“You’re Not Frustrated?”
After their debut performance is met with a less than lukewarm response, Chika and co. get sent back home with their tails between their legs. How could the power of doing one’s best possibly have failed?
The year is 2016. Men have gone extinct and Japan is facing an unprecedented educational crisis. Over a thousand schools risk being consolidated or closed down. There is only one thing their conventionally attractive students can do to save their beloved institutions: Become idols. But the competition is tough. Only one school can remain open. Only one group can be the idols amongst idols. And that group is… well, not Aqours in any case.
This was a very special episode of Love Live! Sunshine!! An episode that had the more idealistic critic wondering if the show’s just been playing us this entire time. If the casual ease with which Aqours gained widespread adoration and praise, the sloppy, generic songs and performances and the countless, insufferable callbacks to
Muse’s µ’s’ rise to fame had all been intended to be cringeworthy from the very beginning. A vicious verbal beatdown from the mouth of Saint Snow’s Seira, listing any and all gripes fans and haters have had with Sunshine‘s idol group since the spin-off’s very announcement, is only the climax of an entire first half of anyone and anything thoroughly mopping the floor with our quirky heroines, and the results are disastrous to say the least.
While Saint Snow’s introduction last week was un-intimidating to say the least, this episode’s unique willingness to let go of Love Live!‘s trademark happy-fluffy-fun-times optimism suddenly left them a lot more sass to flaunt. Not only was their song far better than anything Aqours have churned out so far (Actual structure! Actual instruments! Actual vocal harmonies!), their performance conspicuously lacked any use of terrifying, empty-eyed CGI to boot. It’s one of the advantages of having only two dancers to animate, naturally, but given how much more pleasant it was to look at than the average Aqours spinning-around-and-waving-your-arms routine, the superior treatment their rivals are getting feels almost mean-spirited towards our purported heroines. Capped off by Seira’s humiliating rant, Saint Snow’s cataclysmic assault on the United States of Chika had all the makings of divine retribution; a furious punishment on behalf of the fans, for Aqours’ subpar efforts in honoring
Muse’s µ’s’ legacy.
It gets to a point where Sunshine almost risks swinging the pendulum it has held firmly on the idealistic side of the spectrum from day one all the way to the other extreme. Aqours ranking dead last with zero votes may be a bit too tragic to be truly realistic, and at times feels more like the show suddenly hammering down the breaks on the group’s progress rather than a natural consequence of their antics up until now. Nevertheless, I very much welcome Love Live! no longer granting its protagonists anything they want on a silver platter. It’s a rather brutal way to give Aqours the underdog charm they desperately needed to crawl out of
Muse’s µ’s’ shadow, but might as well just be what this show desperately needed. There’s no convoluted deus ex machina to bail Aqours out of this one, no one showing up at the last minute to point out that the problem was never really a problem after all. For what is probably the first time in their entire lives, Chika and her friends are gonna have to deal with disappointment for reals, and Sunshine does a surprisingly good job at chronicling this entire ordeal.
What do you do when doing your best isn’t enough? Sunshine‘s various characters deal try to answer this question for themselves in myriad ways, highlighting the depths the characters have always had in them, but the show never really managed to bring to light up until now. Ruby’s reaction is obviously the most straightforward, while You – ever the altruist – all but pretends to give up, knowing it will strengthen’s Chika’s resolve. But it’s Chika herself who benefits the most from this sudden turn down tragedy road. Her efforts to keep up her bright, energetic facade in the face of hardship paint her as a far more human character than the hare-brained, proselytizing bundle of generic go-getter tropes we’ve seen up until now, and her genuine resilience in the face of hardship without blatantly ignoring what went wrong garners a lot of sympathy in my book. Her optimism has gone from cringeworthy and all-encompassing to grounded and admirable, and the more nuanced aspects of her unbreakable spirit that came to light in this episode made the weakest link in Aqours so far all the more relatable.
The contrast with the third years couldn’t be bigger. When their group suffered a similar humiliation, Dia set out to prevent it from ever happening to anyone again, Kanan basically gave up on achieving anything and dropped out and Mari just forgot it ever happened. Gee, overreaction, much? I mean, I understand the writers want to exploit this whole soap opera for all it is worth, since it’s about about the only facet of Sunshine‘s narrative that wasn’t ripped wholesale from the original show. Nevertheless, I believe this drama would’ve fared much better if it’d simmered in the background, rather than being placed front and centre in one melodramatic midnight meeting after another, so yeah – I’m more than happy to see the third-years finally coughing up their true motives. Mari was never really a problem, as hushed schemes and secret tests of character seem entirely up her alley. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this whole thing about the school closing down was joke made up to give Aqours a little push, but at the very least she’s not taking this thing more seriously than it should be taken. Luckily, Dia is finally getting that stick out of her ass as well, now that she realized her efforts to prevent her sister from suffering the same fate had not only failed, but prevented Ruby from facing the disappointments required to become a proper adult in the first place. Once Chika tells the two of them that she and her friends are resilient enough to handle a little failure – as opposed to, you know, outlawing school idol clubs because you tried it once and couldn’t do it – I assume their joining Aqours is inevitable. Kanan, on the other hand…
You see, on one hand, I can totally understand why Kanan is angry with Mari. First, Miss Joke ditches her two best friends because she can’t handle hitting a single hurdle on the road to fulfilling their dreams and two years later, she happily waltzes back into their lives declaring she’ll bring these glory days back? Yeah, that’s gotta sting. On the other hand, though, was the disappointment you faced really that bad you’d get offended by someone getting over it faster than you did? Granted, Sunshine seems somewhat aware about the seniors blowing this whole thing way out of proportion, and given that these kinds of show generally don’t like to give their characters any genuine flaws, I do appreciate Kanan being realistically petty about this entire ordeal. But it remains an ordeal that has been going on for far too long, and one that is just a shared crying fit away from summoning the ghost of Mari Okada. Love Live! gets my kudos for taking the high road, but one wonders if it should have set out on this path in the first place.
Nevertheless, the Love Live! Sunshine!! episode all about frustration ended up being the least frustrating episode so far. Heck, it even made me look forward to seeing what Chika’s answer will be. Will she urge the other girls to do better than their best, or will she accept that this is what the world is gonna get, even if it means not winning the Love Live competition? The former seems like the logical option given Sunshine‘s annoying pedigree, but with this episode, the show has more than proven itself willing to toss out its childlike optimism in favour of hard-hitting reality checks. Furthermore, picking the latter option would allow Sunshine to truly divert from the path taken by its predecessor, and spread genuinely inspirational messages about what being an idol means – that ultimately, fame is a negligible factor as long as you’re having fun expressing yourself. Sure, expressing yourself probably won’t save your school, but that whole consolidation thing is just joke anyways, so why worry?
- Some fantastic group names in this year’s competition, apparently, including ‘forgiven sanctuary’ (a group Yohane might defect to), ‘one week doll’ and ‘EINE KUGEL’, which is German for ‘one scoop of ice cream’.
- For some inexplicable reason, the first years’ summer uniforms don’t have sleeves, while the upperclassmen’s do.
- I hadn’t noticed up until recently, but Dia is voiced by Arisa Komiya, who previously starred as Yellow Buster in Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters. What is it with all the yellow rangers becoming voice actresses all of a sudden?
- Let’s just say Sunrise are gonna have to move mountains if they still plan on selling any Kanan merchandise.
- While the fanbase has mostly settled on which ships are ‘literally canon’ in the original Love Live!, the far less established Sunshine is a still a battleground of pairings competing to be the one all fans shall be forced to support lest they don’t want to lose all their friends. For some reason, Riko/Yohane seems to be gaining a lot of traction, despite the fact that these two have barely interacted with each other so far. Gee, it’s almost as if shippers don’t actually care about the characters proper or anything.