Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Love Live! The School Idol Movie Premium Edition Blu-Ray
The second Love Live is over, and u's is finally ready to disband… until they suddenly get a letter inviting them to perform in New York, along with news of an upcoming Love Live far more ambitious than any school idol event so far. And after their New York performance is a success, things only get more complicated for Honoka and her friends, as they find themselves suddenly thrust into a level of celebrity they never knew existed. Will all these changes compel the girls to keep the band back together, and if not, what lies in store for u's beyond the final song?
Love Live! has never been the most emotionally scouring or thematically challenging production. It's grasped at drama, with both of its seasons attempting to top themselves off with some kind of poignant internal dilemma, but these moments are almost uniformly the weakest parts of the series. This doesn't make Love Live! a bad series; it just means it's a series with clear strengths and weaknesses, and one that's not always willing to embrace its strengths and steer clear of its failings. What Love Live! is very good at is Having Fun - hanging around with an endearing cast, letting the show's energetic direction, love of cute genre gags, and generally strong comedic timing keep it light and enjoyable.
Because of this, when I describe the Love Live! movie as a clear, indulgent victory lap, I don't mean that as a serious dig. This movie is superfluous, but the whole series is superfluous - that's what makes it good. Shoving u's on a flight to New York just for the hell of it, letting each of the grades get their own theme song, meeting Maki's mom and watching Tsubasa make wicked eyes at Honoka - that's the kind of cheesy, big-fuzzy-hug stuff that makes Love Live! a generally good time. That's the fun we're here for.
The plot of the Love Live! movie is about as sparse as you'd expect. In the wake of their winning the second Love Live and deciding to disband, u's quickly discover they've been invited to New York City, where a live broadcast of their performance is intended to drum up support for a third Love Live big enough to fill a baseball stadium. Quickly pulling themselves together for this new adventure, the team spends time sightseeing and goofing off over in America, before returning home only to find their new broadcast has made them actual celebrities. Now, with the fate of Love Live potentially riding on u's newfound fame, the girls must decide once again whether they're ready to put away their dancing shoes for good.
If that last act sounds like a direct retread of the second season's last several episodes, it's because it is. Honoka's internal conflict in the second half of this film pretty much directly echoes the slow-burning internal drama of Love Live's final episodes, and that already-overstretched conflict doesn't really improve through repetition. There's a framing device of young Honoka making a great leap over a puddle that's used to signify Honoka “learning to fly” and play without regrets, and a mysterious, possibly time-traveling street corner singer who occasionally shows up to offer Honoka some cryptic career advice, but these tricks do little to remove the sense that Love Live! has entirely run out of narrative ideas, and now simply wants to justify more time hanging out with its characters.
Fortunately, Love Live! hanging out with its characters is exactly what it does best. Though the many small character moments of this film can't match up to the original series' best episodes, they do an admirable job of celebrating the character dynamics that make the series work. The film is full of hat-tips to memorable gags from the original series (Umi failing in her poker face, Nico waking cucumber-faced only to find an alpaca in her bed), along with plenty of new jokes that make strong use of the show's established relationships. The film definitely comes off as a bit more pat and self-congratulatory than the series, more often referencing old jokes than breaking out into new ones, but considering this film is basically fanservice incarnate, that's not a big surprise. The perky scene transitions and general sense of timing still put Love Live! a cut above most anime when it comes to landing solid jokes. And the show's ever-growing self-awareness and fan-awareness actually leads to some of its best moments, like when Nico finds herself watching her “girlfriend” being stolen right out from under her.
Outside of the comfy slice of life scenes and tolerable dramatic ones, the Love Live! movie is also unsurprisingly peppered with idol performances. The Love Live! television series struggled in these segments, since the show's awkward CG models didn't really mesh with the rest of the show, but the movie does a commendable job of either masking or outright avoiding this problem. Three of the songs in this film are centered around a given year of the u's group - there's a Rin-Hanayo-Maki song early on, a Nico-Nozomi-Eli song near the middle, and a Honoka-Umi-Kotori song near the end. These songs forgo the CG models entirely, with each of them instead picking some kind of stage musical-esque theme and mixing the dancing with play-acting as spies, enjoying the New York nightlife, or returning to their roots around the school. The group's big New York performance successfully hides the CG models by mixing them with traditional animation, letting the background CG characters be masked by the focus characters of the various shots. And though the final two dances lean a bit more heavily on the CG, there's enough strong traditional animation and general visual ambition to make that a sacrifice worth accepting.
The visuals in general are a step up from the television series. The animation was already strong in the original series, but it's more fluid and consistent here - not truly at the level of a top-tier anime film, but certainly not a disappointment. The film is full of lush painted backgrounds, which actually somewhat change the tone of the show. Love Live! originally felt a bit like a small-stage sitcom, making the most of dynamic direction to bring energy to intimate spaces. Here, with much larger settings blooming in light and color, the show loses a bit of its original charm, replacing that with a sense of scale and twinkly nostalgia that doesn't always match Love Live!'s strengths. A few too many scenes end up drenched in soft focus and saturated lighting; when the film goes for visual gusto, it can sometimes achieve something very beautiful (like the sequences of Honoka “learning to fly”), but overuse of these tricks dulls their emotive power.
The Love Live! movie's music is as consistent as ever, with a couple of u's new songs demonstrating Maki has apparently taken a new interest in brass and guitar. The performance songs are the standouts, but the incidental music remains a reliable role player, effectively punctuating jokes and also occasionally collaborating in overselling the film's hit-or-miss emotional beats. Love Live exists in the emotional tenor of a stage musical - if that level of musical flourish and inherent camp appeals to you, the film is more of the same from top to bottom.
The Love Live! movie comes in the same sturdy chipboard case that housed both the first and second season's premium editions, fitted to house two disc cases horizontally in spite of the film's single disc. There's a hardcover book inside featuring a bunch of shots from the film, lineups of all the girls in each of their new costumes, and single pages dedicated to each of the members of u's. Those pages contain the only substantive bonus here - small interviews with each of the girls' original voice actresses, where they're each asked about a scene that left an impression on them and if they have a final message for their character. Their responses are all pretty fluffy ("I liked the scene where Umi got lost," etc), and I'd have preferred to get more insight from the production staff, but it's somewhat understandable that a show with Love Live's almost kayfabe production presence wouldn't want to get into the nitty-gritty of design choices.
The on-disc extras are unfortunately also pretty limited. The show comes on one disc featuring both the sub and dub, which is just as consistent as the series proper, though beset by that same classic issue of songs immediately jumping from English to Japanese. It's an inescapable fact of the licensing complexities inherent in translating a show whose songs are key to its production, but it always makes for a somewhat awkward viewing experience. But the voice actresses all match their characters well, and Love Live's near-sitcom style naturally lends itself to the looser translation feel of dub scripts, so it's still a fine track on the whole.
Along with the dub, the disc doesn't really contain any meaningful bonus features - just a series of previews for the film itself, a scattering of other unrelated trailers, and the clean ending. It's overall a pretty conservative release, featuring none of the pre-film event footage or commentary tracks that such releases often receive. In the end, the Love Live! movie is pretty much exactly what you'd expect - a film that doesn't exactly justify itself, but certainly presents some welcome time with old friends. It's not a series high point, but it's a reasonable conclusion to the first Love Live! saga.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Offers plenty of endearing scenes with all the old Love Live! favorites; visual execution is a step up from the original series.
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