Japanese/English Cast of Project Mikhail

November 2, 2021

Project Mikhail, the customizable TSF action game, is now available on Steam for Early Access!

. . . That’s not the point of this post.

What I really wanted to talk about was how the official website has now updated with the cast of the game. The Japanese cast is the same cast as the anime, meaning we can use the cast list to determine the new voices for characters who have yet to appear in the anime. The Japanese cast is:

Takeru Shirogane – Kouichi Kamiki
Sumika Kagami – Tomori Kusunoki
Meiya Mitsurugi – Karin Nanami
Chizuru Sakaki – Miku Itou
Kei Ayamine – Iori Saeki
Miki Tamase – Takako Tanaka
Mikoto Yoroi – Lynn
Kasumi Yashiro – Kanon Takao
Marimo Jinguuji – Sayumi Watabe
Yuuko Kouzuki – Ruriko Aoki
Irina Pyatkh – Hitomi Sasaki
Mana Tsukuyomi – Hirone Yanagisawa
Michiru Isumi – You Taichi
Mitsuki Hayase – Hibiku Yamamura
Haruka Suzumiya – Mana Hirata
Misae Munakata – Anna Yamaki
Touko Kazama – Azumi Waki
Akane Suzumiya – Ayasa Itou
Haruko Kashiwagi – Maria Noda
Surface Pilot 1 – Satoru Fujinami
Surface Pilot 2 – Izumi Chiba
Surface Pilot 3 – Kayu Machida
Surface Pilot 4 – Yuki Okada
Asfana Shepsut – Haruka Kitagaito
Isfana Nepherte – Misaki Shiode

However, even more interesting, to me, is the fact that the game is completely dubbed into English! The English cast is:

Takeru Shirogane – Stephen Fu
Sumika Kagami – Lindsay Shepard
Meiya Mitsurugi – Kira Buckland
Chizuru Sakaki – Brittany Lauda
Kei Ayamine – Elizabeth Maxwell
Miki Tamase – Emi Lo
Mikoto Yoroi – Sarah Williams
Kasumi Yashiro – Lindsay Shepard
Marimo Jinguuji – Daisy Guevara
Yuuko Kouzuki – Elizabeth Maxwell
Irina Pyatkh – Maureen Price
Mana Tsukuyomi – Natalie Van Sistine
Michiru Isumi – Morgan Laure
Mitsuki Hayase – Corey Petit
Haruka Suzumiya – Carrie Savage
Misae Munakata – Michelle Rojas
Touko Kazama – Michelle Rojas
Akane Suzumiya – Leah Clark
Haruko Kashiwagi – Tia Ballard
Surface Pilot 1 – Matt Shipman
Surface Pilot 2 – Emi Lo
Surface Pilot 3 – Michelle Rojas
Surface Pilot 4 – Matt Shipman
Asfana Shepsut – Kristen McGuire
Isfana Nepherte – Brittany Lauda

Although the website doesn’t list this information, the English cast members have been tweeting about their participation in the game, and it sounds like it was recorded at Studio Nano, a newer dubbing studio located in Dallas-Fort Worth. Obviously, they use a lot of local talent associated with Funimation, but like a number of newer studios, they are also able to record a lot of LA-based actors online.

Interestingly, they managed to get back Carrie Savage as Haruka and Leah Clark as Akane from the old KimiNozo dub. That’s a pleasant surprise, particularly Carrie Savage. I had the impression she wasn’t doing much anime/game stuff anymore, but maybe she’s still up for reprisals. It seems like they couldn’t get Colleen Clinkenbeard back as Mitsuki, which is a shame, since they were already going 2 for 3.

I don’t know how anybody can hear about Project Mikhail game being dubbed and not immediately wonder: could this mean the Alternative anime is getting an English dub as well? So let’s go over the points for and against that possibility:


  • Crunchyroll hasn’t announced official numbers or anything, but I think most people would assume Alternative is probably not doing great numbers for them.
  • Crunchyroll already announced a slate of dubs for the fall season, and Alternative isn’t on it.
  • Studio Nano hasn’t done any dubs with Crunchyroll yet, to the best of my knowledge.


  • Well, they literally just launched a game with an English dub, right? Usually it’s the other way around – if there’s an anime and a game being released in America, it’s much more common for the anime to be dubbed and the game to be left in Japanese.
  • According to the show’s end credits, Crunchyroll is on the production committee for the anime, so it would seem to me like they might have a greater-than-normal interest in producing a dub for the show.
  • Despite having announced a slate of dubs for the fall season, Crunchyroll seems to be suggesting at the end of the above article that they might have more dubbing news at Anime NYC. So maybe they’re not done announcing all their dubs yet?

Of course, I hope we get a dub for the show eventually – just like with the anime itself, I like to see different takes on the same material, regardless of whether it turns out good or bad.

Anyway, that was a lot of talk about English dubbing, so let’s close out with another, more esoteric topic. See those names at the bottom of the cast list, Asfana and Isfana? They’re original characters in Project Mikhail (whose role in the game I don’t know – I haven’t actually played the game yet, sorry). But they sounded very familiar, so I thought and thought and thought, and finally I remembered: their names are, I believe, references to characters in Age’s old game Kaseki no Uta. For those who don’t know, Kaseki no Uta takes place on a distant planet in the distant future. Age and Kouki Yoshimune have also hinted that the game may or may not actually take place in the far future of Muv-Luv Alternative’s timeline. There are certain words and terminology that they chose to include in Alternative to hint at the possibility of such a thing.

The name Project Mikhail is itself a reference to Kaseki no Uta – Mikhail is a very mysterious and important word that appears in the game. Does this mean that Project Mikhail is heavily related to Kaseki no Uta? There was an interview with one of the developers where he basically said, not really, it was just an Easter egg since he was a fan of Kaseki no Uta. You’re free to decide how much you believe him – personally, I haven’t made up my mind yet on the subject. I will say that the apparent premise of Project Mikhail is not a million miles away from the truth behind the Mikhail of Kaseki no Uta.

Kaseki no Uta also had two other characters named Astana and Isphana – those names don’t match the Project Mikhail characters directly, but they’re obviously close enough that they must be intentional references. That said, the Project Mikhail characters look (and presumably act) completely different from the ones in Kaseki no Uta, so that I really could buy as just an Easter egg with no greater significance.

If Project Mikhail winds up actually having some plot significance with Kaseki no Uta, I’m sure I’ll end up explaining the context. For now, I guess we’ll just have to see where its story goes.


Muv-Luv Alternative: The Animation Final Thoughts Before the Premiere

September 25, 2021

The Muv-Luv Alternative anime had a special pre-screening of the first two episodes for fans today, and a lot of information came out during the event, so let’s talk about it real quick.

For me, the most important information I wanted from the pre-screening is a sense of how many episodes the anime will have and what kind of pacing it will follow. We actually already know that this anime will run for 1 cour, meaning it will end in December after 12 or so episodes. +Ultra, the block that the anime runs in, has already announced that The Heike Story will run in the block in January. The anime’s Blu-ray release has yet to be announced, and that’s usually how we determine exactly how many episodes the anime will run, but it’s probably fair to assume for the purposes of this discussion that it will be 12 episodes.

So, the question then is, will this anime cover the first half of the game and leave the second half to a second season, or could it possibly be aiming to cover the entire game? It seems insane to think it might cover the entire story – I’ve tried to game it out multiple times but it seems impossible even from a logistical standpoint, let alone whether the end result would actually be any good – but it wouldn’t be the first time a franchise that deserved better has been treated that way instead. If it were trying to cover the entire game, it would need to absolutely blaze through the game’s events to fit it all in 12 episodes. So that’s what I wanted to hear most from the event – how much material the first two episodes try to cover.

After the event, the actual synopsis of the first episode has been publicly announced, including on the website itself, in official news reports of the event, and even in an interview with the director. That said, for people who want to go into the anime without any spoilers, I’ll split off detailed discussion of the episodes into its own spoiler section below.

Without spoilers, then, what I can say is that from all the available information, it seems that the anime is very much taking its time to go through the story of Alternative properly. This is absolutely not the kind of pacing I would expect from a show that was trying to cover the entire game in only 12 episodes. After hearing the news from the event, I am pretty confident in predicting that the anime will end in the middle of the story, and then presumably a second season somewhere down the line will finish it up.

As for why it’s being done this way, anime that run for 2 consecutive cours have in general been on the decline, and I assume this one just follows that trend. Mecha anime is also notoriously difficult to animate, and the production committee may have decided from the beginning that it’s beyond them to make one that runs for 2 cours without collapsing. It’s worth noting that Total Eclipse, which ran for 2 consecutive cours, did indeed wind up having its animation suffer heavily, especially during its second half. So perhaps this is just them being realistic about what they can accomplish on their budget in today’s conditions.

I will also say this: the anime’s director, Yukio Nishimoto, has been posting about the anime (mostly about the state of the production) on his Twitter account, and he seems pretty enthusiastic about the anime. Obviously a director working on an upcoming project will hype his project up publicly, but his tweets seem to go beyond mere publicity, at least in my reading of them. A lot of directors don’t necessarily talk a lot about their job on Twitter, and I feel like someone who was simply working on a hack job would probably keep quiet about it. I definitely get the feeling that he, at least, thinks he’s actually doing good work and making something worthwhile, instead of just doing what he was paid to do. That is, of course, a separate question from whether or not it is actually good, which we’ll just have to judge this fall.

Other news to come out after the event is the announcement of new cast members:

Yuuko – Ruriko Aoki
Marimo – Sayumi Watabe
Kasumi – Kanon Takao
Radhabinod – Norio Wakamoto

The big news is, of course, that Wakamoto has been retained as Radhabinod. That opens the door to the possibility that other voices might be retained as well. I probably wouldn’t get my hopes up, though – I have a feeling that the more screentime a character has, the more likely it is that they’ll be recast. Wakamoto might well be a special case. Certainly I wouldn’t have looked forward to hearing someone try to replace him.

They also announced that they’re going to be doing a radio show with Kouichi Kamiki (Takeru) and Karin Nanami (Meiya). This is probably not going to mean much for most people (certainly for most people who can’t speak Japanese), but a large part of my experience with Age has been tied up in their radio programs, starting with KimiNozo Radio and continuing on with its various spin-offs and successors. I also wound up listening to a lot of Radio Total Eclipse. I regret that I didn’t manage to catch much of Radio Schwarzesmarken, so for me it’s been quite a while since I’ve listened to a weekly radio program. I’ll check this one out and see if I have it in me to follow it every week.

All in all, I am much more optimistic about the anime after hearing that the first two episodes don’t feel rushed. I’m looking forward to watching the series this fall, and hopefully they’ve already got a second season planned.

OK, let’s get into spoilers:

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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…

Muv-Luv Expo: The Summer of (Muv) Luv

July 2, 2020

The Muv-Luv team just finished up its Anime Expo replacement stream, Muv-Luv Expo, and it was a real banger, so let’s go over what was announced.

The stream started off with its main announcements panel (which was awful nice of them, oftentimes companies hold off on their big announcements until the end of their event).  Here’s what they talked about:

Project Mikhail: The professional smartphone game.  They had shown off some gameplay videos at Age’s earlier C98 stream, but I wound up not blogging about it because it was largely in line with what we knew about it already.  This one is more of a 3D action game, and allows you to customize your own TSF, using parts from many different TSFs.  Battle is much more hands-on, as you can select your weapon payload and fighting style.

In this stream, though, they announced for the first time that the game is an MMO in which all of the players participate in a single shared world.  Furthermore, they stated that they would be taking advantage of Muv-Luv’s built-in setting of multiple timelines to suggest that the timeline of this game is separate from the “main” Alternative timeline, and that the collective actions of all the players can shape the path this timeline will take.  That’s a really intriguing idea, and it actually makes me a little interested in the possibilities of this game for the first time (I hadn’t really bought too much into either smartphone game before this).

Project Immortal: The fanmade smartphone game.  While Mikhail recruited developers with a lot of previous game development experience, Immortal is basically just one guy who was passionate enough to get approval from Anchor.  This one seems to have less real-time elements, with a turn-based strategy part, and an action part that seems much less complicated than Mikhail’s.  In this one, you don’t seem to be customizing your own TSF; rather you customize your units by combining different pilots, TSFs, and weapons.  I believe that in Mikhail you’re generally controlling a single character (representing yourself) with a custom TSF, while in Immortal you’re controlling an entire team of preexisting characters that you pull with a gacha system.

Both games are slated to release in 2021, and both games seem to be targeting both smartphones and PCs.

Muv-Luv Photonmelodies: Apparently this game was approved for Steam mere minutes before the stream started, so now they’re able to confirm that it will come out by the end of July.  I’ll put up a more detailed post about what’s in it once it’s released.  Suffice to say most players will be interested in the Altered Fable section, focusing on the world of Final Extra that appears at the end of Alternative.  There are two other Chronicles stories included, but let’s face it, nobody’s basing their decision to buy this game on those stories.

Muv-Luv Alternative Manga: Wow.  Talk about coming out of left field.  The manga for Alternative, drawn by artist Azusa Maxima, will be coming out digitally starting this month.  This is a great adaptation of Alternative that spans 17 (!) volumes, and took 10 (!) years to come out.  (It only just wrapped up 3 years ago!  That was around the time Alternative itself came out on Steam!)  That kind of time allows Maxima to insert a number of original events not covered in the original game, mostly fleshing out some of the side characters.

It’s a shame this is only covering the Alternative manga, as anybody trying to read the manga on its own won’t have the proper context for the story.  On the other hand, the Extra and Unlimited manga aren’t really anything to write home about, so maybe it’s for the best.  The Alternative manga is definitely the one that’s worth your time, regardless of how many times you’ve already played through the game.

I don’t know who’s publishing it (is Anchor doing it directly?), but I sure hope that whoever’s in charge of translating it is consulting the game’s translation.  I’ve seen multimedia projects being translated into English that do appear to refer to an existing translation to keep things consistent, and I hope that’s happening here.  It would be very difficult for the manga translation to live up to the game’s high standard otherwise, and that would be a shame.

Incidentally, while artist Azusa Maxima has a great artstyle that beautifully captures the spirit of Alternative, he also draws some very adorable SD art, to the point where he began providing the SD art for Age’s actual games.  In fact, you can see his SD art in both of the Chronicles stories included in Photonmelodies, also out this month.  Synergy!

The Anime: They showed off some design art for the Takemikazuchi that appeared in the anime trailer.  I remain unconvinced by the way they keep dodging the question of what exactly this is going to entail.  This is still very much in the early stages, so I continue to withhold judgement until we actually get some details.

The Artbook: Perhaps feeling bad for how Anime Expo’s cancellation means no convention goodies for fans, Anchor has made a digital version of their Comiket artbook Age Graphicers available for purchase.  This is a neat book collecting a lot of artwork, but be aware that it’s pretty thin, and quite a number of pages are devoted to games that will almost certainly never be released in English.  But be honest: if you had gone to Anime Expo, the amount they’re asking for this book is barely a rounding error, so go ahead and treat yourself if you’ve got the money.

Muv-Luv Unlimited: The Day After: They had already announced on their C98 stream that they were bringing this to Steam, so this announcement was no surprise.  On the C98 stream, they weren’t yet ready to commit to announcing this in English, but realistically, there’s no good reason to be putting this on Steam unless they planned on reaching a global audience.

I was pleasantly surprised by the much stronger confirmation that they’ll finally be releasing the final chapter, 04.  Maybe it’s just that it’s been so long since they’ve released a new game, but I was quite moved to see them talking about it with such confidence – they usually react to questions about finishing TDA by dodging the question with vague promises about the future.  They released some concept art of the final chapter, but we’ll skip talking about them here since some of them were pretty spoilery about previous chapters.

So what is The Day After?  Well, you may recall Unlimited ending with a handful of people being evacuated off Earth, the plan being to then drop G-Bombs on all the remaining Hives on the planet.  The Day After explores the aftermath of that operation, and it isn’t pretty.

Although the core cast is new, the supporting cast is largely made up of supporting characters from across all the different Muv-Luv franchises.  This is not a standalone franchise like Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken – finishing the original trilogy is an absolute requirement, and the game rewards familiarity with the shared universe.  For instance: while you can go into The Day After having only played the original trilogy, the upcoming Photonmelodies will introduce (or at least mention) THREE new characters who go on to appear in The Day After at some point.  More synergy!

Speaking of, another fairly prominent supporting character in The Day After makes her first appearance in the Alternative manga, in one of those original episodes I mentioned earlier.  In fact, depending on the release schedule of both the manga and The Day After, it’s possible she may appear in both at around the same time.  Even more synergy!

Mini-Concert: With the announcements complete, the stream moved on to a special pre-recorded mini-concert with Aki Misato and Minami Kuribayashi.  Aki Misato sang “Kizu wa Kaseki ni Naranai Keredo” (the ending theme to Chizuru’s route in Extra), “calling” (the ending theme to Alternative Chronicles), and “Saigo no Eden” (the opening theme to the upcoming The Day After).  Minami Kuribayashi then sang “Muv-Luv” (obviously, the opening theme to Muv-Luv and the ending theme to Alternative), “Doubt the World” (the second opening theme for the Total Eclipse anime), and “Divergence” (the opening theme for the old all-ages edition of Muv-Luv).  “Divergence” is a pretty strange choice, since it doesn’t play on the English version of the game.  But it’s a song I haven’t heard in a while, so it was nice to hear it here.

Chat with the Creators: This was an interesting segment where fans submitted questions for the creators directly through Twitter and Youtube chat.  Western fans may not realize it, but in Japan, creators don’t usually take such blunt questions, especially about projects that are still in development.  I thought the Japanese staff took it with admirably good humor, and responded seriously to each question.

Comedic highlights include Yoshimune taking it to Gundam Seed Destiny by saying nobody wants to see the old heroes overshadow the new, current heroes in The Day After.  He also responded to a question about the strongest TSF by saying that across all the Muv-Luv properties, it would be the Hinokagutsuchi, which is an extremely powerful gag robot from a gag game.

They also talked a little about the Yui/Anime route for Total Eclipse, which remains something I am very interested in reading one day.  Any time they bring the Yui route back into the conversation is time well spent as far as I’m concerned.  I know we’re not getting it any time soon, I just want them to know we haven’t forgotten about it.

Finally, I wanted to close out this recap by mentioning a couple of more serious notes that Yoshimune touched on.  In one, he mentioned how he always tries to write the international politics of Muv-Luv without ever allowing one side to become simply evil – all sides are in a desperate struggle for survival, and all sides are on some level justified in believing what they do is for the greater good.  In another, he mentioned how he always tries to keep in mind that every character, no matter how small the role, has their own life and their own story.  These are the very aspects of Muv-Luv that most appeal to me.  I’ve written about them before, but I don’t think Western fans have ever had the opportunity to hear Yoshimune himself talk about them so directly.  Muv-Luv is a massive work and everybody likes a different aspect of it, but I hope that there are some fans out there who heard what Yoshimune had to say today, and perhaps started thinking that maybe those are things that are important to them as well.  It would make me very happy to know that there are fans who see Muv-Luv the way I do.

Age 20th Anniversary Broadcast “still breathing”

October 22, 2019

What an event! A lot just happened, so let’s talk about what was announced and what it means for the future of Muv-Luv.

The event was streamed on both Muv-Luv’s Japanese and English official YouTube channels. The English stream was accompanied by a real-time translator. You can still watch the archived stream here.

The event took place at the Avex building in Tokyo. The event actually began around 11AM JST, with special themed food and a garage sale of much of Age’s excess merchandise that they’ve accumulated over the years. The stream itself began at 4PM JST, and generally played Age music for 2 hours until the talk event was scheduled to start at 6PM.

Shortly before the talk event was scheduled to start, though, they allocated a little time for a special opening act. After originally announcing his intention to hold an event, Yoshimune was contacted by a an indie game developer named Kitakuou, who wanted to make his own TSF game.  Yoshimune gave him a few minutes before the actual talk event to present his game concept to the audience.  He showed off a little gameplay, which I thought looked pretty cool – it reminded me of the Baldr series.  I think for this event he’s simply looking to raise awareness and get a buy-in from the official rights holders, and he’ll look to raise money to make this game in the future.

The talk event itself began afterwards.  Let’s talk about the people who were involved:

Kouki Yoshimune, I assume, needs no introduction – he’s the CEO Age, and he is basically the creator of Muv-Luv.

Tororo is the former CEO of Circus, another visual novel developer that was very close with Age in the Chiyoren days.

Nobukazu Sakai is the CEO of Minori, another visual novel developer.  They also did some events with Chiyoren back in the day, but they didn’t seem to be as close to them as Circus was.

Bamboo is the CEO of Overdrive, yet another visual novel developer.  He seems to have gotten close to Yoshimune a little later than the other two, probably sometime after Alternative was released.  As far as his relationship with Age, he’s probably most famous for helping produce a series of BETA hoodies, some of which were still available during the Muv-Luv Kickstarter.  He’s also the one who invited Age to Anime Expo back in 2010.

Mafia Kajita is not a CEO of anything; he is a writer, often writing articles for 4Gamer.net.  He seems to have gotten close to Yoshimune while writing up some articles about Age and Muv-Luv.  They’re close enough that Yoshimune has invited him to similar Age talk events in the past.  He’s listed as the “representative of the fans”, probably because he doesn’t really have any connection to the franchise beyond being a bag fan himself.

The MC of the event was Takao Yagi, who first met Yoshimune when he served as the director of Radio Total Eclipse.  They got along well enough that Yoshimune invited him to be a fellow host on Age’s own in-house radio program, which he worked on for almost 2 years.  Since then, he’s been invited back to be the MC for several Age talk events.

Anyway, as is probably clear at this point, the guests for this event basically consist of people that Yoshimune is good friends with, rather than people who may actually be involved in Muv-Luv.

After some introductory remarks, they moved on to looking back at Age’s 20-year history.  This was accompanied by a (very) detailed timeline of Age’s works, apparently put together by Age’s main writer/director Hayato Tashiro (who, as the commentators quip, may have a little too much love for the company’s history).  The timeline includes not just Age’s games, but also their tie-in drama CDs, manga, novels, anime, radio, and live events – yeah, it’s a little crowded and hard to read.  Yoshimune says they’ll probably put it on the website so people can actually read it.  From what I was able to read of it, there’s actually quite a bit of snark in it, so it may be worth it to go through it once it’s up.  They blaze through this part pretty quickly, and nothing of real interest comes up, so let’s skip to the next section, where they talked about:

Current (Old?) Projects: In this section, they mentioned the Android ports of Muv-Luv promised by the Kickstarter, the complete version of The Day After, and the final fan book for their old fan club Ageku no Hate.  They don’t really have a lot of updates for these projects, other than to acknowledge that they need to get done and that they still have every intention of doing so.

My personal impression has always been that Age regards TDA as a very low priority.  I think it’s pretty clear at this point that TDA (and the Chronicles series in general) was just a way for Age to occupy their time while all of the moving parts for the Total Eclipse anime and game lined up.  Once Total Eclipse was completed, they quit putting out the Chronicles series, and ever since then I suspect they’d rather focus their efforts on new projects instead.  This is especially true ever since Avex bought out Ixtl – I’m sure that Avex would rather they spend their time on what comes next instead of working on old projects.  And after seeing some of the stuff they introduced later in the stream, I’m not entirely sure I blame them.

Yoshimune insists that he is determined to get TDA out, and at one point even insists it will come out sometime next year (under the theory that setting a firm date will get things moving), but it still doesn’t sound like anybody is currently actively working on it, so I think I’m going to file that one under “wishful thinking”.

Afterwards, they had a cute section where Yoshimune pointed out a couple that had met each other because of KimiNozo, and they gifted the couple a pair of Mitsuki and Haruka illustrations by the original artist, Baka Ouji Persia / Gai Sugihara.

After that, they moved onto introducing their new projects.  They started with the surprise announcement that Totoro (who, you remember, had been introduced as the “former” CEO of Circus), is now working with Age as the Muv-luv general producer.  (They also announced more humorous titles for Sakai and Bamboo, but I’m pretty sure those were just gags.)  From there, they moved into their first major announcement:

Kimi ga Nozomu Eien Reboot: This project is what was being hinted at by the artwork posted to Age’s website a couple of months ago.  They didn’t announce any major details, except that, according Totoro, he would like it to connect to Muv-Luv.  I have some more thoughts on this below, in light of later announcements.

At this point, they showed off some video messages submitted by some pretty major guests:

Hajime Isayama, the creator of Attack on Titan, was first.  In the afterword to one of the Alternative manga volumes, Isayama proclaimed that he had “plagarized” Alternative, by which he obviously meant he was heavily inspired by it, but which was taken out of context and passed around the anime clickbait sites for a while.  Ever since then, Isayama has been a major promoter of Muv-Luv, giving interviews in support of their projects and even showing up at a couple of talk events.

Kumi Koda, the singer for the first Total Eclipse anime opening, was next.  According to Yoshimune, he had strongly pushed for Masami Okui (who had sang the original Total Eclipse opening) to do the anime opening as well, but the deal between Avex and Okui fell through at the last minute, and Avex offered Koda, one of their biggest names, as an apology.  Koda was on maternity leave at the time, but according to Yoshimune, she was very happy to work on this project.  To be honest, I’m a little surprised to see her here, as she’s much too big to be slumming it at the Age 20th anniversary, and I suspect that, much like with her original involvement, she’s making this appearance because of Avex, not because of Age or Muv-Luv.  Nevertheless, she sounds very positive here about her time working on Total Eclipse.

Granrodeo was up next.  These guys have a long history with Age.  The vocalist, Kishou Taniyama, was the voice of Takayuki in KimiNozo, and the way he tells it, one night while working on the KimiNozo anime, he went out for karaoke with Age publicist Saitou K and Lantis music producer Yoshiyuki Itou.  Apparently he impressed Itou enough that Itou offered him a character CD release for Takayuki, which is pretty unheard of for the male lead of a visual novel.  Taniyama credits this event with starting his music career.  Roughly a year later, Lantis was put in charge of the Japanese music for IGPX, a Cartoon Network co-production.  For some reason (possibly because it was a Cartoon Network project and not a lot was riding on the Japanese release), Itou decided to get creative and assigned KimiNozo-related artists to the project.  Taniyama (the voice of Takayuki) was paired with Masaaki Iizuka (a composer who worked on most of Age’s songs up to that point) for the opening theme, while Minami Kuribayashi (the voice of Haruka) and Chiaki Takahashi (the voice of Mitsuki) were paired for the ending theme.  Kuribayashi and Takahashi’s group Exige never did anything else, but Taniyama and Iizuka’s group Granrodeo went on to become a major anime band.  They would return to Age to do several songs for them as well.

Rounding out the video messages was Hironobu Kageyama, the leader of JAM Project.  He first got involved with Age when he was asked to write the lyrics for “Carry On”, a song to be sung by fellow JAM Project member Masaaki Endoh.  After Alternative was split off into its own game, he was brought back to write the opening theme and perform it as a member of JAM Project, as well as also writing and performing the insert song “Tsubasa”.  According to him, he was provided a massive tome containing the entire Alternative script, which is why the lyrics he wrote so perfectly match the game’s story.  He also tried playing through Muv-Luv itself to try to understand the story even better, but although he provided updates from time to time on his blog, I don’t think he ever got past the lacrosse section.

Afterwards, they brought in a couple of new employees at Anchor, Jun Kumano and Yoshiki Kajitani (who used to work at Square Enix), and they introduced the game they’ve been working on:

Project Mikhail: This is a 3D TSF action game intended for smartphones, although it will also be available on Steam.  They showed off some of the gameplay, which allows you control a TSF in combat, and it looks like the TSFs will also be highly customizable.  They intend for the game not to have any gacha elements; instead they’re looking at having the game run on a subscription model.  The projected release date is 2021, although they mention they will work hard to try to get it out in 2020.  Notably, they intend the game to be available in Japanese, English, and Chinese.

This may be a good time to mention that I strongly believe that a major reason Avex picked up Ixtl is because of the immense success of the Muv-Luv Kickstarter – the Total Eclipse anime didn’t make a ton of money for them, so I really think it’s the $1.2 million dollar Kickstarter that caught their eye.  Ever since Avex acquired them, they’ve been paying special attention to the overseas fans that funded the Kickstarter, including the real-time translation on this broadcast.  So the fact that this game is projected to be released in multiple languages lines up with that as well, and I would expect that to be part of the release plan for any future projects whenever feasible.

The demo for this game had a few of interesting aspects as well.  The first battle featured the Oguna Squadron, and showed 2 character portraits.  I don’t recognize Oguna 3,  but Oguna 8 kind of looks like Yuzuka from The Day After (albeit in a very strange, presumably placeholder artstyle).  The second battle features Ilfriede from Duty -Lost Arcadia- (this time identified by name), and her dialogue references the events of the Chronicles story Adoration.

That brings up a very interesting question, which is where exactly Duty -Lost Arcadia- fits into Age’s new plans.  Yoshimune seems to have confirmed on Twitter that there are no longer any plans to publish any Duty novels, so that story seems to have been left in limbo.  At the same time, Yoshimune has been very clear that they had intended to cover some very important plot points in Duty, including bringing the story of the Master from Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken to a conclusion.  Could they possibly use this game to cover the story of Duty instead?  Much like how they wound up using Strike Frontier to cover the story of Operation Zero?

There’s one last interesting detail about Project Mikhail, and it concerns the name itself.  Prior to KimiNozo and Muv-Luv, Age put out a game called “Kaseki no Uta”.  This game takes place in the far future, and heavily features a machine called the Mikhail System.  Essentially, in this world there are lifelike automatons called “dolls”, and the Mikhail System allows the user to enter a virtual world in order to “tune” these dolls, giving them a consciousness and molding their personality to the desired specs.  Yoshimune has hinted in the past that he specifically chose the word “tune” to describe what Takeru does to stabilize the 00 Unit, in order to imply that perhaps Kaseki no Uta takes place in the far future of the Alternative world, and that the Mikhail System is perhaps a much more advanced version of what Yuuko did to create the 00 Unit.  Yoshimune has generally dodged the question of whether Kaseki no Uta really is in the future of Alternative, or whether this is just a meaningless Easter egg with no greater implications.

Not only does Project Mikhail share the same namesake as the Mikhail System from Kaseki no Uta, the menu very clearly features a button labeled “Mikhail System”.  What does that mean?  Could that mean we’ll get some answers about the placement of Kaseki no Uta in the larger Age universe?  Or is just another Easter egg for long-time fans?

Afterwards, we got to the part I’m really excited about:

Muv-Luv Integrate: Yoshimune has been dropping hints about his ideas for “Alternative 2” for years and years now, and finally, he’s introduced a proper name and some concept art for the series, which suggests that he may finally be moving beyond just talking about and may actually be taking some steps to turn it into a reality.  He’s still cagey about the whole thing, saying he isn’t sure what format it will take or if it will actually ever be released, but I have been hungry for this for a very long time and I will take whatever hope he is offering.

This is the official sequel to Alternative, and the first story to really go beyond Operation Cherry Blossom in the timeline.  Let’s take a look at the images he introduced:

The first image is of one of the hives on the moon.  Yoshimune has hinted in the past that he would like to take the story all the way to destroying the hives on the moon.

The second image is of some TSFs inside a hive.  I don’t recognize the TSFs; they may be 4th or 5th generation.  Or I might just be bad at identifying TSFs.

The third image is pretty unclear.  There’s a massive hive in the background, much closer to civilization than I think hives usually are.  There are people on the ground – or, at least, people-shaped creatures, since their heads look kinda funky.  Are they new human-sized BETA?  Or are people actually turning into BETA?

The fourth image is quite shocking.  It’s pretty clearly the Statue of Liberty, destroyed and engulfed in flames while the BETA swarm around it.  Is America screwed in this new story?  In the background, it looks like there are two huge hives.  At first glance I thought they were attacking each other, but maybe they’re both under attack from human forces?

The fifth image is the most interesting one.  There are four characters, and upon closer examination, I think those four are, from the left: Ilfriede from Duty, Akane from Muv-Luv (she looks really different without her headband, but she’s got a Valkyries emblem and her hair and eye color generally match), Latrova from Total Eclipse, and Gretel from Schwarzesmarken.  That’s all four major Muv-Luv franchises represented in this picture.

Yoshimune says that he chose the name “Integrate” to mean “bringing everything together”, and he’s said in the past that his vision for Alternative 2 was to bring back many of the surviving characters from the different franchises.  This image really represents what I think he’s hoping for from this new story.  I don’t know how a fan of Muv-Luv can look at this picture and not get excited for what it could mean.

The last image shows what appears to be Yuuko looking rather shell-shocked, clutching what appears to be Kasumi’s stuffed rabbit thing.  She looks awfully bloodied up as well.  What happened to Yuuko?  Is it even Yuuko at all?

This more or less wrapped up the talk event.  They then transitioned to a mini-live concert.  Minami Kuribayashi came out first, and she performed “Rumbling Hearts” and “Muv-Luv”.  Afterwards, Rino came out and performed “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”.  Finally, the two of them sang “Precious Memories” together as a duet.

Afterwards, the stream faded into the event logo, but apparently, one last video was shown to the actual attendees, with the words:

Muv-Luv Alternative in Animation

Well that was quite mean of them, wasn’t it?

So, what does that mean?  If it means that they really are making Muv-Luv into an anime, then that could potentially mean that the earlier announced KimiNozo reboot, which was said to tie into Muv-Luv, might actually be intended to tie into this new anime.  Their Comiket book Exogularity 02 included updated character designs for both KimiNozo and Muv-Luv characters, so with the KimiNozo reboot pretty much confirmed to be using these character designs, perhaps the new Muv-Luv designs are intended to be used for the new anime.  In that way, both KimiNozo and Muv-Luv would share the same type of character design, tying the two stories together even more closely.

That was a massive event!  It was exactly the kind of event that Age needed right now.  Even though it was pretty sparse on details and firm dates, it still showed off quite a bit of the game design and some concept art, which goes a long way to proving that at least something really is happening behind the scenes.  Yoshimune confirmed that he would be starting up some live news streams again soon, so hopefully they can keep up this momentum and keep fans engaged with their future plans.

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.)

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 . . .