Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club
Episodes 1-3

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club ?

Seven long years ago, in the quiet winter season of 2013, a cute little show about a plucky young girl trying to save her school from closing down danced its way onto the scene. Four seasons of TV, two feature-length movies, and uncountable CDs later, Love Live! has made more money than several countries and has become an absolutely sprawling franchise in Japan. In the US it's a bit different – like seemingly every other Idol series, LL has never really taken off with the larger anime fandom, but I can attest from personal experience that the fans it does have are intense and memetic about it. So going into the now third distinct anime series, I was curious how this new entry would go about carving its own niche, and so far the answer is “spectacularly.”

While I personally think previous series Sunshine!! came into its own eventually, and even did some effective things with the formula, its most obtrusive feature was the metatextual reverence it held for the original School Idol Project and the characters/legacy of μ's. It was commonplace to discuss the members of Aqours, at least initially, through their surface-level similarities to the original cast, and the show encouraged this through both seasons with direct, sometimes frustrating reiterations of the first show's plots. I know I'm not the only one who groaned out loud when Season 2 somehow reintroduced the school-closing premise for the sake of some tension. In contrast, Nijigasaki has gone out of its way to immediately quash the possibility of retreading that ground yet again: the titular school is a huge modern campus in a major metropolitan area and in no danger of closing, and as of episode 3 the Idol Club is already back in action and at 7 members out of a possible 10. The flavor of interpersonal drama and goofy sitcom comedy is still recognizably Love Live!, but this series seems to have its own story to tell without dwelling in the shadow of what came before.

That deviation also extends to the style of music and performances. Previously, musical numbers had been in-universe performances where the cast wore real costumes and performed elaborate ensemble choreography in diegetic locations. Now though? They're equally elaborate solo (at least so far) numbers that totally break the fourth wall and see the characters in the kinds of sharply-edited music videos you might see promoting the actual singles for the franchise. It's not an enormous shift, but it's an important one in how it both gives the individual characters distinct (metaphorical) voices as idols and allows an even more heightened emotional reality to take shape on screen. I'll be honest: 95% of Love Live musical numbers slide off my brain after I watch them. But so far Nijigasaki's have managed to all feel unique and character-specific in a way that's both visually arresting and helps me better connect with the new cast. Setsuna's are belting arena anthems with tons of elemental imagery. Ayumu's is a tone exercise capping her emotional arc through the episode. Kasumi's is a nightmarishly garish trip to candyland that will rot your teeth out. Combined with genuinely fantastic CG dance animation, these musical moments finally serve as the emotional payoffs they've always tried to be, and in general I think it's a really good move for the show.

Narratively things are a lot more familiar. The major difference here is that the majority of the already-established Idol Club are present and ready to rejoin pretty much immediately. This does have the drawback of making a lot of the members feel generic right now – Kanata, Emma, and Shizuku just kind of exist in the background so far, and yes I did have to check the fan wiki to know those names so if they're wrong don't blame me. The upside is that the characters we do know have pretty unique arcs for this franchise. Ayumu's is the simplest: she wants to be a school idol and embrace the cutesy, fluffy aesthetic she's felt pressured to outgrow, and through Yu's promise to support her she decides to follow her dream! Kasumi, meanwhile, is dedicated to her specific brand of cloying cuteness and will allow nobody to blemish it, but eventually learns that what's right for her isn't right for everyone else. It's a fairly understated arc for this particular idol gremlin, but it's buoyed by the wonderfully expressive animation she gets throughout, and Kasumin is already an easy frontrunner for my Best Girl of the series – no surprise since I still preach the good news about Nico Yazawa in TYOUL 2020. Then there's Yu, who doesn't want to be an idol at all, but just wants to embrace her newfound passion as a full-time fan and support her friends.

Setsuna, or rather Nana, has a decidedly more dramatic introduction. She wanted to be the best idol she possibly can, and ended up pushing away Kasumi and the other members with her intense and rigid routines. Realizing what she was doing, she decided to quit outright rather than risk it happening again. This is way more the speed of Love Live! melodrama I'm used to, but it leads to probably my favorite moment of Nijigasaki so far. With the rest of the club ready to clear the air and let bygones be, Yu tells Setsuna that if the pressure of trying to get to the Love Live competition is going to cause problems then...just stop trying to aim for it. Who decided winning that particular competition had to be the singular goal of every school idol? There's nothing concrete stopping Setsuna from pursuing whatever vision of success she chooses, and if she can find one that lets her express her own personal Idol truth without smothering those of her friends, then go for it. It's a wonderful direction to take this premise, tearing away the somewhat homogeneous status quo of idol ensembles the series is known for and instead centering on each character's unique voice. Much as I loved the past seasons and their quirky families, Nijigasaki seems to be promising all that, but with the added twist that they can all keep their individuality within the musical realm, and that has me very excited for what's to come.

All-in-all Nijigasaki has given me everything I could hope for from a new Love Live! anime. It looks great, sounds better, and has already endeared me to a good chunk of its cast. The changes to formula are relatively minimal, but still enough to make this new entry feel fresh in comparison to its older sisters. With the initial drama out of the way and a whole half-dozen new characters to get to know, I'm ready to love to live, and live to love.

Rating:

Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is currently streaming on Funimation.


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