Content Warning: Character Death, Gun Violence, Gore
What’s It About? In the year 1973, a hostile cosmic lifeform known as the BETA land on Earth, only to begin a systematic invasion of the planet. By 1998, Earth is in crisis mode with only around two billion humans left, and now, the BETA have landed in Japan, bringing their global ruination to its shores. Thankfully, humanity has a weapon: the Tactical Surface Fighter, large mechs designed to push back the BETA. But unfortunately, that’s not enough. It’s up to a new generation of soldiers and defenders to attempt to turn the tubes before the Beta create a new hive.
I’ll admit that I largely chose to cover Muv-Luv Alternative not because I’m secretly a huge fan of mecha or war stories, but because of the visual novel, and my tepid interest in finally starting it. Now, my experience with the visual novels is limited, though I do have all three as physical Vita editions. And perhaps, watching Muv-Luv Alternative will be what encourages me to visit the franchise.
For now, I’m taking a moment to sit with Muv-Luv Alternative’s first episode, “The State of the World”, which like… spoiler alert: this ain’t a happy premiere. So… let’s get into the mix, y’all.
Episode 1 starts off on April 19, 1973, in medias res, telling us the story of how this iteration of Earth got the way it is. How? Aliens known as the Beta (stylized as BETA), which like, trope-ish, but a solid vehicle for telling a story about war with an unknown. In this far-flung alternative past, the human race was reduce to one or two billion, a shadow of the world we know today. Looks like it’s up to humanity to rise to the occasion and save the day.
Flash forward to current day–rather, 1998 in-show–and a battered and beaten down Japan, which is largely where episode 1 takes place. It’s here that we meet three characters: Lieutenant Murata Akiyoshi, Lieutenant Saotome Madoka, and Lieutenant Komaki Sayoko. All are members of the 3rd Tactical Reserve Squadron for Sado Base, with only one of them having combat experience. It’s here, at Sado Base, that they’ll start their training as the world (really, Japan) continues to push back against the threat of the Beta.
Of course, the Beta are quite formidable; enough that things go to shit pretty quickly, pardon my swears. In fact, things go to shit so fast that you kind of wonder how there’s still one or two million of us left. And I suppose that that’s ultimately the story being set up by Muv-Luv’s premiere: a story of how humanity is going to push back and survive… somehow.
Animation-wise, Muv-Luv Alternative looks nice enough, with only a few moments of “Geez, did the quality dip?” whiplash. Even then, Muv-Luv’s premiere never looks chewed up: it just isn’t spectacular. Truth be told, it’s got this late 2000s-esque style to it, but with late 2010s and 2020s budget and polish, making for a kind of quirky but ultimately not necessarily memorable blend. It makes for this kind of blast-from-the-past series, which is fitting for a story set in 1998: it makes Muv-Luv alternative into this fascinating time capsule, even if this is, indeed, a different Earth than the one we know.
This doesn’t extend to the Beta, which have that good good gummy CG design, though with less of an oily sheen–which helps them look intimidating and natural, all at once. At times, they shift into 2D, which is actually done pretty fluidly, to the premiere’s credit, because we see them a lot.
The music is also nice, adding a good deal of melancholy and urgency as the action picks up and the Beta forces resume their ongoing assault on humanity. The tracks also utilize a lot of high-octane death metal which adds this “we’re fighting for our lives” kind of vibe that feels pretty dang good.
At times, though, the music gets… unappealing. What I mean is that it hella overwhelms the actual voice actors, which does one of two things: blows your ears out (so listener beware) and also, adds a strange additional level of immersion that you’re in the midst of battle. However, I want to emphasize how unbalanced the tracks are: I frequently had aching ears during some of the louder sequences, and that was with the volume cranked down. If you’re a fan with sound sensitivities or sound-related disabilities (or disabilities affected by sound) do keep this in mind, especially after about five minutes in.
As a standalone, I’m not sure how successful Muv-Luv Alternative is, though what I can say is that I never felt lost while watching. That’s more than I can say for a lot of series that pick up stories from the middle of a franchise, rather than from the beginning, and certainly more than I can say for a visual novel adaptation, which I frequently find hit or miss if you’re not previously invested in the series. Credit to Muv-Luv for that, because it did make this premiere incredibly digestible. I’m just not sure if I would have watched this on my own. I frequently found myself just kind of passively taking things in, even when the action was occurring on-screen. This might be a me thing, though.
Overall, the premiere is… somber, though it does some solid set-up for the world we’re going to be dropped into. While it’s not my jam and jelly, I don’t regret watching Muv-Luv Alternative‘s premiere in the least. And as with all series, I’m glad this exist because I know there’s some very serious Muv-Luv fans our there who probably are stoked to see this franchise get more adaptations and content.
That all said, here’s my verdict: give Muv-Luv Alternative a try… if this is something interesting to you. While it’s not spectacular, it’s fair enough fodder for anyone looking for a wartime story against a cosmic enemy in 2021.