by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Muv-Luv Alternative ?
After some strong presentation in the past couple episodes, Muv-Luv Alternative seems to have returned to needing to cut down on its storytelling flourishes. Hello infodumps, my old friend. While I understand that some of this is necessary for where the story is and what things we need to know by this point, it doesn't make the choking walls of text go down any easier, especially in light of the more balanced efforts we've seen from the show the last few weeks. Not every hour of a visual novel is going to be action-packed or emotionally resonant, I get that. But given that much of the info we finally get around to in this episode is stuff we could have done with earlier (to say nothing of what it still doesn't tell us), I have to wonder if things couldn't have been planned out better to maintain that all-important balance.
Perhaps it's just a sense of 'what could have been' I'm feeling with this one. We barely get to spend any time reflecting with Takeru as he nostalgically gazes around his home dimension, ruminating on the comparative peaceful nature of it which he hopes to return to after all this (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that our world may have seemed a little more 'peaceful' in 2006 compared to all the, uh, everything going on nowadays). That's on the same level as the emotional pathos the writing could at least gesture at by the end of the previous episode, and arguably even more resonant given that it's just a base 'There's no place like home' platitude. From that point of view, we can grasp at the core of Takeru's wistful feelings upon seeing Sumika again, and why he might force himself to return to his mission in the Alternative dimension before he can get too attached to spending time with her again.
But the specter of Sumika's presence does continue to highlight that informational issue that just will not stop dogging Muv-Luv Alternative. We can understand from this episode's early encounter that Takeru cares for Sumika, as well as how she represents the world he longs to earn the right to return to. But then his developing relationship with Kasumi over in the other world keeps resulting in him calling attention to the idea of the finer details of his attachment to Sumika. Takeru keeps making allusions to the specifics of his attachment to and love for Sumika, but we don't get details apart from that. Sure, watching as media outsiders we can grasp that Sumika is the boxart girl for Muv-Luv Extra and thus surmise that she was the 'main' love interest of that installment. But what did that relationship actually entail, apart from her coming over to cook for him once or him apparently walking in on her dropping a deuce one time? The show doesn't seem to have much interest in explicating that beyond assuming we have a basic understanding of how high-school romance works and know the game is over on Steam if we really want to check it out.
What Muv-Luv does have interest in explaining to us is the long-withheld details of Sumika's…whatever-their-relationship-turns-out-to-be, Kasumi! I probably shouldn't be too surprised at Kasumi's origin being the result of a sequence of selective breeding resulting in esper creation (anyone else see Dune recently?), so I was more struck by how the writing used the explanation as a springboard for Yuuko to go over the whole history of mankind's encounters with the BETA in this universe, and how that runs parallel to the development of the numbered 'Alternative' programs this story is so named for following. There is some interesting world-building baked in there, namely the overall question of what the BETA really are and how attempts at understanding or negotiating with them have fundamentally failed. But a lot of it feels like roundabout explanations and justifications in-universe for Kasumi's powers, with other bits setting up for future plot twists.
Things pick up a bit this episode when it finds ways to focus on Kasumi that don't feel like this universe's history textbooks being read to us. Some of it's a bit backwards, of course, given that I feel like we really should have seen the developing closeness between Takeru and Kasumi in the previous episode when Yuuko was having them room together so they'd be linked for the initial dimension-hop. But regardless, it speaks to Takeru's continued growth beyond his curiosity about the mechanics of the world into knowing he needs to understand the people in it as well, and Kasumi's potential for growth into a person who might be able to exist as something other than a plot device. The use of 'nostalgia' as a codification for that is a clever choice then. Takeru's reflective desire to return to his home world and the people he's nostalgic for represent how far he's come since falling into this isekai/time-travel situation. So Kasumi developing desires that extend into a future potentially apart from alien warfare gives her a long-term trajectory separate from her attachment to Takeru which is itself only dictated by her mysterious connection to Sumika. And that's good, given that we still don't have an intimate understanding of what Takeru's attachment to Sumika was.
Any bits of this episode not involved with that Kasumi through-line feel like subplot setup in the same manner as meeting Mikoto's dad last week (Though by the way, this episode did at last have Takeru confirm Mikoto's gender switcheroo in-show!). There's an ideological debate between Takeru and Meiya over the military's role regarding refugees. I get the impression this is trying to tie into Takeru's eventual growth towards needing to understand people specifically, but for now it mostly feels like lip-service to broader ideas there really isn't time to explore considering all the other stuff this cartoon is crammed with. The more immediate instance is the sudden drop after that conversation that there's been an Anti-Alternative faction among the UN military making moves this whole time, and that fellow flight-mate Ayamine might have something to do with them. This is another out-of-nowhere frustration that comes as a result of how little mind the story has paid the girls who aren't Yuuko or Kasumi, meaning I can't really be surprised about Ayamine's seeming heel-turn considering I could barely remember which one she was before. At least I can hope that means we'll have something to focus on besides dialogue boxes next week.
Muv-Luv Alternative is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
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