Love Live! Sunshine!!
Episode 19

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 6 of
Love Live! Sunshine!! (TV 2) ?

While I generally enjoy taking time in the middle of shows like Love Live Sunshine!! to let individual characters have their time in the spotlight, one slight downside is that it tends to throw off the overall pacing. Because we spent so much time with Dia, Yoshiko, and Riko, we're now suddenly upon the Love Live regional qualifiers. This time though, it doesn't seem like the girls will have much difficulty moving past this round. For starters, we're only halfway through the season. Moreover, the buzz on the school idol circuit has been extremely generous toward Aqours, dropping hints throughout the season about how heavily favored they are to keep moving through the competition—both from the Saint Snow girls, who are now friends with Chika (but have been relegated to the role of cameo appearances), and random school idol blogs, who say that Aqours is just as good as any of the groups who made it to the nationals last year. That's as obvious a hint as anyone could ask for, and it probably helps the writers justify blazing through the first few stages.

This episode starts off with a quick reminder that the girls are still struggling to find 100 prospective new students, although they're already over the halfway mark—not bad for a dying town with minimal public transportation options. But they're running out of time, and they have to gamble big on the regional qualifiers. The third years are nervous because they've been in this position before, but Kanan has a secret weapon up her sleeve—a dance move that's so mind-blowingly good that it will give Aqours a much-needed boost.

Kanan warns Chika that it's incredibly demanding and difficult to pull off, but Chika is determined to learn it anyway. Bruised, battered, and frustrated, she tries again and again, although we're not privy to what she's doing exactly until the last couple of minutes in the episode. It's a good episode overall, though. It brings back some of the older Love Live Sunshine!! themes, borrowing from some of the characters' perennial insecurities like the crippling pressure felt by the third years, and Chika's constant battle against normalcy. We get another callback to the Normal Monsters as well, which is one of the cuter repeating threads in the series.

Eventually, all the girls gather on the beach to cheer Chika on while she trains for this special move, forming a gauntlet of encouragement as she makes her last attempt. Honestly, it's kind of a weird scene. It's set up as a sort of final do-or-die moment, because Kanan has told Chika that she should give up if she can't nail the move by the morning. It doesn't help that for most of the episode, viewers are kept in the dark about what the secret move is. Presumably it's to build suspense for the final reveal, but it doesn't really work out that way. Mostly it just looks like Chika spends a lot of time diving headfirst onto the ground, which is unnecessarily distracting.

There is eventually a payoff, although it might be a spoiler to say what the actual move is and what song the girls debut. (It's probably also pretty rad to see live.) But by the time we finally see it, it's at regionals, which goes back to how this progression of events feels a little rushed at times.

Despite some missteps, this is still one of the sweetest episodes of the season so far, especially for fans of Chika. She's always been so relentlessly optimistic and determined that it's heartwarming to see the personal lengths she goes to in order to see her actions through. It doubles down on everything she's said up to this point—about creating miracles by working your tail off, about trying even when everything seems impossible, about working harder than everyone else to overcome your normalness. It's touching and inspiring, and it plays extraordinarily well against the usual "we can make miracles happen if we just wish hard enough!" stereotype that polka-dots these types of shows. Sure, anyone can miracles happen, but just wishing won't get you there.

It's one of the many things that's always set Aqours apart from μ's. Aqours has always had to be scrappier. Even as an allegorical stand-in for Love Live Sunshine!!, which had to fight to set itself apart from the original Love Live and be given even a fraction of the same amount of adoration. Honoka could clear rain clouds with her yells; Chika can't even get their parents to drive them to the next town over, apparently. But at the same time, there's no resentment, only reverence. In a conversation with Chika, Saint Snow's Sarah admits that no matter how well the current generations of school idols dance and sing, the light of the Love Live pioneers (presumably including μ's) can never be attained.

There's a lot to process in this episode, and a lot of old themes that bubble to the surface all at once. From personal pressures to overcoming normalcy to finding new ways to shine to breaking the shackles of the past, this episode is a soup of ideas that have permeated Love Live Sunshine!! since the beginning. It's a good emotional recap for the series up until now, and a good primer for what will surely be uncharted territory moving forward.

Rating: A-

Love Live! Sunshine!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Bamboo thinks the second season of Love Live Sunshine!! should've been called "Next Wave."Follow her on Twitter.

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