Love Live! Sunshine!!
by Bamboo Dong,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Love Live! Sunshine!! ?
This week's episode of Love Live Sunshine was better than the one preceding it, even if it was a little all over the place. It started off with a stronger emphasis on comedy than we've seen so far, which is a nice change of pace from the shimmery-eyed, hand-outstretched, "believe in yourself!" message that has largely populated the first four episodes. Episode 5 does go back to that theme near the end of the episode, but at least we have a respite first.
We're re-introduced to Yoshiko, the chuunibyou we met in the first episode. Since then, she's mostly been lurking around in a face mask, keeping an eye on Aqours. Online, she uses a persona called "fallen angel Yohane," a fortune teller who occasionally asks her followers to become her little demons. In real life, she's mortified by her chuuni side, and we learn later that her fears of public perception have even caused her to miss a lot of school.
First, the more light-hearted side. Despite her candle-lighting ceremonies, her melodramatic online streams, and her promises of bestowing the "powers of the fallen" upon her internet minions, Yoshiko is just your typical high school girl who wants to make friends. Seconds after her online stream ends, she berates herself for slipping into another chuuni fantasy and tries to convince herself once again to accept reality. It's meant to showcase the "cutesy" side of Yoshiko, and it works. We suddenly see a very different side to her, and it's endearing.
Then there's comic relief moment #2, which is the revelation that somehow, Hanamaru has never seen a computer before. It doesn't seem possible, even with her excuse that her temple home lacks electronics, but reality needn't rule Love Live Sunshine. Instead, it gives us a couple of great scenes, like Hanamaru learning about windows for the first time, accidentally switching off a laptop, and becoming completely enamored with automatic faucets and hand dryers.
It's all pretty goofy stuff, but it's a nice breath of air before diving back into another round of Adding More Girls to Aqours. This week it's Yoshiko's turn, and although the episode eventually does a decent job of swinging back to the "believe in yourself!" theme, the transitions are pretty rough. Yoshiko approaches Hanamaru about helping her go back to school again, asking her to step in the next time she embarrasses herself in front of her classmates. (Never mind that the series is glossing over how Yoshiko is so crippled by her outbursts that she stopped going to school entirely.) At first things are going well, but in trying to impress a new group of girls, Yoshiko suddenly pulls out her fortune telling paraphernalia and humiliates herself all over again.
Chika, however, is undeterred by this side of Yoshiko. She looks at Yoshiko's Niconico page and realizes that they can use her persona to their advantage. The girls try to rebrand themselves as a "fallen angel" idol group, complete with gothic lolita outfits (emphasis on lolita in Ruby's case), only to get a stern reprimand from Dia and a lesson about the fleeting nature of popularity. They eventually come to the realization that instead of relying on gimmicks, their greatest strength is just embracing who they are.
It's a callback to the idea of normalcy and wanting to fight against it. It actually comes up twice in this episode—once when Chika admires how different and unique all the girls are, not just "plain and normal" like she originally thought. (Thanks, Chika.) Then it comes up again when Hanamaru says that Yoshiko's chuuni tendencies started as a means to distinguish herself from being "normal." "Just like us, she didn't stand out much," Hanamaru says. "Maybe I used to be a sparkling angel, and by an off chance became like this." We're reminded of why Chika wanted to form Aqours in the first place—to have a chance at becoming something more than "normal". It leads to the series' second theme—that if school idol groups are made up of normal girls, then it's the group itself that makes the girls more than normal.
It's an uplifting message about teamwork and unity, and the series has tried really hard to stay on-message. But if there is a big downside, it's that the writing isn't always good enough to keep pace with its ideas. The writers keep circling back to the same themes (Be yourself! Embrace yourself! You may be normal, but together you're something bigger!!!), but they often trip along the way, trying to cram the story into their mold. This episode, they took Yoshiko from a girl whose social anxiety is so strong that she stays home from school, to a gimmick that Aqours tries to use for page hits, to a girl who decides to join Aqours because the girls accept who she really is. The end message is a good one, but it takes a lot of clunky acrobatics to get there.
Once again, Love Live Sunshine can't help but namedrop μ's, which now sticks out like a sore thumb. It's ironic that in a show about "being yourself," the staff is afraid of letting Sunshine!! thrive as its own entity. Especially since the series has every building block it needs to be a successful standalone show. I can only hope that by the end of the series, it learns to cut its tether to the original Love Live and "shine" on its own.
Love Live! Sunshine!! is currently streaming on Funimation.
Bamboo refuses to acknowledge her own Kenshin-inspired, sword-wielding chuuni days. Follow her on Twitter.
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