Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club ?
For the most part, Nijigasaki's decision to reform its Idol Club in episode 3 has been a boon. For one, it bypasses the frankly overused premise of recruiting new members, instead allowing the cast to have conflicts and stories that don't involve being convinced to join the Idol Collective, which was already tired by the time Aqours was absorbing Kanan into their ranks via the power of hugs. But it's also come with some drawbacks, most directly being that two-thirds of the way into this season, the club itself still feels largely fractured. Sure, we'll get the occasional group meeting or training session, but largely the character focus episodes have zeroed in on maybe 3 characters at a time to tell their stories more effectively. “Friends but Rivals” doesn't wholly address this issue, but it does manage to more organically marry the entire club into Karin's issue of the week.
That's largely thanks to the meddling of Himeno Ayanokouji, one of the members of Touou Academy's idol club, who pulls some strings to get the Nijigasaki crew a spot at “Diver Fes”, a local music festival that somehow closes on a 3-act School Idol showcase. I do have to wonder how all the presumably adult, professional musicians feel about being upstaged by literal children in floofy outfits, but this is apparently a universe where characters spontaneously manifest musical numbers via psychic energy so maybe that's how all music festivals go in the LoveLiverse. Oh man Woodstock must have been way different in this world huh? Maybe after Super Stars we could get like, a retro spinoff about the School Idols of the '60s.
Whoops, I got distracted. Anyway, this opportunity poses a bit of a problem for the Nijigasakids in that there's only room in the setlist for one song, meaning only one of the assorted solo idols can be picked, while the rest have to pass up a pretty rare opportunity to debut in front of a big crowd. This is a fairly typical move for music or performance-based fiction, but not without reason: trying to make it as an indie musician or band can be cutthroat when you're trying to get even a modest record deal, and it can be tempting to throw your rivals under the bus to get ahead. In typical Love Live fashion the girls don't do that, instead overcoming their hesitance and backing Karin to make her debut, because she's the only one who hasn't gotten a song yet. It is actually a sweet moment though, and I like that the cynical (for this show, anyway) Karin is the one who learns a lesson about camaraderie with her new friends.
It's also pretty sweet when the entire club comes together to reassure her, because as we learned during Emma's episode, the calm and cool exterior Karin puts up is sometimes a front to hide her own nervousness. Sure, she comes off as the always confident “adult” of the group, but at heart she's still as vulnerable as any teenager, and the thought of performing in front of 3000+ people is a pretty intimidating idea. She nails it though, and while “Vivid World” isn't my idea of a banger, I was impressed by the level of choreography they worked into Karin's performance. It makes sense, since this is the largest scale in-universe performance of the show so far, and they established that our leading lady had been taking dance lessons on her side to not let down her friends/rivals. Mostly I'm just floored again by how far the 3DCG animation has come for this franchise – it used to be the dancing was the ugliest, most awkward portion of any given Love Live episode, but now we're to the point where it's a genuine showstopper and so seamlessly integrated that you really have to be looking to notice the shift from 2D. It's not my favorite song, but it's in close contention for best overall performance of the season nonetheless. Also they can hide behind the plausible deniability of Karin singing this song to the Idol Club as a whole, but I know a big gay coming-out anthem when I hear one. Plus we find out Himeno set this whole thing up just because she's crushing on Karin and wanted to see her fav perform on stage, so it's just a big neon rainbow out here.
So with that, we've finally wrapped up all the cast's focus episodes (well, except Yu, but she's ~special~ so…) and look to be moving on to the most classic of Love Live ensemble setups: the Training Camp. My hope is that after so many mandatory heartfelt conclusions we can get to some good, old-fashioned goofy antics for an episode or two before heading into the final stretch. Song and dance and sentiment are all well and good, but I need me some wacky cartoon hijinks to make this really feel like the Love Live I Live to Love.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is currently streaming on Funimation.
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