Love Live! Superstar!!
by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Love Live! Superstar!! ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Love Live! Superstar!! ?
It feels at once like forever and no time at all has passed waiting for this new Love Live! entry. Sure, Nijigasaki High School Idol Club was only six months ago, but that was very much its own thing. A welcome and refreshing departure to be sure, but there's just something about Original Flavor Love Live! that can't be replaced. So having both Jukki Hanada and Takahiko Kyōgoku back to helm this new entry is in many ways a long-awaited reunion. And so far the same magic that made School Idol Project the runaway success it became is here in spades.
First off, Superstar looks good. Not just in the polished and cute character designs, or even the highly improved CG dancing animation, but in the world those elements inhabit. The streets of Kanon and Keke's neighborhood are packed to the brim with gorgeous backgrounds, vibrant colors, and nearly every location feels like a character in its own right. Whether it's the quaint red brick and flower beds of Kanon's home/cafe, the busy shopping districts, or the old-fashioned look of their school, every environment is rich and inviting enough to make any given scene worth watching twice. And it's also just packed with small details, like how each episode's title is integrated into a diegetic piece of text like a chalkboard or bus sign. Kyogoku has established himself as a versatile and effective director already, but these first two episodes feel like he's leveled up even more.
Of course, pretty visuals alone wouldn't be enough to carry a show, but all that excellent craft is in service of an immediately charming – and more importantly, funny – entry in the Love Live! extended universe. In large part that's due to some immediate changes to the formula in these opening episodes. Rather than a bubbly ball of Idol Energy, Kanon feels much closer to a real teenager. She spends much of episode one struggling with her own insecurities and embarrassment, then opens episode two with a total 180 after an initial musical breakthrough. She's moody, often sarcastic, but also has an obvious passion for music that makes her the perfect protagonist for this kind of story, and is well on her way to being my favorite LL! main character. It's also pretty novel to see her laboring over a song in episode 2, and even better when that song turns into the ED theme for the whole series. Like I said, it's those extra little touches that have made this franchise feel special ever since Honoka first danced headlong into oncoming traffic.
Keke, meanwhile, has inherited all the energy of her Idol-lovin' forebears and then some. As you could guess from her literally immigrating from China to become a school idol, she's willing to do just about anything to make her dreams of academic idolatry a reality. While she's most easily compared to Honoka or Chika in her enthusiasm, there are a few details that set her apart. For one, she's apparently smart enough to ace her classes in her sleep – literally. She also looks to be the lyricist of the eventual idol quintet, which makes perfect sense for her as the charging heart of the group, while also giving her a more concrete role than her predecessors. While previous seasons were able to make just about every character lovable and funny, it was always a bit awkward that half of them never contributed much for their performances. So with the lower number of girls to juggle, it seems like each of them could get to be more direct contributors.
Speaking of that cast, we haven't quite gotten acquainted with everyone yet, but I like what we've seen of them. Chisato is a solid friend to Kanon, and seems to have a predilection for hip-hop along with her talent for dancing, plus the show's owl mascot is terrified of her and I must know why. Sumire is perhaps the hardest to read so far, but her brief appearance in episode two assures me she'll be our resident dumbass, and I can't wait to see her in action. Then there's Ren, playing the part of the hardnosed student president. In a shocking twist that will reverberate across anime for years, she's overruled by the actual adults in charge of the school, but we get some hints that her dislike for School Idols goes beyond mere snobbery, and I'm interested to see what all that's about.
For now, these two episodes have been Love Live! running at full force, and that's all but guaranteed to be a good time, and I can't wait to see what we'll get next week!
...is what I'd be saying if the Olympics, combined with this entry's broadcast on NHK-E, didn't mean we're actually going to be waiting three whole weeks for the next episode. That's on top of the NHK's broadcast agreement already delaying international streaming something like 36 hours. I'm already of the opinion that they should have canceled the Olympics well before now, so this is just the annoying little cherry on top of the whole situation. I can at least delude myself into believing this is on purpose, and that the broadcaster just realized this show is too powerful on its own to leave it uninterrupted. Hopefully that's enough to sustain me until then, and god speed to everyone trying to wait it out too.
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