Looking back at all the visual novel experiences I have had, Muv-Luv Alternative has left the greatest impact on me. The others – even Extra – were great, sure, but they didn’t leave a permanent mark on me. I liked the story and I liked the characters, but the story didn’t mold me as a person for better or for worse. Alternative did. I found myself unable to see the world the same anymore, and I…
… maybe I will start from the very beginning.
From the opening I knew already that this would be different. It had a very final atmosphere to it, the kind of that makes you think “this is it, this is the last stand, the last chance you’ll get”. And, what struck me immediately, was Sumika. Sumika was gone in Unlimited, and the only thing that made me believe that she’d pop up somewhere along the story was the fact that Aalt had her figurine in his shelf. So I was prepared. Kinda.
Who am I kidding? I was not prepared for anything like this. The very first moment of the game brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to come back to the world of Extra during Unlimited – who doesn’t? – but not like this. Not so suddenly, not like it had been a bad dream. Where is my explanation?!
The explanation was waiting outside, dated back to the day when Unlimited begun. Somehow there was a new chance, and that new chance struck to me as hard as the opening had. At this point I didn’t know about “Before the shimmering ends”. All I had was the atmosphere of the opening theme – this chance would be the only one I had. Even if Takeru would just loop back in time, he might not remember what he did now anymore.
When jumping from Extra to Unlimited, the first thing you will be given to is the serious tone of it. You may try to laugh at it – because Takeru sure does try – but everyone just looks at you with a stern expression and asks you coldly: “So you think this is a joke?” They aren’t laughing. There is not a single indication on their face that this is a joke. And you may go “.. huh?” but the facts are still there.
I used to think that Takeru grew up to be a man during the Unlimited. Aalt disagreed with me when I brought it up and looking back, he was right. Yes, Takeru does grow up during Unlimited, but he is still just a kid. It’s shown everywhere throughout the story, but it’s clearest at the beginning. Takeru is acting like a kid compared to the others, complaining and throwing tantrums. He is a chore to the others and he knows it, yet is unable to do anything about it.
During Unlimited, Takeru doesn’t have to take responsibility for his actions… he is very protected by the others without realizing it. All his friends – Meiya, Chizuru, Kei, Tama and Mikoto – carry him when he is unable to carry his own weight, not to mention the weight of the gun pushed to his hands. Yuuko protects him too – even Marimo does. (Why do I shudder at Marimo’s name, you ask? If you have read the story, you fully well know why. It is one of Aalt’s favourite pastimes to make jokes about her. I always end up losing my head over it.)
Despite having it rough Takeru has so many people who support his growth into who he can truly become. It isn’t until the start of the Alternative when he realizes this. That moment of realization is when he begins taking responsibility. During Unlimited, others helped him to become the person he is when he arrives to Alternative. Now he puts his spirit into returning the favor and supporting others to become the best they can be. While it is an important note on Takeru’s journey of self-growth, it’s also an important theme of Alternative in general: Even if you have something worth protecting, you can’t protect it alone.
With the help of each other, the squad makes it through the training. Takeru and the reader both start feeling hopeful. We’re going to make it through this time! Even so, there are things to shatter Takeru’s decisiveness, mostly the visits to the world of Extra. While they work as a reminder of what Takeru wants to return to and what is at stake, they are also an alluring shelter. You can almost hear them laughing: “Why don’t you stay here?” Yes, why indeed?
Because Takeru has a world to save. At this point he knows that he’s the only one with the ability of doing that. He feels invincible and irreplaceable. He can’t go. He won’t go. He will return to his own word victoriously after saving this one.
All that hope, courage, devotion and dedication destroyed in one single moment of nervous breakdown when facing the BETA for the first time is very devastating for Takeru. Marimo tries to comfort him and succeeds, and then…
… then, the real hell begins.
I don’t know what to tell you about the scene with Marimo. It was pitch black in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t sleep at all after that. The red, vivid imagery and the sounds remained in my head for weeks and months after, and even now, after two years of first reading the scene, I will run away at the sound of the CODE 991. And by “run away”, I mean stand up and exit to a place where I can’t hear it anymore. I still can’t stand the sound.
Suddenly becoming a hero isn’t appealing to Takeru at all anymore, and he returns to the world of Extra where he visited before. “It may not be my world”, he thinks, “but it’s good enough. Anything is better than the alien-ridden world of death and destruction.”
But death, horror and destruction are there to stay, mostly because Takeru discovers that he has become a living conductor for all kinds of events in different worlds. There is still something he needs to do in the alternate world, something he has missed, something that has remained unsolved, before he can truly return to the peaceful life he used to have. I liked how Aalt interpreted it as Takeru being the BETA of the branch world because of his own selfishness and weakness.
You could say that this is grinded to his mind. With more ways than one.
This part here made me ask a question from myself: am I a selfish person? How is my selfishness hurting the others? I spent few days contemplating on the issue of selflessness and selfishness. Many would think that selflessness is putting the needs of others before your own – and, at the core, that’s what it is. But disregarding your own needs and emphasizing martyrdom is not selflessness. This is something I have been trying hard to learn, and Takeru’s experiences taught me a lesson here: selfish or selfless, running away or embracing your duties, you can still always stop to sit down and think what would be the best course of action.
Takeru realizes that he is not in the best possible condition right now, but at the same time he recognizes the support, love and care given to him and decides that it’s enough to help him carry on for now. Had he chosen a different path, he might have tried to rely on his companions in the Alt-verse more and perhaps received similar support from them. We’ll never know, but this point, too, is important for Takeru to realize and fully understand: that even when he might be a hero and think of himself as one, he still can’t make it alone. He needs the people around him.
And with that in mind, Alternative decides to be very kind and return to him the one person he has been longing for since Unlimited. Well, at least her body.
I can’t remember much of my reaction to this, but I think I said something along the lines of “WHY YOU MAKE UNITS OUT OF SUMIKA”. I was shocked, devastated – and enlightened. Suddenly it all made sense. The joy of enlightenment, however, didn’t remove the empty void of horror inside my gut.
There are some encounters I’ve had with catatonic and unstable people, some of which have occurred while looking in the mirror, and the start scenes of the 00 Unit were nothing short of shredding. I could fully understand Takeru at that time – there is something he wants to do, to help Sumika, but there is also something he needs to do. That is to uphold the Valkyries’ motto.
If I were to make a short cap of my thoughts on the characters: I identified with Meiya a lot, I cared about Sumika an incredible amount, I both pitied and admired Takeru – and I adored and idolized Captain Isumi. She was the person who made me open a locked chest in my mind and take out an old dream of mine: could I make it to the army? Could I really enlist to the Defensive Forces? At that moment I decided that I’d start thinking about it again.
When Takeru confesses his feelings to Sumika and gets turned down, and after Meiya comes in to act as a “female-to-male-dictionary” to him, my questions about selfishness were brought up again, as was my decision at the end of Unlimited. I can understand wanting to keep someone you love “safe”, but…
I am a honest person by nature, and I have an utmost respect for those I love. One great part of that respect is my infinite trust that the people I care about can make their own decisions, and that while they might sometimes need protecting, they don’t need suffocating and patronizing. They are people who need to take responsibility of their own decisions and actions – and this, dear reader, is something I am willing to grind in their hearts and souls, in painful and excruciating ways if required. I can’t take responsibility for their lives. No-one can except them.
What I utmostly wanted was the same thing I wanted at the end of the Unlimited: to be with the person I love. To fight with them until the very end. To be there for them, were it for peace or for war, and assure them that everything will be all right – because we are here, in this, together.
Sumika’s experiences with BETA were as traumatic to me to read about as everything else about her in the Alt-verse, but they give some perspective to how she came to be what she was.
The night of love and passion is a short break from all the devastating scenes of the story, but it is needed. Soon after the despair floods in in the form of BETA waves. The absolute helplessness and hideousness of it all is hard to bear. I think that at this point I had started to feel numb. I wonder if that’s how Takeru felt when he started taking more and more of the responsibility to himself. That there would be a moment for feelings later on, but for now they needed to step aside because too much had happened already, and more would come.
This is the last stand that was anticipated at the very beginning, Operation Ouka. If it fails, all is lost.
It’s heart-breaking to see Chizuru, Kei, Miki and Mikoto die one by one. At their very last moment, they reveal something very true about themselves: flashes of their true feelings. Yet, even in their pain, even at the face of death, they remain resolute to their mission. They make their death count… as does Meiya. Her last moments summarize everything I love about her, and everything I aspire to be. She couldn’t give her love, but she was able to give her life. For her, it was enough.
I somehow expected Sumika to survive.. no. I hoped she would survive. It would be too sad and devastating if she, too, would be gone, I thought. But when I saw her lifeless body, I couldn’t even cry anymore. I just stared at it and felt the pain gnawing somewhere in my chest. A dull pain which did not increase or leave when Kasumi told me something I had been wondering about already: that Sumika was, in fact, what made Takeru the causality conductor. So Takeru did get to destroy the thing that caused him to loop after all. Maybe her death was the best, otherwise Takeru would have had to kill her himself in order to return.
Now Takeru has finished everything he needed to do and can return to his original world. At this point I saved the game and didn’t touch it for few days. I felt that everything that had happened would break me for good if I allowed Final Extra to start now. It felt inappropriate. I wandered restlessly around for days, thinking and analyzing everything that had happened – and, I admit, out of sheer respect for the fallen characters I had come to think of as friends.
Few days later, when my state of mourning was over, I returned to Takeru’s world and was reunited with those great people, who were given the possibility of peaceful world, peaceful life and a chance to love. Here they didn’t need to fight. Here they could exist for their own sake.
That is what I wish to protect. A chance of every person on Earth to live peacefully without causing needless harm to others, to themselves, or to the environment. A chance of humble, simple life for everyone. Not everyone will take that chance – but I want everyone to have it. This is not an era of swords, nor will I be fighting with one, but the same devotion remains.
Alternative caused me to question the state of life I was in. I had people around me and I loved them dearly, I showered them with affection and love, as with all the strangers I met – but what if this peaceful life of mine were to chance and end? What if something came about, something unexpected that would tear the very foundations of the lives of those I love? Ultimately, what Alternative caused me to ask from myself was this:
Would I be strong enough to protect the happiness and safety of the people I hold dear?
With sincerity I responded “I’m not sure”, and to me it was enough. I enlisted for the Defensive Forces, and until I will see how strong I truly am, I will continue to exercise my physical and mental strenght every day. I, too, have many wounds I struggle with, some of which are on a daily basis, but the wisdom I have gained from this challenge I have set for myself is that the time truly is the cruelest kindness. I, too, will heal. And with that I will aim to become stronger. Not only for the sake of myself, but for the sake of the people I admire, the people I adore, the people I respect, and the people I love.
I thank you for bearing with me for these three posts. Aalt will return to the reigns at the end of this week, and I will continue working with the edits. It has been a pleasure.