The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Love Live! Sunshine!!
How would you rate episode 1 of
Love Live! Sunshine!! ?
What is this?
Chika Takami has never had much direction in her life. Attending remote schools with her childhood friend You, she's always thought of herself as just “normal” - not someone who stands out, not someone who's really defined at all. But when she sees the winners of the second Love Live! on stage, she realizes that even a normal person can shine as a school idol. Now she just has to win over the student council president, find some people to join her club, and maybe figure out what being an idol actually means. She may have a goal to pursue now, but that's probably not going to make her life any easier. Love Live! Sunshine!! is an original anime work and can be found streaming on Funimation, Saturdays at 3:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember the old cast of Love Lives being anywhere near this..."monkeycheese." Right from the start, the amount of mugging, screaming, and apropos wackiness in Love Live! Sunshine!! sent a couple dozen question marks bouncing up above my head. From the over-the-top sound cues to the clown car pileup of every single new girl in one unfocused episode to a hilariously awkward sequence where new protag Chika loudly declares how Incredibly Normal she is, I'm not sure I've ever seen this much desperate sweat fly off an anime sequel before.
That's not to say there's anything particularly wrong with this show. It's not a drastically different experience from the two seasons and movie we got for the first batch of Love Live! ladies. It's still the same shiny color palette, fluid character animation, swelling orchestral score and bouncy idol music we've come to expect from the franchise. It's just trying way too hard out of the gate, forcing the appeal of its new girls so hard that the show seems to forget its initial appeal came from the low-key charm of gradually exploring each idol's personality against the struggles they had to overcome. If the first Love Live! series began with a girl dancing merrily through oncoming traffic, Sunshine hurls itself into the road in a 360-degree spin while squealing "Eeeeeeh!?" at the top of its lungs. Slow down, for god's sake, the hundreds of thousands of otaku who buy your merchandise are not literally four years old. You're not going to lose their attention that fast. Enough with the INTENSE CLOSE-UPS WHERE GIRLS JUST SHOUT "SCHOOL IDOL" AT THE CAMERA OVER AND OVER. There's adorable sugary sweetness and then there's being drowned in a tsunami of high-fructose corn syrup.
Of course, it's entirely possible that Sunshine could lose its audience if it starts to forget the more sincere place it came from. The original show was an accidental mega-success, so it's not surprising that the attempt to recapture that lightning in a bottle resulted in such a high-tension explosion of a premiere. For better or worse, Love Live! Sunshine!! is the most "commercial" first episode of the new season: all glitz and energy and salesmanship, but not much heart...yet. Hopefully that will change as these nervous new girls find their feet.
I wonder if my tolerance for cute girl idol shows is wearing thin, because much as I enjoyed the first season of Love Live!, I found myself vaguely irritated by its successor. Largely this is due to the fact that it felt almost exactly like the first season in its set up: perky girl with no major interests learns about school idols and decides to start a group, but the student council president says no for arbitrary reasons. Perky girl persists, begins convincing people, et cetera. There's nothing wrong with this, and it certainly was engaging the first time, but switching the location to a coastal fishing town and making Chika's need to be more than ordinary the motivating factor don't quite mix things up enough for me. Essentially I felt like I was listening to a cover of a song I preferred when the original artist sang it.
Love Live! Sunshine!! does try incredibly hard to be winning, though. The girls are all adorable, from perky Chika to weird Yoshiko (who would rather you called her Yohane), and the colors are crisp and bright. The scenery is nothing short of gorgeous, and even small town life has been captured in the character of Kanan, a third year student who has to stop school to help out in the family business. (I used to live in a town where we had three weeks off for the potato harvest to avoid this.) The student council president's excuse that she comes from an old fishing family and so doesn't see the need for impractical things sounds highly suspect, but that is the sort of weird rumor that goes around in small towns. Each of the girls does appear to have her own distinct personality and look, and the songs are decently catchy as well.
What's wrong is that I really feel like I saw this before with a different group of nine very similar looking (and sounding) girls with similar quirks, and to add insult to injury, the first group of wannabe idols had better choreography. This episode's dancing featured a lot of hand clapping and hip wagging, neither of which are particularly graceful but can work with smoother motions in between, which this didn't have. It may seem odd to seize upon this, but if the story is about performing, the choreography needs to be appealing as much as the singing, and the opening theme's did not give me much hope.
I do appreciate the cameos by the first season girls and the link to the original Love Live! school in the form of transfer student Riko. I like that Chika has her own motives for wanting to become a school idol. But I liked this show better the first time I saw it, and no matter how much better the CG dancers look, this still feels like a cash grab reboot to me, sticking too close to the original formula that worked and only changing the bare necessities so that they can call it a new story.
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. I enjoyed the original Love Live! quite a lot, and was fully prepared to write this sequel off as a shameless cash grab. It's a very pleasant surprise, then, to see that Love Live! Sunshine!! seems to be up to the standards of its predecessor, and perhaps even a little better in some respects. The new series comes out swinging, and it throws a lot of energy into its attempts at making the audience like the new group of characters.
Second-year student Chika fills the role previously occupied by Honoka, providing the necessary energy and motivation to put a school idol group together from scratch. She's just enough of an airhead to be entertaining, her reasons for wanting to be an idol are easy to buy into, and she can be reasonably eloquent when she's not running around like a lunatic in search of prospective members. Chika more or less dominates this episode, but the rest of the girls all seem reasonably appealing in their own brief introductions. There's a wide enough range of personalities here that most viewers should be able to find at least one character to cheer for.
Love Live! Sunshine!! follows the franchise tradition of being almost obnoxiously cheesy and cheerful. With most of the characters seemingly content to wear their hearts on their sleeves, there's not much emotional subtlety here. It doesn't make for the most intellectually stimulating experience, but it does help impart that feeling of genuine enthusiasm that made the previous series compelling. There are plenty of nods to that “first generation” of school idols in this episode, and the show strikes a nice balance between acknowledging its past and finding its own way forward.
While some of the old “I can't believe this show actually works” charm has been lost, the production values have picked up a notch now that Love Live! has lost any illusion of being an underdog in the idol genre. The animation and background art is impressive, and this episode turns in one heck of a sunset scene. The musical numbers are also on point, with the opening and ending credits looking significantly smoother than the awkward 2-D to 3-D transitions that sometimes plagued the original. A small part of me really hates to admit this, but Love Live! Sunshine!! looks like it's on course to be a worthwhile and engaging sequel.
Love Live! is an institution at this point, and for good reason. The original series matched an eminently likable set of characters with energetic direction, great comedic timing, and many effectively sincere moments, resulting in a show that was just a consistent joy to watch. Love Live! is the epitome of effective entertainment - it knows its own goals, is consistently professional in its application of comic and dramatic beats, and rarely steps outside of its own strengths. Outside of some unfortunate melodramatic hiccups near the end of each season, the show was about as easy to recommend as an anime can be.
In light of that, Sunshine has a heavy set of expectations riding on its shoulders, particularly since this season has switched to a new and fairly untested director. Fortunately, this episode lives up to the Love Live! name and then some.
The new improvements start with the protagonist, Chika Takami. Honoka was almost synonymous with the Love Live! spirit, but Chika pretty much immediately takes on both Honoka's role and some new complexities of her own. Chika is enthusiastic about what she's doing, but her actions are tempered by pragmatism and a real sense of emotional urgency. Chika's reasons for becoming a school idol are immediately tangible in an emotional sense, arising out of her history as an also-ran “normal person.” There's no artificial sitcom conflict demanding school idols here; there's simply a girl doing something that she thinks will help her become a better version of herself.
Chika's idol-to-be classmates are also a lively bunch, and demonstrate through their various introductions the charm that makes Love Live! so unique. Love Live!'s sense of drama and comedy seem more indebted to western cartoons or sitcoms than anime conventions; the transitions are lively, jokes snappy, and characters imbued with a real sense of physical presence. You don't need to hear these characters' life stories for them to parse as people; the character animation is so strong and distinctive that they already feel pretty much alive. And Love Live!'s perpetually reliable soundtrack also performs strong work here, propping up both comic and dramatic moments with cues specifically chosen to match the on-screen drama.
It's frankly hard to find too much to pick at in this premiere. Love Live! Sunshine!! improves on an already polished template without retreading too much territory - there are winks to fans of the original, like You inheriting Kotori's Kotoriface, but even beats like the student council president's resistance feel fresh due to the new cast. The performance CG has improved to the point where it's only slightly intrusive, and can actually survive the occasional closeup - in fact, probably the most jarring moment of this episode was a flashback to the original series, where we got to see just how far the CG has come. But overall, Sunshine is a charming start to what should hopefully be a great new chapter in the Love Live! saga.
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