Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation Updated Website and Trailer

August 25, 2021

The website for the upcoming Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation has updated, providing new staff/cast listings, new character designs, and a new trailer. I’ve been busy the last few months so I haven’t had a chance to write down my thoughts on how the upcoming anime is turning out, so let’s go through what we know.

The anime will air on the +Ultra block on Fuji TV. This is a dedicated programming block similar to Fuji TV’s more famous Noitamina block. The block launched 3 years ago, and for most of its existence, their shows were always licensed by Netflix. Cestvs, the show that ran in the block during the Spring 2021 season, was the first show to go to Crunchyroll rather than Netflix. The show currently airing in the block, Night Head 2041, is the second, and Muv-Luv Alternative will now be the third. There’s a part of me that really would have liked to have seen it get a huge Netflix push, but for the existing Muv-Luv community, having it stream weekly on Crunchyroll is definitely the better deal.

For the main staff, the director is Yukio Nishimoto, who is not a particularly big name. Looking through his list of credits, the one that stands out most to me is Galaxy Railways, which was a very well-done, enjoyable modern take on the Leiji Matsumoto universe. Otherwise I don’t particularly have any opinion on Nishimoto’s career – at the very least, I don’t see any red flags.

The story editor is Tatsuhiko Urahata, a writer who’s been working since the late 80s. I’ve seen his name on a bunch of stuff, but anime writers honestly have far less power and influence than a lot of fans seem to think they do, so I’m not sure how much it matters who’s writing it. He’s a very experienced hand with a lot of story editor credits, so that at least is a major point in his favor.

The animation studio is credited as “FLAGSHIP LINE, Yumeta Company x Graphinica”. I’m still not entirely sure what Flagship Line is, but as far as I can tell, it seems to be a production company formed by Avex Pictures and Graphinica to coordinate projects between the two companies. Graphinica is a 3DCG company, and they are a big name in that space. I guess they do some 2D animation too (Juni Taisen is credited soley to them), but they are definitely most known as a 3D company. Yumeta Company is an animation studio that was acquired by Graphinica a few years ago. So how I interpret the animation studio credit is that Yumeta Company will likely handle the 2D animation, Graphinica will handle the 3D animation, and Flagship Line is more like a producer, coordinating the overall project. I’m not familiar with Yumeta Company much, but from their credits, they seem to turn in acceptable but not particularly outstanding work, so I’m setting my expectations to somewhat average for the 2D animation, and higher for the 3D animation due to Graphinica’s involvement. That’s basically my impression of the new trailer as well.

Trailers at this stage are usually cut from the first few episodes of the series, since that will be all the animation that’s completed at this point. And we can definitely see that all of the new 2D animation is drawn from the beginning of the story. There is almost no mecha action in the first few episodes, so almost all of the TSF scenes in the new trailer come from the animation in the old trailers. The BETA animations are new, and I don’t recall seeing those Gekishins in the old trailers, so those are probably from the anime itself. The rest of the 3D footage was created specifically for the old trailers, and may or may not appear in the anime proper.

The actual character designs are new redesigns that first appeared in Age’s Comiket book Exogularity 02. The artist isn’t specifically credited in that book, but it seems to be Urimo, who also did similar new designs in Exogularity 01 as well. Urimo also did the character illustrations for the image boards that have been shown off for Muv-Luv Integrate, so it seems likely to me that these are not anime-specific designs, but rather linewide redesigns that will likely serve as the basis for all future work. I know Age had intended in the past to do a similar linewide redesign with their old artist Sou Miyata – you can see the results in the Chronicles stories Confessions and Resurrection. I have to say, I was not a big fan of Miyata’s redesigns, which made everybody look samey and bland. I actually like these new redesigns a lot more; they seem to preserve more of the original charm than Miyata’s did, while still smoothing out the often ridiculous designs of the game.

Hiroyuki Taiga is credited as Animation Mecha Director. He served a similar role on both the Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken anime. I’m glad to see him back; it seems like he’s developed a real eye for how to move TSFs around in a really cool way through experience on the previous 36 episodes.

Also returning from Schwarzesmarken is Evan Call on music. He made an excellent soundtrack for Schwarzesmarken and he’s done amazing work on other shows as well. The old trailer from May featured a new BGM track, but it quoted from the original Alternative BGM at the very end, which sounded great. We’ll have to wait and see how much of the BGM is original, and how much will be rearranged versions of the game BGM. I’m hoping for a lot of game BGM tracks, but Evan Call has done such great work that I’ll be happy with whatever he puts out.

By far the most disappointing part of the new update is the announcements for the show’s opening and ending themes. The opening theme is “Rinne” by V.W.P, which is apparently a “virtual artist group”. It’s typical idol fluff that sounds as lousy as it reads on paper. The ending theme is “Tristar” by Stereo Dive Foundation, which isn’t idol fluff but doesn’t really sound much better. I understand this is a marketing decision which comes down to how old all of the game’s original music acts are, so I was prepared to hear from new artists with no connection to the original game, but neither track suits Alternative at all. It’s not the first time – I thought (and still think) that fripSide’s songs for Schwarzesmarken didn’t fit that story at all either, but I got over it eventually. These songs are a much harder sell, but we’ll see how it goes.

The part about the songs that confuses me the most is that I was prepared a long time ago not to hear any of the old artists, because the old artists belong to Lantis (who worked with Age on the music to all of their older games), while Muv-Luv now belongs to Avex. The Total Eclipse anime used Kumi Koda, an Avex artist, and while fripSide is not an Avex artist, they worked with Avex for the Schwarzesmarken songs. And those projects were from before Avex bought Anchor, so now I was sure that this new anime would 100% push Avex artists. But Stereo Dive Foundation is not an Avex project, it actually belongs to Lantis as well, and Lantis has now put out an official solicitation for the new song, so Lantis is indeed involved with this new anime is some way. So now I’m really confused as to why nobody from the original game is doing the new songs if Lantis is involved. Total Eclipse managed to bring in many of the associated Lantis artists to do insert songs, so maybe the Alternative anime is going to do something similar? That would make sense to me, if they wanted to push their more marketable acts for the opening and ending theme, but allow the old artists to provide songs within the anime itself. I guess there’s nothing to do but hope that’s the case. I would also hope that the game’s original insert songs would play as well – I would be unbelievably sad if Carry On didn’t play at the right time.

The entire cast has been completely replaced. The new voices are:

Takeru – Kouichi Kamiki
Sumika – Tomori Kusunoki
Meiya – Karin Nanami
Chizuru – Miku Itou
Kei – Iori Saeki
Miki – Takako Tanaka
Mikoto – Lynn

Most of these people are really new. Sumika’s new voice, Tomori Kusunoki, is probably the biggest name in there. I’m really sad to hear that the old voices won’t be a part of this, but again, I can understand the business decision behind it. It’s been 15 years since Alternative came out, and according to the Age staff, there have been several failed attempts to get an anime of it going. I’m sure one of the factors that made sponsors reluctant to get in is the relative unmarketability of the cast, many of whom are unknowns. After 15 years of trying and failing, I can accept that some compromises had to be made. And honestly, listening to the trailer, everybody sounds surprisingly close to the original voices. I was prepared for them to sound way more off. We don’t get to hear Tomori Kusunoki’s Sumika (since Sumika probably doesn’t appear in the first few episodes), and that’s the one I’m most concerned about, since her old actress was so perfect for the role. I’m pretty sure there are a couple of other new voices in the trailer belonging to Marimo and Yuuko, and they sound pretty good as well.

How do the Hakuryo Hiiragi Uniforms Work?

August 23, 2021

So, watching episode 5 of KimiNozo reminded me of a little trivia question: how many people know how the Hakuryo Hiiragi uniforms work?

There are probably a number of people reading this right now going “What’s to know? 1st years wear red, 2nd years wear green, 3rd years wear the familiar purple. Duh!”

Well, you’re wrong. Believe it or not, that is not how the Hakuryo Hiiragi uniforms work at all. Strap yourselves in, because this is going to be a doozy.

Most Japanese schools assign uniforms based on year, and then each individual class rotates through them. So for instance, a class might enter the school as 1st years, where they would wear a red uniform, then they switch to a green uniform the next year when they become 2nd years, then they switch to a purple uniform the year after when they become 3rd years. The color of the uniform designates a specific year (1st, 2nd, 3rd), and each class cycles through them over the course of the three years they are at that school.

But Hakuryo Hiiragi is the exact opposite. Uniforms are in fact based on the class, and each year rotates through them. So what does that mean? It means that, for example, when Takeru and his class first entered the school, they were assigned the color purple as 1st years. They then continued wearing the purple uniforms throughout their three years at Hakuryo Hiiragi. The color of the uniform designates a specific class (purple for Takeru’s class), and each year cycles through them over the course of the three years they are at that school.

That’s probably confusing. Let’s lay out exactly how that works. Consider the school year at Hakuryo Hiiragi beginning in 1996. The KimiNozo cast (Takayuki, Mitsuki, Haruka, and Shinji) would be 1st years for this year. They would have been assigned purple uniforms upon starting at Hakuryo Hiiragi. During this year, 2nd years would have been wearing red uniforms, while 3rd years would have been wearing green uniforms. In Muv-Luv Alternative, Michiru is described as being 5 years ahead of Takeru’s group, while Mitsuki and Haruka are described as being 3 years ahead. That means Michiru is 2 years ahead of Mitsuki and Haruka, and would’ve been a 3rd year in 1996. That means she would have worn a green uniform during her time at Hakuryo Hiiragi. While I don’t think she has ever been depicted in a green uniform in the games themselves, she (alongside her squadmates from the Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles story Confessions) has been consistently drawn in a green uniform for promotional illustrations. They’re also depicted in a green version of the training fortified suit in Confessions.

3rd Year: Green (Michiru, Michiru’s Confessions friends)
2nd Year: Red
1st Year: Purple (Takayuki, Mitsuki, Haruka, Shinji)

The next year, the KimiNozo cast would have moved up to being 2nd years, while retaining their purple uniforms. The 2nd years would have moved up to being 3rd years, while retaining their red uniforms. And the 3rd years, including Michiru, would have graduated. In their place, a new class of 1st years (including Misae Munakata, who was described as being 2 years ahead of Takeru’s group) would have entered Hakuryo Hiiragi, now wearing the same green uniforms that Michiru’s class wore. All of the uniform colors have shifted, and now represent different years than they did last year.

3rd Year: Red
2nd Year: Purple (Takayuki, Mitsuki, Haruka, Shinji)
1st Year: Green (Misae)

The next year, the KimiNozo cast would have moved up to being 3rd years, while Misae would have moved up to being a 2nd year. The previous year’s 3rd years would have graduated, and the new 1st years would now wear that class’s red uniforms. This new class would have included Touko Kazama, as well as Manami Homura from KimiNozo. This year is depicted in the high school era of KimiNozo.

3rd Year: Purple (Takayuki, Mitsuki, Haruka, Shinji)
2nd Year: Green (Misae)
1st Year: Red (Manami, Touko)

The next year, Misae’s class moves up to being 3rd years, and Manami and Touko’s class moves up to being 2nd years. Akane joins Hakuryo Hiiragi as a 1st year, as does the entire cast of Muv-Luv. This year is depicted in the Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu 2011 remake, as well as during the flashback in episode 5 of the KimiNozo anime.

3rd Year: Green (Misae)
2nd Year: Red (Manami, Touko)
1st Year: Purple (Akane, Muv-Luv cast)

The next year, everybody moves up a grade again, and joining as a 1st year is Rin Nanase, a character from Muv-Luv Duelist. She also appears in the TRPG mini-game Faraway Dawn, but otherwise is not a particularly important character.

3rd Year: Red (Manami, Touko)
2nd Year: Purple (Akane, Muv-Luv cast)
1st Year: Green (Rin)

Finally, in 2001, Akane and the Muv-Luv cast move up to become 3rd years. This is, of course, the year that is depicted in the post-high school era of KimiNozo, as well as in Akane Maniax and Muv-Luv.

3rd Year: Purple (Akane, Muv-Luv cast)
2nd Year: Green (Rin)
1st Year: Red

At this point, you’re probably thinking, that seems really convoluted, how do we know this is how uniforms work instead of the normal system where a color is permanently assigned to a year? After all, the years that KimiNozo and Muv-Luv take place (1998 and 2001) both show purple for 3rd years. Well, we know because every time they have depicted a year other than 1998 and 2001, they follow this system rather than the simple color=year system.

In Muv-Luv Unlimited, there is a flashback to the first time Takeru and Sumika put on their Hakuryo Hiiragi uniforms for each other. Obviously, this scene takes place just before they begin their first year, meaning it is 1999. If they followed a simple color=year system, they should be wearing red uniforms, since red is depicted as a 1st year uniform in 1998 and 2001. Instead, they are wearing their normal purple uniforms.

Episode 5 of the KimiNozo anime is an extended flashback to 1999, a year after Haruka’s accident. Akane is clearly a 1st year during this episode, so again, she should be wearing a red uniform if this were a color=year system, but again, she is wearing a purple uniform throughout the episode.

The 2011 remake of Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu also takes place in 1999, so if they used a color=year system, then Misae, a 3rd year, should be wearing purple, while Touko, a 2nd year, should be wearing green. Instead, Misae is wearing green and Touko is wearing red, consistent with the system I described above.

(Does this system actually exist in Japan? Well, I don’t live in Japan so I can’t give you a thorough answer, but judging from how other Japanese fans have described it, it sounds like the answer is yes, but it’s not common.)

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

November 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photonmelodies Released!

August 2, 2020

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

Altered Fable – A Shimmering Shard of Spacetime:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles – Adoration:

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

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

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

Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles – Resurrection:

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

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

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

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

The Path to Adulthood

September 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photonflowers Released! (And hope for the future)

August 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photonflowers Release

July 21, 2019

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

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

Muv-Luv Side:

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Side:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road to Muv-Luv Alternative

September 18, 2017

[Personal note: Unlike the Road to Muv-Luv, I was actually around to experience most of these events, so this time around, I’m going to add these personal notes to the timeline. I hope they provide a more in-depth view of what the long wait for Alternative was like.]

February 28 2003
Muv-Luv is released.

October 05 2003
The Kimi ga Nozomu Eien anime starts airing.

[This is where I started. I watched this show as it was airing, and I was so impressed by it that I took the plunge and picked up the game before the anime even ended. I played through the main story in a single weekend and I was absolutely blown away by the power of the story. This was the first visual novel I had ever played and I was stunned by the storytelling possibilities of the medium. So when I looked up what else this company had done, and discovered that they had made a follow-up to this game – and what’s more, that it featured mechas, the great anime love of my life – I was all in.]

February 23 2004
Age finally updates their Muv-Luv website. Most notably, they announce that they will definitely release Alternative sometime in 2004.  They also announce that they will release a DVD-ROM version of Muv-Luv (the original release was on CD-ROM).

[This was around the time that I had finished up Muv-Luv, so my earliest memory of Alternative was knowing that they would release the game sometime later this year. This struck me as a very reasonable amount of time to wait. Of course, for Japanese fans, this was a far more frustrating announcement.  Keep in mind that an entire year has now passed since Muv-Luv was released, with almost no news whatsoever.]

April 10 2004
Age puts on a live event called “Songs From Age The Live”. During this event, JAM Project performs the Alternative theme song “Asu e no Houkou” and Hironobu Kageyama’s “Tsubasa” for the very first time.

[I still remember that awesome shock I felt when I first read that JAM Project would be doing the theme song to Alternative. I’m sure that nowadays it’s obvious that the two go together, but at the time it was almost unthinkable for an adult game to get a mainstream name like JAM Project. It was an amazing feeling of two of my favorite worlds colliding in a way that I absolutely would have sworn was impossible.]

April 30 2004
The DVD version of Muv-Luv is released.

[It’s been a very long time since I played that original CD version of Muv-Luv so I can’t remember specific details, but my general impression is that the DVD version didn’t make too many enhancements over the CD version.  I do recall that they recast the role of Kashiwagi, replacing the original actress with the one who has been playing her ever since.]

October 21 2004
The Age website announces 2 release dates: December 17 2004 for Muv-Luv Supplement, and April 28 2005 for Muv-Luv Alternative.

[Fans were, of course, enraged by such a massive delay from what they were promised. Personally, this was the first time I had experienced one of Muv-Luv’s patented delays, so while I was disappointed, I was willing to suck it up. Before this, I had more or less put Muv-Luv out of my mind, confident that I would be able to return to it by the end of the year. Knowing now how long it was going to be before I could actually play the game, this was the point when I started actively seeking out news about Alternative.]

November 25 2004
The Akane Maniax OVA begins its release.

[It’s pretty sad to look back now and realize that Akane Maniax was the closest that the Muv-Luv characters have gotten to being animated. I still like to come back to this OVA and watch the Muv-Luv scenes in particular, and imagine what might have been. Years afterward, Yoshimune confirmed what everybody had suspected – that Akane Maniax was indeed intended to lead into a full Muv-Luv anime, and the final handover scene of the OVA was written with that in mind. That’s why Bandai Visual took over distribution of the final episode of the OVA. However, stuff happened behind the scenes and the project never came together. Bandai Visual would eventually make the KimiNozo Next Season OVA in order to salvage something from the deal.]

December 17 2004
Muv-Luv Supplement is released.

[From the moment it was announced, it was obvious that Supplement was simply something Age threw together in a hurry as an apology to fans for breaking their promise about Alternative. As such, I tend to be rather easy on it, since I never expected much from it to begin with.  For me, and I imagine for many fans, the real draw of Supplement was the video of the Alternative OP included with the game. The OP included far more new images and video of Alternative than Age had released to this point. There was a time when I would watch the OP several times a day – it’s fair to say this is when I started getting very obsessed with Alternative. This version of the OP is so seared into my brain that, to this day, the 16:9 version of the OP that plays in the actual game still feels really weird to me.]

February 02 2005
Muv-Luv Alternative is delayed 1 month to May 27. Age would eventually claim that this was due to the events of the 2004 Chuuetsu earthquake and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake which had taken place over the past several months. Originally, the end of Operation 21st would have depicted a large tsunami devastating Honshu at Niigata. However, Age felt that this event needed to be changed in light of the real-life devastation of Niigata, followed closely by the real-life tsunami rampaging across the Indian Ocean. Changing this event, and in particular Kashiwagi’s original role in it, required changing many other sections of the story that originally referred to it as well. Remnants of the originally scripted tsunami remain in the final story, but its effects are largely glossed over.

[Of course, Age wasn’t going to spoil their own story by explaining this when announcing the delay, so from our perspective it just looked like Age can’t release their game on time once again. By this point, I was so invested in Alternative that even a month’s delay was painful.]

April 19 2005
Muv-Luv Alternative is delayed 2 months to July 29. Age would eventually claim that this was due to the anti-Japanese demonstrations that had broken out in China and across East Asia earlier this month. This required changes to the depiction of Imperial Japan in the game in order to downplay elements that could be misconstrued as promoting Japanese nationalism.  One thing that has come up several times in interviews is Age’s fear that the game will be perceived as a right-wing, nationalistic work. They particularly fear that, as an adult game, they won’t be cut any slack or be allowed to argue about the larger artistic themes being portrayed. They’ve consistently cited it as one of the major factors that scares potential partners away from working on an anime adaptation of Alternative.

[You’ll note that this is a new 2-month delay announced only a month before release. Up to this point I had been trying to cut Age some slack, but this latest delay pushed the game out to 7 months past the “end of 2004” date I had originally heard about, so I was definitely starting to match the anger that the Japanese fans were feeling. Keep in mind that this was around the time that Alternative was supposed to be released according to their announcement back in October, which just made this latest delay even more difficult to swallow.]

May 21 2005
The gaming magazine Tech Gian includes a major feature on Alternative, including an official demo. The demo starts with a sneak peek at the attack during the XM3 Trials, before moving into Chapter 1 of the game, finishing when Takeru officially joins the 207th. The demo also shows off the games’ major new features, such as the 16:9 aspect ratio, talking/blinking animations, and the removal of the textbox. The game’s official website is also updated.

[For me, this demo was a big, big deal. The story being teased was so promising, but I was especially taken with the sneak peek included at the beginning of the demo, which depicted an actual battle between our heroes and the BETA. Much like the 4:3 version of the OP included with Supplement, I played through this section so many times over the next 9 months that it is burned into my brain – to this day, I can’t play through this section of the game without thinking of the old demo.  Nowadays, things like the 16:9 aspect ratio and the talking/blinking animations are pretty standard, so it’s hard to describe how amazing this game looked at the time. I think Alternative was one of the very first visual novels, if not the very first, to do 16:9. This game looked like a BIG FUCKING DEAL – it felt far more advanced and important than anything else on the market.]

May 25 2005
JAM Project’s “Muv-Luv Alternative Insertion Song Collection” is released. This mini-album includes JAM Project’s “Asu e no Houkou”, Hironobu Kageyama’s “Tsubasa”, and Masaaki Endoh’s “Carry on”.

[Finally, after 5 months of endlessly playing the OP video from Supplement, I could finally listen to JAM Project’s new song on its own. I listened to these songs constantly over the next 9 months, and pored over the lyrics sheet trying to figure out how they fit into the game. “Tsubasa”, in particular, was clearly written to reference a specific storyline in the game, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the story would develop. I failed, of course.]

July 11 2005
Muv-Luv Alternative is delayed indefinitely. Age would eventually claim that this was due to the 2005 London bombings, which brought terrorism back to the front page. This necessitated another round of changes, particularly to the 12/5 Incident, in order to avoid accusations that they may be portraying terrorism in a sympathetic light. Due to this, scenes showing the events from the viewpoint of the rebels were cut – in the final game, the entire incident is shown pretty much exclusively from Takeru’s point of view. Age may also have wanted to simply put distance between the London attack and the release of their game, hence the indefinite delay until they felt the political atmosphere had cleared.

[The game was scheduled to be released July 29, meaning this delay came only 18 days before the game was to be released. After waiting for so long, I felt that delay like an almost physical blow to the gut. This was the moment when I finally lost all faith that Age would ever release something on time. Much like the five stages of grief, I had finally moved to Acceptance – the peaceful knowledge that Age’s release dates are not to be trusted, and that is simply the way things are. Moving into this stage is a crucial part of becoming a Muv-Luv fan.]

August 10 2005
Minami Kuribayashi’s single “Muv-Luv” (Alternative version) is released.

[If you’re paying attention, that now makes all 3 theme song releases for Muv-Luv (including the original “Muv-Luv” single from 2002) that were timed to release alongside the game, only to be stranded when the game got delayed. I can’t imagine Lantis was amused by having all 3 of their releases go out without the product they were supposed to support.]

November 15 2005
Muv-Luv Alternative is officially scheduled for February 24 2006.

[By this point, I was finished with all the speculation, the analysis, going back through the game to find clues to Alternative, trying to piece together all the different scraps of info we were given . . . I just wanted this date to be true.  For the love of God, just let this date be true.  There were definitely fans who now believed that Alternative would never come out, and everything Age said to the contrary was a filthy lie.  I couldn’t bear to believe that . . . just let this date be true.]

February 24 2006
Muv-Luv Alternative is officially released.

[Having now waited 3 full years for the conclusion to the story, Alternative needed to be the greatest game in the world for fans to turn their opinion around…]

Muv-Luv Alternative Released!

September 18, 2017

Muv-Luv Alternative is now out on Steam!

Unfortunately I didn’t quite manage to finish the whole game before the general release, but I’m about 90% done, so I’m almost there.  What is clear to me, after playing through so much of the game, is the astonishingly high quality of the English translation.  The amount of thought put into each line absolutely amazes me.  We’ve seen a lot of truly great visual novels get translations that are far short of what they deserve, and back when the Kickstarter was running, I was very nervous that Muv-Luv could suffer the same fate.  We are very lucky that one of the greatest visual novels has gotten the best adaptation possible.

The game itself doesn’t feature too many improvements from its original release – the improvements made to Muv-Luv were mostly to bring it up to Alternative’s level.  However, there are a few new CGs and events, including a lengthy new section at the Original Hive featuring everyone’s favorite song.  Takeru is now voiced at several critical events.  And we have an album mode and chapter select screen – the chapter select is especially useful.  And it’s all topped off with a new opening theme by Granrodeo to supplement JAM Project’s classic original theme.

The entire Muv-Luv trilogy is now on Steam, available to the world with a high-quality translation . . . it’s an amazing time we live in . . .

Muv-Luv Alternative Releases in 1 Week!

September 11, 2017

Muv-Luv Alternative is scheduled to be released on Steam on Sept 18, exactly 1 week from today. If you didn’t back the Kickstarter, I hope you’re saving up the money to pick this up when it launches, because it is absolutely worth it. Kickstarter backers have already gotten the game in advance, and some have even finished already. Personally, I finished up the halfway point last night, and it’s been a blast. I’ve played Alternative many times over the past 11 years, but the last few times have been “highlight” playthroughs, where I basically fast-forwarded through the boring parts. This is the first time in quite a while that I’ve truly sat down to read the whole thing from beginning to end, and I want to take my time because this is the first time I’m experiencing it with an excellent English translation.

Anyway, with the release of Alternative, now sounds like a good time to get back in the swing of things and put up a few posts.

The Road to Muv-Luv post I made was much more popular than I thought it would be, so of course I’ll be making a similar post for Alternative. I’m very excited for this one since, unlike the road to Muv-Luv, I was actually around for the road to Alternative, and going through all the old material from back then has been very nostalgic. I’ll put this post up on the 18th to celebrate Alternative’s launch.

A few weeks after Alternative launches, people will hopefully be wrapping up their own playthroughs of Alternative, so I plan to put up an analysis of the story around that time, similar to my massive analysis post for Total Eclipse. I meant to put up one for the original Muv-Luv game, but ultimately it was too difficult to talk about the story without Alternative, so I decided to make just a single one for the entire trilogy.

Finally, a preliminary note – Age has announced that Avex Pictures will host a Muv-Luv talk event at the upcoming Tokyo Game Show 2017 on Sept 23/24, and will stream the event worldwide. Details will be announced soon. Maybe it’ll be nothing. Maybe it’ll just be a victory lap celebrating the release of the Muv-Luv trilogy on Steam. But given that 2017 has been a complete wasteland for concrete Muv-Luv news so far, I really hope something interesting comes out of it.