Muv-Luv Alternative
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Muv-Luv Alternative ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Muv-Luv Alternative ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Muv-Luv Alternative ?

I don't know about you, but Muv-Luv has long fallen into that category of "Franchises I'm curious about but couldn't make the time to get into". So with the release of an anime adaptation of its most popular main chapter, Muv-Luv Alternative, it seemed like an obvious choice to check out. They took their time getting to this (with previous anime outings being based on spin-offs Total Eclipse and Schwarzes Marken), so clearly this isn't just a flash-in-the-pan jump onto some marketable new hotness. No, Muv-Luv is established now, there's a new spin-off game coming, poorly-considered digital pyramid schemes to hawk, and potentially a whole new audience to hook in with this kind of fresh anime adaptation. On paper, this is an effective idea for picking up stragglers like me who never made time for the visual novels.

But best laid plans and all that. It's well-publicized at this point that Alternative, regardless of its franchise-carrying popularity, is in fact the third chapter of the overall Muv-Luv story. I knew that, but did not know the exact details. I actually found the first episode an effective introduction to the setting of the series. It pointedly revolved around doomed ciphers showing how badly the BETA invasion went for humanity up to the point where our story would actually begin and successfully conveyed the horrors of the alien war spiced up with enough solid mechas'n'monsters combat to sell me on the series. I was set to pick up that overall framing with the actual beginning of the show and see where this series so famously went.

Imagine my surprise when the story proper in the second episode picks up Takeru, a character completely removed from the previous narrative, who takes the procedures of the story in a very different direction. I should stress here that when I watched Episode 2, I did not yet know I'd be covering this series for streaming reviews, so I hadn't done any preliminary contextual reading on the mechanics of Muv-Luv as an overall story; I was just along for the ride. A ride that got buck-wild as our main man Takeru swiftly revealed that not only was he a guy from a more 'regular' version of Earth who got isekai'd into this BETA-infested one, but he had also time-traveled back to the beginning of the story after living through an unfortunate-ending version of these events once before. One the one hand, after so many anime that laboriously relate the mechanics of their characters being whisked away and acclimating to alternate worlds, I can absolutely respect a show that just gives us a two-sentence explanation of tropes we're all to familiar with these days then hits the ground running. But on the other hand, that pile of instantly-infodumped context makes it all too clear to even the most uninformed of new viewers that we are absolutely watching an accelerated adaptation of a broader story here.

That shouldn't necessarily be lethal to the storytelling of a production like this. After all, there's still a well-intentioned crowd of posers out there insisting you miss nothing by skipping the first two parts of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and heading straight for Stardust Crusaders. And just from seeing the show lay it out, I can appreciate the idea of the tone and framing that Muv-Luv must have been going for with this triple-backflip of genre shifts. The issue is that even that brisk story drop-in and economic explanation can't keep the anime from continuing to feel like a clip-show of itself. From the beginning of Episode 2, watching Takeru work his way through the story comes off like, well, like watching someone speedrun through the opening chapters of a visual novel they've already played while occasionally stopping to explain some of the context to you. Training sequences, pivotal battle scenes on the front lines, and key accomplishments for the characters are all glossed over in montages or quick cutaways, routinely rounding back to sequences of Takeru and Yuuko hashing out the actual details of the plot with each other.

Apart from the pacing, all that glossing over also results in some odd limitations on the characters, particularly for something at least partially originating out of the outsized presentations of the harem genre. Poster-girl Meiya at least gets an aside conversation with Takeru where she voices the reverence for country and culture that compels her drive to succeed in battle against the BETA, but pretty much all the other cadet ladies are stylized cardboard cutouts at this point. That feels like a misfire when hooking your prospective audience in by getting them to choose a Best Girl should be an effective component of selling this thing. Takeru himself fares a bit better. It's appreciable to know that his physical effectiveness and knowledgeability at this stage in the story directly come from all he struggled through in his previous lives, though it still results in the distinctly odd feeling of following a main character already at the final stage in his development. Gotta say, I almost feel robbed not having gotten to watch the novelty of a dipshit harem protagonist stumbling his way through an alien war the first time. Yuuko, by process of elimination then, is probably the most interesting part of the show. There's something inherently compelling about the idea of a scientist who gets knowledge from the future that could assist in her work, but who as a result also ends up burdened with the confirmation that her plan, at least at this stage, is destined to fail. As of now, Yuuko's the character who represents the potential of watching Muv-Luv unfold in anime form, regardless of how tactless its actual pacing and presentation are.

So after all that, reviewing these first three episodes must bring me to the critical question of "Is the Muv-Luv Alternative anime actually good?" to which the answer is, technically…no. It's a mess of poorly-presented exposition necessitated on account of skipping over the parts of the story where we would have gotten that information in the first place. It's a rushed capitalization on what it recognizes as the most interesting portion of the overall narrative without considering why this part ends up so interesting. But to its credit, said story is still interesting. It's honestly kind of a testament to the effectiveness of Muv-Luv Alternative's general story that its core narrative shines through as compelling even underneath the exhaustive pacing. I know that comes off like a clear damnation of the anime itself that the most effective takeaway from these first few episodes is "Hey, this story seems pretty cool, maybe you should go play the games it's based on instead!", but the anime is the one I'm getting paid to follow. And with that in mind, I can't pretend I'm not just a little interested to keep following it to see where this famous story eventually goes.

Rating:

Bonus: As alluded to, I did do a little wiki-diving down the side of the Muv-Luv iceberg to more properly prepare myself with some context for these reviews. If you're a new anime viewer who wants some kind of primer yourself, I found we actually have an article on this very site by another writer named Chris, detailing some of the history and backstory for the series (did you know this thing is actually a spin-off of Rumbling Hearts?!). It's definitely worth a look.

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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