the anime didn’t decide to skip over them.

As for how this episode benefits this anime in particular, one important aspect is that this is a slower, easily digestible episode that helps reestablish the world, the characters, and the current status quo for people who might not have thought about Muv-Luv since Season 1 ended last year. But perhaps even more importantly, this is a good focus episode that fleshes out some of the characters more. Obviously, in the original game, we would have spent a ton of time with these characters by now, and we would know and love them deeply. The anime has no chance of doing that, so rather than trying to judge the anime based on how well it replicates the feel of the game, it’s more useful to judge the anime based on its own merits.

From the perspective of the anime only, Takeru’s 207th squadmates all received a lot of welcome characterization during the previous coup arc, with each of them getting a distinct plotline to themselves. This episode does the same for the character of Sumika. Sumika hasn’t had much of a presence in the anime thus far, appearing in only small bursts of flashback, and an all-too-short appearance in the story itself during Takeru’s first trip to his old world. This episode is the most in-depth look we’ve gotten at her so far, and we get to see their relationship play out in a way that we’ve only heard Takeru describe before. I think it does a great job of illustrating why Takeru considers her such an important part of his life.

The episode also arguably does something similar for Marimo. We’ve seen a lot more of her in the anime, mostly as a hard-nosed instructor, but occasionally showing a softer side. The final scenes of this episode show clearly how much affection Takeru and his squadmates hold for her – and now that she is no longer responsible for training them, she’s allowed to show how much affection she holds for them as well. Even in the game, this is a very memorable scene that did a lot to transform Marimo into a highly-beloved character, and the anime does a good job of bringing that to the screen.

As I’ve said before, I think this anime adaptation’s great weakness is “faithfully” adapting the original game (and the manga) without putting much thought into how it plays for a new audience. So I actually think that much of what I described above is kind of “on accident” – that they didn’t put too much thought into how this episode works as the first episode of a new season, and they basically got lucky that this is a good point in the story to accomplish all of the things I mentioned. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is in fact a strong first episode for anime viewers. Indeed, it helps illustrate that, now that we’re past those first awkward setup episodes, “faithfully” adapting the game is more of a strength than a weakness, and we should be in for a second season that is significantly stronger than the first.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 09-12

October 4, 2022

In some ways, I hesitate to write a comprehensive piece about this arc, because it is fundamentally a piece about Japanese internal politics. It is an exploration about Japanese identity, targeted towards a Japanese audience. So I’m sure there is a lot about the themes of this arc that escape me – I simply lack the context of being a Japanese citizen necessary to understand them.

Luckily, the creator Kouki Yoshimune has offered up a few places to start our examination. In an interview included with the Muv-Luv Alternative Codex, he presents perhaps the most important piece of information necessary to understand this arc: in writing the story of Alternative, he positioned the Yokohama UN forces as being analogous to the modern-day Japan of our world, and the Japanese Empire as being analogous to the old Japan. The coup arc can thus be understood as a clash between modern-day values and traditional values. This arc is sometimes accused of being heavily right-wing, but that ignores the fact that the “right-wing” characters – the coup forces – are depicted as the enemy, who are then defeated by an allied force consisting of America and modern-day Japan (who those same right-wing forces accuse of having subjugated themselves so completely to the Americans that they are now little more than puppets of the US). The fact that it is our POV characters, the UN forces, who emerge triumphant in this arc shows that the story’s sympathies ultimately side with the more progressive, internationally-minded Japan.

Of course, while TSFs trashing each other is good entertainment, the meat of the arc is in the philosophical conflicts between the UN and the Empire – in other words, between modern Japanese values and traditional ones. Here, it’s not quite as simple as declaring modern values the winner simply because Sagiri died. The bulk of this arc is about our lead characters, particularly Takeru and Meiya, being confronted with the traditional values embodied by Sagiri and the coup forces, and seeing the end results of those values. Throughout the course of this arc, they come to understand and sympathize with the intent of those values, even as they reject the method of implementation chosen by the coup forces. I believe this is an attempt to ask a question of the Japanese audience: what should the modern Japanese citizen make of these old values? Which should we preserve, and which should we discard? Is there anything from the old ways that is worth taking with us into the 21st century? If Muv-Luv is at all “right-wing”, it is in the fact that it seems to believe that the answer to that question is “yes”. While it rejects Sagiri and the overall philosophy he embodies, it suggests that there may still be value in the patriotism, the love of country, that Takeru comes to learn about – that there may still be something there that is worth incorporating into the modern philosophy embodied by our heroes.

Takeru is an intriguing character to place in the middle of this conflict. As pointed out numerous times in the story, he is not a citizen of this Japan, and he lacks that love of country that every other Japanese character in the story exhibits. That makes it difficult for him to understand the others at first, but it also makes him the only truly neutral character in the arc. Even a character like Yuuko, who is ostensibly working to save all of humanity, is still a member of this Japanese society, and when the chips are down, there is still a part of her that is loyal to the Japanese Empire and wants it to come out on top. Takeru is the only person who has no such loyalty – he is the only person who can say he cares only about humanity defeating the BETA, and truly mean it. That puts him in a position where he can judge the claims of each side without preexisting bias. That makes it particularly interesting when Takeru states that he finds himself very sympathetic to Walken’s American insistence that this entire conflict is a complete waste of time.

Walken himself occupies a very interesting position as well. Yoshimune states in the same Codex interview that the original writer, Hayato Tashiro, had a very difficult time writing Walken’s character – he kept coming off as an arrogant foreigner blowhard who talked big, then died when it was time to put up. This is one of the reasons why Yoshimune himself took over writing much of Alternative (the original idea was that he would develop the story itself, while other writers like Tashiro would write the actual text – this is largely how KimiNozo and the original Muv-Luv were written). In the final version, Walken comes across as a surprisingly sympathetic character, which is how Takeru can find himself agreeing with him. His inclusion in the story helps to illustrate the divide between the more relatable, likeable American soldiers, and the more shadowy American faction that is revealed to be driving the coup d’etat from behind the scenes.

One of the most shocking elements of this world, I find, is the way this American faction is depicted. I’ve given a lot of thought to how fans use the word “dark” to describe certain shows. What I’ve come to realize is that a show is not necessarily “dark” just because it depicts bad things happening – I judge the darkness of a show based on the overall morality it depicts in its world. So a show that includes bad things happening may still be a fairly light show overall, if the morality it depicts is one in which the good guys win in the end, and in which evil can be defeated. I find Alternative, then, to be a brutally dark work, because the “evil” represented by this American faction is not depicted as one that should be defeated. None of our characters – not Takeru, not the other members of the 207th, not Yuuko, not Yuuhi – come out of this arc feeling that the Americans who orchestrated this whole thing need to be dealt with in some way in order to make the world better. Rather, the existence of this American faction is treated as a truth of this world, an irrefutable fact that must simply be accepted.

Yuuhi, the major character that we meet in this arc, helps lay out this story’s view of morality. As she tells Takeru, there is not always a “correct” choice, so people cannot be simply divided into good and evil depending on whether or not they make the correct choice. That, she emphasizes, is why it is so important that the people who have been given the authority to make those choices must also take responsibility for the results of those choices. And so we come to understand that even the American faction pulling the strings are not “evil” in a storytelling sense – they are fellow human beings who have made different choices about how best to deal with the situation humanity finds itself in. The same is true of the Japanese coup forces themselves, the American soldiers who were caught up in the battle, and even forces like the Japanese traditions that keep Yuuhi and Meiya apart. That’s why this arc does not end with our lead characters vowing to take down or change any of these organizations or values, as a more traditional good-vs-evil story might. Rather, it ends with them understanding that the things they have seen and learned throughout this arc are simply a part of this world, and all they can do is accept that and move forward.

Let’s end by talking a little about the anime adaptation for this arc. It’s clear to me now that this anime, like many anime adaptations these days, intends to stick closely to its source material (both the game and the manga adaptation), for better or worse. In the early episodes, it was most definitely “for worse”, as it utterly failed to account for how the anime audience will experience the story differently. But this arc illustrated this approach “for better” – since it has almost no ties to events from earlier chapters, it requires almost no alteration to be accessible to a new audience. And the end result is a very strong series of episodes. If there’s a weak spot by that metric, then it’s the inclusion of the Valkyries in episode 10. Although it’s a huge crowd-pleasing moment for existing fans, for new fans it’s an entire new group of characters taking a major role at a moment when the show is finally fleshing out its main characters. But otherwise the arc is a great showcase for the anime’s direction in staging its major fight scenes – something the anime has lacked until now – while pairing them with strong character drama. The end of episode 9 is a good showcase for that, using strong direction (along with its special insert song) to create a memorable moment out of a scene that, to be honest, was not all that special in the original. For me, I’ll always think of the anime version now whenever I revisit that scene in the game.

One of the greatest strengths of the original Muv-Luv trilogy is that it “feels” like a real novel – it has a concrete beginning, middle, and end, and it builds its story and its themes throughout its runtime, so that once you reach the end you can look back and see how all of the different pieces come together to form a coherent whole. But it’s also one of the great weaknesses of the anime adaptation, both because the decision to start at Alternative took away those opening chapters, and because the decision to split Alternative into different seasons means it’s impossible to finish Season 1 and understand how the pieces are supposed to fit together. So I’m looking forward to seeing how Season 2 handles these challenges – if it’s learned to make its references to earlier chapters more accessible, and if the direction is able to introduce and bring together more of the pieces of the story.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 08

November 30, 2021

This episode wastes no time in taking us deep into our first truly serious storyline of the show, a full-on coup d’etat by a rogue military faction within the Japanese imperial forces. And I really mean it wastes no time – it launches straight into the story without any lead-in from the previous episodes. At the same time, though, it also pulls together many of the strands of foreshadowing that have been laid throughout the series. It brings back into the foreground the hints of dissatisfaction with the way the civilians have been treated by the government, which had been seeded in several episodes. It also brings back both Undersecretary Tamase and Chief Yoroi, and pays off the shady hints involving Kei over the last few episodes. Indeed, as Yoroi notes, all five of Takeru’s teammates are now deeply connected to this incident. That all gives this episode an extremely dark feel, in contrast with the relatively more lighthearted feel of the series so far, especially the last few episodes which have focused heavily on Takeru’s return to his original world.

But then, that’s the entire point of doing the episode this way, to shock Takeru – and the viewer – with a sudden, darker shift in tone. That’s how the story has always depicted Takeru’s growth – each time Takeru has matured as much as he can in his current status quo, the story exposes him to an even darker truth hiding beneath the surface. That’s what happened when Takeru was originally transported from his original world to this world, a world under attack by the BETA. And it happened again at the start of Alternative, when he was brought back to the beginning of this timeline, this time with the knowledge that the world was operating under a strict timeline, counting down to December 25 and the end of Alternative IV, which he had no idea about his first time around. And the launch of this coup d’etat is the next step in that process, as Takeru is exposed for the first time to the deep political divisions that govern this world, as well as the fact that his interventions in the timeline can have negative repercussions as well as positive.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that the complex political conflicts of this world are one of this franchise’s biggest draws for me, so it’s no surprise that this is exactly the kind of episode that I love. However, while Total Eclipse focused more on international relations, and Schwarzesmarken on the state of Cold War Germany, Alternative is set in Japan, and this political arc centers on Japanese domestic politics. Perhaps what’s most surprising to me is the extent to which the anime is being allowed to portray this storyline at all. Age has suggested before that the heavily political nature of this arc had scared off some of the previous potential sponsors for an Alternative anime. Just the very concept of a modern-day Japanese Empire is already fertile ground for potential controversy. So when the story also adds in a Japanese nationalistic coup d’etat attempt clearly inspired by similar real-life Japanese nationalistic coup d’etat attempts, you can see how people might get squeamish.

In that context, what is most important to this arc is Takeru’s position in the story. This particular episode, despite featuring a bloody coup, is actually really light on action. Instead, this is a very talky episode, dedicated mostly to laying out some of the philosophies of the various factions. You of course have Naoya Sagiri’s faction, the people responsible for the coup. The story also brings in Lieutenant Tsukuyomi, representing the Imperial Royal Guard, part of the upper echelon of the Japanese forces, which opposes the coup but is also fiercely loyal to the Empire and opposes outside intervention in the conflict. And you have the UN forces, who are not part of the Imperial forces and whose objectives may differ.

But Takeru stands apart from all of them, as he is not a true member of this country. Even the UN forces of Yokohama Base are largely Japanese. Meiya, of course, is the one who expresses the most sympathy for the rebels’ stated grievances. But even someone like Yuuko, who is supposed to be working for the greater good of the entire planet, can’t help but express her opinion in this episode as a Japanese citizen. Only Takeru is different. As Tsukuyomi notes, it’s inconceivable to her that a Japanese person could be so indifferent to outside intervention after seeing what America has done to Japan. But Takeru wasn’t around to experience any of that, so he’s incapable of seeing things from that perspective. Takeru is only concerned with saving the entire world from the BETA. He doesn’t understand or care about the political implications involved. When dealing with such a sensitive topic, it’s crucial that the audience come into this conflict through Takeru’s more neutral viewpoint. This will become even more important as the political arguments develop over the course of this arc.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 07

November 23, 2021

This will probably be a short one. After a fairly rocky start, this show has settled into a much more consistent and predictable level of quality, so I don’t feel like I have as much to say from episode to episode as I used to. This week’s episode is fairly straightforward, so we can get through it pretty quickly.

The majority of this episode belongs to Kasumi. After Takeru returns to the Alternative world, Yuuko reveals the secret to Kasumi’s backstory, which then allows Takeru to understand her better and grow closer to her. In fact, with this anime having been so fast-paced for so long, what stands out most is just how much time this episode is allowed to devote to Takeru and Kasumi’s long conversation. It’s the longest conversation Takeru has been depicted as having with anybody, not counting the largely expositional conversations he’s had with Yuuko. It’s yet another good sign that the anime is slowing down now that it’s through its setup phase, and is allowing scenes to play out a little more.

One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet is just how much smaller Kasumi seems in the anime compared to the game. She’s remarkably shorter than I imagined her to be, but her face and her proportions in general are all smaller as well. She’s also a lot more expressive in the anime as well – while she still talks in the same somewhat monotone voice as in the game, she shows many more facial expressions in the anime. She’s pretty much always staring straight forward in the game; I can’t imagine her shifting her eyes like she does in this episode when she claims she’s not trying to make fun of Takeru. I actually think I like her more in the anime than in the game – she certainly feels like the only character that the anime has put a lot of thought into how to depict, beyond simply following the game.

This episode is also Sumika’s debut appearance outside of flashbacks, but with the episode’s heavy focus on Kasumi, and on the possible connection between Kasumi and Sumika, Sumika herself winds up feeling a little like she’s in Kasumi’s shadow this time around. It’s still a good scene that gets across how important Sumika is to Takeru, but by its very nature, it’s a very short scene where Takeru struggles to recapture his old relationship with her, having seen so much in the three years since he last saw her, so we don’t get to see much of what they’re usually like together. It’s a scene that, as far as the anime is concerned, is more relevant for how it affects Takeru than for actually introducing Sumika herself into the story.

The final section of the episode is devoted to setting up the show’s next major storyline. It starts with a few cutaways to characters within the Imperial Japanese Army, including Sayoko Komaki, the lead character from the anime’s first episode. Along with Komaki, these scenes also bring back the hints of unease with the Japanese government’s actions, which had been developed during the first episode as well. The scene of them walking through the refugee camp is a striking one, particularly because the images of the camp are original to the anime. While the manga (which the anime continues to follow fairly closely) first introduced this scene, the anime portrays the camp with far more detail and impact.

The episode then ends by setting up some of the major conflicts within Takeru’s Squad 207B, and the major one is between Takeru and Meiya. We’ve seen throughout this anime that Takeru’s goal is to change the future and push his own squad’s training forward, so he is elated by the news that a group of civilians has been evacuated from Mount Tengen. His internal monologue indicates that he and his squad were part of the evacuation team during the previous timeline – the anime doesn’t go into much more detail than that, other than a couple of quick flashes. That’s probably for the best, since I’ve been saying constantly that the anime needs to minimize those kinds of references – what actually happened in the previous timeline is not as important as the simple knowledge that they didn’t go on the mission this time. Meanwhile, we’ve seen glimpses of Meiya’s own concern for the welfare of the Japanese civilians during the BETA alert in episode 4, and this time around, she’s worried about the implication that the civilians may have been evacuated by force. That sets up a fight between the two of them over the righteousness of the evacuation. The argument itself goes by fairly quickly, and as this plotline is only introduced in the final minutes of the episode, it will obviously be followed up on in more detail later. In that sense, these last minutes of the episode can be considered more of a preview for where the next episodes are headed.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 06

November 15, 2021

With this episode, we officially move into the next stage of Muv-Luv Alternative’s story. We are now past the part of the story where Takeru retraces events he experienced during his last time through this world. Starting this episode, Takeru is now experiencing events that he has no prior knowledge of, and it immediately gives this episode a different feel from the ones that came before.

Perhaps appropriately, we kick things off with the introduction of Mikoto’s dad, who proceeds to list all the ways that Takeru has already changed this timeline, notably intervening in the BETA attack from Sadogashima and the HSST drop that coincided with the visit from Miki’s father. Seeing these events laid out at the beginning of the episode almost feels like the anime itself signaling to the viewer that it’s time to start expecting that these changes to the timeline will start affecting how the anime plays out.

The introduction of Mikoto’s dad is one of those things that will simply play differently between the original game and the anime. In the game, we’ve already had plenty of time to get to know Mikoto’s personality, and receive all sorts of hints about what kind of person Mikoto’s dad is. He’s an unseen character throughout the earlier chapters, and his reveal here is the payoff to a long series of insinuations about him. In the anime, not only have we not heard of him before, we haven’t even gotten to know Mikoto well enough to see how her dad reflects her own personality.

Instead, her dad’s introduction is more important in the anime for what it suggests about the future. We’ve heard before that all of the other members of Takeru’s squad have complicated family situations. The show then introduced Miki’s dad (a UN undersecretary) last episode, and it follows up by bringing in Mikoto’s dad (an Imperial intelligence agent) this episode. It is definitely a sign that the show is beginning to follow up on that thread, and that we’ll continue to explore those family situations in the upcoming weeks. And then, of course, there’s the message that Mikoto’s dad actually brings, the vast majority of which is currently incomprehensible to Takeru (and the viewer), but which is obviously foreshadowing for future events.

The rest of the episode is dedicated entirely to the storyline of trying to send Takeru back to his original world. And the way this storyline plays out in the anime helps illustrate just how much better the show flows now that we’ve moved past those early episodes. Before, the episodes were forced to juggle numerous storylines at once due to the fast pace at which it was trying to introduce the major elements of the story. Those storylines were also heavily dependent on Takeru’s knowledge of the previous timeline. Now that all of that early setup is complete, though, it’s able to build new storylines based on the existing knowledge that has been established within the anime, rather than knowledge from the previous timeline, making it much easier for the viewer to follow the story.

The actual return to Takeru’s original world is another moment that is built up to much more in the previous chapters of the game than in the anime, but unlike the introduction of Mikoto’s dad, I think the anime itself has laid enough groundwork that the moment still lands effectively. The show has used flashbacks to his relationship with Sumika to establish his nostalgia for his old world, and we can sympathize with his desire to return, even if we haven’t actually seen much of it. His talk with the Yuuko of the original world also makes clear how different she is from the Yuuko of the Alternative world – she’s much more friendly and encouraging, whereas Alternative Yuuko is more calculating.

Now that we’ve reached the halfway point of this first season, I think it’s fair to look back and evaluate how the anime has gone so far. My sense of it is that the anime has focused, for better and for worse, on being a good adaptation rather than on being a good show. When the source material works well, the anime has generally delivered a good rendition of it. But when the source material has needed adjustments (mostly due to having started with Alternative rather than the earlier chapters), the anime has generally failed to make those adjustments. It has consistently erred on the side of staying true to the original work, rather than trying to make the show more accessible to new viewers. As I’ve mentioned before, I think a lot of it is due to a fundamental belief within anime nowadays that fidelity to the original material is good, and changes to the original material are bad. I see that philosophy at work in this show’s early episodes – a philosophy that says that they only need to concern themselves with getting the original material onto the screen, without worrying about how it will play in the eyes of a new viewer.

The bad news is, that philosophy overwhelmingly affects the first few episodes (episodes 2-4), which are the episodes that make the most reference to the previous chapters of the game – and those are the episodes that will most affect a new viewer’s perception of the show. But the good news is, if you’ve managed to stay interested in the show through those episodes, then you’re over the hump. You’ve probably felt that the episodes that came afterwards (episodes 5-6) have been enormous improvements, and that’s not a coincidence. Now that the show’s setup phase is complete, it becomes far less important to adapt the story’s structure, and far more acceptable to simply put the original material onto the screen – and that’s playing much more to this anime’s strengths. So there’s every reason to think that this show is only going to improve even more from here, especially as the original material’s story is about to ramp up as well.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 05

November 7, 2021

The 5th episode of the Alternative anime is a milestone episode in some important ways. As I mentioned last time, the previous episode was the last to introduce a lot of characters and concepts from Takeru’s old experiences, which was a major factor in those early episodes feeling rushed and unsettled. Although this episode still focuses on events that mirror those of Takeru’s previous timeline, it is largely able to root them in terms of his present-day context, which goes a long way towards allowing the viewer to stay on the same page as the show itself. The result is that, for the first time, it feels like we’re watching an episode of the Alternative anime that flows the way it should, rather than getting bogged down in flashbacks and references to unseen events.

The first part of the episode focuses on the visit from Miki’s father, the UN undersecretary. It largely follows the same flow as the equivalent event in Unlimited (the previous chapter), meaning it’s basically the Alternative anime’s only look into Unlimited’s much more light-hearted sense of humor. Alternative itself generally doesn’t indulge in quite so broad comedy, and the anime seems to relish its one chance to go this over-the-top. Again, even though this event mirrors the one from Unlimited, the anime doesn’t play into that connection too much, allowing the scene to unfold solely based on what has already been presented in this timeline. The result is a much more enjoyable scene for new viewers.

The next part of the episode brings back the ticking clock that has been relegated to the background recently, the December 25th deadline. It also introduces a major new plot element, which is that the Yuuko in Takeru’s original world (the world of Extra) appears to have solved the very problem that this Yuuko is struggling with. Again, the episode seems to have decided to root the scene in terms of its implications to the current timeline, keeping the flashbacks to the relevant scene in Extra to a minimum. This is the section of the episode that feels a little too rushed, considering the weight of the revelation being presented. I would probably have spent a few more minutes on this scene, but the anime staff may have decided that they can spend more time on it later, since, as should be obvious from the importance of what was revealed, the show will double back to this plot point later.

The final part of the episode, which ends up forming the bulk of the episode, is the TSF mock battle between the members of 207B. It’s a definite highlight of the episode, being the first time we get an extended TSF sequence with our main characters. The first episode had a big TSF fight as well, but that episode depicted a huge battle which switched perspectives constantly. This fight scene is both longer, and focused on a smaller number of units. It’s a great showcase for Graphinica, the CG company working on this series.

What’s become clear, watching these early episodes, is that the anime has heavily de-emphasized characterizations for Takeru’s squadmates. For instance, in the game, the events in this episode had space to get to know Miki during her father’s visit, and Chizuru and Kei during the mock battle storyline, but the anime instead focuses more on the comedy in the former, and the TSF battle itself in the latter. Unfortunately, that may simply be an inevitable consequence of moving through the early plot so quickly. These first episodes clearly struggled to fit everything in, so the anime needed to figure out what to focus on and what to cut. In these last few episodes, what the anime has mostly chosen to focus on is Takeru himself, and the story revolving around his attempts to change the timeline. As a result, his teammates in 207B wind up getting pushed to the side. And the unfortunate reality is that if the anime is really struggling to include both in its limited runtime, then the correct choice is indeed to focus on Takeru, at the expense of his teammates.

Not all of that is the anime’s fault, though. The truth is that much of this is the result of the original Alternative game itself doing the same thing. In the game, Takeru’s teammates receive most of their character development in the game’s first two chapters, Extra and Unlimited. Having done so, Alternative then largely shoves them to the side, effectively demoting them from starring characters to more of a supporting cast, hoping that the player’s existing knowledge of them will carry them through without having to spend too much time on them in Alternative itself. In a very real sense, then, there isn’t much the anime can do with them, since the original Alternative game doesn’t leave much space in this section of the story to do anything with them.

So, this episode could have included some of the characterization that the game had, but it wouldn’t have brought those characters up to the level they were at in the game. Maybe a really strong anime adaptation could have gotten around this by modifying the early episodes even more to include more characterization moments, but those sorts of major changes seem beyond this anime. This anime seems to have decided to follow the Alternative game’s lead in demoting the lesser members of 207B to supporting characters, similar to Marimo, for example, or the Valkyries (who we got to see a little more of this episode). Like those other supporting characters, Takeru’s other teammates will continue to get their own strong emotional moments as the story goes on (particularly as this season concludes), but they are definitely not intended to be on the same level as the show’s actual main characters: Takeru, Meiya, Yuuko, Kasumi, and Sumika.

Speaking of Sumika, I’m actually warming up to how she works in this anime. In the game, she’s a character we already know and love, and we can’t wait to see her return. In the anime, she comes off a little differently. Now she’s a character we’ve seen brief glimpses of, enough to know that Takeru is close to her, but as the anime continues to stretch on without her, we start to look forward to her entering the story properly, so we can see exactly what kind of character she is. It’s a different kind of anticipation, but I actually think it’s starting to work. The brief moments we get with her, like Takeru remembering her at the tree on the hill at the start of this episode, do wonders in keeping people interested in her.

That scene, like several others in this episode (like Miki’s Haruhi pose, and the Valkyries scene), comes from Azusa Maxima’s Alternative manga adaptation, which I keep mentioning every week. In many ways, Maxima faced the same challenges in his manga adaptation that the anime does – while there were technically manga adaptations of Extra and Unlimited, Maxima didn’t draw them, nor were they particularly in-depth adaptations to begin with. So his Alternative manga also had to deal with the idea that there was no good way for a manga-only reader to have the correct context before reading it. I think scenes like the vision of Sumika at the hill were his way of trying to establish that context within the manga itself. In that sense, then, it’s a very wise idea for the anime to stick close to adapting the manga, since they can pick up on these sorts of ideas that Maxima put in to make the story work better without Extra and Unlimited.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 04

October 31, 2021

There isn’t a lot I want to say about episode 4. The show is very much still in its setup phase, with the bulk of the story centering around Takeru reliving the same events he did his first time through this world. The adaptation itself continues the trend we saw last episode, cutting down on the number of flashbacks to unseen events and turning out much better for it. The episode’s major flashback is to Takeru’s original world this time, giving us our first real look at Sumika. The flashback works much better than most of the ones we’ve seen in this anime up to this point, because it actually takes the time to give us an in-depth look at what it’s trying to establish, rather than cutting away quickly. In general, the show continues to improve after a very shaky start to the main storyline in episode 2.

The first half of the episode focuses on introducing the last major pieces that Takeru recognizes from his previous time through this world, particularly the TSFs. As is usual with this adaptation, this part of the episode continues to reference Takeru’s unseen previous experiences, and continues to be a little difficult for new viewers to follow. It’s also a little crowded, with the start of 207B’s TSF training, the introduction of the Takemikazuchi and the Imperial Royal Guard, and the conflict with the senior officers, all of which get more or less equal focus.

The second half focuses almost entirely on Takeru explaining his video game approach to TSF piloting, and it definitely flows much more smoothly because of that focus. This seems similar to last week, which also devoted its second half almost entirely to covering the upcoming BETA attack from Sadogashima. In general, this anime seems to be trying to keep its focus on the events where Takeru is actively trying to change the timeline – last week, he was trying to prevent the BETA attack, and this week, he’s trying to make changes to how a TSF is operated. By contrast, events where Takeru is largely only reacting to things that also occurred in his previous timeline tend to be glossed over with a minimum of explanation.

(Both episodes also throw in a final plot point in its very final minutes – episode 3 with the CCSE island exercise, and episode 4 with the impending HSST drop. Neither one of them handles it all that well, although at least the HSST drop will get more follow-up next episode.)

Since this episode is our first real look at Sumika, it’s also our first chance to hear Sumika’s new voice. And my opinion is, it sounds fantastic. Sumika is definitely the character I was most concerned about, because she has such a unique voice. The new voice doesn’t match completely – the old voice is just too distinct for that – but it comes a lot closer than I would have thought. Honestly, all of the new voices just sound astonishingly close to the original. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a full recast where the entire new cast sounds so much like the old cast.

Just as with last week, this episode draws from the manga adaptation for inspiration, this time in using the SD Fubuki to illustrate Takeru’s explanation of combos and cancels. As I mentioned last week, if the anime is drawing heavily from the manga, then that spells good things later on, since there are a number of manga-original scenes that I would love to see animated.

It’s also worth noting that the manga adaptation also plows through this early section extremely quickly. Not to the extent that the anime does, of course, but it’s still clear that the manga wanted to hurry up and get through this first part of the story so it can focus more on the part of the story that’s actually really good. Once it got past this section, it slowed down considerably and spent a lot of time allowing scenes to play out, including, as I mentioned, adding new scenes to supplement the story. That’s one of several reasons why I suspect the anime is going to do the same thing. We’re already through the worst of it by this point – the next episode should be the last one covering this section of the story, and given the material it will be covering, it should be much more coherent than the previous episodes. And after that, we’ll begin to enter the true story of Alternative, and I suspect we’ll start seeing what this anime can really do.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 03

October 21, 2021

That was a massive improvement on the previous episode.

As I mentioned last time, the show is significantly better when it isn’t loaded up with flashbacks to Extra and Unlimited. So of this episode’s two halves, the first half, which is mostly dedicated to introducing Kasumi, is the weaker one. Unfortunately, too much of Kasumi’s character is tied up in the mysteries introduced in Unlimited, particularly her final “Takeru-chan” scene that explicitly suggests a possible connection to Sumika, so even though the flashbacks generally hurt the flow of the anime, there’s simply no getting around the need for them in this scene.

I particularly liked the inclusion of the TSFs discovering the human brains within the Yokohama Hive at the beginning of this episode, since the episode uses it to tie in directly with Kasumi’s introduction, maintaining that theme throughout the first half of the episode. It’s precisely because these early episodes of an Alternative-only adaptation are so complicated by their very nature that I think it’s important for the show to make it easier for new viewers to follow the immediate story. What is the importance of the cylinders with the human brains inside to the actual story of Alternative? If this scene had been shown at the beginning of the story, like it is in the game, it becomes just one more aspect of the show that would confuse new viewers. By including it here, it becomes another aspect of Kasumi’s backstory that is covered in the episode’s first half, so viewers understand the importance of it by the episode’s end.

The second half of the episode is the more important one, because it illustrates Takeru trying to change the course of history for the first time, meaning it’s the first time the show is actually pushing Takeru’s story forward rather than drowning in flashbacks to the past. And this section of the episode just works. Takeru’s conundrum in trying to change the future in a concrete, measurable way is told well, and the episode also gets across the ruthless ends-justifies-the-means morality that embodies Muv-Luv, where Takeru is considered naive for thinking that he can change the world without sacrifices. And even though this story also depends heavily on knowledge from Unlimited, the information is conveyed with a map that Takeru presents to Yuuko, rather than through flashbacks, which makes the whole thing go down much more easily. As I said before, if this represents what the show will be like once it gets away from the need for all these flashbacks, then I’m feeling pretty good about it.

The final moments of the episode, which blaze through the entire Comprehensive Combat Skill Evaluation, are probably the most controversial part of the episode, but in my mind, there’s no question they made the correct decision to skip it. The entire island storyline contains critical character development – in Unlimited. In Alternative, it’s included because of the nature of the time loop, but it’s just long and boring, with no major plot or character development whatsoever. To the extent that anything interesting happens in it, it’s exclusively by comparing the developments in Alternative with the same developments in Unlimited, showing how Takeru can get through the exercise much more easily now with his increased physical capabilities and knowledge of the future. In other words, it’s another section of the story which the anime would have to load with flashbacks for the story to make any sense at all, without any major benefits to the show in return. So it’s absolutely the correct decision to skip it, both because it’s a boring section of the story and because the anime needs to cut down on flashbacks in general. The idea that Takeru can change the future is already well established with the BETA attack storyline earlier, and the truncated CCSE works well as a capstone to this episode emphasizing that point, rather than as a storyline in itself.

In general, I think I’m coming around to the idea that, for an adaptation like this to work, references to the previous installments of the story should be kept to a minimum, so that new viewers aren’t being constantly reminded of scenes they didn’t see. The scenes of Takeru laying out his suspicions that Kasumi reminds him of Sumika are too important to cut, so they need to stay in. On the other hand, I would probably have cut lines like the one where Takeru implies he didn’t get Kasumi to introduce herself properly last time, since those kinds of lines yank the viewer back into Unlimited without a compelling plot or character development reason. Kasumi’s personality comes across fine in the rest of the episode even without them.

For the same reason, I’m OK with the episode cutting out the bulk of Mikoto’s introduction. Her introductory scene is another one that is almost completely dependent on comparisons with Unlimited, which will just bog down the episode even more. The anime instead treats it as a segue into the BETA attack story that dominates the second half of the episode, by reminding Takeru about the passage of time and the need for action before the December 24 deadline.

I was intrigued to find that several aspects of the episode are drawn from the expanded manga adaptation of Alternative, rather than from the original game itself. This includes the cameo appearance from the Valkyries, an original scene from the manga which is duplicated almost exactly in the anime. A major reason I find this interesting is because I had predicted in my previous post about the breakdown of anime episodes that this block of 12 episodes will end with a major story arc, and the manga heavily expands on this story arc with a lot of new scenes, including a number of scenes set before that arc which develop the world of Alternative more thoroughly than the original game did. Might we possibly get those kinds of scenes depicted in the anime as well? I would be very fascinated if this means we’ll get to see more scenes in the anime that weren’t in the game. If the anime is cutting stuff like the island arc to make room for new worldbuilding scenes, that’s a deal I’ll gladly take.

I’m particularly interested in another scene in this episode that is original to the manga, during the BETA attack where Meiya worries about the people living in harm’s way. Maybe it’s intentional or maybe it’s just coincidence, but that makes 3 out of 3 episodes now that specifically draws attention to the plight of the Japanese citizens and the role of the government in protecting them – Komaki explicitly blames the government for letting them down in episode 1, Takeru and Meiya have a conversation about civilians and their relationship with the government in episode 2, and now Meiya worries about civilians caught up in a military operation in episode 3. What interests me is that 2 out of 3 of these examples were not in the original game, meaning the anime seems to have made a deliberate choice to include these scenes.

So: a strong improvement on the last episode, especially in its second half, with the promise that things may only continue to improve as the anime begins to move away from the need to refer to previous events and starts establishing its own storyline.

Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation 02

October 16, 2021

I’m not going to lie: that was a rough episode.

I think most people understand why, so I’m not going to belabor the point. As the first episode to introduce the main cast and story, it absolutely needed to be accessible to new viewers, and it just isn’t. I know some people will just shake their heads and say that it was simply never possible to start with Alternative and have the story make sense, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. With the right amount of effort put into adjusting the script, this episode could have been at least reasonably understandable for people new to the franchise, and I think it’s a shame that that level of effort wasn’t put in.

I’m not going to pretend to understand the mindset of the people who made the show. It’s very possible that they genuinely believed this to be the best way of presenting the story. But I will also say that nowadays anime fans have a well-known hatred for changing the source material. I’ve seen several interviews with producers and the like where they’ve straight up said that they’re too afraid to make changes to an anime adaptation because they know fans will revolt against them. From my perspective, this was a shift in anime fandom that solidified around the mid-to-late 2000s – prior to that, it was much more common for anime adaptations to change things around. I’ve long said that something like the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien anime – which freely changed things around to make the story flow better as a standalone dramatic show – could never be made in today’s environment. I had hoped that a similar process could be applied to Muv-Luv Alternative to make it more understandable to a new audience. Again, I can’t know exactly what the anime staff members were thinking, but it’s hard for me not to suspect that this aversion to change was at least part of why this episode turned out so literally.

The hell of it is that the anime has already made a lot of changes to appeal to a new audience. The character redesigns and the new voice actors are the biggest change, of course. I’ve already pointed out how they changed the fortified suits to remove the chin section, and the visuals for the opening theme reveal that they’ve revamped the trainee suits, just as everyone has always suspected they would have to. And obviously, they’ve added the anime-original episode 1 to ease new viewers into this world. I suppose I took these changes to mean that this anime was willing to make radical changes to the original work, which is why I was taken aback by just how “faithful” this episode was to the source material.

Maybe the biggest problem with the episode is its failure to identify for the viewer which parts of the story are supposed to be confusing. Some parts of the episode – mainly the flashbacks to previous events that Takeru has experienced – are supposed to be fairly straightforward, and only become confusing because the episode plows through them so quickly. But other parts of the episode are supposed to be confusing on purpose, such as why Yuuko allows Takeru into the base and goes along with what he is saying, or just what exactly Alternative IV is and how it is related to fitting billions of parallel circuits together. These are things that Takeru himself doesn’t understand, and they are supposed to be questions that the audience should keep in mind as we go through the story. The episode fails to differentiate between the two, and I have a feeling new viewers come away with no idea that some of these are things that are OK not to understand at the moment.

I think the most frustrating thing about how difficult this episode was to get into is that I actually enjoyed the parts that didn’t deal with trying to explain the previous chapters of the story. Once the episode moved out of Yuuko’s office and got on with moving the story along, I really got into it. I like the new character designs, and I like the new voice actors. According to Yoshimune and the cast members themselves, the new actors were cast based largely on their ability to sound like the original cast, and I think they all sound the way they should. By the time the episode closes on Takeru and Meiya’s nighttime conversation, I was wishing I could see even more. I feel like this show is going to get much better once it moves away from the need to constantly reference unseen events from the previous chapters of the story. I just hope that at least some people stick around that long to see it.

I still don’t like the opening and ending themes, but the visuals do a lot to make them more palatable, especially the opening. Evan Call delivers some excellent background music, just as he did on Schwarzesmarken. Having just come off a rewatch of Schwarzesmarken, it’s immediately obvious that his work here is a straight continuation of what he was doing there, but that’s no bad thing.

For new viewers, the best way to watch the series right now is to focus on the revelation that Takeru has near the end of this episode, that he needs to graduate and move up the chain of command as quickly as possible. The episode helpfully provides a flashback showing why that’s so important – in the previous timeline, the base commander refused to tell Takeru and the others exactly what Project Alternative entailed, because they were mere cadets and could not be trusted with that level of responsibility. So this time around, Takeru focuses on the immediate goal of graduating more quickly than last time, so that they can be more of use when the time comes. This is a concept introduced early in this series that will tie into many of its larger themes, and even an episode as convoluted as this one makes sure to emphasize this thematic line throughout the episode for viewers to follow.

For viewers who have already played the game, I can only say that there is a frustrating tendency for veteran fans to “gatekeep” the experiences of new fans. They insist that there is only one “true” way to experience a work, and any other way is by definition inferior. I despise this mindset and I have spent a lot of time trying to combat it. I think it’s clear from the posts I’ve made on this site that I love seeing fresh, different interpretations of an existing work. My favorite parts of watching the older KimiNozo and Muv-Luv shows have been when they’ve diverged from the source material to do something that makes the show better. Certainly I would have loved to have seen the entire Muv-Luv story brought to life as an anime. But the moment the decision was made to make an anime of Alternative only, the anime ceased to be a faithful adaptation of the game, and became something else entirely. It won’t deliver the same experience as playing the game – that’s simply impossible. It’ll be a completely different experience, and that’s not a bad thing at all. That remains true regardless of how the anime actually turns out.

Anyway, after seeing this episode, I have some thoughts on how the anime’s story structure will shake out, which I’ll split into its own, spoiler-marked post.