The chairwoman of Uranoboshi High School makes herself known and promises Chika, You and Riko the school will acknowledge their idol group if they manage to fill up the whole auditorium for a performance. Though initially euphoric, the girls soon realize that getting the entire school to attend will not be enough.
There was a point during this entire ordeal when I actually felt ready to admit that Love Live! Sunshine!! is a good show. It was the moment when, after an enjoyable episode of generally well-produced tomfoolery, the curtain rose to Aqours’ first ever performance and revealed an audience that could be counted on two hands. It was a disarming anticlimax that would’ve confronted Chika and co. with the reality that you cannot just make your dreams come true by shouting them out very loudly, but one they could have overcome by realizing the path they’ve set out on won’t be all sunshine and roses, gaining genuine confidence over the grating and frequently dishonest go-getter spirit that has permeated this series from episode one. But that would be nuanced. And Love Live! can’t deal with nuance. So it started to panic. Hard.
I was a fool to believe Love Live! Sunshine!! would ever not grant everything its main characters want to them on a silver platter. I was deluded to assume that this show had any aspirations aside from swaying every viewing eye and brain over to the unconditional worship of idols, and like any half-decent religious text, it loses its purpose when it admits that the prophet in question might sometimes be, you know, wrong. And so, the town’s limited interest in three random teenage girls putting on a song-and-dance is attributed to a clumsy mix-up at the last minute and mawkish idealism reigns supreme yet again. Love Live! knows that melodrama can make otaku drop their standards at the bat of an eye, but it can’t even bring itself to having any actual drama when just being mellow is enough. The beats may change, but the song remains the same: idols are almighty, and if you’re hoping to see that view changed, you’re in the wrong place.
It’s a bummer, because otherwise, this episode left a much stronger impression than its predecessors thanks to excellent directing (those cuts!), faster pacing and more natural and entertaining interactions between characters. Unlike the manzai-focused humour of most other anime (i.e. silly person does something silly, not-silly person points out how silly it is in increasingly silly ways), Love Live! relies primarily on visual gags and twisted expectations. Simple jokes like Hanamaru pulling out an entire shopping cart of books or Riko channeling her inner Prince of Persia to avoid Chika’s pet dog bring a lot of charisma to the table due to spotless execution, while this episode doesn’t shirk on revealing some hitherto unseen aspects of its protagonists, making each and every one of them more tolerable in the long run. While the most annoying character of the bunch is still front and centre, the show is getting ever closer to realizing that Chika is completely useless, and with loopy, smooth-talking chairman Mari, this episode introduced the closest thing Love Live! Sunshine!! has had to a genuinely funny character. In fact, it’s not until Aqours takes the stage in the final five minutes that it gets the eyes rolling again, and brings to light the inconvenient truth at the centre of all my gripes: that Love Live! would be a fantastic show if it weren’t about idols.
I know, it feels rather wrong for me to state that a schoolgirl slice-of-life would be far better off by not being about the thing it is about, but it’s abundantly clear by now that my biggest gripes with Love Live! can be attributed directly to its subject matter and the way it goes about it. The cookie-cutter inspirational speeches ring hollow, and the fact that most of them go accompanied by a lackluster musical performance doesn’t quite help. I already talked at length about how Aqours’ songwriting doesn’t quite cut it last week, and now that we’ve actually seen their artistry in action, the presentation sadly isn’t making the fundamentally lackluster music any more appealing. Why does Sunrise still need to rely on occasional CGI tracking shots when it can afford animation flourishes other studios can only dream of? The computer animation comes very close to looking like actual drawn art, but as anyone who’s ever played a Quantic Dream game will know, almost looking indistinguishable from the real thing is the worst look you could possibly have. Worst of all, the great majority of cuts is still traditionally animated, so why didn’t they substitute the CGI with more conventional (and less distracting) cost-saving measures? It’s not that the choreography merits fancy tracking shots in the first place.
And that about sums up Love Live! Sunshine!! as a whole: It’s full of stuff it doesn’t need. It doesn’t need inspiring moments of grandeur or elaborate musical set-pieces. All it needs is to have its characters bounce off each other in the way they so often do before they get the urge to start giving motivational speeches to each other. The result is a show in permanent flux, both better than expected and worse than it could have easily been. If anything, it remains a highly inspiring affair, if not for entirely different reasons than the ones its writers were hoping for. So fear not, no matter how shallow Love Live! will continue to be, I’m sure I’ll find something to whine about for far too long in the next episode as well. Like about how ‘Aqours’ is a terrible name for a band. Or how sexual harassment being girl-on-girl doesn’t magically make it okay. Anyway, you get the point. See you next week!
- Given that Mari is rather obviously supposed to be American, or half-American, I keep getting the feeling her name should be romanized as Marie O’Hara, rather than as Mari Ohara. Love Live! in general seems to be a bit wishy-washy in regards to its localizations in general, though – is it ‘Yohane’ or ‘Jeanne’/’Johanne’?
- Between wearing a hat with her own name on it, playing all the city ladies with her maritime charms and being the only person in the cast who can talk about another character as anything other than ‘amazing’, You has solidified her status as the best thing about this show. Mari comes pretty close, though. It’s joke!
- Speaking of jokes, between tolerating several students straight-up not attending class and appointing a nutty teen as chairwoman of the board, Uranohoshi has to be a joke of a high school.
- Riko’s arrangement for Aqours’ first song containing inexplicable high-production-value guitar parts and an entire string quartet just reminds me of that bit in HaNaYaMaTa when they used a shitty MIDI version of the theme song for their first performance. Now that was realistic!
- The movie theater in the city where our main characters go handing out flyers is advertising several films that exist in the real world, with from left to right posters for Alien 3, Se7en, Panic Room, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past twenty years knows that these films were all directed by the same person, David Fincher. Perhaps director Kazuo Sakai wanted to pay homage to one of his idols?