The 2012 anime Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse has been for many western Muv-Luv fans the first contact with the franchise. Yet, the 2013 visual novel was never localized, until now.
On July 20, this will finally change with the release on Steam of Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse Remastered, giving English speakers a chance to fully enjoy this relevant part of the Muv-Luv multiverse.
Yet, even so many years after its original release, not many fully know how Total Eclipse was born, and the philosophy behind its creation.
To celebrate the upcoming release, we sat down with Muv-Luv creator Kouki Yoshimune and executive brand producer, Kazutoshi “Tororo” Matsumura to learn more about this elusive visual novel, and perhaps receive a couple of small teases about the future of the franchise.
Giuseppe: The original Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse light novel first debuted in 2007, so it’s one of the first large-scale expansions of the Alternative universe. How was the idea born?
Kouki Yoshimune: Muv-Luv’s Tactical Surface Fighters have a completely different design philosophy from, say, Gundam. Muv-Luv doesn’t make the foreign or mass-produced mechs look deliberately boring in order to make the main characters’ mechs look good by contrast.
For Muv-Luv, I wanted to make sure that every nation had a mech cool enough to be the hero’s own personal TSF.
The reason for this is that I wanted people from every nation in the world to be proud of their country’s mechs. I’d also hoped that this would lead to people from around the world making their own fan works. These TSFs ended up being popular on their own, apart from the Muv-Luv series.
After Muv-Luv Alternative came out, a model company called Volks created what they called A3 action figures portraying the TSFs. Despite being from an unknown visual novel with no anime, they still were a huge hit in Japan: we sold over 650,000 of them and had 64 models in total.
In order to help develop the series and bring it to more fans, I wanted to use the A3 figures for a magazine story project that would highlight different TSFs and surface pilots from around the world. I took the idea to TechGian [editor’s note: at the time, Japan’s biggest magazine covering visual novels], who were huge supporters of Muv-Luv, and we ended up doing a three-way collaboration with them, Volks, and âge.
This was the beginning of Total Eclipse. The original plan was to do a series of episodes set in the Muv-Luv Alternative world, something like what HobbyJapan was doing, where they’d take photos of the models and add in effects, then write a one-shot short story to go along with it.
I was supposed to come up with the basic ideas, the plot, the characters, and TSFs, and the actual writing would be done by a Techgian writer. Yet, when we actually got to the point where they were writing the scenarios, we ran into a problem. When the Techgian editor-in-chief, Oomura-san, saw what the writers were turning in, he said, “This isn’t Muv-Luv.” He was a huge fan of the series.
To give you an idea of just how huge, he was the guy who produced and edited the famous Muv-Luv Alternative Codex.
I made several attempts to work with the writers, commenting on their work and sending it back. But after several retakes, it was clear that what the writers were creating wasn’t enough to satisfy Oomura. I appreciated his desire for quality, but the retakes were becoming a serious burden on me, and taking time and resources that needed to go elsewhere. I ended up breaking our original agreement, where I would only offer supervision, and writing an entire version of the first episode.
I had hoped with this that I could get across to the writers what kind of story Muv-Luv was, and they could compare it to the things we’d rejected to figure out exactly what needed to change. But when I showed this to Oomura-san, he said, “This is Muv-Luv! You should write the stories!” And to make matters worse, this was only two months before the thing was scheduled to run!
I began to curse myself for ever writing my own draft. I’d wanted to reduce my workload, and ended up increasing it by a hundred times.
If I was going to take time and resources away from creating games to do this, I needed a way to tie it back into our main business, so I ditched the idea of one-episode stories and came up with a larger story that we could eventually turn into a game scenario. Thus, TE came into being in a completely different way than we’d first envisioned. (By the way, our original plan of using one-shot stories would actually be realized several years later in HobbyJAPAN magazine, under the name TSFIA – Tactical Surface Fighters in Action).
For TE to work, it needed to serve as an advertisement for the A3 action figure series. We needed a story that featured TSFs and surface pilots from around the globe and shared a world and history with Muv-Luv Alternative while not being a true sequel. I also wanted a story that would speak to readers about the next stage of growing up.
Alternative is, as its catchphrase says, a “fairy tale of love and courage”, a Kishu Ryuritan-style story about a hero who acts on a huge scale. But there aren’t many people in reality who can become heroes like Takeru. And at the time, many visual novel fans were otaku who lacked confidence in themselves, who looked down on themselves, and viewed themselves as “unimportant nobodies”.
That’s why I didn’t want TE to be the same kind of story as Alternative. I wanted TE to be a smaller story, an ode to the unimportant nobodies, who supported the heroes’ exploits, and without whom the heroes never could have succeeded.
The idea was that if Alternative is a story about Takeru Shirogane, a young man from early-2000s Japan (who represents the viewer) finding his place in the world and learning who he is, TE exists as a supplement to this.
It shows the next stage that comes after the growth that occurs in Alternative, which shows the growth that occurs where you have two different identities clashing. It was a lot of work to figure it out, but the result was the TE you know today.
Giuseppe: Total Eclipse followed a rather interesting and peculiar creative process. It was first published as a light novel, then there was the manga, followed by the anime, and finally the visual novel. Could you talk about how it evolved through all of these different kinds of media?
Kouki Yoshimune: As I said before, TE was originally a magazine project. There were no plans to make it a light novel. As soon as it started appearing in the magazine, though, it was a huge hit. The A3 action figure line was selling well, and it contributed a lot to Techgian’s sales. In all of Techgian’s reader survey rankings, favorite character, favorite game, favorite brand, Muv-Luv was always on top. Seeing this, Oomura-san said to me, “While we’re doing this, why don’t we make it a light novel under my company’s label?”
It was a really kind offer, but one I didn’t really feel enthusiastic about. I knew that the story was never designed to be split into books. Books are built around having each volume be a self-contained story, so with TE you would end up with a mess for each volume’s story structure.
We made the shift from doing one-shot stories to telling a longer story 2 months before the column was supposed to start running. To do the model photography and CG work would take a minimum of one month. Before that happened, we needed the story draft that would function as the base for the pictures to be finished. This gave us two weeks to change the setting around to a long-form story, work out the setting, do the series composition, and write it. Doing this perfectly was impossible. TE was a huge rush project from the start, and just getting it out the door was all we could do. Each episode had vastly different character counts, and it was never planned to be put into a book series, so it was clear that it was a bad candidate for being a light novel.
But I live by the philosophy that if you get a chance to do something, you take it and you figure out how to actually make the thing later. So of course, I accepted Oomura’s offer. It was a huge amount of work, because now in addition to getting the columns done, every few months I would have to rewrite them to function as a light novel. I caused huge problems for my editors, for Oomura-san, for the light novel editing department, and the printers, but we managed to get 6 volumes out. I have nothing but gratitude towards them. They gave me a chance to experience what it was like to be an author, and to experience writing a serialized release and turning it into a book, which was incredibly valuable as a creator.
Then it was decided that there would be an anime, so we worked on the anime, the magazine column, and the game at the same time. Yet, I didn’t want to make the same story just in different mediums.
The core of Muv-Luv is the idea of infinitely branching parallel worlds, so you can have any number of equally possible futures. Thus, the game is the story of Yuuya and Cryska, and the anime/books portray the story of Yuuya and Yui.
Also, to help anime viewers who were new to the Muv-Luv world understand it, I added the two Teito Moyu (“Burning of the Imperial Capital”) episodes to the start. These two were so well received after the anime aired that people said the story that started in episode 3 was “peaceful and boring!” This wasn’t planned, but it made me pretty happy.
I also wrote a novel version of Teito Moyu as a reward for people who bought all the anime DVDs. The light novel goes way deeper into the world, the characters, and the story, and since it was never on sale on its own, it still goes for around 100,000 yen (Approximately $730) online.
The novel added in parts that weren’t covered in the anime, but only a few of the most hardcore fans ever got the chance to read it. This went against my original intention for it, since it was supposed to be an introduction to the world of Alternative.
TE sold well enough in console form that we ended up making a PC version as well. When that happened, I added in the Teito Moyu game as a bonus. It’s an even more detailed version of the story than the light novel, which is more detailed than the anime, so you could say it’s the definitive edition of the story. Personally, it’s my favorite short in the series, along with “Adoration” and “Confessions.” Bringing the same story (especially the same scenario) to all these different types of media at the same time taught me a lot about what made each of them different.
Giuseppe: Besides Yuya and Yui, all the members of the XJF Program hail from countries that have been overrun by the BETA. Is there an intentional meaning behind this?
Kouki Yoshimune: In Muv-Luv, the BETA are a threat to all humanity. They are equally dangerous to everyone, common enemies of our world, like nuclear war and global warming. Yet, humanity has never been able to come together to face these problems. This conflict between individual good and the greater is a constant dilemma for mankind, even at the layer of our individual lives.
It’s the surface pilots’ job to face the BETA threat to mankind.
They each have their own homelands and their own circumstances. So how do they overcome these and work together for the future of mankind? If I wanted this to be a theme, I needed all the characters’ homelands to be in dire enough straits that it would have a strong effect on their own circumstances. That’s why I needed their countries to be destroyed by the BETA. Then I could really take this theme to the next level by depicting the “discommunication”, which is a Japanese-English word that means lack of understanding, that occurs between humanity and the beta, nations and other nations, character and character, and what a character says and what he really thinks.
This idea of discommunication, of lack of understanding, occurs throughout all my work and is a major theme for me. In that sense, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (Rumbling Hearts) and Muv-Luv are twins. They exist as a pair, each dealing with the same theme, but one from a micro level and one from a macro level. And I’ve already mentioned how TE exists as a pair with Muv-Luv Alternative, with Alternative being the story of people who stand in the spotlight, and TE being the story of the nameless ones stuck in the background.
This idea of opposites is at the core of my work. My stories don’t have any characters who are just cute, or stylish, or cool, who are composed entirely of entertaining tropes. Humans consist of both good and bad. And I think if I don’t confront that, I can’t face the problems that my fans are dealing with.
Giuseppe: Total Eclipse directly or indirectly gives a lot more information than the original trilogy about the situation around the world as opposed to Japan. Was it a challenge to broaden the field of view like this, or was it something you already had in mind from the beginning?
Kouki Yoshimune: Muv-Luv Alternative was intended to be a global property from the start, and has a huge amount of information on its world (See the Muv-Luv Alternative Codex for more info on that!). So it wasn’t that big of a deal to come up with the setting for TE.
Muv-Luv’s setting is like Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos or Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s designed to allow for a lot of stories to be added to it. Even today, I hope that creators from around the world will join in and write stories featuring their own countries. As I said above, that’s why I wanted to make sure all the Tactical Surface Fighters from each country were cool. That’s also why I had the Japanese main characters be a part of the United Nations’ army, because I wanted this to be a global story.
The hardest part of TE was writing the different ethical/political backgrounds of all the countries in the world. This is something I still struggle with. The other issue was balancing the different elements of the story in a way that would help express the story’s themes, and dealing with what makes each country different in a story that’s supposed to be a global property
Take the Japanese market for example, even among fans, a lot of people see Muv-Luv as a “conservative” story with heavy military and political elements. There are a number of people who avoid Muv-Luv because of this. But that’s a shallow interpretation of it, as these are just superficial elements used to express the story’s themes.
At its core, Muv-Luv is a human drama. But lots of marketers and producers in the otaku industry avoid heavy stories like that, since they say they’re “not entertaining”. And the Japanese otaku industry dislikes political messages and expressions because “they don’t lead to sales”. But why is that the case?
The reason for this is that many Japanese otaku consume otaku content as escapism from the everyday world. To them, stories are just a way to make themselves temporarily feel a little better. For these people, life lessons and growth are things they’re not interested in.
That’s why KimiNozo needed Chapter 1, and Muv-Luv needed Extra. They needed to be camouflaged to look like entertaining H-games. I think if you’re going to be bringing content to the whole world, it’s important to have tricks like that.
Giuseppe: The game has a very diverse cast of characters. Do you have any personal favorites?
Kouki Yoshimune: I’m sorry, but I try not to publicly pick favorites among my characters. It would feel like I’m ranking those characters’ fans, too, and I don’t want to disappoint people by doing that.
This may crush some people’s dreams, but each character is an anthropomorphized version of something that exists inside me. So I think that liking any particular one of them, and ranking them, wouldn’t be right for a creator who talks about the need to accept the good and bad in a person. Really sorry for giving you such a boring answer.
Giuseppe: Actually, I don’t believe that’s a boring answer at all. The Steam release of Total Eclipse is defined as “Remastered.” What kind of improvements can we expect compared to the original PC version released in Japan?
Kazutoshi Matsumura: It indicates that it’s been ported to the Ages Mark 2 Engine, which is the same engine we used for The Day After. It has a number of advantages because it’s much more modern and much easier to maintain.
The big goal with the new engine is that we can ensure that the game will still be able to run for the next 20 years, because the old one was kind of long in the tooth.
Giuseppe: Total Eclipse spawned the first Muv-Luv Anime. Why was it chosen instead of Alternative?
Kouki Yoshimune: Muv-Luv and Alternative were actually to be animated 17 years ago. We originally had a 1-pager pitch deck that a producer from a huge visual production company liked, and we got an offer to animate it almost immediately. But this was back when robots were all animated by hand. And also when pretty girl animes were at their peak.
If you had cute girls in your anime, you could make money. Hand-drawn mech shows were expensive, time-consuming, and just not worth it from the perspective of the studio. We were fortunate enough to get another offer from an extremely good producer at another major production company, but in the end, no studio wanted to animate Muv-Luv or Alternative.
During that time, they were kind enough to make several other anime besides Muv-Luv for us. But if even a major company with multiple robot anime properties couldn’t do it, we’d have to give up on animating Muv-Luv. So we told the producer we were dropping the project. One producer can’t fight the trends of an entire era, so it wasn’t his fault.
A while later, we got an offer from one of Japan’s biggest TV studios, as well as an offer from a pachinko studio, to do an anime. We brought both of them together and formed a team to animate Muv-Luv Alternative. Yet somehow, the funds ended up being reallocated to maintain that TV station’s late-night anime slot.
Another 3 years passed with no Muv-Luv Alternative anime. We gave up on the TV station and the pachinko company and left the project. This time, instead of waiting for offers, we decided to be aggressive in searching for them on our own.
The result was that Avex offered to make the anime for us. After discussing with them, we decided we’d do two seasons of it. At that point, I felt a lot of time had passed since Muv-Luv Alternative had come out, and that it wouldn’t work as a two-season show. That’s why we and Avex decided to do TE, which was our most recent story.
Giuseppe: Moving on from Total Eclipse, could you give any update about the work on Muv-Luv Integrate and Muv-Luv Resonative?
Kazutoshi Matsumura: We’re really sorry to keep you waiting on this. We’ll have more news soon, so please stay tuned!
Giuseppe: I had to try… Perhaps I could get you to comment on the recently revealed Duty: Lost Arcadia?
Kazutoshi Matsumura: Unfortunately, the same goes for Duty: Lost Arcadia.
Giuseppe: I failed! (laughs) Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the western Muv-Luv fans ahead of the release of Total Eclipse?
Kouki Yoshimune: Hello, everybody from around the world!
Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse has surface pilots and Tactical Surface Fighters from all around the world! Please check it out! If it sells a lot we might make a 2nd season of the Total Eclipse anime! Wishing happiness to you and your families!
Kazutoshi Matsumura: It has been 16 years since the release of Alternative and a decade since the original release of Total Eclipse. They are still selling and they still have fans, and we’re finally bringing TE to a global audience.
Now that we have the new Ages Mark 2 engine, it’s possible to bring our older games to the global market.
Also, it’s the 20th Anniversary of Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (The Eternity You Desire), so there may be an announcement about that this year.