Unlimited was longer than I remembered but that is without a doubt more to my liking as I could wholeheartedly emerge myself in the Muv-Luv universe for a 2nd time. That goes without saying Mana continued to deliver a spectacular performance despite having super limited screen time.
I mean, it's not like I expected much from her in Unlimited because as far as I remember in my first read, her role is negligible here. Though that is arguably true, I enjoyed her moments greatly for they did very well in establishing her "true" character for the late game of the trilogy.
A Mother Figure At Heart
First of all, some things just never changed, Mana has always been and forever will be a mother figure to Meiya, regardless of the universe they are in. I know it's nothing grandiose, a trivial matter in fact because duh, what's new in A taking care of B in every way possible amirite? Nonetheless, to me, it's just fucking touching no matter how I look at it. It's probably because I already knew what was going to happen ahead but when I tried to negate that factor, the way Mana covered Meiya from the shadow in Unlimited simply struck me in awe.
The thing is, it's not just Mana’s dedication to Meiya, but also how tactful she is when dealing with various scenarios that made my day. She knows what exactly needs to be done, tries her best not to overstep her boundary, and most of all has a full grasp of the situation to come up with a most fitting solution that benefits many sides. This just resonates with my previous statement in Part 1, namely how careful Mana is when it comes to dealing with her surroundings. She will not blindly join the fray without a plan, that just makes her an awesome "guardian" in many meanings possible.
While Mana on the surface acts as a humble servant to Meiya, she does not do this out of mere duty, but for genuine care of Meiya's well being. Apart from a certain someone who will show up in Alternative, Mana is no doubt the only person who understands Meiya the most.
Although she always got Meiya’s back covered, she's fully aware that what Meiya needs the most isn't "protection" but someone who can accompany her to the end of the world, which is not something Mana can afford given the complicated circumstance between the UN and Imperial Japanese.
This is also the reason why Mana always seems to wear a sad smile on her face, this just hurt a lot more after having finished Alternative.
A Most Observative Guardian
One of the common issues that overprotective characters usually possess is how easily narrow-minded they can be and that might create some awkward situations as the story progresses. Fortunately, Mana did not turn out to be that case. It is true on her first meeting with Takeru things got unnecessarily tense but after coming this far I think it's all justified, not to mention she pretty much redeemed herself later on.
Mana had her reasons to believe why Takeru was a threat to Meiya, not just because of his suspicious background, which was part of Yuuko's meddling, but also because of Meiya's "real" position in this alternative universe.
So did she remain that way till the end of the journey?
Nope, Mana might be Meiya's personal hype squad but she's not unreasonable. Just like her Extra counterpart, she views things in a very objective manner and thus be able to come up with valid judgments on certain complicated scenarios. While Mana was originally skeptical about Takeru through her investigation, she did not let that cloud her judgment when things developed in a way that was probably outside of her prediction.
In other words, Mana might have seemingly come up as a shallow type of character whose only purpose is to "guard" but in reality, she's arguably one of, if not, the most observative human being in the Muv-Luv. It is obvious that securing Meiya's well-being is a priority to Mana but, as briefly mentioned above, what she truly wanted to do is give Meiya a chance to live her "life" to the fullest (more of this will return in Alternative).
Being a mother figure does not deviate her from the duty as a soldier of the Royal Guard.
Mana hardly ever drops her strict demeanor down, which is just so dignified and fucking hype. I mean from the moment I first saw her new design in Unlimited I knew for a fact that she was going to be the real deal.
The aura she exerts just simply means one thing to me: GOAT. Not only that but her change of tone and manner (plus the "watakushi", BOI) easily convinced me that she was going to be something and I WAS RIGHT (took a bit long to get to that point but who cares).
While it felt like a complete 180-degree change compared to the Mana of Extra, I do believe it had been briefly foreshadowed.
With how ridiculously resourceful and efficient the Extra-Mana was, combined with the hype Meiya gave her, I think it makes sense that Unlimited-Mana was set up to be that kind of hype character for some major events later on.
At the very least, this "Royal Guard" retinue has been hinted to be a force to be reckoned with from a pretty early stage of the Muv-Luv universe. And for Mana who was tasked with guarding the Shogun's relatives, that speaks volumes of her combat capability even though she did not have any show time in Unlimited. Other than that, what I love the most about the "new" Mana is the change of her hairstyle as it gives off the image of a samurai and that goes super well with how TSF was introduced. Simply put:
- New badass hairstyle
- New badass outfit
- New badass strict mode
- New badass status as "Royal Guard"
=> GOAT material
On a different note, throughout Unlimited, there has been a few times Mana managed to pull some rather weird feats, such as digging up Takeru's info which was covered up by Yuuko, having full view on any major event that related to Meiya, or simply fucking with Alternative V, a system that was meant to determine humanity's future.
I mean from the premise I was under the impression that Mana is a pure warrior type (because Royal Guard hype), but she turned out to be quite of a spy herself given her crazy espionage feats above.
- Yuuko has the largest brain in the Muv-Luv universe but guesses what, that was not enough to hide all traces from Mana (also I wonder if this is a reference to their brief encounter in Extra lol).
- Having her eyes on Meiya 24/7 is probably not a big deal given her status but how she got her hands on info that even the people involved didn't is just something.
- That being said, none of the above could match Mana's effort of interfering with a super intricate system like Alternative V. It's pretty insane when I think about it. I get it that from a statistic standpoint, having one leak out of 100.000 entries might not be too impossible but we're talking about the one thing that is deciding humanity's fate so welp.
Overall, I think this fits well with Mana's initial image as a ninja back in Extra, someone who is adept at tackling underground business...That or most of them are just coincidence and I was overthinking shit lol.
Still Got It
Regardless, with many of the feats mentioned above, Mana sure is as resourceful and versatile as she had been in Extra. However, she would not be the "Mana" we once knew if that's all there is to her, and thanks god that was not the case. That strict and no-nonsense appearance did not deny her the ability to crack a joke or two once in a while, even though it might not be her intention but lol I genuinely didn't expect that.
On top of that, though Mana cares greatly for Meiya it doesn't mean she'll let her do whatever she wants. She never forgot her duty as someone who sets the Mitsurigi back on track should they ever stray off from the right “path”. That is why when it comes to non-serious stuff she just casually returned to her "Extra" mode such as snapping at improper conduct made by Meiya, which is kinda cute.
This world might be in dire need of strict and disciplined soldiers who get shit done, but that doesn't mean they can't have some fun once in a blue moon. It is essential to retain whatever's left as part of being a human instead of an empty shell that only knows of staying alive, so yeah I think this is a very intriguing detail about Mana and others in this alternative universe.
Long story short, I think I've fallen in love with Mana for real before the re-visit was even over. She's just simply amazing, I can't think of her in any other way.
As much a side character as she is, Kouki did a magnificent job of polishing and balancing out her role and personality to diversify the Muv-Luv universe. It's not like the rest of the cast fall short in this regard but Mana just kept wow-ing me left and right (yes I really sound like a broken record now).
The main selling point for her story in Unlimited is still the bond between her and Meiya. It's both heartfelt and kinda cool when I look back at it as a whole picture. I mean, two people, not having that much of a generation gap (according to my investigation Mana is roughly 28 ), maintain a master-servant relationship on the surface but deep inside care for each other in their own way. Personally, I've always had a soft place for this kind of character interaction so this means a great deal to me especially in the setting of Muv-Luv.
Apart from all the effort, Mana spent on keeping Meiya "warm", seeing her gentle smile after a long period of strict and dignified mode in Unlimited can probably help me heal some cancer in the future too.
In any case, this should conclude the second phase of my Mana's appreciation thread. The next and last one would no doubt be insanely huge but until then.