With the help of the entire school, Aqours get ready to give the performance of a lifetime at the Love Live regionals.
You know how in Neon Genesis Evangelion, emotionless husk Rei gradually develops a feelings of her own, only to die horribly and be replaced with a new Rei, who acts as if all that character development never happened until she eventually turns the entire world into tang? Love Live! Sunshine!! is basically Rei. Well, except for the whole turning people into tang thing. I hope. Honestly, after last week’s disappointing return to form, I don’t even know what I expected anymore. In a way, this was the only finale Love Live! Sunshine!! could have possibly ever had. A rude awakening from a fever dream where an anime actually turned out positively surprising me for once. A last hurrah for mandatory happiness and corporate checkbox ticking. A shameless eviction of the delightful humour and strong character development of
these last few episodes episodes 10 and 11 in favour of a cavalcade of canned morals and inflated shlock. A disastrous showing where nothing matters anymore, and everything is ground into a single mushy goop that will scream ‘we’ll turn zero into one!’ over and over and over again until your brain cells have been reduced from one to zero. There are no characters anymore, no humour, heck, there isn’t even any drama anymore. There is only idol.
Though the episode starts off promising enough, with some neat goofs and a surprising lack of Sudden Finale Drama Syndrome, that nefarious disease where easygoing characters suddenly lose their ability to communicate properly as their show comes to an end, it takes a complete nosedive in near record time. The eleventh-hour subplot about Whatserface from Chika’s class is a blatant waste of time, Riko only withholding the fact that the group can’t sign up any more members for no reason other than to stir up some last-minute drama, though even that opportunity is passed on in favour of a couple more morals about how amazing idols are. Sunshine‘s final fifteen minutes are a gauntlet run of regurgitated inspirational speeches and enough clichés to turn any drinking game into a lethal binge. So yeah, maybe we can include the whole turning people into tang thing to our Rei analogy. Individual character quirks and arcs are eventually merged into the single unidentifiable ur-idol, a wicked creature that has seemingly body-snatched the humble, mature Chika I’ve grown to like and reduced her back to her infantile state of yelling thinly veiled propaganda to a chorus of brightly coloured chamber plants who occasionally pop in with a convenient recap of their journey up to now. Unfortunately, I much prefer the unseen journey these characters have overtaken than the one the show likes to propagate. Cut off the final two episodes, and Love Live! Sunshine!! becomes the story of an overly idealistic fangirl learning from her mistakes and slowly turning into a pragmatic, optimistic guiding light for the friends who gave her the incentive to care this much in the first place. As it stands, however, it is a show that wasted episode after episode on bloated drama, only for its characters to stay the exact same.
Because rather than showing the values of determination and friendship, Aqours’ interpretative-dance-cum-recap interlude to their gig at the regionals teaches us only two things: One, their story really isn’t interesting or unique enough to waste so much precious performance time on, and two, none of these girls have really learned anything at all. They started the show yelling about how much they’d do their best to shine on stage, and ended it doing the exact same. Even after getting zero votes, even after realizing that doing your best sometimes isn’t good enough, even after trying to find out what it was that µ’s had that they didn’t and learning that it was jack shit, Aqours didn’t ever change a single thing about their methods (stolen from µ’s), their image (stolen from µ’s) or their music (not stolen from µ’s, but still boring). All they ever did was stubbornly press on with the same saccharine conviction, expecting the universe to eventually bend to their will. Which it, this being Love Live!, of course did.
Love Live‘s biggest flaw has always been its fundamental refusal to comply with the basic dilemma integral to stories of its ilk. It’s a bona fide either/or situation: Either you write an unapologetically idealistic, escapist romp where even the most incompetent losers can become superstars by virtue of their enthusiasm alone, or you write a more realistic underdog story that accepts failure and disappointment as basic facts of life. Both are perfectly viable options, but you cannot have both cakes and eat them. You cannot prove a conviction wrong, and then have your characters continue to follow said conviction as if the debunking never happened. Say that Superman, for instance, had to fight a villain with skin of kryptonite, an enemy entirely impervious to any of Superman’s regular attacks. Punching it wouldn’t hurt the monster, in fact, it’d hurt Superman instead. Now, a good writer would obviously explore how Superman tries to deal with a problem his usual methods won’t solve. They’d have him call on Batman for help, try to outsmart the monster in some way or neutralize it without a fight, hopefully learning something in the process. A bad writer, on the other hand, would simply have Superman punch the monster so hard not even its Kryptonite skin would be able to protect it. After all, he’s Superman! How could Superman ever be out of his depth?
Unfortunately, unconditional belief in the flawlessness of your conviction even in the face of actual, genuine evidence to the contrary is not how good writing works. In fact, it’s how delusion works. Like the delusion that the earth is actually flat, despite boatloads of facts proving that the earth is still very much spherical. Or, say, the belief that idols are actually inspirational and empowering powers for good, and not commercial products cynically cooked up to cash in on the loneliness and ass-backwards gender politics of straight male twenty-somethings. Throughout my experience watching Love Live! Sunshine!!, I’ve caught the occasional glimpse of finally realizing why and how people willingly indulge in this delusion despite overwhelming evidence indicating its true nature, proudly retaking the concept of idolhood from the grubby hands of corporate suits and using it to construct their own identity. I myself have come to love some of Sunshine‘s characters, to appreciate their shenanigans and just once, even to identify with one of them on a fundamental, personal level. So if there is anything I should congratulate Love Live! for, it’s for being pretty darn poly-interpretable for what basically amounts to an extended commercial. I’ve danced on the edge of becoming a true believer, yet in the end, I never once found enough goodwill to see my analyses for more than what they really are: interpretations. Deductions of let’s-assume-thats and what-could-be’s. Willful negligence of what this show truly is: a tepid, manufactured Big Lie which just happens to be told by some very talented people.
The music still sucks, though.
- So we get to see Yoshiko’s, Hanamaru’s and the Kurosawa sisters’ mums, but not You’s often mentioned dad? Man, maybe this show really does take place in the same universe as Y: The Last Man.
- How and when did Aqours change into these stage outfits after their bizarre interpretative dance recap?
- By far the most annoying thing about the consolidation subplot is that unlike, Otoninazaka, which actively competed with other schools in Tokyo, Uranohoshi is the only school students who live nearby could possibly attend. Boosting your school’s appeal by becoming famous, I can get behind, but you’re not gonna make people go through the effort to move to whatever neck of the woods this show is set in, just so they can attend the school Aqours went to. When there’s simply not enough kids who could potentially enroll around, there’s not gonna be much you can do to prevent your school from getting consolidated.
- Do I even still need to bring up all the things wrong with the third years’
shameful revisionrecap of their little subplot?
- After thirteen episodes, my soul-searching journey has finally come to an end. I hope everyone enjoyed reading these reviews as much as I enjoyed writing them. I’m interested to hear what people thought of this feature and/or this show, fans and skeptics alike, so make sure to let us know what you thought in the comments. And now we wait for the inevitable season 2…