There’s an element of presumed prestige to the back half of this Muv-Luv Alternative anime adaptation. And why shouldn’t there be? The original visual novel is a pretty hallowed text in the circles of that medium’s fans, so this closing of the televised take on that epic story should command some attention. They even brought in certifiable legends JAM Project to do the opening theme for this second batch of episodes, pumping everything up with the expectations of resounding mecha action and the true triumphant meaning of the human, and Japanese, spirit. But of course, that’s only the skeletal structural synopsis of what this project is aiming to be. What Yumeta Company and Graphnica have actually delivered here, as we all know by now, is basically the anime adaptation equivalent of Rankin/Bass jumping to animating The Return of the King without bothering to cover either of the previous two The Lord of the Rings books.
Even with the benefit of hypothetical prior adaptations to define them (or if you’re familiar with the source material), the characters are where Muv-Luv Alternative comes up shortest. Takeru’s squad/classmates get even less to do in this go-around than they did in the previous cour. It’s just as well, since the lion’s share of the characterization any of them receive amounts to standing around while authority figures recite advice at them which supposedly reflects their personalities. If the story was going to commit to having any of these girls actually partake in individual actions in the major story beats of this big finish, it would ring as noncommittal and vapid.
There are a couple of standout attempts that highlight that failing in this show, in the form of Takeru’s two primary love interests. Meiya’s character continues to do that thing that the anime version has consistently tripped into, where the meat of her characterization comes not from her or her own actions, but from other characters talking to Takeru about her. Even with a major turning point of this season’s plot hinging on the connection between her and Takeru, it can only be presented as a potential flash of a vision exclusively witnessed by the guy, with Meiya herself not actually involved. This sort of struggle is compounded in probably the biggest major addition to Muv-Luv Alternative‘s second half: Sumika, reborn into this timeline as the core unit of the massive superweapon plot device set to wrap this whole story up.
If Meiya being characterized only by others telling Takeru about her felt egregious, then Sumika’s setup is downright outlandish. To wit, her arc is one of learning about her own personality via Takeru telling her about it. Not that the character actually experiences much on-screen growth, as her existence vacillates between traumatized freak-outs over her own tortured existence, and awkward slides into more genericized calm appreciation for Takeru. But as the focal point that much of this half of the show’s plot orbits around, Sumika exposes the problems both new and old with the anime version of Muv-Luv Alternative‘s approach to the material.
The first, newer issue, is one of tone. Simply put, the second half of Muv-Luv Alternative is miserable most of the time. After opening by reacquainting viewers with Takeru and the world’s situation in a way that bodes somewhat hopeful, by the second episode things spiral into a harsh reality and end with a vicious gut-punch of a shocking moment (which visual novel readers had no doubt been holding their breath for). It’s an impressive escalation in the moment, but then proves to be basically the only trick Muv-Luv has moving forward, piling some rather unrelenting misery porn onto Takeru for the next three episodes and change. Muv-Luv Alternative was never exactly a happy story, but these depressing moments would probably have landed more affectingly after 45+ hours of more varied, immersive visual-novel storytelling. When you’ve only had a single season of accelerated anime plot to acclimate to this, you’re gonna have a bad time.
That issue is exemplified in Takeru’s interactions with Sumika as the series goes on. Any breakthroughs he has with her in their relationship can’t be unironically celebrated, as there can’t ever be any uncompromised moments of crested happiness in their connection, or in the show in general. Instead, it feels like every high point must immediately be subverted by some fresh occurrence of pain or suffering, backsliding due to emotional compromise or just plain old rotten luck. To its credit, this can at least create its own sense of odd narrative tension in watching the series, as you brace at any sign of hope waiting to see how it will get horribly, tragically undercut.
Sumika’s example is also one of the structural issues brought about by Muv-Luv Alternative‘s older problem, its aforementioned orphaned sequel status. Alternative‘s existence as the culmination of a story we didn’t get to see the first two parts of has never been more apparent than here, especially as the show is futilely trying to reference the groundwork for Sumika’s entry into its plot plus Takeru’s (and the audience’s) connection to her. Points like her diaries and the references therein to her memories were long-running detail threads that were spun for readers over the visual-novel version, but in anime form it’s delivered with all the importance of an “Oh, right” realization akin to things the characters forgot in-universe. Never mind the sheer irony of the story coalescing into the need to ‘recreate’ Sumika for an audience that never really knew her in the first place.
This is the case for most of the other storylines in Alternative. Major revelations will be blithely glossed over, new characters thrown at the audience who get one or two scenes to make clear that they’re supposed to be somewhat relevant or important, but with no connective context as to why. The one major exception is in the case of Commander Isumi Michiru, who seems to exist to answer the question “What if a character was comprised entirely of death flags?”. Isumi provides the most consistent, explicated emotional through-line by the end of Muv-Luv Alternative. While it’s nice to have something to latch onto through this thing, it is only a little galling that the anime is willing to make time to go into detail about her Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu crossover backstory, when the writing couldn’t set anything aside for ostensible main cast members like Chizuru or Ayamine.
The more active parts of Alternative‘s plot might not make the most compelling reward for sitting through all that. That is, when the show isn’t wallowing, it’s dragging. The good news is that the second half of the show has far less focus on inter-military intrigue and politics, and therefore less time for that good ol’ Muv-Luv nationalism. But by God does the series love its meticulous depictions of the orderly procedures of military maneuvers. The eighth episode in particular stands out as dang-near twenty solid minutes of rotely-recited military strategizing, which might be interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. But absent a few flashes of actually seeing action in between people talking about their mobilizing, it just kinda drones on.
When the action does kick in, especially in the last third of the series depicting its climactic battle, it’s appreciable. Graphnica‘s CGI mecha work does some really impressive things in terms of 3D action and fight choreography, feeling rather like it’s punching above its weight compared to the rest of the show. And you know Evan Call‘s soundtrack is putting in its work. Unfortunately this is where other parts of the show are still left wanting, as the 2D animation looks serviceable at the best of times. It really drives off a cliff every few episodes, including what’s supposed to be the dramatic denouement of a finale for the whole series, which certainly undercuts things.
As a project meant to reinforce Muv-Luv‘s mere presence in the otaku-sphere, this animation can at least be said to function as a commercial for the broader franchise. Sitting through even part of it might pique your interest to go back and experience the story ‘properly’ via the games. But as a series on its own, this second half only further codifies that this whole venture might have been a wasted effort, especially when you look back and realize how badly it got bodied out of the broader conversation while it was airing in the Fall 2022 season amongst a batch of way heavier hitters. In that respect, simply acknowledging its existence might be the most the Muv-Luv Alternative anime can aspire to: Seeing it on a list, going “Oh right”, and being reminded to go experience the story in a much more effective format elsewhere.