How to Get Into Muv-Luv

by Chris Adamson,

Nearly two years after its Kickstarter campaign raised $1.2 million — a record for an English-language visual novel campaign — the final chapter of the Muv-Luv trilogy, Muv-Luv Alternative, arrived on Steam on September 18. But why is there so much love for Luv? This article will help you decide if the franchise with the weird name is for you.

What the Heck Is Muv-Luv Anyway (And What's With The Stupid Title)?

Muv-Luv is a long-running visual novel series that mashes up the romance and mecha genres by literally turning from one into the other overnight.

The first VN, simply titled Muv-Luv, was published by âge in 2003 and consists of two parts. Muv-Luv Extra is a borderline parody of the harem romance genre, with videogame enthusiast Takeru being pulled between girl-next-door/childhood-friend sumika, and wealthy-girl/mysterious-transfer-student Meiya. To complete your harem bingo card, the player's choices can also lead to love with a pushy class rep, diminutive hyperactive girl, or deadpan snarking tsundere.

In the second part, Muv-Luv Unlimited, Takeru wakes in an alternate timeline, where humanity is 30 years into a losing war against man-eating aliens called the BETA (an awkward acronym for “Beings of Extra-Terrestrial Origin, Adversaries of the Human Race”), who have conquered half the Earth. His school is now a training academy for mechs called Tactical Surface Fighters (“TSFs”) and the former harem girls are all pilot cadets, except for sumika, who seems not to exist in this world.

2006's Muv-Luv Alternative begins as a do-over of Unlimited, with Takeru trying to avoid the choices that led to humanity abandoning Earth. In doing so, he unleashes an epic tide of events that changes the course of the war, but at a staggering cost to himself and everyone around him.

As for the name, literally “Mabu Ravu”, it's a play on “mabudachi”, meaning “true friend”. The first release initially marketed itself as a silly harem game, hiding its sci-fi intentions almost entirely.

Why Should I Read Muv-Luv?

The final chapter, Alternative, is a worthy candidate for one of the best VNs ever made. It's currently ranked #1 on the Visual Novel Database and #3 on Japan's Erogamescape. The series as a whole was picked #2 of all time by members of the /r/visualnovels Subreddit.

That begs the question of why there's such love for Luv. Different fans will cite different things: the silly humor of Extra contrasted with the horror of Alternative, the detailed understanding of military life, the protagonist's agonizing search for answers and meaning (and a way home), the audacious plot twists, the believable politics and alternate history, the epic sweep of the war story, songs by JAM Project, and so on.

In fact, one such fan is manga creator Hajime Isayama. On several occasions, he has cited Muv-Luv Alternative as his inspiration for creating Attack on Titan. The screenshot above shows him second-from-right on âge's weekly livestream in August 2015, with Muv-Luv creator Koki Yoshimune at far left.

Why Shouldn't I Read Muv-Luv?

For starters, even in its all-ages version, there's no escaping the fact that this was originally an eroge. For all the technical hand-waving about the “fortified suits” worn by TSF pilots, it's as if someone said, “You know what would make the plug-suits in Evangelion even better? Translucency.” And while the sex scenes are few and far between, they're still a lynchpin of the story.

And then there's “that scene” in Alternative, morbidly referred to by fans as “Twizzlers” for reasons you probably don't want to understand. It's a scene of sexual violence so horrifying that many fans of the series question whether it should have been included at all. Still, it's anything but gratuitous, since understanding it helps explain the entire premise of the series.

Still, if this sounds like something you'd want to avoid, you probably should.

Should I Start With the Anime?

No, because there isn't one.

The main Muv-Luv story has never been adapted as an anime, in sharp contrast to other top VNs like Clannad, Fate/stay night, and Steins;Gate, which not only got anime adaptations, but saw their anime reach the English-speaking world years before their source VNs did. The lack of an anime for Extra, Unlimited, and Alternative has helped keep the franchise off the radar for many in the West.

And yet, several light novel spinoffs of Muv-Luv did get anime adaptations. Total Eclipse is roughly concurrent with Alternative and features TSF test pilots from the US, USSR, Japan, and other countries competing with each other (and fighting the BETA) in Alaska. Schwarzes Marken is set in East Germany 18 years earlier in 1983, focusing on Cold War tensions both inside and outside the Communist nation as it becomes Europe's eastern front against the BETA. Both of these stream on Crunchyroll, and Total Eclipse is available on disc from Sentai Filmworks.

And then there's the romantic drama Rumbling Hearts (aka, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien), to which Muv-Luv Extra is technically a direct sequel.

So Should I Watch Rumbling Hearts First?

Not necessarily. There are some intriguing connections between this series and Muv-Luv, like a tree atop the hill behind the school that becomes iconic throughout the franchise, and a videogame enjoyed by the boys in Rumbling Hearts that will redefine real-world TSF combat in Unlimited and Alternative.

Rumbling Hearts heroines Mitsuki, Akane, and Haruka all eventually appear in the BETA-verse timeline, and knowing their backstories helps inform their characterization as members of the “Valkyries” TSF squadron. But there's nothing about Muv-Luv that would be confusing if you weren't familiar with their original appearance. The best reason to watch Rumbling Hearts is simply if its angsty soap opera dramatics appeal to you in the first place. It's available streaming and on disc from Funimation.

What Else Is Out There?

Side-stories set in the Muv-Luv Alternative universe have been published for years in Tech Gian magazine, and side-story VNs were published under the the Alternative Chronicles banner. Some of these extras will go out to Kickstarter backers as the Photonflowers and Photonmelodies collections, which were originally released for the Japanese PS3.

Three related anime remain unlicensed in English. The OVA Kimi ga Nozomu Eien ~Next Season~ is a 4-episode Rumbling Hearts sequel that imagines a different final romantic pairing. The comedy Akane Maniax is a separate Rumbling Hearts sequel, featuring a buffoonish suitor courting Akane, and it exists primarily to explain why he transferred out of school the day before Muv-Luv Extra begins, thereby leaving a spot open in Takeru's class for Meiya to occupy. Both of these anime feature scenes with Muv-Luv class rep Chizuru, who was retconned as a gal-pal to Akane. Furthermore, Akane Maniax has cameos from practically the entire Muv-Luv Extra cast.

There's also the Ayumayu Theater web shorts, which continue the post-credit omake scenes from Rumbling Hearts with idiot waitresses Ayu and Mayu making a mess of the Muv-Luv universe.

With so much out there, have you tried out some of the Muv-Luv franchise yourself? Let us know what you think of this complicated series in the comments.

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