Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 9

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“Young Dreamer”

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

Tensions between Kanan and Mari reach a boiling point, prompting Chika to step in and demand the former friends finally reveal what caused the rift between them.

Aqua’s thoughts

Kanan Matsuura is a sociopath. That’s not an ill-advised attempt at metaphor, that’s the dead serious conclusion drawn by someone hell-bent on picking apart the psychologies of fictional characters. It’s the only logical verdict following twenty minutes of baffled staring at a show that had so dignifiedly broken away from its melodramatic crutch being dragged all the way back down by one upperclassman’s shockingly petty behavior. Not exactly the path I wanted to show to set out on, but the proverbial pot was bound to boil over sooner rather than later. In but a few displays of simmering passivity, Kanan managed to pose a bigger threat to Chika’s ambitions than any rival idol ever could, compared to which the relative ease with which she and Mari sort out their issues and take another shot at this whole idol thing seems uncharacteristically underwhelming. Not that Love Live! didn’t go about this conflict in the most Love Live! of ways. Like in the good old pre-Tokyo days, it’s once again the power of friendship leading the warring factions towards the light of half-compromise, but contrary to how some of the earlier episodes were resolved, there are no clean breaks anymore. Love Live! has finally learnt to acknowledge that problems do happen, that conflicts are often more than just understandings, and that some missteps can only be forgiven, but never fixed.

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Yet as well as Love Live! managed to keep up the slightly darker, more considered and genuine trend of drama established by last episode, as miserably it failed to make viewers empathize with Kanan’s plight. Last week, I mentioned how I could at least understand where her anger came from, because I’d always assumed Mari had been the one to call it quits after they were ‘unable to sing’ at the Love Live preliminaries. This episode, however, revealed that Kanan was the one who blew the entire thing up. Intentionally. Her dream scattered, of course Mari left to go study abroad, and of course she’d jump at any chance to make Uranohoshi’s students catch the idol fever. Turns out the thing Kanan is holding against her former friend isn’t that Mari is acting different from how she did two years ago, but rather that she’s acting the exact same – In short, the tragic drop-out is little more than a spiteful bully who can’t deal with people chasing a dream she’s long abandoned. Certainly, peppy miss chairman hasn’t exactly gone about it in the most respectful of ways, but her sins pale in comparison to Kanan’s dismissive, spiteful attitude. All she had to do was politely refuse Mari’s offer and walked away, but in stead she chose to further antagonize a girl who’d stoop as low as she can go to get her friend back. And in the end that’s exactly what she gets.

So how do you fuck up your best friend’s psyche so thoroughly you’ll make them grovel and apologize for a two-year-fight that you started? Allow me to give you the quick Psychological Abuse 101. First, you get your friends all hyped up for this whole school idol thing, but once you find out your friend has received an offer to go study abroad, right when the opportunity presents itself to make it big, of course, you’re gonna start having doubts. So far, so good. Now, if you were a normal person, you’d discuss with this friend what she finds most important: being a school idol, or studying abroad. Unfortunately, you’re not a normal person. You’re Kanan Matsuura. So what do you do? You fake a nervous breakdown on stage during the preliminary without telling your friend, breaking her heart and causing the third member of your group – who had no say in this matter whatsoever – to nip her younger sister’s ambitions in the bud out of fear of having to suffer through the same trauma that you lied about. Yeah, remember Dia? You know, the third person in their group? The person who had to see her dream crash and burn all because Kanan wanted to play the silent protector and kept quiet about it for two years? Good going, asshole.

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‘But she did it for Mari,’ you might say. ‘She sacrificed everything so her friend could go study abroad,’ you might say. Yet if Kanan actually cared about Mari’s feelings, don’t you think she’d have, you know, asked Mari about how she felt? If she actually cared about Mari’s feelings, would she have heartlessly faked a traumatic experience still haunting her friends two years later just to have an excuse to unilaterally disband the club? These are not the actions of someone who cares about others. Claiming to know what’s best for people better than these people themselves, pretending to make sacrifices so people’ll feel grateful to you, rewriting yourself to be the victim: These are the actions of someone who wants to control others. Who wants other people to owe her gratitude. That’s why Kanan has been acting like such a patronizing jerk all this time. If she truly cared about Mari’s feelings, she’d have been glad Mari got another shot at this whole idol thing. But in stead she tramples on her supposed friend’s heart like a parent scolding their child, all because Mari isn’t being grateful enough, because she dares to continue chasing the dream Kanan had decided she’d abandon. No hugs for Mari if she doesn’t properly appreciate all the sacrifices Kanan has made for her. She has to grovel through the rain, apologize and literally beg for punishment before she’s earned her hug. And somehow, people still ship these two.

Consequently, one slap to the face is all the punishment Kanan has to swallow to be absolved of two years of treating her friends like dirt. Granted, at least Love Live! acknowledges she was in the wrong here, but did she truly learn anything? Or did she just offer a quick hug, knowing Mari had been so thoroughly broken by her mind games she’d take Kanan back even if it meant having to (literally) eat dirt. Did she actually see the error of her ways, or did she just decide to put Mari out of her misery? In all seriousness, Kanan’s behaviour could realistically be that of someone who’s blown a minor misunderstanding ridiculously out of proportion because she’s allowed it to fester for two years, but it still wouldn’t be a very pleasant someone. Natch, the big hug at the end was supposed to be a cathartic reconciliation rather than the unholy and highly questionable anti-climax it ended up as, and the terrors of psychological abuse I just described were obviously intended as a heartwarming tale or reforged bounds. But there’s the rub. Love Live! has always taken itself for granted, often to a positively grating degree, but its tendency to preach to a choir that already knows its characters better than it knows them itself has never hurt its narrative as much as it has here. People who’d declared Kanan their waifu before the show’d even gone on air, might have bought into the little tragedy Sunshine has tried to spin, but someone taking the show at face value will only see inappropriately dark and twisted implications where tears were supposed to be jerked. For a show so expert at implication, it’s surprising Love Live! seems entirely unaware of the fact that it has essentially just confounded altruism with psychological abuse.

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Random observations

  • I remain fascinated by how Ai Furihata (Ruby) manages to sound like a human squishy toy.
  • It’s been pointed out by just about anyone on just about any social medium at this point, but I should still mention that this episode had a rather noticeable running gag involving people getting caught and/or held. It also continued Love Live Sunshine!!‘s long-standing streak of You doing stuff that could be interpreted as her desperately trying to escape Chika’s clutches. Really rather desperately, in this case.
  • ‘Young Dreamer’ sounds like a shitty cloud rap artist who raps exclusively about marijuana and would probably feature on the latest Lil’ Wayne album.
  • I can totally tell how their experiences in Tokyo have taught Aqours to do better and to find their own identity from the bit at the end where they perform their worst, most generic song to date.
  • No one who isn’t a Dutchman participating in the Olympics would ever voluntarily wear something as orange as Chika’s stage outfit. The red, blue and white stripes certainly do not help.
  • I’m still waiting for an in-universe acknowledgement that Mari’s favourite music genre is industrial metal. It’s in her character profile, so it must be canon!
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