Love Live! Superstar!!
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Love Live! Superstar!! ?
Community score: 4.3
We've had a pretty fun baker's half-dozen of episodes so far in Superstar. There's been drama, yes, but even the heaviest storylines have made space for gags and goofy faces. But now it's time for Love Live! to enter Serious Drama mode as we collect our final School Idol member. That's actually a bit of an intimidating prospect, as while this franchise has always nailed its humor, it's often hit stumbling blocks and speed bumps when it tries for full-on heartwrenching drama. A big part of that is the dichotomy of visuals and script. Love Live! always, always swings for the fences in its direction, framing every important moment and emotional reveal as agonizingly dramatic, and when the narrative conflict is in concert with that, it can make for sublime moments you can't really find anywhere else. But when those two elements aren't in harmony, it can make for some awkward and tired viewing, especially when the gags take a backseat.
“Connected Feelings” definitely starts in the latter territory for its first half. While Ren's motivation to preserve the school her mother founded is a solid one, and leads to her genuinely making mistakes even with the best of intentions, when it's combined with the ongoing drama of the school festival and the reveal that said mom was a school idol herself, it starts to feel a bit confused. Clearly the intention was to have all of Ren's various actions up until now – the anti-idol declarations, the election, etc – come to a head in a crisis of faith, but by packing all of this into one episode, nothing really has room to breathe. Plus, while I understand what they're going for with having the big emotional turning point in front of the school assembly, it can't help but feel weird watching Ren reconnecting to her dead mother on a literal stage, in front of the entire student body. And that's more or less where a lot of the resolution stands with me – I recognize what the show's going for, but it just doesn't land for me the way it should.
And yet, sometimes the magic of animation can override that dumb lump of grizzled gray matter in your skull and grip you right by the heart. Somewhere in the middle of the swelling music, expressive animation, and Ren's big drooping puppy dog eyes, that resolution still got to me. Maybe I'm just a total mark for sad mom stories, maybe the sentiment of connecting with others through music just smacks a dopamine button in my brainstem. Either way, I still found myself tearing up as Ren embraced her mother's cherished idol memories. Then, just as she's hesitating to take Kanon's hand, the wind and leaves of Yuigaoka gently push her forward, as if the love and spirit her mother put into the place are still there to help her along. And that's when I started clapping like a seal at my computer screen. It's pure, uncut shmaltz delivered without a hint of irony or self-awareness, and I love it for that.
Then we cap things off with the full group's first song, and it's a damn solid one. For one, Nagisa Aoyama has a voice tailor-made for these kinds of soaring ballads, and I hope future songs let her cut loose a little more. The production is all around pristine, with the string accents really bringing it all together, and while not as standout a performance compared to last time, the overall dancing animation is still just great to soak in. It's a suitable, sentimental cap to this somewhat muddled mini-arc, but it works as a celebration of Superstar's idol crew finally coming together.
Now we're left with the question of where we go from here. There are presumably four episodes left, provided we don't get any more broadcast delays, so there's plenty of room for some new conflict or foible to surprise these girls. Personally I'm hoping that with Ren's catharsis complete, we'll get to see just what she can offer to the group dynamic. We've finally got all five of these goofballs in one room, best not let that go to waste.
Love Live! Superstar!! is currently streaming on Funimation.
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