“We’ve Got Stewshine”
Dia wants to spend summer vacation training on the beach like µ’s did, but Chika and You have to help out at Chika’s family’s beach cafe. Meanwhile, Riko has to deal with conflicting schedules when she receives an offer to take part in a piano competition.
Do my eyes deceive me, or could this indeed have been an entirely drama-free of Love Live! Sunshine? Indeed, with our plucky heroines having accepted their uncertain future and now counting three seemingly cured upperclassmen among their ranks, a trip to the beach is in order, and on the beach, there is no place for skeletons in the closet. Granted, the beach is not a particularly ambitious destination, given that they live there, but hey,
Muse µ’s did it, so of course Aqours now have to take a trip down bikini lane as well. It’s almost like they’ve already forgotten about Seira’s not-so-friendly words of advice. After a hostile takeover by Dia, trying not to blindly follow Muse’s µ’s’ illustrious example doesn’t seem to be an option anymore; though for all the damage she might do to Aqours’ image going forward, her addition to the group is a welcome one. Like Hanamaru and her sister before her, Dia’s become a far more enjoyable character now that’s she’s joined the core cast, despite that stick up her butt still being lodged as firmly as it’s ever been. Her overbearing drill sergeant tendencies simply beget far better comedy than they do drama, and with most of the trouble now out of the way, the former has returned to being order of the day. After ten episodes, it looks like Love Live! has finally figured out that it is at its best when it’s a quick-witted ensemble comedy.
With nine main characters and only thirteen episodes, however, Sunshine can’t afford to waste an entire installment on wacky beach shenanigans, so there is a bit of conflict stirring in the guise of Riko facing a not unfamiliar dilemma. There’s a piano competition coming up, and it just so happens to be scheduled for the same day as the Love Live! preliminaries, oh dear! Choosing between pursuing your personal dreams and the dreams of the group you’re a member of, now where have I heard that one before? Indeed, Riko’s situation virtually mirrors Mari’s predicament two years ago, though luckily for her, Chika is a far saner best friend to have around than Kanan. Unlike the woman who shunned and lied to her friends throughout her entire high school career just because she wanted to make Mari’s decisions for her, Chika gives Riko her honest two cents, but ultimately leaves the choice up to her, in a series of elegant, natural interactions so devoid of pointless misunderstandings, far-fetched lies or other turmoils it almost feels like parody. In the end, the problem is solved without any tears shed or friendships ruptured like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Then again, unless your name is Kanan Matsuura, it usually is.
Nevertheless, to think Aqours’ once most grating, idealistic la-la-landian would grow into one of its most considerate and – dare I say – mature members is surprising to say the least. This marks the second time Chika has gone through an ordeal similar to the backstory of one of her upperclassmen, and the second time she’s gotten out of it in a far healthier and overall better thought out manner. Intentional or not, this recurring theme of our heroine retro-actively showing her supposed ‘seniors’ how reasonable people deal with everyday ills like disappointment, humiliation or doubt fits well into Sunshine‘s overall theme of legacy. Chika’s character journey has been all about finding the right balance between following in
Muse’s µ’s’ footsteps while avoiding the mistakes made by her own seniors, eventually finding her own path without forgetting where she came from. And in a way, the show itself has evolved along with her – becoming less of a blatant clone of its predecessor once Chika realized the high of blindly imitating her idols would lead to a rather cataclysmic fall. There are still references to Muse µ’s in Love Love! Sunshine!! 2.0, of course, but these serve more as amicable nudges highlighting, for instance, Dia’s unhealthy obsession with the original generation of idols than as desperate pleas for the audience’s love. Like its protagonist, Sunshine has finally stopped giving a sod about living up to the Love Live! name; a determination which has ironically been sealed by it taking the step its predecessor never dared to take. Well, sorta.
I don’t know enough Japanese to argue about the specific nuances of Riko’s confession, but despite what people may say, semantics isn’t exactly the core of the issue here. In an industry where explicit acknowledgment that, you know, LGBT people exist, still poses a significant sales risk, looking at the overall writing and characterization is far more important in telling a genuine romance from shallow deceit than the quantity of on-screen hanky-panky. Once again Sound! Euphonium set the golden standard, making the intent of Kumiko and Reina’s relationship crystal clear through sheer strength of direction and subtlety of writing rather than through formulaic confessions or Hollywood-style spontaneous kissing syndrome; and comes across as far more genuine for it. In other words, while I believe this scene still doesn’t ‘seal the deal’ between Chika and Riko as firmly as people’d want it to see, at the very least it’s made me want to believe. Love Live!‘s attempt to raise Euphonium‘s bar may never quite reach the same heights, but it did kick the franchise as a whole a tier higher on the hypothetical gayness scale between ‘shameless queerbaiting’ to ‘Takako Shimura’. The two have spent more than enough intimate heart-to-hearts together to provide a solid foundation for credible romance, and the show has done a great job developing Chika into a character one could actually find oneself falling for. A pleasant conclusion to an enjoyable episode, in other words, though Love Live! is gonna have to put in a bit more effort if it wants to stick the landing. By not using this maybe-hookup as a catalyst for a tired jealousy plot, for instance– oh, for fuck’s sake. Come on, You, I thought you were better than that.
- For some reason, I always thought Hanamaru was Aqours’ lyricist, what with her liking books and all. Turns out, Chika’s the one doing the lyrics, though I don’t really understand how she and Riko can be working on lyrics and music for the same song, separately, without consulting each other. Don’t you usually write one after, to make it fit the other?
- This show sure seizes the opportunity for gratuitous up-skirt shots once Dia puts on that sundress over her bathing suit. Just another example of Love Live! taking the high road to a place where it shouldn’t be going in the first place.
- Yes, of course you can buy Yohane’s wicked shark sleeping bag. It’s a few sizes smaller than it is in the show and you’ll have to suspend it yourself, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
- Glad to see Kanan has gone back to having like six lines in this episode – even if half of them are her mocking or insulting people.
- Now that we’re on the topic of how you don’t – or rather, shouldn’t – need to drop the L-word to write a fantastic confession scene, let this serve as your example.