Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club ?
Man, the Nijigasaki girls really have got this streamlined compared to the other Idol clubs out there. We're only on episode 4 and already have 8 out of 9 idols present and accounted for, with Karin barely holding out by a thread. Maybe being a School Idol really is easier when you have a big, give-students-personal-iPads-in-class wealthy school to work with. Those suckers at Uranohoshi never stood a chance.
Jokes aside, the relative ease with which Nijigasaki's crew has formed is definitely to its benefit, since it means we basically get the whole group together and bouncing off one another way faster than usual. I mentioned last time that some of the girls have felt like background fodder so far, and while they haven't gotten focus episodes yet I at least remember their names without checking a wiki now. The show also smartly gives the audience an in with newcomers Ai and Rina, letting us see the pre-established dynamics of the club through fresh eyes rather than just dumping us into the ensemble immediately. Shizuku is tasked with babysitting international Idol Criminal Kasumin. Emma as the resident foreign (exchange?) student stumbles into multilingual puns that crack up the dad-joke loving dorks of this show. Kanata passes out in the background whenever somebody isn't talking directly to her during conversations. These aren't complicated gimmicks, and I do hope their eventual focus episodes will flesh them out more, but for now it's good comedic fodder. I especially love the reveal that Setsuna's a closet otaku who has to hide her nerdy passions from her family. You see what repression does parents? If you don't want your daughters to become tryhard School Idol all-stars, let them be themselves with you.
But the real star of today's episode is Ai, and her conflict this episode marks another shift in style from past Love Live! stories. Ai's a confident, fun-loving person who likes to chase whatever catches her attention, and that almost immediately places her as the glue holding the rest of the club together now that they've reformed. But that also proves to be her biggest worry when it comes out that the plan is to have each Nijigasaki girl perform as a solo idol. Everyone's a little worried about this; while being in an ensemble requires compromise and diplomacy, it also means you're never alone on stage and have the comfort of a group to fall back on, so abandoning that is a daunting prospect. Yet Ai's problem is a little different: she joined the club on impulse, figuring she'd be joining a team like the various sports clubs she moonlights with, but being a solo idol means having to define and present who she is, and that can be a surprisingly nebulous task to conquer. I'm certainly not an idol and only barely a musician, but I actually related to this aspect of Ai a lot. Trying to decide who you are, or at least what aspect of yourself you're comfortable presenting to an audience, can be super anxious and uncomfortable, so seeing her mope and fret over it was possibly the most human moment I've seen from this franchise.
It's also remarkably understated compared to past entries. I can easily imagine a much more dramatic and theatrical take on this topic that's more in line with the energy of SIP or Sunshine, but the approach here feels a lot more fitting for the relatively laid-back pace of this series. We see Ai worry about this on her own, try to run it off with exercise, then finally talk it out with somebody else, and nobody even has to chase her down or cry at a sunset to make it happen. Instead Emma just points out that all the stuff Ai sees as ordinary about herself is plenty amazing, especially her infectious energy, and that's the key to unlocking her own performance as an idol. I'll admit I'm not huge on this sort of high-energy pop, but the cheerleader aesthetic and call-and-response of Ai's number is definitely fitting, even if Setsuna's stadium rock is way more my style.
Overall though this is a solid episode that deftly fleshes out another member of the club while giving some fun moments to just about everyone else. My only complaint is that Yu herself seems to be drifting into the background right now, but with a cast this large it's probably just a necessity for building rapport among everyone. Still, I hope we return to the walking energy drink and her ever-growing idol harem eventually.
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