Muv-Luv Review

Title: Muv-Luv
Original title: マブラヴ
Release date: 2003-02-28
English release date: 2010-07-27
Developer: âge
English publisher: Amaterasu Translations (as a fan-patch)

I’m kind of ashamed of myself that I haven’t yet played "Muv-Luv Alternative" – one of the most lauded English translated VNs. After finally deciding that it’s high time I tackled it, I decided to first replay its prequel "Muv-Luv" in order to reacquaint myself with the previous events.

Muv-Luv is actually a spin-off to another âge title “Kimi ga Nozomu Eien”, however it managed to become more popular than its parent game. ML is actually not one game, but two of them bundled together. Upon starting the game, you will play the first part “Extra” and will unlock the second part “Unlimited” once you finish both Sumika and Meiya routes.

Muv-Luv Extra

The plot of “Extra” (as much as there is one) goes something like this. Shirogane Takeru – a slacker and all around nice guy is living a leisurely life with his parents, is woken each morning by his osananajimi Sumika and constantly irritates his class representative Chizuru at school. It all is shot down to hell, when one evening Takeru goes to bed and wakes up with an unknown woman lying by his side. Oh, and is that sound Sumika’s footsteps as she is coming to wake him up? Slaughter ensues :-D In the commotion the strange woman manages to slip away only to re-appear at school… as a new transfer student to Takeru’s class.

"In the end, it's humans that decide whether time will be cruel or kind..."
Foreshadowing is foreshadowing.
From the description you would be right to surmise that “Extra” is a slice-of-life moege and how much you are going to enjoy it will depend largely on your appreciation for absurdist humour and slapstick comedy. I don’t generally like moeges and frequently say that slice-of-life equals shit by definition. Natheless, I did like "Muv-Luv". The main factor is that the game doesn’t take itself seriously for the most part and its particular brand of humour resonates really well with me. The other reason is that for a SOL moege ML is strangely non-troperific. The events depicted within may not be unique in any way, but they still do not feel overused and trite. Characters are also very well realized and mostly do not conform to usual anime stereotypes or at the very least bend them so out of shape that they are almost unrecognizable.

It wouldn’t be too outrageous to claim that ML Extra makes fun of usual anime tropes and clichés even when it presents them in a straight manner. It is very much intentional in preparation for “Unlimited”, which thoroughly deconstructs the world presented in Extra, however it also becomes Extra’s greatest weakness. You see, the game sort of runs out of steam by the end, as humour can carry the burden just so far. It’s probably the reason why the side routes have a more serious atmosphere, but such shift in mood doesn’t really work for the better. However let’s not run ourselves ahead and talk about everything in an appropriate order.
Those butterfly nets are called "crosses".
There is no such thing as a coherent plot in MLE - more or less the whole game is a situational comedy with a bit more of seriousness reserved for side-routes. Nevertheless, there are some key elements that can be separated within the narrative, like Meiya's attempts to learn cooking or a cook-off contest between all the females with Takeru as a prize. However, one event holds the most sway within the game, and that is a lacrosse tournament which ends the common route. I applaud ML for focusing on such a relatively little known game. Frankly, I didn't even know about the existence of lacrosse when I played ML for the first time and had to google it. All in all, I found it fun to read about something so novel to me.

"Nothing would ever change if I waste time thinking about consequences"
Mr. Generic Face.
As mentioned above, the protagonist of our game is one Shirogane Takeru, who is an unassuming everyday Joe. You could be excused for thinking he will be a usual blank slate protagonist for you to assume control of. Hell, he even has parents who go conveniently missing in the beginning of the game (a plot device used in only one hundred gazillion other eroge). However, âge did something different here – Takeru bursts with personality and is a well established character in his own right. He seems a pretty passive guy, preferring to go with a flow, but manages to get his shit together, when someone whacks him over the head hard enough. Takeru is frequently given as an example of a stupid donkan protagonist and folks on VNDB even invented a Takerunit – a SI measurement unit to measure the stupidity of an eroge protagonist. Takeru is indeed oblivious to the feelings of others around him and needs to be told an L word straight to the face before he comes to a realization about his feelings, but he is still one of the most inoffensive protagonists, whose shoes you can step in. Takeru never annoyed or exasperated me and I felt comfortable being in his head. Maybe it was because Extra is so non-dramatic and not particularly serious that Takeru’s cluelessness and passiveness are never really treated as a bad thing.

One more detail needed to know about our esteemed protagonist is that he is an avid gamer. Especially he likes to play a giant robot fighting game "Valgern-On" and is quite good at it, but has trouble beating his best friend Mikoto. His gamer skillz will eventually help him out later.

"Muv-Luv Extra" has five main routes, one joke route and two normal ends. Main routes are Sumika’s and Meiya’s and completing them will unlock Unlimited scenario. All the other routes are sort of optional and some people on the Net may even suggest skipping them altogether and going straight into Unlimited instead, but I would disagree. There is nothing that bad regarding the side routes, that it would warrant not playing them.

"Rivals really are friends, in the end"
I will never forgive that damn dog!
The first girl is Kagami Sumika – your next door neighbour and osananajimi with a short fuse. Takeru and Sumika are constantly physically abusing one another, which is played for laughs, and even her morning wake-up calls sometimes turn violent. Sumika seems incapable of hiding her emotions and her facial expressions have a great and diverse range. What’s more, her hair also changes shape according to her mood, which is a very nice detail. When I said that Sumika is Takeru’s next door neighbour, I meant that literally. They can freely talk by opening their bedroom windows and their nightly talks are one of the most beautiful thing about this relationship. Sumika has harboured feelings for our protagonist for quite some time and it’s Meiya’s arrival that finally spurs her into action. I don’t dislike Meiya. Actually, I like her a lot, but when it comes between choosing one or the other, I’m “Team Sumika”.

"There is no shame in losing, but there is shame in fleeing"
Did you seriously bring a sword into a class?
What happens when you take one part no-common-sense Cloud Cuckoolander, one part filthy rich ojou-sama, mix them together and give the resulting blend a bloody katana? Why, it would be our second heroine Mitsurugi Meiya. If you haven’t realized it yet, she is the girl that kickstarted the whole mess by sneaking into Takeru’s bed in the very beginning of the game. Majority of the absurd humour derives from her complete lack of understanding how the society works, due to her leading a very sheltered existence up until now. For example, one of her first acts after transferring to Takeru’s school, is to barge into another class waving a katana just because Takeru jokingly called one of the students there a demon. Nonetheless, Meiya is a very fragile creature deep down and you just want to hug her and tell her everything will be OK. I absolutely loved her antics and her constant desire to get closer to Takeru by learning to cook or by trying to help him in various misguided ways, endeared her to me. It’s a real shame that Sumika has stolen my heart first :-(

Those two routes form the core of the game, and they are unarguably the best, but they also have a fair share of problems. First of all, they are virtually identical. Once you finish one of them, the second route provides only about 2 hours of additional reading, tops. Secondly, these routes filter common anime tropes through the comedy filter until the onsen episode, where they are suddenly played straight… which is sort of painful to read. Luckily the game is almost over by that time. Thirdly, it becomes especially very hard to choose between Meiya and Sumika once you find a real reason behind Meiya’s arrival and her desire to get closer to Takeru, which is a huge mood dissonance to the previous comedy.

"That's amazing!! You just dug your own grave!!"
Size doesn't matter.
Tamase “Tama” Miki is a token loli catgirl of the cast. OK, she is not an actual catgirl, but she dresses and styles her hair in such a way, that even Meiya asks “Is this a human?” upon meeting her for the first time. Not to mention that her nickname Tama is actually a popular cat name in Japan. I would consider her route the most non-committal of all. What I mean is that it has neither huge drama, nor roaring comedy – it’s just so even that there is little emotional attachment generated. Tama is probably the cutest of the heroines and her flustered appearance is “kawaii” inducing. Even sharks agree on that matter. Her route mostly deals with her confidence issues. Miki is a superb archer (her father has an archery dojo), but she is failing in this endeavour, because she loses any confidence upon being watched and her abilities decrease tragically. This is really detrimental to the member of a competitive sport and it all comes to a showdown when her father’s rival throws a proverbial “white glove” to him stating that Miki has to compete in a tournament where loser will have to relinquish his dojo. It’s Takeru who takes it upon himself to squash Miki’s confidence issues in time for the tournament. While the overall plot was nice if not particularly engaging, I found a subplot where Takeru is being stalked by a cursed doll, the most interesting in the route :-)

"Isn't being nice to everyone the same as not caring about anyone?"
Takeru has his priorities straight.
Sakaki Chizuru is a strict class representative who is constantly admonishing Takeru for tardiness and Ayamine for… being Ayamine. This route is probably my least favourite in no small part because it tries to be so serious. The other reason is that I simply failed to connect with Chizuru on an emotional level. She is too self-centric and egotistical for my liking. Chizuru displays strong opinions, which she doesn’t like to be challenged, but the hard shell she constructed around herself is fragile and requires only a push to start cracking. Chizuru’s route is simply a mild version of Break the Haughty and the game unwraps one outer shell after another from her, until we can see the core. The scenario might have worked better within a nakige setting, because here it is wasted. Nothing much of importance actually happens in the route - people just run back and forth like cats with tails on fire and accomplish little and less. Chizuru displays schizophrenic nature of a statistical blonde and Takeru is a dumbass – I don’t even know how a path that started as a bullying drama devolved into this…

Moreover, the route ends in an Inquisitory Trial so badly half-baked, that you are gonna contract salmonellosis just by reading it. I do understand why that particular scene occurs – there was a need to break down the barriers between Chizuru, Takeru and Kei in order for them to finally express their true feelings, but it could have been done more subtly. Instead we get a scene that is as subtle as a hammer to the head and that shouldn’t have even occurred in the first place, considering Yuuko-sensei’s influence.

"If you lose, you do whatever I say. If I lose, I will make you do whatever I say"
I can see your panties, Ayamine.
Ayamine Kei is a weirdo and an archenemy of Chizuru. They are constantly at odds like a cat and a dog. She speaks in monosyllable words and does not easily fit into any VN heroine archetype. When I first played ML years ago, I wondered how her route could even work, considering… crap, you just cannot describe Ayamine, you have to experience her and that’s why I like her. As for her path, I would consider it the best of the side routes. It deals with past mistakes and the effect they have on the present us, with ability to finally admit that you are wrong and with letting go of the past in order to proceed into the future. It would be pretty spoilerific to say much more. While Kei’s route is tied as closely to Chizuru’s as Sumika’s is tied to Meiya’s, it stands on it’s own, though if you play one of them, you should play the other one too. After all, Chizuru and Kei are two sides of the same coin – a light mirror and a dark one.

"Muv-Luv" has an extensive cast of characters that are all important to the story. There is Meiya’s ninja-maid Tsukuyomi, “the baka trio” and Takeru’s friend Mikoto. Special attention should be diverted to teachers Jinguuji Marimo and Kouzuki Yuuko. Yuuko is a meddler and a “rule of cool” incarnate. She holds so much power over the school that she can literally change its laws on a whim (like allowing boys to play in a women lacrosse team). She is a genius in physics, but her scientific theories are so far fetched, that they fly right over the head of all her students. Nonetheless, one thing I’m sad about is that she has no route of her own, even though in case such route was written, it probably would feel very unnatural. On the other hand, Marimo-chan does have a route, or rather a joke sub-route with a “bad” end. Its main purpose is to deliver a punchline to an overly long gag about her not being able to find a decent boyfriend. That ending is worth reading is only for a hilarious “Gyaaaaaaaaaa” by Takeru.

Muv-Luv Unlimited

As I have already mentioned, Unlimited is unlocked after completing Sumika’s and Meiya’s arcs and it is a completely different game. It is no stretch to call “Muv-Luv” the most severe genre shift VN in existence. Hell, even counting other forms of entertainment, ML is still at the top in that regard. Back in hoary 2003 it was probably a shock for readers to experience this, but since then that particular plot twist has been discussed so much that everyone and their mother-in-law know that it was his sled… err, I mean aliens… and robots… and robots fighting aliens

"Even if your own life is what's most important to you, you can't protect it alone"
You shouldn't mouth off to those guys.
So, one day Takeru wakes up, prepares to go to school and encounters a broken mecha near his house. The whole town is kind of empty, there are soldiers at his school and despite his own insistence, he is definitely not dreaming. Apparently Earth has been at war with an alien race known as BETAs for quite a long time and the planet is mostly in ruins. In order to battle the giant extraterrestrials, humans created bipedal exoskeletons controlled by specially trained pilots… and that’s the plot of “Pacific Rim”. I would like to think that del Toro is a ML fan :-)

Takeru is initially arrested, but later joins other recruits at the military academy that stands in the place of his old school. In a convenient turn of events the school is also populated by alternate versions of people from his own dimension with the same character traits and the same quirks. The only notable thing is that Sumika apparently doesn’t exist in this world and Mikoto is a girl. OK, he was a girl in Extra too and it was obvious for everyone who has eyes and ears in the right place, but Unlimited spells it outright instead of endlessly hinting about that.
All your embarrassing secrets are belong to us.
Out off all the familiar characters, Meiya had the biggest change of personality in between Extra and Unlimited. Not only she isn't a cloud cuckoolander anymore, but she is probably the most level-headed person with the most common sense. On the other hand, Chizuru, Ayamine and Tama have basically the same personalities as the previous game. It’s the setting, not the characters that changed a lot. “Muv-Luv” suddenly became deadly serious and comedic hijinks of a romantic moege are replaced by a gritty reality of a boot camp.

You can still romance one of the available girls, but it has no overall bearing on the story as MLU is completely linear. I personally think that it’s the game’s greatest weakness. Don't get me wrong - I do not think that linearity in a VN is a bad thing, but Unlimited creates a false sense of interactivity. There is not a small amount of choices, but they have no overall impact on the story. Whatever you do, the plot is the same and there are only two possible endings. They change a bit, based on which girl you get close to, but even the last CG in a true end is just a palette swap based on the hair colour of your paramour. It’s detrimental to the completionists as once you finish the game once, there are no reasons to replay it going for a different girl. The game strongly favours Meiya as the true heroine, so I suggest going for her. Actually, you can even play the game in such a way, that you will get high points with every girl and will be able to take your pick at the very end. You will miss some minor character specific scenes, but there is almost no reason to see them as rereading the almost identical text over and over becomes a boring chore during replays.

"In order to live in this world... I'm getting closer and closer to death..."
You should listen to them, Takeru.
Takeru as a protagonist undergoes a severe change in the story or rather has that change thrust upon him. In MLE he was a fairly normal everyday eroge protagonist, but once thrown into a new setting he suddenly becomes incompetent and useless. Actually, that is not true – he is the same Takeru, it’s just that he is completely unprepared for the situation and lacks any qualities that would help him. He cannot run a cross, he cannot shoot straight and he is terrible at orientation. The most important thing, though, he completely lacks motivation to achieve anything in this new world. He has no goal or aim except for a very flimsy and egocentric: "Weeeee, I'll be able to pilot a giant ass mecha soon, weeee!!!"

Unlimited taken as a whole could be described as Takeru's journey to self-realization and maturation. It's halfway through the story that he understands how shallow and immature he is. Eventually Takeru that reaches the end of a game is a very different person to the one that we began the game with. Natheless, he is still a complete donkan in the matters of love and has to have the hammer of love dropped onto his head in order to realize the feelings of both his comrades' and of his own. *Sigh* Just like Ron Perlman used to say: "Takeru. Takeru never changes"... or was it "war"? I always confuse the two...
Instead of whiskey we have brain in a jar.
The setting of Unlimited is very serious and bleak, which is understandable in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by war, which immediately makes Unlimited a fundamentally better game than Extra. Gone is the completely random comedy and forced drama in the sub-routes. It actually feels that events matter in Unlimited and just by reading the novel you experience a progress. Both drama and rare comedy are presented in very believable and relatable ways to the reader. Of course it doesn't mean that the ride is smooth. There are some cringe-worthy scenes here too, but they are rare. The biggest offender is the Game Guy. That whole arc was so artificial and just simply stupid, that it's impossible to read through it more than once without turning the skip function on. The whole treatment of Mikoto is also pretty terrible, but that's intentional - it clearly was needed to show us how inconsiderate Takeru is. Oh, and don't start me about the costumes - the design is pure fetish fuel for no good reason!

Still, the game shows perfectly that an eroge protagonist might attract the members of the opposite sex like a love nucleus (Yuuko-sensei’s words), but he cannot kick alien ass without some extensive training. Not that there is anything to kick in Unlimited as you don’t see any aliens yet. Unlimited is a boot camp from beginning to the end and suffers from what I dub “Two Towers” syndrome. It’s a game that has no beginning and no end. You will be lost if you haven’t played Extra (as it served as the character introduction) and there is no real ending. Well OK, there is one, and frankly it's quite emotional and well executed, but in the end it's still just a glorified cliffhanger, which serves only to whet our appetite for its sequel “Muv-Luv Alternative”.

"Rules and morals... they're just for weak people who can't live without them"
The city is alive.
Graphically "Muv-Luv" is still one of the most beautiful looking visual novels even more than a decade after it's release. It's shocking to compare ML to the other VNs released in the same year as most of them cannot hold a candle to it. Where majority of VNs present backgrounds that are mostly devoid of other life forms, ML actually have many random people appearing in various places: city is bustling with people, trains are stuffed with commuters and the school is full of teenagers engaged in various activities, thus a vibrant "lived-in" feeling is created. If that wasn't enough, sprites actually emulate a pseudo 3D environment by being placed in various proximity to the screen in order to create a perception of depth. Moreover they have so many positions and expressions, that I'm hard pressed to recall another game with such alive looking characters.

If I had to pick one thing that I hated within the area of graphical design, it's the first person kissing scenes, where the heroine's face fills the screen. Are we then supposed to kiss the monitor?! What were they thinking?! What happened to the good old third person kissing? -.-'

Anyway, BGM is very pleasing to the ear, and while nothing phenomenal, it sets the mood really well. On the other hand, voice acting IS phenomenal. I could try to pick my favourite seiyuu in the game, but it would be unfair to everyone else, as all the actors do a stellar job. Takeru is the only unvoiced character and even those people that appear to deliver only a few lines are fully voiced. It's quite clear that ML production values were through the roof back in 2003. Even today the game beats majority of the translated visual novels from a purely technical perspective.

"I wanna grant you so much pleasure, you turn into a whore!"
-Takeru, a master at saying compliments

Let's not forget the fact that "Muv-Luv" is also an eroge, but those that forget that can hardly be blamed. H-scenes in ML suck even by usual eroge standards. There is one such scene per route and they appear at the very end. H-content is totally vanilla and almost softcore. Seriously, sex scenes in "Extra" are probably the tamest ones I have ever seen in an eroge that didn't have "What a Beautiful" add-on to their title. "Unlimited" gets more hardcore for what it's worth. The writing is pretty boring and suffers from the usual "hymen is somewhere deep within vagina" quirk that tends to either piss me off or make me laugh.
Takeru gets the best girls.
All in all, your enjoyment for "Muv-Luv" will largely depend on how you can stomach absurd humour and lack of coherent plot in Extra and also if you do not expect too much from Unlimited, as nothing much happens in that game... yet. I personally liked "Muv-Luv" well enough to recommend it and it's a great beginner novel, considering how easy it is to play. All the choices are very intuitive and walkthrough is basically unneeded.

I'm actually surprised, that such a well known franchise hasn't received an anime adaptation yet (not counting "Total Eclipse"). However, all the games acquired their manga counterparts. Sadly neither "Muv-Luv" nor "Alternative"are fully translated into English. Only the first few chapters of a first volume of ML got translated and from what I seen it was a pretty faithful adaptation. However, "Unlimited" did get a full fan-translation and I read through it all. It's generally a pretty faithful adaptation, but many of the events that I would deem important were excised and the characterisation suffers quite a lot. It's much more an event driven story in comparison to characterization driven game. Manga follows Meiya's path and actually does the romance better than the game, as Takeru is less of a hopeless donkan here. Nevertheless, the thing that mars the experience the most is a very sucky translation with lots of broken Engrish and grammatical mistakes. Oh well, you cannot have both weed and a lighter at the same time people - one or the other, one or the other...

P.S. An English patch for "Muv-Luv" was released by Amaterasu Translations, but sadly only works with old out-of-print DVD editions of the game that have JAN codes 4526563000142 and 4526563000210. New editions aren't supported and the game can only be legally obtained from used videogame online stores.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Amaterasu Translations site for the English patch
Buy the game: the game sometimes appears on Mandarake.
Download the translated chapters of "Muv-Luv" manga here.
Download a fully translated "Unlimited" manga here.

Final Verdict: 74%


  1. Anonymous3/12/13 17:57


    Thanks for the review. I appreciate it.

    To be honest, I didn't like Muv-Luv that much but I think it's just probably the "stupidity" with the characters that puts me off. Otherwise, it was okay, for me personally.

    Will you be reviewing Muv-Luv Alternative?

    1. Yup, I intend to start reading MLA today and I will review it once it's finished.

    2. Anonymous6/12/13 17:45

      That's cool.

      Thanks again. I´ll be looking forward to your next review.

      Best regards.

  2. Hmmm. Woah. Very VERY nice review here. Extremely comprehensive and exactly what I was looking for. It's not even that old is it? I just completed the entirety of Muv-Luv the day before the review came up, and I await your opinion on Alternative!

    Altho I must make mention. Takeru does indeed have a voice during key scenes. I was sad he didn't keep it throughout, but it worked wonders when they used it.

    Alternative is stupidly long, so I'll await patiently for that follow up review.
    And I'm bookmarking to check regularly! I don't want to forget and not read a decent review.

    1. Why, I'm happy that you enjoyed my review. I think that I must be nearing the end of MLA as I'm at chapter 9.
      And I didn't mention Takeru's voice acting because there was just too little of it.

    2. True. But it did give me quite an impression! I sit and await that MLA review, so very few VN reviews are out there, so I was damn happy I found this one when I checked twice!