Mecha Design: Selling toys

I’ve touched this on multiple occasions before, but I still need to give it a single, emphasizing post: most robot franchises are there to sell toys. Transformers being the most prominent example of this, with the cartoon and comics supporting the toyline rather being a separate entities based on the toyline. Both the comics and cartoons had to adhere what Hasbro had to say, which resulted in death of numerous characters while loads of new ones being introduced in one panel. Writers can often try to tackle these as challenges, and while that has been less successful at times, it has given birth to a very rich franchise, with Beast Wars still contesting the place for the best written entry overall.

With Transformers, a lot of the things that goes in the designs can work in the toys, and sometimes Hasbro mandates things. However, that being said, Japan still likes to design toys first and foremost based on gimmick ideas to implement in the shows themselves. This is rather clear in modern Kamen Rider, where the themes and gimmicks have been decided beforehand and designed based on these. Sometimes, the concepts can be to counter previous seasons’ concepts, or based on research on what kids may like. The usual stuff really, and this is part of the whole research part when designing something for purpose use; find what it needed and wanted, and then fill those.

But enough intro talk, let’s talk about a Super Sentai mecha first.

These photos are from greenflour5757.blog96.fc2.com/blog-category-53.html I recommend giving it a look, there are a lot more there

Studio PLEX is a company that is under Bandai Namco holdings, and their main task really is to design and realise toys. GoTaurus above is one of their creations for Gingaman, and does exhibit a lot of their design ideas from the get go. I’m sure everyone can see how its transformation is essentially just to stand up. The reason this is of course; toys.

Most, if not all, Studio PLEX designs are not driven by technology, lore or the like, the things I’ve been praising with harsh bias all year around. The very core their designs are driven is to make the toy sturdy for kids to play with, and to look neat and accommodate all the necessary gimmicks. There are no flimsy bits to bob around, no sharp corners to speak of to pop one’s eye out. Real world concerns for child safety and sturdiness have driven the design, but that has not not impacted it. Certainly, GoTaurus may not have the most interesting design, and the relatively low production quality of the toys often can demerit it, yet ultimately the design is very eye pleasing due to the used colours and shapes.

The chains do seem a bit arbitrary, but they work in both modes

It is designed and build with intention. All the joints too are big and relatively heavy-duty compared to modern, more adult-oriented toys, where joints could be build from metal or have somewhat more complex design in a small build. Because the intent and use of Super Sentai toys is very different from what adults want to do with their toys, either just pose them on the shelf or hotglue them, there’s not much put into low-cost production and high sturdiness. At times, it feels it is the exact opposite, with high-cost productions with extreme detailing, but with even one hit or the like, the toy’s bust.

The A3 toyline of Tactical Surface Fighters from Muv-Luv Alternative is a good example how the toys were made with rather  high detail count and decent paint application, but everything else tended to be terrible.

This is, of course, because the TSFs were not designed to be toys in the first place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their toys need to be terrible. The joints were designed from ground up, and ended up being very loose. The used plastic is either too soft and has warped, or lacks toughness and breaks easily. All these combined make the A3 line very flimsy, and knowing how to repair broken bits is pretty much required. As the line went on, some of these issues were fixed, but in the end the A3 was a disappointment. The franchise moved on to the Plastic Model field, but even there the TSF models were costlier and of lower quality than competition, especially when compared to Gundam models. That may be a bit unfair comparison, considering what sort of gold mine Gunpla is for Bandai.

Speaking of Gundam, while the series is know for its giant robots and relatively good storytelling in general, it should be noted that it is very much driven by its model sales above all. Adults and kids alike find building their own toys fun, after all.

The one core thing that allows Bandai to roll out loads of different sort of varied designs like the above BG-011B Build Burning Gundam is the use of general use frames that you can slab armour on.

A generic frame, nothing specific

Bandai often reworks this frame. Certain series and eras themselves have a certain set frame, which may have an extra part to add a function or the like, but largely what makes the most difference in the model is its outside appearance. Part swapping is easy, as generally Bandai wants to make things modular within the series to a certain degree for their own benefit in mould reuse. It also makes kitbashing easier, when everything uses standardised parts.

Gundam as a franchise is freakish in the sense that it doesn’t serve the toys all the way, despite Bandai being the end-of-all being that dictates the final design. It allows the designers to work within the fiction, and this often results in a design that functions within pre-existing model limitations and fiction’s demands, as the paradigm in Gundam design emphasies using all three at the same time. Rarely you see a Gundam that could not be realised in model form, and even then it’s more common to see a modern redesign that makes them fit that box.

Gundam began to use transformations when the technology became cheap enough for it, and after Macross had made it popular. Looking at the current lineup of Gunpla, we can always see one or two models designed just around the shape changing gimmick. Thus, in a mainline Gundam show, the transformation has to work, toy accurate if possible. Because this mind set shifted only after later, mechas like Zeta Gundam had to come around its complex and nigh impossible transformation schemes (for toys) to the point of Bandai making a Zeta Model that, for in-universe reasons, had a simplified scheme. Namely, the MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam Wave Shooter Equipment Type. Nowadays, moel engineering and plastics have evolved to the point of pretty much anything is possible.

Though even when everything has become possible, it also has a cost. A simple design like with GoTaurus won’t cost too much to produce, but a more complex piece like a Zeta Gundam will due to complex mould needed. Considering the needs of the toy first yields a very much different design than considering the in-world or technological points. Toys, after all, exist.

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So you’ve finished Muv-Luv Alternative, and wondering what next

Due to circumstances, I haven’t had time to type out anything too wholesome to read for this Tuesday. Hence, I’ve prepared a small suggestion guide what to check next in the Muv-Luv franchise if you’ve finished Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative. This is a spoiler free listing, splitting between English and Japanese contents.

Official English language options

Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse

Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse TV-series has been officially licensed and released by Sentai Filmworks. While Total Eclipse has rather negative reputation among the fans, it was the first Muv-Luv related product that reached the Western shores. It offers a new cast of characters, with questionable production values, and takes place before the events of Alternative. You can read a larger take on the series here. It doesn’t offer the best the franchise has, but is an expansion to the world Alternative has introduced. It stands as an independent story from the rest of the franchise, like most of these larger sidestories, and its two first episodes are probably the show’s best ones.

If your Japanese is good enough, the PC version of the Visual Novel is a definitive pick, though some argue that the anime is better due to it lacking certain significant revelation.

Schwarzesmarken

Schwarzesmarken was officially simulcasted by Crunchyroll, though for whatever reason they managed to misspell the title with a space. Set in the BETAverse’ 1980’s, the story is far removed from either Total Eclipse or Alternative. It has a more dreadful to it than Total Eclipse, with cold war between East and West still raging in Germany, all the while the BETA still push towards Western Europe. Half as short as Total Eclipse, Schwarzesmarken offers some look into earlier days of war against BETA, when not all tactics were put into stone yet and TSFs were heavy coffins. Opinions are split which one is worse, Total Eclipse or Schwarzesmarken, though I recommend watching both to make up your own mind. The two shows may have a connection through one certain character, though that has never been officially confirmed. If you want to read more about Schwarzesmarken, I have a full review of the series on the site.

The Visual Novel was split into two and didn’t sell all that well, but is a better piece of the two, if only by a margin. Only in Japanese though.

Rumbling Hearts

Rumbling Hearts AKA Kimi ga Nozomu Eien was localised by Funimation in the mid-2000’s and is available at their site for free to watch, though this is region locked. Nevertheless, the DVDs are common and cheap to pick up. Rumbling Hearts, while not exactly a prequel to Muv-Luv, shares the same setting as Extra, and certain character appear in their BETAverse versions in Alternative. However, unlike Extra, Rumbling Hearts is very much dead serious in its tone to relationships to the point of being probably one of the more realistic depictions of troubles in romantic relationships in Japanese cartoons. It is a fantastic adaptation, shrinking the core of the Visual Novel while still giving it some originality to it. It’s highly recommended if you haven’t seen it, regardless of your genre preferences. I have a podcast special with Invalidname, a huge fan of the series; Evan, one of the translators of Muv-Luv and all around pretty cool guy and Muv-Luv Alternative; and Doc who I dragged along because the show needed a third party opinion.

If you can muster the language, I recommend reading the Visual Novel as well.

Whenever the Photon collections gets released on Steam thanks to the Kickstarter, this spot will be updated with multiple entries when applicable.

~Unofficial~English Language Options

These option require you to acquire the discs themselves for you to patch.

Before the Shimmering Time Ends

Before the Shimmering Tim Ends is a sequel to Muv-Luv Alternative. This story can be found in the Muv-Luv Altered Fable and Photon Melodies collections. It is a common misconception that the story’s name is Altered Fable, but that’s just the collection’s name it comes in alongside Faraway Dawn and Total Eclipse Mini-ADV . Those who have finished Alternative should be aware of the last events changing things a bit, and this story takes full advantage of them. Alternative Projects has translated three of the routes in the Visual Novel of the PC version, and the required patch can be picked up from their site. The three routes are highly recommended to read, as it soothes the pains lingering from Alternative. Or makes them more exaggerated, depending on you, dear reader.

Haruko Maniax

One of the shorter stories, Haruko Maniax gives you what’s in the title. One of Evan’s spot-on contributions around, before the Kickstarter hit the ‘hood. If you liked Haruko as a character during Alternative, this is a must read. It follows Haruko’s little brother, who seems to have some fixation to his older sister. Filled with comedy and fantasy segments of erotic kind, it’s a fun little read while you’re waiting for other stuff to come out. You can pick up the patch from Alternative Project.

Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles 01

Much like how Altered Fable is a collection, the Chronicles lineup of fandiscs (releases that are directed at the fans rather than as full-blown, Big Name releases) serves as a backbone to ixtl/âge’s expanding both Unlimited and Alternative through side stories. The Day After is a series that takes place after the events of Unlimited‘s end and offers a world that is very much gone to hell, with half of it turned into an ocean of salt, struggle against famine and BETA an everyday thing. Both Chicken Divers and Rain Dancers give further insight to the struggle against BETA from the viewpoint of your normal surface pilots. Once more, the patch can be picked up from Alternative Projects.

Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles 02

Chronicles 02 continues where the previous one ended, though this time there are only two stories to read through; The Day After Episode 01 and MLA Chronicles Adoration. The Day After continues with the Unlimited timeline as previously mentioned, while Adoration having a lighter tone to it as it follows Imperial Royal Guard member Makabe Seijurou’s exchange in Euro Front’s Dover base. Not much need to be said about either one, except that Alternative Projects have a separate patches for TDA01 and Adoration.

Various Rumbling Hearts short stories

Evan, one of the Alternative Project’s translators I mentioned above, has a site up called Kiminozo Life, which contains his unofficial translations for numerous Rumbling Hearts and Muv-Luv related side stories. These include, for example, Melvina Maniax’s Kimi ga Nozomu Muv-Luv, which sees the two main characters between the two stories switching places, and True Lies, one of the more comedy filled entries in the KGNE/ML metaverse. There are no patches, as the translations are done through subtitled videos. You can also bother him on Twitter about anything.

Japanese options, for fun and language training

This is not intended as a complete list of all âge/ixtl’s products that have relations to Muv-Luv, but here are some specific picks for those hungry for more and have the language skills demanded.

Before the Cherry Trees Blossom -Muv-Luv After Episode-

A story set after Sumika’s Extra route, starting in February 2002. While having some janky writing, it is nevertheless the first direct continuation of an Extra route, and it’s a must read for those who want to see more Sumika, and how the cast graduates. If you absolutely hate her guts, you might as well skip this. Otherwise, it’s extra for those who like Extra. It can be found in Muv-Luv Supplement, alongside with rectal destroying card game Muv-Luv Duelist and few other stories.

Muv-Luv ~Another Episode Collection~

Stuffed to Muv-Luv Supplement, Another Episode Collection also goes under the name of Heroine Short Story collection. These stories are set in before and during Extra from other character’s perspective. Also in Photon Flowers, so you can dust off that PS3 of yours, or sit tight and wait.

Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu

Kimi ga Ita Kisetsu is the whole shebang that started âge’s Kimi ga line of VNs, that lasted all two titles. Much like how Muv-Luv follows up on Rumbling Hearts, Rumbling Hearts follows on Kimi Ita. The title’s not anything special, if we’re honest, but does give an insight to certain characters that appear as their BETAverse counterparts in some Muv-Luv titles. There is also an updated version, if you find the late 1990’s style garish.

Chronicles 03 and 04

Chronicles 03 follows in the footsteps of Chronicles 02 and has two main titles: The Day After Episode 02 and MLA Chronicles Resurrection. Resurrection follows the exploits of one Silvio Orlandi. While the story opens up as a rather serious take on him praying in a church before he engages a mission, it quickly turns into a more light-hearted romp about him becoming a Six Million Dollar Man and is sent to infiltrate the Yokohama Base as a spy. It’s a rather lengthy story to boot, with multiple chapters and a change in visual style.

Chronicles 04 collects more stories than the two previous installments, with TDA 03 introducing a certain familiar face from the mainline trilogy. Let’s just say all those hours put into Valgern-On really paid off. Last Divers could be called a companion piece to Chicken Divers as the two share themes with each other, with the significant difference of Last Divers taking place in the Unlimited‘s TDA timeline. War Ensemble takes place in 1998, and unlike most other stories, it concentrates on the infantry. While we have TSF running around, the story’s main point is to show how inglorious it is to be a foot soldier, with few powered armours at your side, when a BETA assault lands on you.

And if you’re a fan of anthropomorphised BETA, Chronicles 04  has an episode of Haiburu.

Tactical Surface Figher in Action and other materials

Tactical Surface Fighter in Action, or TSFiA for short, is a series of short stories concentrating on the TSFs themselves and numerous events across Unlimited and Alternative timelines, crossing over with both Schwarzesmarken and Total Eclipse. These were essentially story advertisement for TSF toys and models, and dioramas were made using these. Some of them stories have been translated, but that was some years ago, with this being the latest version.

There are loads of books regarding Muv-Luv, from source books to comics. Some of the comics have been scanlated at least to some extent, and I’m sure you can locate some through use of a search engine. A special mention needs to be given to the Alternative comic, which has gotten a positive reception from those who have read it. Integral Works is also recommended, though its info is used in the upcoming Codex. TSF Cross Operation books are sort of expansions to Integral Works in that they contain expanded information and short stories, including numerous TSFiA ones.

Muv-Luv Alternative Faraway Dawn

Faraway Dawn are two sets of strategy games included with Altered Fable and Haruko Maniax. In essence, your job is to keep TSFs intact and their pilots alive through number of missions in rUGP powered STR. Expect high difficulty and lots of savescumming. The game plays on a field build on hexagons, and while all the menus are in Japanese, understanding them is a small matter of trial and error. It’s about as easy to get around them as it is with a standard Super Robot Wars, though there are more things to consider than in SRW titles.

Akane Maniax and AyuMayu Theatre

Akane Maniax is a name of a visual novel and a three-episode OVA. The OVA was meant to bridge Rumbling Hearts to Muv-Luv in animation form, but that came to naught. However, it is the first time we see Takeru & co. in animated form, and while it does lean on the comedy side of things, it’s a good fan service overall. You can pick the Japanese DVDs rather cheaply nowadays, or if you’ve got the dough, the BD set that comes with Rumbling Hearts, Akane Maniax and Next Season OVA with some other extras. You can freely apply fansubs to these versions, and there are specifically timed versions floating around the net. Next Season is effectively an optional end to the series, made to both advertise then-new Latest Edition of Kimi ga Nozomu Eien VN, and to appease raving Haruka fans.

AyuMayu Theatre, or AyuMayu Gekijouban if you’re so inclined, is an ONA based around making fun of both Rumbling Hearts and Muv-Luv, having cast from both series stepping and having comedy of their and the viewer’s expense. It’s really a recommended watch, and subtitles floating around can be put into good use as the DVD is dirt cheap nowadays. Seriously, it costs one yen if you know where to look and are willing to buy used. If you’ve grown fond of Ayu and Mayu, they got their own Alternative.

AyuMayu Alternative

The last entry on this short list is AyuMayu Alternative, a rather tongue-in-cheeck spin-off with more of the comedic characters from Rumbling Hearts and Akane Maniax getting a huge spotlight. It’s a fun read, especially if you’re a fan of old-school robot anime and Saint Seiya. However, if you’re in mood for something more serious, AyuMayu Alternative also hosts two Chronicles stories.

MLA Chronicles Atonement and Inheritance/Succession (it’s got two competing choices for a translation) follow a select two characters. In Atonement, we see Jinguuji Marimo‘s past when she was a cadet, at her Comprehensive Combat Eval. and her first sortie against the BETA. These expand on the character, and while I’ve seen some argue that it cheapens the character, others have countered that it expands and gives another meaning to the 7th chapter Muv-Luv Alternative; The Unforgiven. Inheritance concentrates on the immediate family of Captain herself, Isumi Michiru, specifically her little sister Akira. Set soon after the events on Sado Island, Akira meets with her sisters after a victory celebration, only to pass out due to PTSD flashbacks. Later, they learn about Captain’s faith. Towards the end, we see Akira taking part in Operation Sledgehammer in 2003, the third known successful Hive infiltration, and the first successful Hive capture for humanity without a need for weapons like G-Bombs.

There is lot more to Muv-Luv as a franchise than what’s on this list, especially if we take into account the rest of the expanded metaverse, but for now these should offer some ideas what to check out next. There is a lot more to come in the future.

Exogularity; F-47 Ishkur

To celebrate Muv-Luv Alternative hitting Steam, let’s talk about the future of Tactical Surface Fighters. Namely, the 8th Generation Tactical Surface Fighter F-47 Ishkur.

Needless to say, this be spoiler country.

 Ishkur is the Sumerian name for Hadad, the god of rain and thunderstorms of spring. A fitting name for mankind’s latest weapons against extraterrestrial threats: the BETA and their Silicon creators pose. While the previous generation of TSFs were defined in their G-Generators and system made possible through them; a decade of operation time without replenishment, TSF sized particle cannons and advanced Rutherford fields that could withhold Fortress-Laser Class’ barrage for fifteen minutes. Tactical Surface Fighter development became stagnant after the introduction of the 7th Generation due to mankind-wide civil wars. With the global unification of 2043, a project to face the creators of BETA was launched a year later, with a need for the 8th Generation following in suit. Three years later, the F-47 would meet with abilities such mission would demand.

The 8th Generation is redefines the role of a TSF to the point that it’s no longer “Surface;” Space is its main field of operation, but the F-47 has been designed to function from Zero-G to 3-G environments. Movement is attained by manipulating gravity, and as F-47’s main role is to function as an envoy to the space fleet aiming to contact the Siliconians, it boasts an impressive long-range particle cannon as its main weapon. Furthermore, the F-47 is able to engage in limited ranged warps and contains regenerating life-support systems, giving the unit ability for independent interstellar travel.

The name Ishkur represents this aspect of F-47 being able to rain down storm and thunder on whomever the pilot chooses to strike.

This rough design shows where we’re going. One thing that I didn’t include in the above description of the unit, is that Ishkur would be able to purge its damaged sections to continue to fight unhindered, at least according to Ishi Sho. Notice that the melee blade below is attached to the F-47’s right arm here, it’s not a lengthy cannon.

While the F-47 Ishkur sounds overpowered, the mook it is from, exogularity 01, hints that BETA tactics have evolved as well. Despite this, it does carry more traditional weaponry.

We can already see from these roughs that the two familiar weapons seem to be a mainstay still. The Assault Gun boasts rather functional design, probably to give emphasize how it has to function in variety of environments an interstellar mission might have. The Close Combat Sword we have here seems to have taken the handle idea from BWS-8 Flugelberte as it is arching to the wrong direction, but I’ll let that pass, as we’re talking about a giant robot and not a human hand. The lowest one is 8th Generation multi-purpose additional armour, a shield of sorts, though it is rather small for that function alone. It is missing from Strike Frontier render of the unit, and may have been dropped from the design for now.

As the F-47 is a completely new design, not based on any existing aircraft, its Jump Units are based solely on Tactical Surface Fighters’ own design language.

If you look too long at these, you may end up seeing a skull of sorts. That may just be me.

To summarise all this, F-47 Ishkur is what Tactical Surface Fighter line would naturally evolve into when materials, sudden surge in advanced technology and necessity for interstellar warfare all come together. It was Yoshimune Koki himself who jokingly said that it’s not longer “Surface” and that TSFs have now entered the realm of Super Robots, but he isn’t half wrong. Perhaps calling F-47 Ishkur Tactical Space Fighter would be more appropriate, even when it could function on Earth-like bodies. Tactical Multi-Environmental Fighter doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’m not ready to agree that this mecha fits in the Super Robot category straight away. It certainly is a compact and hi-performance mecha all things considered, but in a world where technology is being combined with extraterrestrial material that allows bending dimensional barriers through the sheer power of love, I’m reminded of Third Clarke’s Law; Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The design itself is combination of two things; the designer Ishi Sho’s own taste and view how the TSF line is to evolve, and cues from Mamoru Nagano’s Mortar Hedds from Five Star Stories. However, I would also argue that there is an influence from Tomohiro Shimoguchi’s illustration works, namely Linebarrels of Iron. Furthermore, some elements, like the shoulder armours, do remind of Gundam AGE‘s Vagan designs, thought this is probably just my eyes tricking me. F-47 Ishkur is probably the first properly modern design in the franchise, as even the 4th TSF Generation still has visible vestiges of the early 2000’s mecha design. If I can be frank about my own view for a moment, Ishkur’s design does please the eye and probably does good to the franchise in that it is far removed from any real life fighter jet.

This mecha, Ishkur, represents what will probably be the future of the franchise, if it has the chance to go that far. Things have certainly changed, with âge now more or less servicing as the brand and front for ixtl, Avex Pictures acquiring ixtl itself and both Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative being officially released in English. However, with both Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken being largely failures all around, the staff at âge/ixtl are in a position very few people would wish to be in. Whatever comes next has to strike true. Of course, with Avex Pictures now being the upper management, an adaptation of Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative itself isn’t far too far-fetched. However, it would have to be an adaptation that would aim to expand the audience, something the core fans probably would not prefer. It would be necessary for the health of the franchise and companies involved.

But for now, let’s enjoy what we have.

Listen, The wind is still, And far away in the night — See! The uplands fill With a running light.
Open the doors. It is warm; And where the sky was clear– Look! The head of a storm That marches here!
Come under the trembling hedge– Fast, although you fumble… There! Did you hear the edge of winter crumble
-Mark Van Doren, 1924

Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; MiG-29OVT Fulcrum

While we’re probably going to discuss the base MiG-29 Lastochka one of these days, the main reason we’re going to have MiG-29OVT variation on the table today is because it had a significant antagonist role in Total Eclipse, and that I had the pictures readily available and didn’t want to do Active Eagle.

To save most of real world MiG-29’s history for Lastochka, I’ll shorten it here and see what we have on the OVT model. Which isn’t much, but we’ll get to that later. One of the major differences between the real fighter and the TSF is that all MiG-29 variants are known as Fulcrum in the NATO designation. The Soviets and Russian pilots adopted this name later on. NATO just adds a letter and a number after the designation to denote which variant we’re talking about.

The Fulcrum has a long history behind it. The fighter was developed in early 1970’s as a hi-performance, hi-manoeuvre light-weight fighter to tackle whatever the West was cooking against the Soviet nations. Indeed, it’s not rare to see enthusiasts to decree the Fulcrum to be an equal to Western fighters, especially due to it incorporating numerous technological advantages not in its Western contemporaries, the F-16 Fighting Falcon for example. The base model, Fulcrum-A, became operational in the mid-80’s and had a very high manoeuvrability. It could track ten targets at the same time with its cohere pulse Doppler radar at a range of 69km. Combined with a laser range finder and infra-red search and track, which all where linked to Helmet Mount Sight, made the base Fulcrum a very dangerous enemy in a close-in fight. It should also be noted that the Fulcrum has LERXs, or leading-edge extensions on its mid-mount swept wings. These small extensions improve and control airflow at high angles of attack.

The 29M and OVT are both Second Generation fighters and have enhancements everywhere, including evolution to the overall airframe in order to increase its thrust-to-weight ratio. As OVT is essentially just Fulcrum-M with thrust vectoring RD-133 engines, it shares all the same advanced avionics its brother does. To go slightly into the history of the Fulcrum-M, it’s development began in the mid-80’s with a new need for a frontline fighter that would be able to carry out multi-role missions. Due to shift in Soviet military strategy, the Fulcrum-M design saw constant updates and variants before it eventually split into MiG-29M and M2, denoting whether or not its a two-seater. It should be noted that the MiG-29M, despite sharing its name with its original variant, is completely redesigned version. External differences may be sparse, pretty much everything else was improved beyond the Fulcrum-A.

MiG-29OVT is more or less an acrobatic performer that mainly showcases the modern MiG-29’s capabilities rather than being a frontline fighter.

Remember to click for a larger version

In Muv-Luv Alternative‘s BETAverse, the Fulcrum is a given name to the advanced MiG-29. Based on MiG-29 Lastochka and shared technology gained via Project Prominence, the MiG-29OVT is an advanced variant that is supposedly able to go toe-to-toe with the American F-15 ACT Active Eagle. Changes from the earlier MiG-29 variants include upgraded avionics, improved Jump Units, Light by Light and redesigned shoulder blade vanes.

To reflect the thrust-vectoring capabilities of the real world OVT, the TSF OVT now has added thrusters in the shoulders and hips. This supposedly gives it 3rd Generation level manoeuvrability. It carries Blade Motors from earlier MiG-29 variants in its arms and legs, as well as the A-97 Assault Gun. Being on the side of close-combat, Fulcrum pilots tend to favour brutish tactics and acute-angle attacks on the enemy. One might even assume that the Fulcrum showcases the changes in Soviet’s doctrine against BETA and human targets.

In terms of design, the MiG-29OVT shares more with its in-universe brethren than with the real fighter. It’s chunkier than blockier to keep in-tone with the rest of the MiG-29 series. Similarly, while the MiG-29 has rounded and smooth corners to it, the TSF design has opted to angularise itself in many cases, like with adding more corners to the wings and fins. There are surprising amount of included elements from the fighter in the TSF, albeit the TSF elements govern the overall look of the unit.

There would have been few points that the MiG-29 could have stood out overall. The fighters are unique in that their intakes and nozzles, indeed almost the whole department, resides under the fuselage. The pilot also sits very high in the cockpit. Neither these aspects carried into the MiG-29 line. However, perhaps the TSF elements again override the fighter design points in this case.

Mecha design: Straightened up A-6

To continue the theme of transforming mecha in a simple form, I’ve decided to take this chance to introduce another simple transformation, but one that isn’t a box and does alter its appearance quite a lot between its two forms. Furthermore, rather than choosing something that flies through the air, I’ve decided to pick one that makes some sense in its setting as well as is water bound; the A-6 Intruder, or the Tactical Surface Attacker Type 81, Wadatsumi.

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The unsung hero

Unlike Boxtron from one of the previous entries, A-6 Intruder requires some explanation about its role in-universe in Muv-Luv Unlimited/ Alternative. In a world where air superiority is not an option before a specialised enemy unit has been cleared off from the battlefield, an off-shoot branch has specialised on long-range combat and against enemy strains that are less armoured and smaller, but number in tens of thousands. The A-6 Intruder is the amphibious equivalent of A-10, another TSA. Both of them require to work in tandem, with Tactical Surface Fighters for effective warfare if they’re present. Furthermore, the A-6 has specialised in landing operations. These guys are the workhorse of things, able to take loads of damage and dish out about twice as much, reflecting the real world craft’s resilience. Effectively, they’re walking fortresses rising from the water and taking control of the beach, so the main force can move in.

If you were expecting a design comparison between this and the real life A-6, I’m not intending to do one due to the TSA effectively having no elements to go through. Well, outside the intakes that the 120mm guns were modelled after. The only real connections are the intention and relative role. The real world Grumman A-6 Intruder was a carrier-based attack craft that was designed around long-range and low-level tactical strikes. An interesting juxtapose is that the real world craft had no guns or internal bombing bay, whereas the TSA has nothing but build-in weapons. All the ordinance was mounted externally, and ranged from simple generic bombs to possibility of Mark 43 nuclear bomb. Fun fact, the A-6 delivered the most ordinance during Vietnam War than any other craft, including the B-52.

The design reflects the intended function. While not exactly apparent from its land mode, the whole transformation is made simple as possible while having interesting shapes to go around. Nevertheless, it still has some notably intricate, smaller form changing in its legs.

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How the feet are pulled in during submersible mode is rather interesting for the reason that it’s slightly over-engineered. The question whether or not you’d want sharp double-heels when you’re landing on a beach, or walk anywhere on the sea bottom where its muddy as hell,  is a good one and probably the only individual detail that I can complain about. If you disagree, you go walk on the beach with stilettos. Don’t ask why I’ve done that.

The transformation has four main elements that change form. The head, the arms, the legs and the crotch piece. Just like some older Transformers, what A-6 essentially does it that is stretches itself out, with some twisting and turning here and there. This transformation scheme is dependent on water, as its submersible mode wouldn’t function on land. Maybe is space. Luckily, we do have step-by-step CGs from the Visual novels themselves.

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Here we see the submersible mode with its head extended from the main body. This seems to be the first step in the whole thing. Overall speaking, we do see that the A-6 is pretty nice overall, though you can see sections on the arms that have crevices. Nothing major going here yet.

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The second step is to extend the shoulder and hip joints beyond the main body. This is the first thing that leads to the rest of the breakdown, but to be completely honest, this and extending the head should one and the same step.

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Here we see the hands extending forwards. These scene where this particular transformation takes place happens during a battle against a Tactical Surface Fighter. Hence, the arms are coming to grab something in-front of it. In order for the 120mm cannons to face forwards (as in the top image), they are required to twist 180-degrees forwards. The main shoulder pieces that keep the arms and 120mm cannons connected to the main body are still flat.

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The last phase  is extending the crotch piece forwards, twisting the 120mm cannons forward while turning the shoulder pieces out and straightening the legs and feet. At this point the A-6 Intruder would be ready to land ashore.

This transformation sequence uses the exact same core idea as Boxtron. The initial shape is mostly dictated by its function as an amphibious weapons platform, which on the other hand does limit how the humanoid form stands up. Well, semi-humanoid, as the A-6 does away with most human proportions.

While the transformation is simple, the main difference with its initial starfish form and Boxtron is not the shape or the sequence, but that it contains third dimension. While Boxtron was strictly a two-dimensional, A-6 needs to rotate and extend sections in the third dimension in order to achieve complete form change. As mentioned, the scheme of designed to work under water and only under water and ultimately the whole design works around this. The thrust is kept to the same direction at all times and the only bit that would seem to have any control over direction is the crotch piece.

Nevertheless, the good old tuck-and-cover method is practised here as well with, well, everything really. The amphibious mode is streamlined in most parts and doesn’t exactly have any hard corners for the water or currents to drag on. The geometry is overall sound. Outside the feet, anything more complex would be redundant.

In-universe the A-6 Intruder isn’t exactly a showpiece, and its transformation gimmick does give it a higher cost, but it’s specialised role makes it shine. While we can debate whether or not the design itself is something to admire, the A-6 is nevertheless a good example of a purpose-designed form changing mecha.

Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; F-5 Freedom Fighter

I’ll be blunt straight from the start; the F-5 series Tactical Surface Fighters are boring and blocky as hell. Their design takes only few elements from the fighters overall and mostly rely on being blocky to stand from the crowd. They are the antithesis of the TSF design rules I proposed, and the main argument why they are invalid across the board. I shouldn’t really be writing this with a fever, but now that I finally have access to my folders and books, I wanted to get this done away. However, let’s start with the real F-5 first and foremost before mentioning a thing about the TSF.

The F-5 was designed in the late 1950’s by Northrop to compete with its contemporaries, mainly the McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantom II. F-5 however became the more popular of the two for it being a versatile and a low-cost light weight supersonic fighter. Mainly designed to be an air superiority fighter, the fighter was also capable of air-to-ground attacks.
The initial run of F-5’s was around 800 units, as USAF didn’t have a need for a lightweight fighter such at the time. Nevertheless, the F-5E Tiger II was put into production for Americas’ allies after Northrop won the Fighter Aircraft competition in 1970. F-5E saw an overall improved design with more powerful engines with the J85-GE21 turbojets capable of 2 268kg of afterburning thrust, greater sing spanand other overall improvements. One of the places F-5E saw extensive use was in Vietnam due to its nature of being able to perform both air and ground attacks. Its two 20mm cannons in the nose could deliver new speed holes to the enemy units and the F-5-E was capable of carrying two AIM-9 Sidewinder AAMs on its wingtips, plus around 3 175kg of mixed ordinance. By the mid-80’s, over 20 countries had imported the F-5E into their air forces, and while it may lack all-weather capabilities, it’s relative cheap price and operation was deemed more valuable. Taiwan, South Korea and Switzerland all produced F-5E under license, and while the production of the fighter stopped in 1987, manufacturers still offer a variety of upgrade options. It’s one of the more widespread fighters in the world, and countries like Mexico sill have some in service. The last evolution of F-5 series would have been the F-20 Tigershark, but the USAF declined the aircraft. However, the F-5 series served as the basis for the Northrop YF-17 and F/A-18 fighters. To be fair, there is so much history to the fighter due to its widespread nature that it’s better for you to check what interest you more, this is just a basic introduction to the fighter.

f-5There’s no imageboard variant this time around. The lack of any sort of good backside image or Jump Units for this particular version really shows how the further variants are more prevalent in the franchise

The TSF version of the F-5 bears some resemblance to the fighter in its history. Initially rolled out after the introduction Phantom II, the Freedom Fighter opted for lower armouring and superior mobility. Just like the F-5 fighter was used to train pilots, the Freedom Fighter TSF served first as a training machine that was converted into a full-fledged combat unit. We don’t know what this training TSF was named or looked like, but that doesn’t matter. Similar how the real life F-5 became an export extravaganza, so did the Freedom Fighter, with the US forces allowing to local productions of this lightweight surface fighter in order to take pressure off from American productions. This naturally gave the Europeans their own TSF push towards Kashgar and counter the invading BETA.The weapon loadout for the Freedom Fighter was simple; a WS-16 Assault Cannon and brass balls for the pilot. The FE85-GE15 engines allowed the TSF to have superior maneuverability over Phantom II, but the weapons technology was severely lacking during the early 1970’s, making the war against BETA more or less a futile attempt. However, it was because of its cheap price and low-maintenance why Freedom Fighter found success in the front lines. The Soviets and European forces found it worth to mix Phantom IIs and Freedom Fighters in a healthy mix to compensate each other’s lacking capabilities, which would yield further high-low mix troops in the future.F-5 itself influenced the Soviet’s MiG-series and would affect their design decisions in regards of close-combat capabilities. The French developed the Mirage III based on the Freedom Fighter, which would ultimately give birth European 3rd Generation TSFs such as EF-2000 Typhoon and the Rafale. The F-5 series of TSFs would continue to mirror the evolution of the real life fighters in a very similar fashion, giving birth to F-5G Tighershark Tactical Surface Fighter and other variants. Of course, Muv-Luv’s BETAverse differs in naming schemes and has some additional variations, but that’s par for the course.As for the design of the F-5 Freedom Fighter, it shares more design elements with the F-5 Phantom II than the real fighter it is supposed to be based on. Sure, the Jump Units (not pictured) share its normal resemblance with the fighter, but outside few overall similarities the core Freedom Fighter doesn’t have much going on for it. This is where the early consistency still kicks in hard, but the lack of further discerning elements in the TSF from the fighter makes this a boxy and boring unit.  Things would get any better, with F-5F Mirage III being essentially the same with a new chest, wider antennae and spikes on its knees. It wouldn’t be until Mirage 2000 before the European TSFs would start to carry further elements from the real life fighters. That’s a damn shame too.F-5 did offer elements to borrow from, but I guess one ways to show how low-tech 1st Gen TSFs are is to have lacking plane elements in the,
Just like with some other TSFs, what matters more is the history and intention of the rather than the design, resulting in a poor comparison point between the fighter and TSF, unless one wants to over analyse every single little bit on the unit. Frankly, that would be useless.From now on, I probably will have to resort to various other sources for images, most likely the use of CGs will see a rise.

Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; F-16 Fighting Falcon

The F-16 Fighting Falcon has proven itself to be highly manoeuvrable air-to-air and air-to-surface fighter that during its reveal was nothing less than a quantum leap in fighter design. After all, it was the first fly-by-wire electric combat aircraft. F-16 is a low-cost and high-performance machine that for a reason became a classic on its own rights and was imported to numerous other nations like Belgium.

F-16A saw its first flight in late 1976, and stepped into United States Air Force’s service in 1979. F-16B was a two-seat variant of the machine and engineered the path for F-16s to have built-in structural and wiring provisions and systems architecture that would allow expansions in multiple roles since 1981. These expansions vary from precision strike ability to night attacks and beyond-visual-range interception missions. This lead into F-16C and D variants that are single- and two-seat variants of the aforementioned while incorporating new technology. All current USAF units are converted to these models, while Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve still holds some A and B variants.

In comparison to its contemporary fighter aircrafts, the F-16 is a serious threat to the point F-35 losing to it in a direct dog fight. The comparison between the two is not as apt as it would seem. F-35 is mainly a stealth fighter meant to destroy the enemy before it is even spotted. Discussion whether or not manned fighters are the future with the advent of cutting edge drone technology is another discussion that we should have one of these days. Nevertheless, the F-16 is a beast that with an operation radius that exceeds many other fighters and is an all-weather fighter. In an air-to-ground missions the F-16 can fly more than 860km, deliver a pin-point strike to the object and return to base, visual or not. It’s weight, small size and well designed fuselage allows it to fly 2 125km/h with its afterburning F100-PW-100 turbofan engine and can take up 9Gs, which is helluva lot of thrust. It’s dryweight is 6 607kg, and maximum take-off peaks around 14 968kg, allowing it to carry numerous weapons with its nine hard points.  Internally, the F-16 has a M61 A1 20mm gatling gun system, which had some installation difficulties at first.

Rather than going on about the F-16, I recommend checking the F-16.net for a full coverage on the fighter, including full listing of its armaments, variants and its operational history in the Persian Gulf War and in Operation Desert Storm.

In Muv-Luv‘s BETAverse, the F-16 mirrors the real world fighter in that it’s a lightweight Tactical Surface Fighter with superior mobility and range, operating in junction to its weightier siblings F-14 and F-15. Similarly how the fighter has a long-range of operation in multitude of roles, the TSF has a long operation time on the field, derived from the Lightweight Tactical Surface Fighter competition, which aimed to create highly manoeuvrable and cost-effective unit to change tactics against the BETA. This cost effectiveness allowed the US to produce more units, as they could not completely replace their ageing first generation TSFs with the two aforementioned heavier models.

Just like in real world, the F-16 TSF was imported to numerous other countries, replacing their F-4Es and F-5s. The Benelux union has its own variant as a result of import, the F-16AM, which more or less has the usual mid-life upgrade with overall technological improvements. The same applies to F-16C, mostly used by the US and UN, with improvement Jump Units.

Due to F-16s being everywhere, they were seen in action in numerous places like Yukon base, Battle of Rhodes and during Operation Cherry Blossom in Muv-Luv Alternative. TSFs don’t tend to vary in armament a whole lot, and F-16 is not really an exception. WS-16 Assault Cannon has been TSF bread and butter since F-4 Phantom, thou later F-16 were updated to handle the AMWS-21. CIWS-1 Close Combat Knife is the choice F-14’s for combat, a good choice for a TSF that should excel in close combat. F-14 is also capable carrying MGM-140 ATACMS missile containers, which reflects the real world fighter’s multirole function.

Historically and in idea, the TSF hits close to the fighter, but the design is more derived from the in-universe sources. This is best seen in the idea that most of the TSF’s design is that of angles rather than smooth curves like with the fighter. This is because almost none of the TSFs have what could be called smooth lines. That in mind, common points between the TSF and the fighter can be made, e.g. the intake in the TSFs abdomen is the same as the fighter’s, just more angular.

As usual, here's the original imageboard version
As usual, here’s the original imageboard version

After you get use to the idea of looking at certain aspects in the F-16 TSF, you end up noticing common points. It seems like the gatling gun and loads of sections on the fuselage’s back made some of the TSF’s detailing. It’s interesting to note that the thighs didn’t see any additional details, while otherwise you see a lot of red dots downwards. Shoulders are interesting, to say the least, as they incorporate F-16 rising parabola silhouette, just with wings cut off. The arms follow this idea to some extent, but are surprisingly clean of any needles detail

The groin guard on the other hand is a flip of the coin; either it is inspired by that parabola silhouette, or was thrown in there just because. While I’m not a fan of the knees American TSFs have, they have their function in housing the CIWS-1.

Happy to see they're free of this switch blade bullshit
Happy to see they’re free of this switch blade bullshit

The knees however do make the TSF look a bit cumbersome. Despite the F-16 being the lightweight unit, it doesn’t really look like it. The shoulders look far too ornate for that, and shaving down the skirt’s and kneeguard’s sizes would’ve done good. Maybe even take elements of the shoes too. It does resemble the fighter while not really pushing those elements forwards enough. A slimmer version of the this design would’ve probably been the best middle-ground in tying it down to the TSF tech tree while pushing the idea of these being in-universe versions of the fighters.

And on top of all that, it has a face on back of its head.

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I WILL DEVOUR YOUR SOUL

And while we’re discussing things from âge, today’s the 27th of August. Happy birthday, Hayase Mitsuki.