Love Live! Sunshine!!
Episode 23

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 10 of
Love Live! Sunshine!! (TV 2) ?

When Love Live! Sunshine!! is on point, it is very, very good. This episode hit all the right notes, and it may have been one of the series' best to date. It was sweet without being treacle-y, nostalgic without being melodramatic, and funny without being tiresome. And we got some scenes with little Mari, Dia, and Kanan, which were pretty darn precious. And there was also a sparkly magical bus that flew on rainbow stardust. That's a little out there, but we'll go with it.

Circling back to themes of shining and radiance, this episode goes literal and focuses on two tales of stargazing. It starts out with a flashback to when the third years were kids, heading to a mountaintop to do some constellation watching. When they get there, the clouds start dumping out rain. Ever the peacemaker, Kanan draws a shooting star on her constellation chart and gives it to Mari, who's kept it even after all these years. Throughout the rest of the episode, we get more glimpses into these girls' pasts, watching how they befriended Mari and saved her from isolation.

Meanwhile, it's New Year's and Chika is hoping to get some holiday cash from her family. She presents them with a calligraphy banner (and a poor sweet Shiitake raccoon'd with ink), but she's met mostly with chuckles. Eventually, after jumping through some hoops, she finds a present even sweeter than money—the support of her family as Aqours heads into the fast-approaching Love Live finals. Viewers get an even better present—some solid Shiitake screen time and the joyous knowledge that he can somehow balance anything on his head, even large rubber balls. It's fanservice I never knew I wanted until I saw it, and now I'm hooked.

The girls also have the support of Saint Snow, who come down to help them even though it's New Year's. They create a grueling training plan for Aqours and quickly put them through their paces. It's a welcome follow-up to last week's episode, which I was pretty lukewarm on, because it felt extraneous and I wasn't quite sold on Leah's slapdash characterization. This appearance helped tie things up quite a bit and cement Saint Snow as an active part of Sunshine!!, rather than ancillary characters who pop in only when absolutely needed.

I feel like now's a good time to clarify what I've meant in the past when I've accused episodes of being “filler,” like last episode and the lost dog episode. After all, with shows like Love Live! that routinely spend entire episodes diving into one particular character, it should seem like nothing would be filler, as long as it advances the stories, motivations, or lives of the individuals being spotlighted. And it wouldn't be, if that's what was happening. But for as incredibly strong as this season has been, the writers have often fallen back on old gags. One favorite go-to is Yoshiko's “little demon” shtick and other chuuni behavior, for instance, which is kind of a dead end joke because it never goes anywhere new. It's not as though they need to fall back on these bits. The Sunshine!! staff has shown themselves to be remarkably deft writers, especially within their genre. They've managed to weave in meta-narratives about their own creative challenges within the franchise and capture that elusive “It” factor that makes these ever-graduating idol acts so feverishly popular amongst fans. They don't need to fall back on boilerplate jokes and rote characterization. So maybe I just expect more from them, as a fan who's fallen harder for Aqours than I ever would've thought possible.

That makes their impending dissolution so bittersweet. After Mari gets a call from her father, the girls are hopeful that he wants to keep Uranohoshi High School open. Instead, he's offered Mari a job at the new merged school. Chika is excited for the opportunity to keep seeing her next year, but Mari admits that she'll be going to college overseas. Dia and Kanan have plans as well; Dia is moving to Tokyo for school, and Kanan wants to go abroad to get her dive instructor certification. It's one more reminder that Aqours won't be around much longer, at least not with these members. What should be an incredibly sad moment is lifted by the fact that the third years have come to their own conclusions without needing to consult each other. They've grown up, and they still support each other, but they would never dream of holding each other back.

The episode ends on a high note, with Mari taking the girls on a jolting, brisk bus trip to go stargazing. Their spirits are so high that the bus soars, in a whimsical fantasy sequence that's part metaphor, part anime magic. It's cute, but you may find yourself suppressing a giggle or two. Eventually they make it, and even though there's rain, the clouds part and show them the beautiful night sky they went there to see.

If friendship could be captured and illustrated, it might look something like this episode. Light on the drama, heavy on the love, it showed us all that good times come and go, but friendship is for keeps, even if you end up on opposite ends of the earth and you can't walk home from school together anymore.

Rating: A

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

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