Series Recommendation: Muv-Luv Alternative season 1

Save in the name of True Love

Muv-Luv is quite a unique franchise, even among the niche genres that are mecha. It sits smack-dab between popular mecha and obscure stuff that no one has heard about. Due to the original source being a very long Visual Novel (like Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu long), adapting the story of Muv-Luv into an anime is a challenging and nearly impossible task. This is why they have adapted the spin-off first – and that created a dilemma: now that people are too familiar with Muv-Luv through alien mecha battles, how can we adapt the main storyline – which is a coming-of-age journey with lots of romance and drama? But after 15 years, they are giving the challenge a go.

This first season essentially starts from the first chapter of the Alternative novel. Our protagonist – Takeru Shirogane – is an ordinary high school student in a peaceful world. Still, he was suddenly thrown into a parallel world where the Earth was under siege by the alien known as BETA. They have laid waste to the world, and humanity is on the brink of extinction. To survive in this war-torn world and find a way back to his old world, he has to join the army and become a pilot for TSFs – giant mechanical warriors – and fight back. Incidentally, he encountered the same people – his friends, his teachers from his original peaceful world. But here, they are preparing for war. Will he be able to survive, and how will his relationship with his “friends” turn out?

+ Plot: As many will tell you, Muv-Luv Alternative is the third instalment in a trilogy – essentially the last and climax of the story. Without adapting the previous parts – Extra and Unlimited – there will be plenty of confusion for newcomers. However, those who are familiar with previous Muv-Luv entries, Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken, will find the world setting familiar and easy to digest. The hard part is the characters and the story. With very little build-up, the depths of these characters will be quite shallow – especially without the “peaceful” world counterparts, the contrast between the BETA verse and the original world of Takeru will be lost and the story essentially lost half of its impact. The Alternative anime will seem like any other mecha series where a clueless teenager was put into a giant mecha and somehow excelled at it.

Aside from the characterization, the story progresses quite fast – skipping through many events present in the Visual Novel to skip to the more decisive events. As mentioned, it is quite hard to adapt this Visual Novel “appropriately”. If we don’t take the original source material into account, the anime is decent, however it suffers from the cliffhanger and empty promise issue when it first air. Luckily, it quickly announced a season 2, which will certainly give viewers the satisfaction they’re looking for. And, of course, just like Fafner, you have to really stick it out and go through the entire series patiently to appreciate it fully. Of course, reading the source material (Visual novel or manga) is also a huge help.

Animation: This season is a hit-and-miss in terms of animation. The lead studio is Graphinica, who claimed they are fans of the series and want to bring the Visual Novel to life. So far, they have been able to accomplish half of that – the mecha action is phenomenal. The CG is smooth, with realistic mechanical feels. The model is very detailed, and the camera angle work is dynamic. This reminds me of Orange Studio and their extravaganza 3DCG. It is understandable since Graphinica has grown a lot since their SRW OG Divine Wars days, and before Muv-Luv, they did the CG for SSSS. Gridman is a beautifully animated anime.

On the other hand, the character model suffers the most. The 2D is off-loaded to Graphinica’s subsidiary – Yumeta Studio. They are pretty much a small and new studio that just entered the industry. And with a small budget and a very tight working schedule, they weren’t able to deliver the quality that fans expect. There were some pretty big animation error frames that weren’t even fixed in the Blu-ray. The human characters sometimes look stiff and awkward, etc… Overall, it is a decent job on the 2D, but definitely not a “good” job.

Mecha Design: The TSF has always been the highlight of any Muv-Luv BETAverse anime. Their concept is quite unique, which basically turns real-life jet fighters into bipedal mechs (non-transformable like Macross). In this season, we get to see quite a few, like the F-4J Gekishin, the Type-97 Fubuki, the F-15 Eagle, the F-22A Raptor and most importantly – the iconic Takemikazuchi. We’ve mostly seen them in Total Eclipse, but the Alternative anime really brings it up another notch. The sleek silhouette with the very detailed Jump Units really brings out the uniqueness of the TSF. We have a bunch of TSF design info here if you want to take a look.

Music: Every existing fan knows Muv-Luv with its amazing artist lineup, such as Jam Project, Minami Kuribayashi, Aki Misato, etc. But for the new fans, which the series is more or less aiming at, they don’t really mind if we get some new artists in. The parent company, Avex, wanted to promote some young and new talents for the series, which is why we got two completely new artists for the franchise: V.W.P. and Stereo Dive Foundation. The OP by VWP is very similar to your standard Shounen OST with a light-hearted and upbeat style, but if you read the lyrics, it actually depicts Muv-Luv’s theme very well. Stereo Dive’s ending is pretty much a modern J-pop song. Both OSTs didn’t really sit well with the fans who are used to Muv-Luv’s more epic and hyper OST. However, Evan Call’s work with the BGM was phenomenal, and his composition has been amazing – just as he did for Schwarzesmarken – another Muv-Luv spin-off. The sound design for the series is pretty much on-point.

+ Conclusion: Muv-Luv Alternative anime’s first season is a miss – aside from the beautiful mecha CG battles. But like many “first entry” in an established franchise, the pay-off is much further down the road. It is worth it to check out the series and stick with it until the end, especially with a quite well-done season 2 (which we will be covering shortly after this one). If anything, this shows that the head studio – Graphinica – is serious about bringing the story to the general audience and encouraging people to check out the visual novel – the source material that will give fans much better satisfaction.

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