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Dicks to the Winds - A Wind River Range Trip Report, August 2020

Where: Wind River Range, Wyoming, USA
When: August 15-19
Distance: 77 miles
Elevation Gain: 12,200 ft.
Elevation Loss: 11,900 ft.
Weather: Lows in the 40’s, highs in the 70’s. Full sun every day except day 5. Very hot and dry.
Who:
u/mittencamper - https://www.instagram.com/mittencampe
u/xscottkx - https://www.instagram.com/scottkilcoynex/
u/foggy_mountain - https://www.instagram.com/foggy_mountain/
u/laurk - https://www.instagram.com/sprinklesonafieldtrip/
Some trip photos on Imgur - https://imgur.com/a/dARmQLP
Day 1 - Big Sandy Trailhead to Almost Crosse Lake, 13 miles, +2686’/-1459’ elevation
We rolled into Big Sandy Trailhead around noon. It was jam packed, as expected. This is probably the busiest season the Winds have ever seen.
After quickly drinking some Montucky Cold Snacks (and a Coke Zero for Scott) we shouldered our packs and hit the trail.
The original plan had been to go through the Cirque of the Towers on Day 1, but after evaluating the elevation it was decided to take the Fremont Trail in order to stay lower, and this ended up being the right choice. About ½ way through our day, around 10k ft. u/mittencamper started experiencing some altitude sickness. Headache, nausea, exhaustion.
The first half of this day was mainly climbing up out of the trees. As we climbed up from the East Fork River we came onto wide open plains with 360 views that showed us a full view of the range to our East. Definitely a highlight of the day.
We ended the day just short of Crosse Lake, camped in the full evening sun above a pond. It was windy as we made camp, but 30 minutes later it calmed down and we spent the night sleeping in one of the most quiet places I’ve ever been with a clear view of the milky way overhead.
Day 2 - Almost Crosse Lake to Bell Lakes Trail Junction, 19 miles, +2,800’/-2632’ elevation
We were up and on the trail by 6:45. Instead of hiking back up to the trail we decided to just go cross country to Crosse Lake. At Crosse Lake we hiked back up the hill, with a short stop at an abandoned cabin, to meet up with the trail, which was quickly lost again between Raid and Dream Lake. After Dream Lake we hooked back up with the CDT to bring us past Bob’s Lake, Sandpoint Lake, and Howard Lake. At Pipestone Lake we stopped for a while to relax. Keith and Sean took the opportunity to take a quick swim, and we watched a bunch of little trout swim around.
After Pipestone Lake the trail brought us past the ridiculously beautiful North Fork Lake before the 1000 ft climb up to Hat Pass, then wound us back down to find camp above a nameless pond near the Bell Lakes Trail Junction.
Day 3 - Bell Lakes Trail Junction to Peak Lake, 17 miles, +4000’/-3875’ Elevation
A slightly later start to this day at 7:15, which was fine because we knew we had to stop at Peak Lake for the night. We had done more miles the day before with a ton of stopping, so we knew we had a fairly relaxing day ahead.
The trail first brought us up and over 3 small climbs to warm us up for the day, then past Fremont Lakes before starting the 2.5 mile climb up Lester Pass. During this section we stopped twice to relax and swim for 45 minutes and do nothing. Once at a creek crossing and another at a lake so beautiful we have no idea why it doesn’t have a name.
The views on Lester Pass were completely unexpected. The view looking North is absolutely spectacular. Tons of granite smattered with trees and unnamed lakes gives this area some serious Sierra feels.
The proximity of this section of trail to Island Lake made the trail a bit crowded. Saw quite a few people including a group of 8 or 9, but after Freemont Crossing we were alone again as we climbed up past Lower and Upper Jean Lakes to Shannon Pass.
As you cross from Shannon Pass into the Cube Rock Pass/Peak Lake area, the whole world just changes into something totally alien. The massive fallen rocks and cold, hard landscape gives you a taste of what is coming up.
On the hike down from Cube Rock Pass to Peak Lake we spotted numerous tents around the lake, so we snagged the first flat grassy spot we saw near a small pond.
After a quick dinner some dark clouds came up and over Cube Rock Pass and began sprinkling on us, so we all tucked in under our tarps and made it an early night, but not before the clouds parted and gave us an alpenglow show on the north face of Stroud Peak.
Day 4 - Peak Lake to Indian Pass to Island Lake, 15.5 miles, +4200’/-4316’ elevation
Alarms were set for 5am today so we could get up and over Knapsack Col early. On the trail by 6, we made our way around Peak Lake, and up through the valley that leads to the Col. As we chatted our way up the trail, past dozing campers in brightly colored tents, the peaks towered around us. Mountains with names like Whitecap, Sulphur, Bow, Arrowhead, Split, and the most spectacular American Legion Peak.
At the bottom of the pass I looked around at the snow melt all around us and recalled the book I am currently reading; River, by Colin Fletcher. It recounts his expedition from the source of the Colorado River all the way to the Gulf of California. We watered up one final time. I decided to forego treating my water up here, at the source of the Colorado River. The water was ice cold, clear, and the chances of my water being tainted by a little Pika poop was a risk I was willing to take.
Onward and upward, we began our climb up the use path toward Knapsack Col. Slow going, but relatively easy at first the path was well traveled, but as the grade increased the path became quite loose, and we decided instead to stick to the larger rocks and boulders and make our own path, yet connecting what were obviously small sections of use.
There were many different ways up and a worn path/cairns to guide you. We stayed a bit right of the most obvious path and found ourselves higher than the pass once we crested the top. Any of the options would have been OK, but if you stay left there is more calf-burning gravel climbing. Stay a bit right for more fun boulder hopping with more foot purchase.
2 hours after leaving camp, we crested the pass and looked down into Titcomb Basin and the fridge-sized boulders ahead.
After a short break for a snack while taking in the view of towering Mount Helen, we made for the left of the Col and quickly descended to Twins Glacier for a short snow crossing and headed for Titcomb.
Once in Titcomb the hiking was quick and easy, but the basin is deceptively long. From the top of Knapsack to the Southern end of the first Titcomb Lake was another 2 hours of hiking. I’m sure we could have tackled this more quickly, but damn it was too beautiful to just blaze through!
At the Indian Pass trail junction we headed East up into Indian Basin where the landscape again turned very Sierra-esque, with lots of lakes, smooth granite, and foliage.
After some very annoying, unnecessary, and slow off trail travel we headed up toward Indian Pass. In this section, always just follow the trail, and not the map or GPX. The trail will lead you the right way! If you follow the GPX or map you’ll end up climbing steep, grassy slopes in an effort to re-find the trail.
The day was growing a little old. Feet were throbbing, and general morale was low. We reached the top of Indian Pass at 3:30pm, but upon surveying the basin below, with very little signs of Knifepoint Glacier for a quick snow crossing, it was decided that we did not have enough time left in the day or energy left in our legs to traverse this basin, climb the pass into Alpine Lakes, and then make our way to the 3rd Alpine Lake where we could find decent camping. Foggy was also beginning to feel some hints of heat exhaustion. After his voracious eating on days 1-3, his lack of appetite and energy was a big worry.
So, we turned around. We decided to head back down to Island Lake for camp.
After the long descent back down to Island Lake we hemmed and hawed over campsite selection because it’s a busy lake and there are strict “200 feet from trails and water” rules.
We finally found a spot on a small rise a fair distance from trail and water and had a relaxed evening while discussing what to do next. We could hike out to Elkhart Pass TH and end the trip. We could backtrack the CDT to Big Sandy. We could backtrack the CDT, swing through Cirque of the Towers and then go back to Big Sandy. No final decisions were made before bed.
Day 5 - Island Lake to Elkhart Pass TH, 12 miles, +1164’/-2784’ elevation
This morning we slept in. At most, we’d be hiking 20 miles to Pipestone Lake, so why not?
Up and on the trail by 8am, we started under dark clouds which eventually turned to sprinkles.
At the Seneca Lake Trail junction, a quick discussion resulted in “fuck it lets shuttle out.”
So, we began the deceptively long descent from Little Seneca Lake to Elkhart Pass Trailhead. About ½ way through we began to get some spotty cell service and were able to schedule a shuttle back to Big Sandy at 2pm.
The rest of the hike down was nothing to write home about. Especially after the amazing views in Knapsack Col, Titcomb Basin, and Indian Pass the day before.
After the shuttle back to Big Sandy, we made the drive into Pinedale just in time for dinner, where we mowed down 24 chicken wings, some burgers, and beers at Wind River Brewing Company followed by ice cream at the shop next door, and a stay at the Sundance Motel where we showered and caught up on Instagram while watching “Ridiculousness” on MTV.


Sean’s Gear Thoughts:
Gear list: https://lighterpack.com/6bl89y
Gryphon Gear Aries 30 Quilt:
This is the first long-ish hike I have had a chance to take with a Gryphon Gear quilt. On the first night the temps dipped below 40F, but every other night they stayed closer to 50. For these temps this quilt was a bit overkill and I did find myself getting too warm in it. But thankfully, it is a quilt after all and venting was easy.
Because of Gryphon’s 80% overfill, down always stays put and there is just something so nice about the fabric Gary uses. I don’t think it is anything brand name or really special in any way but it somehow feels like the nylon sleeping bags I used as a kid? There is something comforting and nostalgic about it that I cannot place my finger on.
Scott notes below he has a small issue with the length of the footbox, but he was also using a torso length Neoair Uberlite. I had a full length Neoair Xlite and never saw it as an issue. I also don’t keep anything in my footbox while I’m sleeping, unlike him. YMMV.
My only issue so far with this quilt is the pad loop strap. The one with the elastic part that goes around your pad. The way it is sewn makes it so the snuggest you can get the quilt around you leaves around an 8” gap. I sometimes like to snug it all the way in under me.
Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul Rugged 50L Pack:
I’ve actually had this pack since last fall, but I have not had a chance to take it on a trip. Since this trip had me at a slightly higher than normal base weight + more food I decided to give it a go.
The biggest change on this pack over my usual SWD Long Haul 40L is how the frame is added to the pack. On older SWD packs the aluminum frame pieces slide into sleeves on the inside of the pack, down into the hip belt and the top of the frame is not directly connected to the load lifters. In the new design there is an outer sleeve added to the pack. Inside this sleeve you’ll find the 2 smaller sleeves for the frame pieces, and some foam. The frame pieces slide into the sleeves and are connected directly to the load lifters. In theory, the carrying comfort should be roughly the same, but the effectiveness of the load lifters is better since they’re connected to the frame pieces.
I’ve been using SWD packs for about 4 years now and this one was great. My total pack weight w/ food and water at the start was around 26 lbs and the pack carried beautifully. My water bottle was easy to grab from the side pocket. I kept my buff at the bottom of my other side pocket and I was able to get at it while walking, and I was able to store and retrieve my folded up trekking pole while I hiked as well. Shoulder straps and hip belt were comfy as can be. No complaints at all.
On this trip I did not bring hip belt pockets, but instead used SWD’s removable Waterbottle Shoulder Pouch and Lycra Shoulder Pouch. Both provide way more storage than your typical sewn-in shoulder pouches. I was able to carry everything I needed in them including hand sani, sunblock, snacks, my phone, snack trash and (until it broke on day 1) my Sony RX100.
Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tent w/ Floor:
Another piece of gear I’ve had for a little while, but this was the first substantial trip I had a chance to use it on.
My trekking poles max out at 125cm, and in order to get a higher pitch with more internal room I had to play with my set up a bit. I figured out that to get a high pitch I should not bring in the 2nd front stake, like zpacks says to. I ended up leaving my front 2 corners extended almost all the way, and one night I even placed a rock under my trekking pole for more height.
I am 5’10” and this tent has the perfect amount of space for me and my gear.
I personally really like having a bathtub floor on my shelter, and the way this one sits in the tent is nice. Since the mesh extends underneath you, if you get a hard rain and the edges are saturated, the water will come down the mesh and under your floor. So, as long as you make sure you’re fully on the bathtub, there will be no worry of water intrusion.
On nice nights, there is plenty of room outside of the bathtub, on the mesh to store random things.
I did notice that to keep the back wall of the tub vertical it's good to place something there, like your shoes, to keep it from sagging down.
Wildo Foldacup:
I haven’t had a dedicated cup in a long time! This one weighs 1oz and holds about 8 oz of coffee, which is all I drink in the morning while camping. It fits inside my evernew 570ml pot with a lightload towel, Soto Amicus stove, and a lighter.
Zoleo Satellite Messenger:
Just like Scott, I’ve never used a device like this. However as I approach 40 years old I start thinking more about safety in the backcountry. I am also a parent, so those thoughts factor in here as well. Thankfully right as I was starting to research Sat Comm devices, Andrew Skurka posted a review of this. I DM’d him and asked him if he still backed it and he gave it an enthusiastic YES.
My experience wasn’t as flawless as Scott’s, but that is mostly due to user idiocy.
Despite testing it at home, at the trailhead I couldn’t get the device to connect to my phone. It wasn’t until 5 miles later that I tried again and realized I just had to tap the area that listed my EMEI number.
My only other issue was on the last night I couldn’t get it to connect again, but I restarted my phone and BOOM - all better.
Setting up your check in contacts is super simple, and messaging is just like texting in any other app. Get your main contacts to download the Zoleo app before your trip and you can send them 1000+ character messages if you need to.
My main quibble is that when you sign up for a plan you need to pay for that plan for 3 months in a row before dropping it down to a “suspended” $4/month plan when you’re not using it. This means that even though you’re paying $200 for the device which is a great deal, you end up paying $305 after you factor in 3 months of the mid-tier plan ($35/mo). This makes the price less competitive with something like the Garmin Mini, BUT the Zoleo has a much better messaging interface and the mid-tier plan gives you way more messages anyway. I ended up sending/receiving 78 messages on this trip including nightly GPS coordinates for camp plus probably 10 weather pulls. Well under the monthly allotted 250 messages!
It does not have tracking or mapping, but you can send your location to anyone at any time. I use a Suunto Ambit3 Peak for tracking, and Gaia on my phone for maps.
This is a piece of gear I will be taking on any trip with very limited service. 9/10
Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Shell:
It barely rained on this trip, and the temps were mostly too warm to justify it as a wind shell. It rained a bit on the last day, and the Visp worked as intended. So far my only complaint is that I wish the cuffs were more like the Versalite, with some elastic in them PLUS the velcro closure. This makes it easier to remove the jacket without having to undo the velcro every time. The fabric is more papery feeling to the rubbery texture of the Versalite, which I think is an improvement. Lack of pockets was not something I minded. Pit zips were easy to access and use when needed.
Enlightened Equipment Torrid Puffy Jacket:
This bad boy was too warm for this trip, and I regretted not bringing a fleece instead. Sure, the fleece would have been heavier, but it also would have been more useful. I am doing a section of the long trail in late sept/early oct and it’ll be a better fit for that trip I think.
Scott’s Gear Thoughts:
Gear list for trip: https://lighterpack.com/hbsh66
Gryphon Gear Aries Quilt (custom):
First off, the ‘custom’ options on my quilt are as follows...56in wide/reg length,no draft collar, temp rating between his 30* and 20*so the fill weight is 15.1oz. And for what it's worth since I know how yall are, I paid full price for this bitch. In short, overall, I give this quilt a A-. I have one gripe about it and that’s the size of the opening along the bottom. I feel that it goes down too far towards the foot box, at least compared to other quilts I have had in the past. I keep my electronics in my footbox overnight and almost every night my bag of electronics would work its way out of the footbox. Not a huge deal or anything and I did let Gary know my thoughts about it, so maybe he will address it in the future. I will say the shell and liner material might be my favorite of any quilt I have had. I don’t think it's anything fancy but it feels much different than other quilts I have handled and I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. It feels very durable but also very soft at the same time. It’s not that silky feeling but it's also not a plasticy feeling.
Zoleo Satellite Messenger:
Have never owned a device like this before. Never cared to own a Garmin Mini or anything like that. When Skurka dropped his review on this I was like, ‘this sounds great/has the exact features I would want out of something like this’. I didn’t even test the satellite messaging feature until the first time I used it on trail and it worked perfectly...every time. It connected instantly, i never had an issue sending out messages (i think i sent and received at least 50ish messages over the trip). The app is very easy to use, the weather is easy to read, there's only like 4 buttons in the app that do everything you need, the messaging looks identical to how your phones messaging looks, if the person you are primarily messaging also has the app your character count for messaging gets bumped up to 1,047 characters which is a fucking lot, you could basically send out a whole trip report each day to someone. My wife also loved it on the receiving end. All in all, A+, this will stay in my kit for trips like this.
Nitecore NB10K Power Bank:
It works. I’m not going to act like I know why this is any better than another other power bank out there other than the fact it’s lighter. I will say that they need to address the fact that the corners are sharp AF and need to be rounded off.
Saucony Peregrine ISO (Womens):
I actually don’t know if the women’s differs from the mens in any way other than colors but I bought the womens because they had my size and they were on clearance at REI for $30. These shoes fucking slap. They might be my favorite trail shoe I have ever tried. Absolute dream wearing them around town, on trail, scrambling, etc. The grip on these MFers is unreal too. A++, will be buying up all the stock.
Six Moons Designs Pack Pods:
Bought a 3 pack of these last year to use as food storage. The large size weighs 1oz on the dot. They fit a fuck load of food in them, way more than you think they will fit. No one NEEDS something like this but I find that these things force your food to use better space in your pack than using whatever else it is you use. ‘Pack size’ is just as important to me as the weight of items and using these fills in dead space in a pack much better than other methods I have used in the past. Without using these there’s probably no way I would have been able to get away using the size pack I did for this trip. I was nearly maxed out but without using these I surely would have had to bump up to a different size pack.
Keith’s Gear Thoughts:
Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tent:
At just over 6’, I got the pitch nailed down by day 3. The secret? A tall-ass pole height. Once you extend that fucker to the max (unknown length, whatever the tallest a luta rocura trekking pole goes to) that shit was tight and roomy. I had 6 MSR carbon core stakes and used rocks for the tie-outs. We had some wind and it did well. The mosquitos were definitely out and both me and u/mittencamper were happy to have an area away from the bugs we could SPREAD OUT in. 10/10 would use this shelter again.
Topo Athletic Terraventure 2.0
Definitely a durability upgrade from the previous version. The uppers actually show no sign of wear after about 150mi this far. My previous experience with the original version was that the uppers would fall apart after about 50mi or so. So good work Topo! The tip of the rubber sole that wraps around the front of the shoe is starting to separate a bit. Nothing major yet but could be an issue. Otherwise these shoes were comfy for 20+ mi days with the amount of cushion available and the rock plate definitely helped on the rough Wind River terrain.
Foggy’s Gear Thoughts:
GG Kumo:
Carried food, gear n stuff. Worked alright
Topo Ultraventure:
Better than Altras
Hexamid tarp:
Blocked wind n stuff
submitted by mittencamper to Ultralight

Raven Reviews: The Muv-Luv Series Part 1: Extra, Getting off to a Bad Start.

I'm not going to shock anyone by saying Extra is one of the weaker entries in the Muv-Luv series am I? It's not the worst, that honor is reserved for a very specific side story I am going to absolutely rip apart between Alternative and Altered Fable. But it certainly is the weakest of the four main entries of the original series with only Altered Fable even arguably being close. I don't think it's bad, and I even hesitate to call it average because their are some really good moments here that betray the brilliance the future novels will one day reach, but as many times as it fluctuates up it has just as many turns the opposite direction. I don't think like some that this is because Extra is primarily a comedy, which are universally known to translate poorly, but that is likely a factor. Extra IS however responsible for establishing a precedent that the entire series will follow of "best hair" choice structure which is just the worst way to include a choice mechanic and I almost wish they hadn't bothered. When half the choices the reader is presented have little to no effect on the flow of the story, some resulting in less then 5 lines of dialogue difference, you might as well cut them out.
For all the negative things I'm going to say about this novel however I can't deny it was brilliantly marketed and designed. In the interest of preserving the mystery for any readers who are unaware of the coming twist I won't spoil it here but I'll fully admit I was caught off guard when I first saw it. If nothing else Muv-Luv deserves praise for its audacity and risk taking. But I've got a lot of material to cover here and over 120 hours of content to read so forgive me if I dive straight in. A fair word of warning though, despite rumors I've heard that the "directors cut" patches no longer work I've managed to keep my copy running fine. Which means some dialogue in my version may not match 100% with a clean copy purchased today. I can only think of one instance where this will really come up but it's better to cover my ass now rather then later.
LITERALLY NOTHING BUT PROBLEMS BEFORE I EVEN GET TO THE TITLE SCREEN
So starting the application for the first time meets the reader with a disclaimer that instantly confused me because it both had no mention that the characters were all 18+ or 21+ or whatever localization number and yet at the very bottom of the paragraph stated point blank "This game may contain content inappropriate for some users."
First of all Visual Novels as a genre are not games. They don't have rules and you can't win them by skill or chance. some individual novels have mini games in them, but that does not make the novel a game. Fight me on this at your own risk.
Second, This game has a Lolita... are we really sure we don't want to claim her as "adult" now? No? No we're... just gonna leave that up in the air then? Can't wait for THAT to backfire later.
Three, I have incredibly mixed emotions about labeling a novel as "mature" because "maturity" is different for everyone. I have thirty year old friends I would never call mature and a little brother who's more mature then I will ever WANT to be, it's just a meaningless measurement. Plus calling attention to "Mature themes" without actually saying what those themes are frustrates me because that could be anything from drug use to sex to politics. If I theoretically had a problem with gore, but was totally fine with literally every other "mature" element in stories even up to my one red line how am I supposed to gauge from this sentence if this game is for me? I can't, so do I just put it down and never read it because it MIGHT have one thing I don't like? Of course not! I read it anyway because I already paid for the dang thing and I'm going to get my money's worth. So even if the warning WAS for my one problem category it failed at it's purpose. Now the part that mixes my feelings is I don't really have a good answer for what we should do differently or replace these disclaimers with to make them work better without bogging down every VNs opening with spoiler heavy trigger warnings but their HAS to be something better then this.
But if you think I'm being excessive about what is literally a single frame of information most people aren't even going to read allow me to spend over double the space ranting about the opening cinematic.
I HATE montages, doubly so if they occur before the novel even starts. They're lazy, a waist of time and resources, and actively detrimental to a reader's experience. I've read well over 100 visual novels at this point and I can't name you a single opening montage I don't think could have been cut from the novel entirely without harming the novel in the slightest and four times out of five the novel would benefit from its exclusion. I genuinely have no idea who thinks they need to be put in every modern VN, but instead of only putting them down let me explain my reasoning.
Pretend you're a visual novel developer on the cusp of finishing your novel. The CGs, voice acting, writing, programming, all of that is done and polished and the only thing you have left to do is the finishing touches. The thought occurs to you that you haven't planned out the screens that happen before the title appears, you know the logos and such held over from 90's gaming that everyone clicks through nowadays, so you're considering an opening cinematic. In broad strokes you have two choices. Option one, make something entirely new costing time, money, and effort that people will inevitably watch the first time they start the game and skip every time after that. Option two, reuse sprites, CGs, and backgrounds from the game that you already have and just slap a filter over them with MAYBE a special opening song that runs for a minute.
Both of these options should sound TERRIBLE to you.
If you pick option one you just committed to potentially hundreds of if not a thousand dollars of animation, sound design, music, etc. that could have gone into literally any other part of your novel being invested into a sequence that by its very nature is disposable. If you want an animated sequence so badly why don't you use that same time and money to animate one of your already existing CGs? Or barring that why not just commission four or five extra CGs for the common route? Essentially you get the same result but I can promise you your readers will be far more impressed by earning an animated sequence during the novel then they will by you giving one before the novel even gets going. Their is no justification for wasting your development time on something that superfluous.
Now the industry agrees with that point and often picks option two, which is in my opinion EVEN WORSE because not only do you STILL have all the problems from option one you are now actively harming the reading experience by showcasing your CGs early and removing the surprise of earning them organically.
Now I'm not some kind of elitist that thinks you have to 100% complete every visual novel you buy nor am I going to look down on people who read one route and then skip through the rest of the romance options just to get the full gallery. Feel free to experience VNs however you like. But I WILL look down on choices that actively prevent readers from experiencing a novel the way they prefer and this is one of those. Their is absolutely no point in using a novels CGs in an opening montage, period. It cheapens the experience of eventually earning those CGs and makes them less engaging.
"But Raven" I can already hear someone saying "You can just skip it by clicking if you don't want to watch it." To which I respond with the statement that if I can skip it with no consequence why does it exist in the first place? Like it or not the designer of the game intended for me to watch that video before anything else, and I'd like to assume they had a reason for that. Plus the fact I have to skip it every single time I start the application is maddening.
"But Raven, that's just a common visual novel thing, you can't judge a novel for having something hundreds of other novels do." Yes, I can, and I couldn't care less if it's a common trope it's a BAD one that needs to be disposed of.
"But Raven, It's an homage to anime openings, it references so and so." Well firstly I don't care and even if I did so what? I don't expect my anime to follow VN tropes why should VNs copy anime tropes? And for the record I don't like montage openings to anime either.
"But RAVEN, this is just a stupid nitpick." Okay you have a point with that one, this isn't really important when looking at the big picture, but that's not an excuse. If you have time and money to spend on an opening video you have time and money that could be spent on literally anything else related to your novel and you're wasting it.
"BUT RAVEN! How else can I show people I'm making a good visual novel without animation?" Well this might be an out of the box concept but how about you show people you've made a good novel by MAKING A GOOD NOVEL! Katawa Shoujo, IMHHW, DDLC, none of those novels had intro movies before the title screen and I didn't see anyone complaining about them. If you REALLY have to show off your animation you can always go the Love Esquire route and just animate your title card readers spend way more time there anyway.
But fine, even if you still don't agree with me and somehow think intro montages are the best part of the whole novel Muv-Luv's opening specifically is BAAAAAAAD. Like even by my low standards it shockingly disappoints. The video opens on an ugly yellow brown filter that washes out the background images completely while playing harsh piano music that is mixed far too loud. That's followed by the novel's catchphrase "Save in the name of true love" over a spinning heart which is alright I guess but quickly gets replaced by the worst character intros possible. The bubblegum pink background is changed into a gaudy character showcase that looks more at home in a sitcom about the 80's then a Japanese novel. After showing some of their CGs *sigh* each character gets their name beside their sprite but an astute observer will notice immediately that Sumika and Meiya are getting some serious favoritism. They get double the CGs, Sumika gets an Onsen towel shot, their sprites are featured one after the other in a clear showing of opposition, and the whole thing caps off with the two of them, center frame, before ending with Sumika materializing from fairy dust beside a male sprite which is most likely P-kun.
"But Raven, they're setting up a rivalry between those two characters. You see it's all clever foreshadowing because after you read the novel you see that-" I'm going to stop you there. That is a terrible excuse. Why in the name of all that is unholy would I want my first impression of these characters to be the blatantly obvious fact that they were favored by the development team? Not only do NONE of the future novels lean into that assertion all this intro has done is give me the impression that the three other showcased girls are less important then the chosen two. Before I even pressed the new game button the novel has forcefully colored my opinion toward the entire roster. Instead of organically building the relationship between the readers POV character and the supporting cast I am now primed to see these two specific characters as the center of the story. How in any reality is that a good thing? Keep in mind we don't know anything about these people yet, I couldn't name you one character trait any of them have outside of surprisingly the side girls where the pink haired one blushed a lot and the one with glasses is sporty. If this is supposed to be foreshadowing it should have been in the novel already. If it's something I wouldn't understand until after the novel is over it shouldn't be here at all because obviously I HAVEN'T finished the novel, this is the first thing I've seen of it.
But I can almost get over all of those issues if it wasn't for the fact that the screen immediately after this intro literally serves its purpose better in a single frame.
The title card group shots aren't perfect, but are pretty damn close. Sumika and Meiya are still center screen but unlike the intro video it isn't nearly as obnoxious and more importantly everyone in the shot has an actual personality. Meiya has a sword, which can easily be taken as her being characterized as traditional or Samurai like. Sumika is holding a heart for devotion and maybe even a sign she already has feelings for P-kun. Glasses has a lacrosse stick, the pink haired girl has cat ears and an obnoxious bell, the black haired girl has a sandwich.... okay then. And our future comedic relief best friend character given his different uniform is literally already neck deep in shenanigans. Point blank perfect introductions to everyone's personality, enough detail to guess what they're like, not enough to be 100% sure. No idea why they felt the need to have two title screens and force the reader to click before being shown the new game option but whatever.
Normally I'd dive into the settings menu and analyze that before starting the actual novel but the only real thing it's missing is a sample text indicator and I've stalled long enough already. You press new game, get prompted to select English or Japanese, and then we FINALLY start.
LIKE A BAD CARTOON
The novel opens on a series of diary entries from the perspective of one of the heroines and I can already tell she's supposed to be the "cannon" choice so I'm predisposed to dislike her. You can't tell me how to feel novel! I'll cry when I CHOOSE to.
The first "entry" tells the story of a red haired chibi breaking a fossil, her male friend P-kun telling on her, dick move, and then being punished for trying to replace it with a snail. Not the best first impression of our protagonist but these kids are like what, ten? I'll give him a pass, little kids just do that stuff sometimes.
I like how these little segments are partially animated like kids drawings. It's cutsie and charming.
Next one is short, P-kun wants to go to some fancy school and chibi girl doesn't think she has the grades for it. Months of studying later and apparently she made it in, P-kun pranked her saying she didn't, she was mad.
Now its the summer, she wants him to compliment her swimsuit...
AND THEN THE SCREEN IS FULL OF MOTION AS TWO GIANT MECHAS FIGHT WITH BEAM SWORDS AND THE MUSIC IS AN EPIC LIGHT ROCK BALLED!!!
God that's some whiplash.
Apparently our shields are at 10% which according to Star Trek is bad so naturally I'm concerned. But three sentences later P-kun does 40 points of damage in one attack, so I guess we still got this.
Except we get punched in the face and lose so that sucks.
Like any experienced gamer P-kun starts ranting about strategy guides and lag because obviously he had the SKILLS to win the match something OUTSIDE his control must have lost it for him.
and suddenly boobs... yeah apparently P-kun plays enough vidja games to dream about them and when presumably the same red haired chick as the diarist came to wake him up he grabbed her tits because that's something sleeping people do I guess. But he just keeps going with it, theirs like a good 15 squeeze sound effects at least, and red haired girl who is apparently named Sumika is PISSED so she hits him.
Fair.
The scene changes to the best music track in the game (That's not a compliment) and the reader gets their first look at the sprites which went the extra mile to have actual moving mouths and blinking eyes. I pity poor innocent me not knowing that I would associate blinking eyes in VNs with Vietnam flashbacks because of this series.
P-kun's accused of squeezing her boobs, which he totally did, but denies it because he's terrible AND THEN HE HITS HER! BRO, not cool. She's like, actually tearing up, SO not cool. AND WHEN SHE CALLS HIM OUT FOR IT HE HITS HER AGAIN! Like I'm not the only one that thinks he's totally in the wrong here right? But I mean even if he wasn't you do NOT just wail on girls man.
Righteous payback is served in the form of a chibi scene of P-kun being blasted like team rocket and it is immensely satisfyingly.
Scene transition to a train, apparently the pair has to go shopping for P-kun's parent's vacation. He hits her again on the train, abandons her on it, makes her carry the bags by herself after shopping, talks over her, and hits her AGAIN when she confuses two types of mushrooms even when she was trying to invite him over to her place so he wouldn't starve. So she hits him so hard he falls unconscious.
I'm sorry am I supposed to like these people they both seem horrible.
*sigh* What else happens? OH! A chibi scene of red hair standing alone with all the shopping bags by herself. Yeah, it's blatant emotional manipulation but she didn't try to grab his boobs and pretend it was a natural reaction so I'm going to cut her some slack and feel sorry for her. P-kun negs her into buying lunch which is just a whole extra level of scummy given his behavior.
The two of them sit down for a burger and P-kun yells at a dog. Theirs a CG... It's okay I guess. After feeding P-kun's fries to the dog Sumika offers to split hers with him and he thinks about how this is emotional manipulation OKAY THATS IT!
TAKERU IS THE WORST PROTAGONIST I HAVE EVER HAD THE DISPLEASURE OF INHABITING.
In case his actions didn't speak for themselves Takeru is a selfish, narcissistic, jerk who in ANY other visual novel would be an obnoxious side character who doesn't understand why he can't get a girlfriend. He treats everyone around him like they exist to hold him back, doesn't care about anyone's feelings but his own, leads on multiple women, and is just plain ABUSIVE to Sumika. I can't even PRETNED to like him he's just AWFUL. You have no idea how badly I want to fill the rest of this part of my review with just PAGES of reasons he's not worthy of his good fortune but I'm already over my quota for side tangents and I REALLY want to finish the prologue for this weeks post so I'm just going to have to take solace in demoting him from uppercase P-kun to lower case p-kun and passive aggressive my way to the end of extra but so help me GOD I can't wait to find a good spot to rant about this down the line I am NOT done with this conversation.
Anyway, p-kun has a trip down memory lane about a park by his house where he buried frogs alive...
Oh that rant is a comin, it's a comin, but not today.
Apparently he promised Sumika he'd marry her when they were kids playing at that park but she doesn't remember it because he never follows through on his promises because of course he doesn't. They eventually go home to his room which is just a mess like MY room IRL is cleaner then that and I don't even get visitors waking me up in the morning. p-kun opens the window and gets a book to the face before we get the first choice of the game which makes me exceedingly nervous because its so blatantly obvious the first option is the one for Sumika's romance route. Look, I don't hate you or nothin, but I'm going to do you a favor and NOT hook you up with a scumbag. You clearly like him, somehow, but you can do better. So I pick the choice that makes p-kun whine about a dog taking his fries. Sumika says she's going to wake p-kun up tomorrow, whatever, he references the Dreamcast which I was slightly too young for but makes me painfully aware that this novel takes place in 2001, Ocrober 2001 no less, and right about now is the beginning of the end for the America I wish we never lost so that's depressing. Guess I should consider myself lucky this is set in Japan because we would be getting some pretty heavy war themes if it was in America and who wants to play a VN about cute girls in a nation obsessed with terrorists and conflict?
The next day, October 22nd, is probably the most important single day in the Muv-Luv series which is a statement I'm sure will make no sense now if you haven't read the novels but memorize it because I am going to reference it A LOT as time goes on.
Sumika wakes p-kun by yanking on the locked front door and loudly screaming, which is just obnoxious but p-kun deserves it so I'll let it slide. After throwing off his sheets in frustration he turns to see Samurai girl, hair already done up in a physics defying pony tail for some reason, lying in bed beside him and promptly has an internal freak out. Fair. Sumika breaks into the house by cutting the chain lock with bolt cutters and discovers the pair still in the bed. Which admittedly looks pretty bad but this time hitting him into a low earth orbit was a bit much. I mean he's not your boyfriend, at least not if I have anything to say about it. And then... theirs another intro video.
GETTING IT RIGHT THIS TIME
Extra's specific intro video is probably one of the best parts of the entire novel and I like it more then half the romance routes. If that makes me a hypocrite so be it this is the exception to the rule
I can't tell you why yet, because the subtle details here only make sense in context and I would have to spoil way too much of the upcoming novels but even limiting myself to what's relatively spoiler free this video is still a master stroke. Opening with a much more palatable and upbeat music track the camera zooms out from Sumika's eye to show her and the girl from p-kun's bed standing on a heart followed by a quick CG for each of the heroines. Unlike the opening before the credits which takes CGs from the full length of the novel this quick scene makes the tactful choice to only use common route CGs which while still not ideal is at least an improvement over using some of the last CGs from the romance routes like the previous video. The logo is spelled in frame before the female vocals kick in with a much more tonally appropriate sound creating a sad but upbeat feeling. We see Sumika standing on a hill overlooking the city as time advances before she suddenly disappears with a spike in the music and a brown tented filter colors the screen like an old home video or a nostalgic memory.
Time keeps moving forward but now it's months instead of hours. Snow fall in front of the same window the reader just saw moments ago was part of Sumika's bedroom and when she sadly looks outside and opens it that same nostalgic filter appears over her face. The girl from p-kun's bed flashes into view before the same effect covers her and with that brown tint on the screen the reader watches scenes with the rest of the cast flash by. Theirs a juxtaposition between the heroines and supporting cast as the music starts to swell behind a quick view of several sprites before finally reaching its peek over pictures of Sumika in heart shaped frames like thoughts in the mind of the blue haired girl who closes her eyes rather then look at them. The juxtaposition of Sumika and the girl clearly set up to be her rival is shown as they stand a few meters apart but facing away from each other. Sumika smiling and the other frowning.
They don't exactly stick the landing with the final moments being Sumika and p-kun sharing a kiss on the hill from the opening of the video but this video is such an improvement I'm going to forgive that. The difference between the first and second movie is night and day and that prologue, though short, is what made all the difference. Knowing that Sumika is p-kun's childhood friend brings the tone of the movie to the forefront as the heavy theming of nostalgic imagery and the passage of time highlight the clear foreshadowing that Sumika is in love with the protagonist. Her heart shaped CGs, the heart shaped Sakura petals behind her, and of course the kiss at the end paint a picture of a girl, in love with a boy, but fearful of being or doomed to be only a memory in his mind. The juxtaposition of her rival implies she's in a similar boat, also in love with the protagonist but because the reader knows so little about her the movie chooses to lean into that mystery and show very little about her. While not perfect the video also highlights the possibility of p-kun's relationship with someone else in the cast, not seriously just hinting at it, glimpses of possible scenarios like we're looking at alternate timelines or false memories. Clearly these two are the leads, they are the real competitors in this race but realistically it's possible neither of them will win and that scenario is expressed as a negative outcome.
What can I say, this is just a better way to convey the themes of the novel. It's not perfect, I could have done without that shot of the Lolita grabbing p-kun's sleeve at the end there but it's honestly great as it is. Eventually when I get through Alternative I'm going to have to come back to this video and heap even more praise on it because their is a whole nother layer of secret brilliance here but for now this marks the end of the prologue and also the end of part 1 of this review.
STEP BY STEP
I'm sure their will be a contingent of readers who make it to the end of this part of the review, or not even that far, and condemn me for only reaching about twenty minutes give or take into the novel before posting. But to answer a question I'm sure I'll be asked at some point I think this level of detail is necessary because while nothing seriously interesting is going to happen in the next several hours of the novel something to keep in mind is that everything in Muv-Luv builds on everything else. If I jumped straight in to something later in the series, even a simple side story like "Atonement," I would be at a loss trying to cover all the subtle references to previous work in Age's catalogue. Technically this isn't even the first novel in the series as Kimi go Nozomu Eien and Akane Maniax both came out beforehand and feature the same characters, setting, and most importantly several plot details that will feature in later instalments but I have to pick somewhere to begin and only so many people have read the Japanese only novels. Maybe I went a little overboard analyzing the opening to Extra but if I want to guarantee I only have to come back here the minimum amount possible I'll have to deal with it. Part 2 will introduce most of the rest of the cast with p-kun being a unique brand of terrible to each of them, and I'll get a chance to talk about the strangest character in the Muv-Luv cannon who fights aliens for the good of mankind and friendship or something else ridiculous. Isn't this series taking place at a high school?
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