Love Live! Superstar!!
Episodes 11-12

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Love Live! Superstar!! ?

How would you rate episode 12 of
Love Live! Superstar!! ?

The sun has set on this season of Love Live!, and it's come both fashionably late and all too soon. One episode in the count really shouldn't make all the difference, but I'd just sort of assumed we'd be running the typical 13 episodes, scheduling delays be damned. Alas, “Song For All” is the final episode of Superstar!! for now, and we wrap this season up on a note that's both anticlimactic and thematically perfect for this entry of the franchise.

First, though, we've got episode 11 to contend with, and thus another moment where Love Live! gets a bit ahead of itself when it comes to its more serious dramatic ambitions. It makes sense that, with Liella sorted and on their way to the preliminaries, we'd return our focus to Kanon and the conflict that started this whole idol adventure. What doesn't make sense is the way the show goes about arranging it.

Straight up, for as sweet and well-meaning as Chisato's goal of letting Kanon stand on her own two feet is, the plan implemented is a total non-starter. Yes, the day will come where Kanon needs to overcome her years of compounded stage fright and sing her heart out without the safety net of her fellow idols, but that's a process that takes time, and just throwing your girlfriend into the deep end to overcome a psychological block is pretty poor form. It's entirely through Kanon's graciousness that Chisato's spinning hug at the end didn't end with her getting thrown through a table. And everyone else deserves at least a forehead flick or twelve for going along with it. Yes, the plan ultimately worked, and Kanon's scene reassuring her child self is incredibly affecting, but that's Love Live! magic pulling this story out from the hole it dug itself into, not elevating already strong material. Combined with fewer jokes so as not to crowd out the dramatic beats, and it makes for a weak penultimate episode despite of its isolated highs.

Thankfully, our actual season finale manages to close out on a much stronger note. With Kanon's solo stage fright put to rest, it's time for our girls to get ready for their big performance. Of course, this is just the first season of a Love Live! series, meaning they're not actually in the finals of the titular competition yet. Rather, they have to get first in the prelims to become Tokyo's representatives in the national competition – meaning they finally have to face down Sunny Passion in a no-holds-barred idol grudge match. Though in a twist to formula, the performances are all remotely streamed rather than in-person, because even Love Live! couldn't escape the near-death of live music in the last 20 months.

What follows is mostly goofy and heartwarming character stuff, the likes of which we've seen plenty of already from this show. None of it is bad – though the resolution with Ren's father definitely feels perfunctory – but it's the first time Superstar can be said to have been going through the motions. There are still some good gags though, and Keke asking Sumire to hide her portrait of Sunny Pa so she can “stop being their fan” for a day is pretty cute. I like that the pair's overall chemistry has gotten a lot more friendly even as they're still combative, showing that the bonding they did during Sumire's episode has stuck around. I also approve of Chisato's pagan ritual to manifest victory she apparently just does alone, in the woods. I told you that girl's loopy.

The actual musical number is fine enough; it certainly allows the animators to flex one more time with how far these set pieces have come, and the corresponding lights whenever a particular character was singing made for a strong motif to tie it all together. But my favorite aspect might actually be the snow-fairy outfits they have for this one – something about the poofy white headwear and earrings really tied them all together. Really, my biggest complaint is it's the only performance we get to see, which makes it feel all the cheaper when Sunny Passion ends up winning anyway. I'm not saying it's wrong, but that's because we never actually see a full performance from the pair for comparison. I imagine it's a resource issue, but ultimately it does make Liella's close defeat feel a lot more arbitrary.

Fortunately that's not the note this season chooses to end on. Instead, it pulls out my favorite sports anime trope, with Kanon harnessing all the disappointment and frustration of loss to temper her resolve. She may not have gotten into School Idoling to win, but that drive is still within her, if not for glory than for the sake of rewarding the support her friends and schoolmates have all shown her across the season. And that decision is what really ties a bow on this whole shebang, because Kanon is a genuinely different person from who she was to begin with. Other Love Live! centers have struggled at times, but they always seemed preternaturally gifted with the bright-eyed determination to become Queen of the School Idols. Kanon, meanwhile, has been on an honest to goodness journey through this season, and it's incredibly satisfying to see her take the reigns at the end of it all.

So while Superstar may not end on quite its highest note, it's nonetheless been a pretty fantastic season. It's flawed in some ways that are typical to the franchise, but far more often than not it was just pure joy to watch. I laughed, I cried, I sang along to a handful of English words during Sumire's song, and all together that makes this a pretty easy favorite from the past season. Possibly the entire year, but we'll have to see how Fall plays out. It's a damn fine comedy with some genuinely emotional episodes, and can proudly stand with its older sister series, which is about all I could ask for.

Rating:

Love Live! Superstar!! is currently streaming on Funimation.


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