Newtype 02/16 – Minami Tanaka

February 21, 2016

– How did you feel when you read the original novels?

I had heard that it was an intense story, but I made my way through it much more easily than I thought I would. The world it portrays is very cruel and savage, and everybody could die at any time, right? But, there are people the same age as me who are holding on. It’s because it’s such a cruel world that I was sucked into this story of people living strongly in it.

– Even though the story is set 30 years ago, in 1983 East Germany.

That’s right. It takes place before I was even born, so the situation is completely different than it is now. However, Katia’s way of thinking is very close to our generation, which never knew the Cold War, so it was easy to empathize with her.

– What did you think of Katia?

She’s almost like a little puppy, with her head filled with dreams. Even while surrounded by savagery, she’s kind of flighty. Even though normally you would think “There’s no way you can do this”, she displays her ideals in a very pure way. I think that kind of honesty is what has the power to change everybody.

– Amongst her teammates, Theodor in particular thinks of Katia as an important person to him.

In the beginning, he’s always clicking his tongue at her and being really mean to her (laughs). I always think of the protagonist as being this hot-blooded manga protagonist type, so to see a very detached type like Theodor surprised me. Even though Theodor can’t trust any of his teammates, Katia is the kind of person who trusts everybody. So when Theodor meets Katia, he begins to open his heart, and as the story progresses he starts to become more like a real protagonist.

– This is your first time appearing in a robot anime, right?

I felt like “Finally, I get to ride in a TSF and fight!” I can’t experience the feeling of becoming one with a robot and fighting in real life, after all. In the beginning, it was a big deal for me to get to watch all these veteran actors perform up close. The first barrier was whether I would be able to say “666th TSF Squadron” without messing up. After that, there’s a scene where Katia is explaining the names of the TSFs, but even though it was my first time saying it, Katia should consider this common knowledge. I had to practice a lot at home to be able to say it without sounding weird.

– Did the actual recording session go smoothly for you?

It was a big help to me that I got to record Katia for the game before the anime sessions. I understood her from the game, so I had a clear image of her in my mind. I recorded the game by myself, so I had to imagine the dialogue between Katia and Theodor. But for the anime, I had both the film and the other cast members, so it was very easy to match up with them.

– The broadcast is about to start, so tell us what to look out for.

This is a franchise with a long history, but the story is easy to understand and you get sucked into it from the very beginning. You get very concerned about how this hopeless situation will develop, and about the fate of the characters and the future of this world. The battles are amazing, and the BETA are very disgusting (laughs). I think this is a show that many types of people can enjoy, so please watch!


Tech Gian 02/16 – Tetsuya Watanabe

February 19, 2016

– Please tell us what you thought when you first read Schwarzesmarken.

My first impression was that it was a very serious story. At the same time, I was of the generation that saw the reunification of the real-life West and East Germany in real-time, so I wondered if it was really OK to tell this kind of story in an anime.

– Please tell us what you were eager to accomplish as the director of Schwarzesmarken.

I was thinking to move the project in the direction of a war story. I was worried about how far we would be able to take it in an anime production, though.

– Please tell us what aspects of characters like Theodor and Irisdina you paid attention to in portraying them.

For Theodor, I wondered if it was possible to portray him as a protagonist-like protagonist. It’s a standard story for a protagonist to revive after suffering setbacks, but lately it’s uncommon to see a character like Theodor have his setbacks portrayed this way. As for Irisdina, I wanted her to be like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, somebody that Theodor and Katia could look up to.

– Please tell us a scene from the original work that resonated with you. Also, tell us how you portrayed this scene in the anime.

When I started working on Schwarzesmarken, I felt once again that things like haze and smoke are key ingredients to a war story. As winter grew closer, I became keenly aware that we wouldn’t be able to film the battle scenes in such a snowstorm in live-action, so I was glad that we were working in animation.

– Please tell us what you paid attention to for the TSF movements and battles.

The story basically involves a bunch of mass-produced units, so it was very difficult to portray who was riding in which machine. It’s easy to spot Annet since she has her sword, though. We developed snow as a key part of the visuals, but I was worried if it came out well or not.

– Finally, please give the fans who are waiting for this anime a message.

Schwarzesmarken was originally a novel series, so I consider it my challenge to see how much of it we can turn into a TV series. Everyone, please give us your support.


Tech Gian 01/16 – Nozomi Yamamoto & Minami Tanaka

February 6, 2016

– Tell us your first impressions of Schwarzesmarken.

Yamamoto: I had already played Muv-Luv and Alternative, so as I read the Schwarzesmarken novels I was very nervous about how the characters in Schwarzesmarken, which takes place in the era before Alternative, would survive in such a severe situation. There wasn’t just the fear of the BETA, but the human feud between the East and the West in old Germany, and I thought this really was a story full of despair.

Tanaka: I first read about it in the documents at the audition, and my first impression was that it was full of difficult words. Afterwards, I read the novels, and I thought things like “How will a cynical main character like Theodor change when he meets Katia? I want to know what happens next!” as I made my way through them. The world setting was also very interesting, and it felt like I was being pulled into that world.

– Tell us how you felt when you were cast in Schwarzesmarken.

Yamamoto: I had already played Alternative, so at the audition for Schwarzesmarken, I wanted to get cast no matter what (laughs). So, I wanted to audition for a character that I had the greatest chance of getting, but I wound up being called to audition for Irisdina, which honestly I thought was pretty hard . . . Of all the characters I’ve played so far, most are characters like Katia who are pushed around by the story, and it would be my first time playing a commander-type character like Irisdina. I was worried “Can I do this?” while I auditioned, but I was chosen to play Irisdina, and I was surprised but also very happy. The recording for the game came first, and I would carry around the game script that was the size of a telephone book, and whenever I had a little time I would go to a karaoke box and practice my lines there.

– So you felt a strong pressure since this was a type of role you had never played before?

Yamamoto: Irisdina is a perfect heroine without any weaknesses, right? On the other hand, I’m weak to pressure, and as a person I’m pretty soft (laughs). So I just felt that I had to practice no matter what. Schwarzesmarken has a lot of difficult words, so I wanted to go to the recording having mastered all of my lines. I’ve played a lot of different types of roles, but I may have practiced more for this one than any other role.

– How about you, Tanaka-san?

Tanaka: I was also very happy to be cast. I heard that Katia was “an oasis in the midst of war”, so I wondered how I should play her, but at the first recording session, I was told “Just play her naturally”, so I played her with a voice very close to my normal voice.

– What do you each think about your characters?

Yamamoto: Irisdina is a character who has been through a lot, so she may look perfect and cold, but she also has a kindness that envelops Theodor, and I think she is a wonderful woman. It would be very comforting to have someone like her at the top, and I look up to her as a woman.

Tanaka: I thought Katia was a very cute and energetic girl. I wondered how she managed to live life so cheerfully in such a savage world. She can say something like “We can defeat the BETA if the West and East work together” that shocks the people around her while wearing a calm face, so there’s a part of her that is ignorant of the world. But she holds an important key to the story, so I feel like that part of her is a natural gift.

– Tell us something you paid special attention to, or had trouble with, while playing your characters.

Yamamoto: I paid special attention to bring out both Irisdina’s strictness and her magnanimity. What I had trouble with was tuning my voice to Irisdina’s voice. I generally play a lot of high-pitched characters, so it took a little bit of time to adjust to the way Irisdina would often speak her lines in a low and crisp fashion.

Tanaka: Katia has a pure heart, so I made sure not to forget that. I also took care to portray her earnestness when heading into the battlefield. Also, I’ve only been in normal-style stories, so at first I was worried if I would be able to scream in battle. But during the recording, I studied the other actors and thought “Ah, so this is how you scream!”, and I was able to do it.

– Tell us which character you like besides your own.

Yamamoto: I really like Gretel. Even as she carries many emotional conflicts, she tries to find the right path for herself. I think that is a very difficult thing to do in the atmosphere of East Germany. Despite that, she is trying her best, so I felt that she was very strong, and I felt like cheering her on.

Tanaka: I like Theodor. For this kind of story, I think a hot-blooded main character is very common, but Theodor has a painful past, and his heart has been twisted. Katia helps Theodor heal his heart and allows him to mature. I was drawn to that part of the story.

Yamamoto: Also, I really like Walther. He is strong and dependable – that’s very attractive in a man. I think Irisdina trusts Walther very much, so that secretly makes me happy (laughs).

– Tell us your thoughts about recording for the game.

Yamamoto: The game has much longer expository lines than the game. There were a lot of difficult lines, and I’m recording in the booth by myself, so as the session progressed, I got weaker and weaker (laughs). But during breaks, I would pump myself up by thinking “I’m Irisdina so I have to act more courageously!” Also, we recorded the game before the anime, so I had to imagine what everybody else sounded like. On that note, I had worked with Minami on “Wake Up Girls” before, so it was very easy to imagine what Katia-chan sounded like. Even on “Wake Up Girls”, I thought that Minami could act very honestly, so I thought she was perfect for the role of Katia-chan. So, I felt like I could hear Minami’s voice just by reading the script. On the other hand, I just couldn’t imagine myself speaking so bluntly to veterans like Theodor’s actor Suzumura-san and Walther’s actor Miyake-san (laughs). I had to act those lines while reminding myself “This is Irisdina!”

Tanaka: I was very nervous at the game’s first recording, but as the remaining scripts started to dwindle, I would think “I really managed to record this much!”, and I was left very satisfied when I finished recording for the first game.

– Tell us a memorable scene from the game.

Yamamoto: The game has quite a number of scenes that aren’t in the anime. There are scenes were Irisdina just laughs suddenly, and I hope people enjoy those parts.

Tanaka: There’s a scene at the fortress where Katia is carrying a dying soldier, and that’s the scene I remember the most. In that scene, Katia learned that there are people fighting hand-to-hand, and I was also drawn into the scene as I recorded it.

– Now, tell us what it was like to record the anime.

Yamamoto: When we started recording the anime, I got to hear what everybody else sounded like, so I was glad to resolve that mystery from the game (laughs). In the anime, a lot of important elements are packed into each episode, so you can’t look away even for a second.

Tanaka: Everybody has been teaching me all sorts of things during the recording sessions, so I’m always very grateful. For the game I always recorded alone, but for the anime everybody is together, so I feel very secure.

– Tell us a memorable scene from the anime.

Yamamoto: I like the scene where Theodor is talking to Irisdina in the church. Even though Theodor hated Irisdina so much, he learns what Irisdina is truly thinking for the first time, and his relationship with Irisdina begins to change, so I think it’s a highlight of the show.

Tanaka: Right from the start, Katia gets slapped by Gretel and punched in the stomach by Sylvia, and just gets in a lot of trouble. It shows you what a relentless world this is, but even still Katia doesn’t get discouraged.

– Finally, please leave a message for your viewers.

Yamamoto: I want everybody who has already played Muv-Luv to see what kind of battles happened in the past. Also, we’re currently doing a radio show, and in contrast to the brutality of the main show, you can think of it as a place to heal your soul.

Tanaka: Fans of the original work have been waiting for this, and new fans can experience the Muv-Luv series and spread it even further. Please get immersed in this world and get excited together with us. Thank you very much.


Kickstarter Bonuses

February 1, 2016

The Muv-Luv Kickstarter added a new update today announcing that they will be translating a Schwarzesmarken Demo and the Total Eclipse side story The Imperial Capital Burns, based on the first two episodes of the Total Eclipse anime. The reason why these two were chosen is clear – they happen to be the same bonuses included with first-print copies of the Japanese Vita ports released just a couple of weeks ago. Basically, they’ll be providing Kickstarter backers with the same bonuses that the Japanese fans got. It also works out well from a technical standpoint – they’ve already been programmed as standalone applications, so they don’t need to any further work besides inserting the English text.

My understanding is that the Schwarzesmarken demo covers only up to Katia’s rescue and return to base – about half of the first episode of the anime. It’s not a lot of material, but that’s what it means to be a sneak preview. As for the Total Eclipse side-story, it is MASSIVELY expanded from the original anime episodes, with a heavy focus on internal Japanese politics. The concept of a modern-day Japanese Empire is one of the most controversial elements of the original Muv-Luv Alternative, and in this story we get to see exactly what that entails. It’s a fascinating read, and the picture it paints of how an antiquated Japanese system fits into the modern world is not what people will be expecting.

At the end of the Kickstarter update, they mention that they may use the leftover money to fund an extra “full project”. There really aren’t that many full projects to choose from – there’s Total Eclipse, Schwarzesmarken (not technically complete yet, but it will be by the time the original Muv-Luv Alternative has been released in English), and, depending on how you count it, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien. If you really stretch things, you might add Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu, Owarinaki Natsu Towanaru Shirabe, or one of the Fan Club exclusive games, but it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting those over the first three. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I want Total Eclipse first, not only because I like it the most, but because both Schwarzesmarken and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien have gotten anime adaptations that finish out the story. Total Eclipse is the only one where you need the game to see the ending.


Schwarzesmarken 01-03

January 31, 2016

Pretty much any in-depth discussion of the Schwarzesmarken anime so far has to center on the show’s episode count. At only 12 episodes, this is going to be a much faster-paced anime than Total Eclipse (or, for that matter, most anime in general). This is actually much less of a problem than it may first seem. Total Eclipse was an in-depth character study, and it needed the breathing room to build up its character relationships. Schwarzesmarken is more of a political thriller, where character development is less important than the tension created by the plot. In fact, it may even be to the show’s benefit to keep things moving at a fast pace, not allowing viewers to catch their breath.

It helps, immensely, to have a director like Tetsuya Watanabe at the helm. He was the director of the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien anime, which was also heavily arranged from the original work. The high school era of KimiNozo took up almost half of the original game, but the anime fits the whole story into only two episodes. And yet, these two episodes feel completely natural. They convey the entire story necessary to understand the rest of the series, and nothing feels missing from them. The rest of the series continued to show an amazing understanding of how to translate from a game medium to television. It was that attention to detail that I believed in when Watanabe was announced as the director of Schwarzesmarken. Watanabe is even credited alongside the anime’s story editor Tatsuto Higuchi for writing the script to the first episode, suggesting a pretty heavy involvement in arranging the story.

Given only 12 episodes to adapt 7 novels, Watanabe has made the decision to combine the first two novels into a single story, essentially by combining the final battle of the first novel with the first battle of the second novel. The way it’s done is virtually seamless, to the point where I highly doubt any anime viewer would be able to tell that these three episodes used to be two separate stories. Here’s a good example of what was involved in combining the two novels together: in the original novels, the Schwarzesmarken were originally assigned to Cottbus Base, under the command of Holzer Hannibal. After Hannibal’s death at the end of the first novel, the team is reassigned to Bebersee Base in the second novel. In the anime, the team starts at Bebersee Base, which is now the one under Hannibal’s command. This allows them to remove all of the material in the second novel related to the team being reassigned, which is pretty superfluous and doesn’t contribute to the actual story. All of this is done without the anime viewer noticing that anything is missing. It’s those kinds of details which I find very impressive.

Let’s take a look at the characters of the story. Combining the first two novels into one story turns out to be quite a genius move for Theodor’s character, since Theodor actually goes through a similar character arc in both novels. By the end of the first novel, he’s thrown his lot in with Katia, but in the second novel, he again goes through the process of giving Katia the cold shoulder and then learning to accept her. By compressing them into a single story, Theodor’s character growth becomes much easier to follow. Now it’s the threat of Katia being stranded at Fort Neuenhagen that drives Theodor’s original revelation that, much as he may deny it, he cannot betray Katia. It is, again, a solid way to get Theodor’s character across in a shorter amount of time.

By the end of this storyline, it is revealed that Irisdina sold out and ultimately killed her brother Jurgen at his behest, in order to keep her safe – she would likely have been killed alongside her brother otherwise. In the years since, she has worked in secret to carry on her brother’s will and overthrow the Stasi. I don’t remember if it’s ever explicitly mentioned in the novels, but it’s definitely strongly implied that this is the hidden reason behind the people she has recruited for her squadron. Theodor hates the Stasi for what they did to his family. Sylvia is Polish. Pham is a 2nd-generation Vietnamese. Inghild was a Junker. These characters aren’t just included for the sake of diversity – Irisdina has purposely scouted pilots who have reason to hate or fear the status quo in East Germany, and who could potentially be persuaded to take part in a revolution against the Stasi.

As for Katia, she’s a pretty straightforward character thus far. Although she is, for the most part, a flighty girl who doesn’t understand the real world, episode 3 does a lot to show that she is in the process of growing beyond that. Her best scene is at the end of episode 3, when she allows Theodor to burn the only picture of her father, to prevent such incriminating evidence from ever falling into the hands of the Stasi. It’s a clear sign that she is now growing capable of acknowledging the world around her.

The scenes with Hannibal and his second-in-command, Marei Heisenberg, reminded me that the game adaptation of the novels adopted an odd philosophy in which the story is told from Theodor’s perspective as much as possible. That means that most scenes involving Hannibal and Marei were cut entirely – I believe the only time they ever show up in the game is in the single scene shown at the end of episode 2, where Theodor is present as Hannibal dies. That means that Hannibal’s early hints that there is more to Irisdina than the rumors suggest are cut. Marei’s storyline, which as we saw at the end of episode 3 continues on past Hannibal’s death, is cut as well. Virtually all scenes with the Stasi are cut for the same reason – we only see Beatrix and Axmann when they interact directly with the Schwarzesmarken squadron. The game doesn’t follow this rule 100% – all of the scenes at Fort Neuenhagen are told from Katia’s perspective, and are too important to simply cut completely – but it’s still very odd. Games usually are told from a single POV, but the Muv-Luv games have been very active about breaking this rule, so I’m puzzled why they suddenly felt the need to change this. Luckily, the television medium generally embraces different perspectives, so the anime is free to leave these scenes in. It’s an interesting look at how the medium a story is being told in can change the way the story is told.

Kurt Griebel, the soldier who looked after Katia at Fort Neuenhagen, has an interesting history in publication. He first showed up in the 33rd installment of TSFiA, a monthly column in Hobby Japan magazine that depicted short scenes in Muv-Luv history. A few months later, he made his major debut in a short story included in TSF Cross Operation 2. This story, like all short stories included in the Cross Operation series, was eventually republished in a series of short-story collections called Schwarzesmarken Requiem. This short story was intended as a teaser for Schwarzesmarken, which was set to debut a few months later. The story focuses on Kurt’s tank unit, and includes only a short appearance by the Schwarzesmarken squadron at the very end, when Irisdina ignores his unit’s cries for help. At the time, while other writers had written short stories or segments of TSFiA, only series creator Kouki Yoshimune had written for a major Muv-Luv franchise, so I was a little worried about finally letting someone else write a full-length story. This short story went a long way towards convincing me that Schwarzesmarken writer Hiroki Uchida was going to do a good job here.

Kurt’s second-in-command, Vivi, also has an interesting history. In the novels, she didn’t even have a name – she just shows up, gives Katia a hard time, then gets eaten less than 10 pages later. The game mercifully grants her a name and a little more screentime, letting her appear alongside Kurt when he is first introduced. The anime is even more merciful, granting her a somewhat tragic death, whereas in the novel her death is almost comical. (Well, I laughed, anyway. Maybe that was mean of me, in retrospect.) Vivi’s actress, Moemi Otaka, also happens to be working as an assistant on Age’s weekly Nico Live broadcasts at the moment.

Let’s close out with some notes on the production. This time around, the theme songs are performed by the show’s lead characters – Yoshino Nanjou (Lise) is the vocalist for OP artist fripside, while Nozomi Yamamoto (Irisdina) and Minami Tanaka (Katia) sing the ED together. Some interesting names can be found in the OP credits as well. Akira Yamazaki is actually credited as a producer for the anime – Yoshimune describes him as the man who runs a lot of the day-to-day work on the Muv-Luv franchise nowadays, and he worked closely with Hiroki Uchida and their editor on the Schwarzesmarken novels. Fans may also recognize his name as the writer of The Day After. For the Total Eclipse anime, he was credited as a Setting Supervisor, but it looks he moved up for this anime. Speaking of the Total Eclipse anime, there’s another familiar name in the credits – Hiroyuki Taiga, one of the mechanical designers and mechanical animation directors from TE, is back for Schwarzesmarken as a “TSF director”. That only makes sense – this way, Schwarzesmarken can build on the technical know-how from the previous anime rather than starting from scratch.

Both the novels and the game make heavy use of spoken German, such as Irisdina’s common phrase “Achtung” and the squadron’s call numbers. The anime replaces pretty much all of these with Japanese. The reasoning, apparently, is that the novels and game use Japanese text, which can show both kanji and furigana to indicate both the German pronunciation and the Japanese meaning. The anime can only use the spoken word, so there is a risk that viewers will not understand the German words being used. This is a pretty fair reason, particularly for call numbers, since it is important to be able to keep track of people on the battlefield. It also makes a lot of sense since technically the characters are supposed to be speaking German all the time, so a mix of Japanese and German words isn’t very logical. Uchida is the first to admit that the use of German words in the story is just to make it sound cool.

One final note for those people watching the show on Crunchyroll – this time around, they seem to have gotten someone who actually knows what they’re doing, since the subtitles avoid the major flaws that plagued their TE subs. That means using “Pilot” instead of “Eishi”, translating military ranks correctly, and sparing us the embarrassing sight of Germans using Japanese phrases and honorifics. This is a particularly good sign if a future US release winds up using these subtitles as well. If only the person working on this show could go back and redo the Total Eclipse subs . . .


Schwarzesmarken Episode Count

January 10, 2016

Today is the premiere of the Schwarzesmarken anime! I hope everybody has already watched the first episode.

As I did with Total Eclipse, I’ll be grouping posts by arc, so the first big anime post will come when the first storyline finishes, likely next week. There also haven’t been any major interviews in magazines like Newtype like there were for Total Eclipse either, but that will likely change now that the show has started airing, so I’ll keep an eye out for those as well.

After the first episode aired, the official anime site put up a Discography page, which unfortunately confirms what fans have been speculating over the past month – the home video release will be 6 volumes at the same price for each, a standard release for 12-episode shows. Other preorder pages, such as at Amazon, confirm that each release will indeed be 2 episodes each.

Split-cour shows, in which a second season of 12 episodes airs later in the year, have become more common, but that’s not what’s happening here either. As I mentioned before, Age has confirmed that the intention is for the anime to go through the complete story, followed by a “winter” release of the second game. In other words, by the time they release the second game (likely in April or May), the anime should already have finished the story.

Finally, the first episode pretty clearly shows the anime’s intention to move quickly through the story. At the pace shown in the first episode, I believe it is indeed possible to get through the entire story in 12 episodes, with some judicious cutting.

I’ll have more to say on this topic in the first major anime post, but for now I’ll just say that I have faith in director Tetsuya Watanabe to fit the story into a single season, and that the first episode was a strong example of how to move quickly without losing track of the story.


Looking Back at the Muv-Luv Kickstarter

November 4, 2015

$1,255,444.

Wow.

Just before the Kickstarter started, I checked on the Grisaia and Clannad campaigns for comparison.  Clannad had brought in over $500,000, but it had run out of stretch goals long before – if it had had a $600,000 goal, it would have met it easily.  Therefore, I was always confident that Muv-Luv would make $600,000.  $720,000 was a bit of a stretch, but there’s no reason not to shoot for the moon on these things.  But even I would never have imagined bringing in over a million dollars.  That’s insane.

The vast majority of the credit has to go to Degica and the staff running the campaign.  They showed an extraordinary sense of how to manage the campaign to bring in as much money as possible.  It started with the planning of the tiers.  Grisaia and Clannad had a huge gap between the $200 and $1000 tiers, leaving a number of people with a lot of disposable income pledging less than they might have.  Muv-Luv had numerous tiers at the $300-$800 level, with a lot of backers pledging at that level.  They also managed to obtain an enormous number of rewards and add-ons.  Grisaia and Clannad had little outside of tapestries and expensive artist illustrations, so anybody not interested in either had little reason to pledge more than $100-$200.  Muv-Luv had something for everybody, so there was always a reason to pledge at a higher level if you could afford it.

The real genius, though, came after the campaign began.  Most Kickstarters bring in money at the very beginning and end of the campaign, with a plateau during the long middle section as nothing newsworthy really happens and interest fades.  Degica expertly spaced out their updates so that something new and interesting was always happening.  Almost immediately after the campaign started, Degica saw the immense demand for TSF models and worked closely with Kotobukiya to provide them within days.  (This is definitely one area where their close Japanese ties proved invaluable – Sekai Project probably wouldn’t have been able to do such a thing, simply because they aren’t a Japanese company.)  Over the course of the campaign, they continually added new high-level tiers and add-ons, in addition to the stretch goals being unlocked.  While these likely brought in new backers, what was even more important was that these additions tempted existing backers to raise their pledges even further.

Perhaps the most important move they made was unveiling the new final stretch goal right at the point when most Kickstarters are at their lowest level of interest.  This brought a huge spike of interest to the campaign, and again, got existing backers to put in even more money to help get to the new goal.  To a certain extent, it wasn’t even that important whether or not they could reach the final goal.  Just having it there was enough to bring in additional money.  This may be a rude way of saying it, but the ultimate goal of a Kickstarter is not to unlock stretch goals, but to get as much money from backers as possible.  Degica ran a very smooth campaign that was very good at getting people to put money into it, again and again.  I am very impressed with it.

Degica has hinted that they may do something nice with the extra funds beyond the final stretch goal, and I desperately hope it’s a physical edition of Photonflowers and Photonmelodies.  Looking at what’s already been made available, that’s clearly the one missing piece left.  It’s the one reward that still has no physical component to it at all.  There’s very little left in the way of new actual content to bring over – basically just some fanclub-exclusive games that Age may or may not be interested in making available to a wider audience.  Rather than take on even more new content, I would prefer a nice physical copy of what they’re already making.

As for the actual games, I’m looking forward to playing them in English, although I have to say I’m still a little nervous about it.  I’ve played these games many, many times over the last decade, and I admit I have a good idea of how I want them to sound in English.  All these stretch goals, the Codex, the fandiscs, are nice, but I hope that a large chunk of the money is still spent making a really nice, polished translation.  I think that, having put in over a million dollars, we’re entitled to a professional quality translation, and not the kind of stuff that usually gets cobbled together.  I am heartened by several indicators, such as how the term “Eishi” has been slowly phased out of the Kickstarter campaign page entirely and replaced with “TSF Pilot”, that suggest that somebody on the team is actually taking the translation process seriously.  I hope this is a sign that things are going to turn out well.

I’m intrigued by the $400,000 goal, the “improvements” to the game, which they still have not fully specified yet.  They’ve mentioned redubbing the game’s English dialogue, which I don’t think is really necessary.  The pronunciation could be better, but I dearly hope they don’t rewrite the actual lines, which are still some of the best, most natural-sounding English dialogue I’ve ever heard in a Japanese production.  It’s the only dialogue I can think of that sounds like how Americans might actually talk, and not copied from a textbook or ripped straight from Google Translate.  They also mention new BGMs, which I”m a little skeptical about since Muv-Luv already has such a great soundtrack that I don’t see what they could possibly add to it.  Ports like the PS3 version usually add a couple of new CGs to make the product a little more attractive, and that’s about all I can imagine this money getting used for.

(One thing I think would be really awesome is if they commissioned new opening themes from Minami Kuribayashi and JAM Project, specifically just for the English version.  I think it would legitimize the English version in a very tangible way, which I think we’ve earned after spending over a million dollars on it.)

I should mention, though, that anybody who is only familiar with the old versions of Muv-Luv and Alternative is in for a real treat, because the current versions of these games already sport amazing enhancements that go far beyond whatever the “improvements” stretch goal is going to add.  Muv-Luv gets by far the bulk of the enhancements, completely revamping  the game to look like Alternative.  The game is now in widescreen, characters’ eyes and mouths move, and the textbox has been removed.  All of the TSF scenes, both cockpit/HUD scenes and the actual TSF sprites and animation, are also completely redone in the Alternative fashion.  Music from Alternative has been added (for instance, briefing scenes in Unlimited now play the iconic Alternative briefing music).  Some lines have even been rewritten and rerecorded to match Alternative – for some reason, Age changed certain elements of the world setting in the three years between the original releases of Muv-Luv and Alternative, so newer versions of Muv-Luv have been fixed to match the rest of the franchise.  If you’ve ever seen the old version of Muv-Luv, I guarantee your mind will be blown playing the new version.  And that is, again, before even one cent of the new improvements stretch goal has been spent.

Now that the Kickstarter is over, I’m curious what this means for other Age franchises in the future.  According to the video Age and Degica put together, they are definitely down with releasing other games if this Kickstarter did well, and I think it’s safe to say it did.  So what’s next?  There are realistically only three games that might be next: Total Eclipse, Schwarzesmarken, and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien.  There are good reasons for any one of them to be next – Total Eclipse is the next Muv-Luv franchise in line, Schwarzesmarken is the current franchise in the spotlight, and KimiNozo is a highly popular franchise that continues to have broad support even among people who don’t normally play games.  (I would personally like Total Eclipse to be next, so English-speaking fans can finally see the end of this amazing story.)

There’s also the question of whether Degica will continue to use Kickstarter for these games.  They’ll never raise this kind of money again, of course – it has nothing to do with popularity, it’s simply that this Kickstarter was a chance for fans of Age to show their support, legally and directly, for the very first time.  Now that they’ve had an outlet for that, they’ll never round up those numbers again.  And that’s fine.  Both Grisaia and Clannad asked for around $150,000 for the base game, and Muv-Luv originally asked for about the same amount for the single Muv-Luv game.  I bet a future Kickstarter for one of the three above games would be set around that amount, and I’m sure they would reach it easily.  But the immense showing for this Kickstarter may be enough to convince Degica that the support is there to release future games directly.

Finally, amidst the rush of enthusiasm we all feel for a successful campaign, I hope we’re ready to shift to the next inevitable phase of any Muv-Luv project: the delays.  There’s just something about the franchise – the huge size of the games, the interdependent nature of the scripts, the complexity of the game engine, the number of companies involved – that always leads to delays for pretty much any release.  Degica claims Muv-Luv will be out in March, with Alternative to follow in the summer.  I don’t believe them for a second.  Not because they’re especially untrustworthy, but simply because I don’t believe any announced release date for this franchise.  Longtime Muv-Luv fans have been trained to accept this, and even to consider it an integral part of the Muv-Luv experience.  Unfortunately, most backers of this Kickstarter campaign are not longtime Muv-Luv fans, and will probably not respond to a string of broken release dates with the same good humor.  I hope Degica keeps this in mind as we move forward.