In order to get increase Aqours’ popularity, Chika decides to adopt Yoshiko’s “fallen angel” gimmick, yet Yoshiko herself wants nothing more than to grow out of her geeky delusions and live the life of an average high school student. Furthermore, Aqours’ other members aren’t exactly keen on welcoming ‘Yohane’ to the party.
One of the most fascinating – and frustrating – experiences in the japanophile life is watching anime stumble over itself whenever it tries to do an individuality moral. Time after time again, anime trying to tell viewers to ‘be yourself’ will fail to fully shake off the culturally ingrained yoke dictating that the nail that sticks out will be hammered down. Shows like Love, Chunibyou and Other Delusions clearly attempted to preach about how it’s okay to be weird, but similarly moved heaven and earth to caricaturize said wacky behaviour to a point where at times it’d feel like a public service announcement on the benefits of banality if it didn’t counter-balance the mockery with an occasional inspirational speech. Yet surely, Love Live!, a show that couldn’t be set in anything remotely resembling reality, a show that would risk life and limb to uphold its unwavering idealism wouldn’t fall for this kind of half-assed, ‘yeah-but’ kind of moral, would it? Well…
As it turns out, letting an unapologetic weirdo like Yoshiko just be who the heck she wants to be is a bridge too far even for Love Live! The result is an utterly bizarre episode in which the writing’s – and per extension, the characters’ – attitude towards Yoshiko’s shenanigans seems to change at the drop of a hat. Up until the very end, this episode tries to be both a ‘be yourself’ kind of episode and an ‘I just want to be normal’ episode – two things that, unsurprisingly, don’t go very well together, as proven by Chika and Riko’s utterly baffling conversation around what scholars so lovingly call the peripatia. It goes a little something like this:
Chika: We’re all so different!
Riko: Are we, though?
Chika: Wait no, we’re all super normal and plain.
Riko: Are we, though?
Chika: Actually, we’re all pretty weird.
Riko: So you’re saying we’re all super plain and normal.
Chika: I think?
Riko: You’re weird.
Chika: Good weird or bad weird?
And it’s that last question by Chika that about sums it up. Love Live! attempts to resolve its own catch-22 by claiming that there is a ‘good’ weird and a ‘bad’ weird – the ‘good’ weird being the weird that makes you you and the ‘bad’ weird being the weird that ’causes trouble for others’, like when Yoshiko whips out her goth regalia to predict her classmates’ fortunes. So far so good, were it not for the fact that these two kinds of weird are essentially one and the same. Individuality cannot exist without acceptance; that is the irony of it all. You cannot be an individual without others accepting you as one. If you tell viewers that they can be themselves, as long as they allow others to shun them when who they are doesn’t fit society’s standards, you’re not preaching individuality at all – you’re just reinforcing the status quo.
What further complicates the matter is that Yoshiko’s antics never actually lead to any real conflict. Love Live! is so dedicated to portraying its world as one of acceptance and generic niceness that Yoshiko’s fears end up being mostly in her own head. This isn’t the first time the show has undercut its own attempts at being inspirational and meaningful by refusing to let any kind of negativity seep in. Similarly to the ‘failed’ performance in episode 3, the problem was never really a problem at all, as in the end everyone turned out to unconditionally accept Yoshiko for who she is anyway. Time after time, Love Live! both demands to be taken seriously as a character-focused drama, yet refuses to feature any actual conflict; even if you need the latter to have the former. Don’t get me wrong, the show could have done some very interesting things around Yoshiko’s imaginary doubts, but not in its current state. It has so thoroughly poisoned its own well with relentless optimism that the very idea that anyone would be shunned or excluded for being a bit ‘weird’ in this world is all but inconceivable. After all, what is the point in telling your characters that ‘they can do it!’ in a world where anyone can do anything?
Eventually, the person who realizes this whole mess is edging very close to complete bullshit is, ironically, the queen of bullshit herself, as Chika quickly wraps up the episode with a dramatic speech I can actually get behind for once. If you’re gonna spout blatant lies about what idols are all about and what people love about them (hint – it’s not girls just being who they are), I appreciate that you spout them for empowering reasons, at least. Yet in the end, Love Live! Sunshine!! is still to stuck in the conventions of its subject matter to be truly inspirational. Just as it, for some reason, insists on featuring problems and conflicts it resolves by reminding viewers they never existed in the first place, it tries to write a rise to fame story set in a universe where fame is seemingly served on a silver platter to anyone.
And there is, in se, nothing wrong with that. Love Live!‘s relentless idealism, from the entirely drama-free, pseudo-romantic ways in which the characters interact with each other to the complete and total extermination of even the slightest hint at the darkness present in the actual idol industry, is obviously why many people love it, but also what causes its attempts at being theatrical to so often fall flat. It has a closer eye on current trends in the idol industry than shows that actually pretend you need to be able to sing to become an idol, but Love Live! doesn’t really use that edge to its advantage. The drama and realism it wants to bring just couldn’t believably exist in a setting that lends itself almost exclusively to vapid comedy. With pretty much any conflict being resolved within a single episode, Love Live! would be far better off ditching the drama entirely and taking its rightful place as K-ON!‘s successor.
- The idea that there wouldn’t be any idol groups with Yohane’s shtick around has to be the most fallacious thing to have come out of Chika’s mouth to date. Ever heard of a little group called Babymetal?
- Despite the rather simplistic character designs, all the girls have really noticeably polished nails for some reason.
- Turns out Yoshiko didn’t play hooky all this time because of health or personal reasons, but simply because she was so embarrassed by her introduction back in episode 2 she never wanted to show her face at school again. Any actual school would have sicced child protection on her parents, but as we’ve indicated before, Uranohoshi seems to have no real aspirations to be taken seriously as an actual school.
- I want to know what was going on in Funimation’s translator’s head when they decided that leaving in Hanamaru’s vocal tic was a good idea. Giving her a hillbilly accent like the fansubs do still isn’t ideal, but it’s still far preferable to just, y’know, not doing your job.
- Aqours – as in, the actual idol group comprised of the voice actresses voicing the in-universe Aqours – will be hosting their first live gig at the Yokohama Arena in February (!) next year. I cannot contain my excitement. Of course, advance tickets can only be obtained by buying the limited edition blu-rays of the first two volumes of the anime, but you know, idols totally inspire people everywhere, and not just nerds with far too much money to spend.