Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club ?
Nijigasaki's most defining divergence from its predecessors has always been its (relatively) grounded way of approaching drama. Sure, it's still ultimately built around the corny conceit of following your dreams to be an amateur stage performer with your bestest friends, but compared to the magic-hour drenched confrontations of either previous Love Live! series, this one's always kept a few more toes in reality, resolving conflicts through honest and direct communication between the cast that could actually resemble how real teenagers might interact with their problems. And this week, Nijigasaki uses that very divergence to troll me but good.
See, in idol anime you pretty much have to start off with each character having a gimmick. You've got anywhere between five to a dozen anime girls who have to share both the screen and stage, and giving them personalities distinct enough to stand apart for selling character goods basically requires keeping things simple. You can flesh out those personalities if you want, but it's expected from basically any potential viewer that they're going to start out basic and archetypical. This one's the Smart, Responsible one. This one's the bubbly life of the party. This one's objectively perfect and must be protected at all costs. In Kanata's case, her gimmick is that she's on that 24-hour Sleep cycle, and if that sounds really one-note, that'd be because it is, and going into this series her focus episode seemed like the biggest hurdle of the whole cast. Like it's not even a particularly funny gimmick for an ensemble because it just takes her character out of most scenes. How do you possibly turn material that dull into an engaging episode of television?
Yet I needn't have worried, because the very first scene of this episode manages to make Kanata into easily the most down-to-earth and relatable character in possibly all of Love Live! canon. Turns out with a busy, apparently single mother working the graveyard shift, Kanata's life outside of Idolatry involves working part-time to make ends meet and taking care of the house for her younger sister, Haruka. The reason she hits the hay all day isn't because she's the secret granddaughter of Sleepy Dwarf – it's because she's juggling the life of basically a grad student while also spending hours exercising and practicing to be an idol, and is understandably exhausted. That's way, way more real than I ever expected this franchise to get with drama, and I was honestly nervous about how the show would resolve it. It's all well and good to work hard at your dreams, but without healthy boundaries those dreams can end up killing you – the last thing I needed to see was a chipper song about Kanata developing an Idol adderall (idorall?) dependence for the sake of making it work.
Thankfully, my worries were quickly put to rest. Instead of being about how Kanata just needs to work harder to keep her sister from worrying about her, the episode is about the siblings learning to build a bridge for honest communication. Kanata has to realize that Haruka is old enough to shoulder some of the responsibility of their household, and allow them to have a more equal and healthy balance for their respective Idol activities instead of trying to manage it all on her own. That's like, an actual solution that materially addresses both character's concerns and needs while also letting them grow as people. That's not supposed to happen until at least one of them runs crying through a typhoon for like five minutes! Truly we are reinventing the wheel here at Nijigasaki High School.
The climactic song is nice enough, though it's a little funny that the most blatantly romantic lyrics so far are being sung between sisters. Don't start trying to appease the Kurosawa shippers now, Love Live!. Let them stay in the shadows where they belong. Other than that I do rather like the production on it, even if synth-heavy arrangements aren't usually my thing. Most importantly it does its job to punctuate the episode, and I am quite fond of the pajama-adjacent design of Kanata's idol get-up, so I'll give it a solid 6 out of 10. Still waiting for somebody to top Setsuna's premiere though.
Nijigasaki continues to surprise me with its approach to emotional storytelling, and while it's taken a bit to adjust to this new style I very much appreciate it. I can't think of another idol series that could manage to take one of the least interesting character gimmicks and come out the other side with such a genuinely relatable character, and that has me hopeful for our remaining focus episodes.
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