If you had come to me a few months ago and told me ‘watch a school idol show, you’ll love it!’… I’d have thought you might be just a little crazy. It seemed like a such a narrow genre, and while the comedy idol light show Locodol was fun in a simplistic way, I didn’t see how a show that took that genre seriously could possibly keep my attention. And, I would’ve thought you were even more crazy if you’d told me my wife would be equally interested.
So it was quite a surprise when, during the Ai-Kon Summer Anime Showcase, we both turned to each other at the end of episode one of Love Live Sunshine and said ‘We need to watch more’. Love Live Sunshine is a followup to the extremely popular Love Live School Idol Project. The show follows Chika Takami as she tries to put together a school idol troupe, having taken sudden inspiration from the original Love Live’s idol group μ’s and chronicles the groups progress as Chika and her group, Aquors, try to follow in μ’s footsteps.
Love Live Sunshine has some of the best animation and CG I’ve ever seen in an anime. CG can often be a dirty word when talking about an anime as they frequently look out of place amidst anime’s distinct style. What makes it work here is that the CG only kicks in during the group’s live performances. Since CG often makes characters look overly polished, it fits when you consider that the characters are supposed to be in full makeup, wardrobe, and lighting. They should look ‘polished’. And the animations clean up too, which also works for a practiced, choreographed routine.
Naturally, alongside a good routine, you expect great music and – for the most part – Sunshine delivers. The group’s songs are charming and show a nice glimpse into their story. Every time I knew a performance was coming up, I started to look forward to it because the songs were so good. And as the group grew, they incorporated the new members into the music so well. In my eyes, this show’s best song was the first song where the full group sung together: Mijuku Dreamer. The song is beautiful, with a slightly haunting undertone of sadness that just makes the shows seem that much more hopeful. The one exception to the above rule is the song in the series finale. In fact, the whole finale just felt kind of awkward and forced, and the song was easily my least favourite of the season.
The story was relatively simple and predictable, but still touching. I do wish they’d kept scope a bit better on some parts, since a few of the ‘predictable failures’ the characters go through are so unbelievable that it took a lot of the impact out of what would’ve been otherwise emotional scenes. Fortunately, aside from these few moments – these brief lapses where they almost tried to force matters – the characters are able to keep things on the right track. Some of the characters seem there to fill out the checklist of what an anime cast must contain, but for the most part the characters are well-written and relatable. This helps to cover up for those moments above and still keep you caring about the show as a whole because, even though the story is awkwardly forceful at times, these characters are just so endearing that you’ll find yourself (at least internally) cheering along with them when things go right – and crying a little when things go wrong.
Aside from Chika herself, Riko and Kanan were probably my favourites among the cast. Riko’s realistic side, mixed with some distinct quirks including a completely rational – even though not shared by any other members of the group – fear of Chika’s terrifying dog, made for a fantastic character who grounded the cast. On the flipside, there were a few characters who had a tendency to annoy me – most notably Mari Ohara who liked to interject random English words into every sentence. I don’t understand why so many anime feels the need to have that one character who just loves broken English. I really don’t. Fortunately, Mari does have some redeeming qualities, unlike a lot of the characters in other shows with this quirk… and she still turns out to be a valuable addition to the cast overall, especially during one very important – and emotional – scene involving Kanan. It’s nice when even the characters you don’t like feel like they have a real place in the show, it makes the whole story feel that much more coherent.
It is truly sad that Love Live Sunshine’s first season ended on such a low note, because the rest of the show was absolutely fantastic. While the cast of characters was on the large side for a shorter show, they really gave you the opportunity to get to know each characters and they did a fantastic job of ensuring each character had a place in the story. The show’s presentation was quite impressive as well, offering both amazing music and interesting art direction. So, while I was reticent about starting an idol show… Love Live Sunshine has earned at least one fan during this run.