Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 4

absolution

“First Step!”

Fridays at 10:30 am EST on Funimation (US) and Crunchyroll (UK)

After being officially acknowledged as a club, Chika, You and Riko set their targets on their underclassmen. Ruby, however, is afraid her sister will not allow her to become a school idol, while Hanamaru is convinced a country bumpkin like her could never be one.

Aqua’s thoughts

The biggest complaint I’ve seen levied against Love Live! Sunshine!! from its own fans is that it is too similar to the original series. Given that even an uninitiated unbeliever such as myself can see the resemblance, they’re hardly exaggerating. The show very frequently acknowledges the several analogues between its own journey and the original group’s, which while highlighting the impact Muse µ’s have had on other girls does somewhat curtail Sunshine!!‘s chances of ever standing on its own. If the writers aren’t willing to bet on Aquours becoming bigger than their predecessors have ever been, why did they even bother giving them that chance? Why not just make a third season with the characters who’ll never be topped anyways?

theresistance

Anyhow, the problem isn’t necessarily that Love Live! Sunshine apes its older sister too much, it’s that it apes pretty much every rag-tag-group-rises-to-fame-against-the-odds plot ever written too much. In terms of creative angles or interesting spins on this stock scenario, even the risible Wake Up Girls! leaves Sunshine!! in its wake, tarnishing the latter with the rather unpleasantly smug reek of a show that takes itself for granted. Love Live! seems to be doing very little to be anything other than the most predictable story its could possibly be, leaving it to get by on the charisma of its likable characters alone.

Luckily, this episode has the benefit of revolving about such a character, never mind one whose relatable charm came completely out of left field. Hanamaru’s storyline worked simply because it understands how subtlety works. While the moral at its core remains the very same Love Live! has been hammering home since day one – idolhood will serve all problems – its nuanced exploration of Maru’s seemingly unconditional devotion to Ruby and perpetual messing with viewers’ expectations made me appreciate this particular way in which the show beats its dead horse far more than the contrived, melodramatic shenanigans of last episode. Hanamaru subtly pushing Ruby into following her dream by joining the school idol club herself and making it look like the most casual decision in her life beats a rousing, inspirational speech everyday. You don’t need overwrought drama, bait-and-switch romance tropes or comically autocratic student council presidents getting in the way to convince viewers that these girls are having fun. Sometimes, less is more, and in Love Live!‘s case, you can scratch that ‘sometimes’ and substitute an ‘always’.

showbiz

Because, as it turns out, changing her best friend’s life for the better with one simple decision isn’t as easy as Maru made it look. Who’s have guessed? Unlike usually, however, Love Live! makes this particular detail clear without waving it in your face, unambiguously showing that Hanamaru sacrificing herself for Ruby’s sake is not a good thing, rather than telling it. At first, it seems as if Maru never wanted to join Aqours in the first place, but the truth ends up being to be a bit more ironic. In her first display of actual human behaviour, Ruby turns out to be not a complete idiot and eventually figures out that in all her effort to make Ruby get over her self-esteem issues, Hanamaru ended up giving in to her very own doubts. She needed someone to tell her she could be an idol as much as Ruby did, but in her unconditional dedication to silently protecting her friend’s wellbeing forgot all about her own.

It’s a simple reversal, tragic irony 101, but in a context as simplistic as this one, it works wonders. This being Love Live!, of course, Hanamaru turns out to genuinely love idols after all, gaining Aqours two new members and providing definitive proof that singing is not one of the talents required for joining. Nor anything else, really, but hey, the important thing, is that Maru only realized what she herself wanted after her ‘plan’ had ‘succeeded’, honouring the irony that made the episode work. So yeah, congrats to her for being the only somewhat complexly written character in this entire show. Turns out that if you strip away all the “Muse µ’s are bigger than Jesus” hogwash, Love Live! does actually know how to do compelling character development!

blackholesandrevelations

Nevertheless, if Chika hopes to assemble a 9-woman group and make the Love Live! finals before graduation, she’s gonna have to get her butt in gear sooner rather than later. Granted, a second season, or at the very least a 24-episode run, is pretty much a guarantee at this point, but the fact remains that Love Live! rests on a frustrating edge between being a laid-back set of slice-of-life vignettes and a plot-driven show with a beginning, middle and end. It lacks the clear goal and focus of something like HaNaYaMaTa, but comes across as entirely too ambitious to be compared to shows like K-ON! It’s this jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none approach to which Love Live! may owe its popularity. Like many actual idol groups, it ticks off all the checkboxes it is required to comply with without question, adding only the minimum of unicity required to stay afloat in an ocean of competition. Why this appeals to people so much continues to baffle me, but I will keep trying to find out.

Random observations

  • There are a lot of hints in this episode, as well as in the opening credits, that the upperclassmen (Dia, Mari and that blue-haired chick who is apparently also a main character) share some sort of tragic past. Given the nature of this show though, I’m gonna guess said tragic past is they tried to make their own school idol group but failed miserably. Judging from last episode, however, I do wonder how hard you’d actually need to screw up to fail at being an idol in this universe.
  • I chuckled at Riko all but acknowledging that songwriting is entirely irrelevant to being an idol.
  • I appreciate Sunrise’s efforts in designing some of the most outrageously eighties-style training outfits to have graced television screens in the 21st century, but they don’t quite come up to snuff with Kyoto Animation‘s best efforts.
  • The long wait has paid off, as next week we’re finally getting that Yohane episode we’re due.
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2 thoughts on “Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 4

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