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This Week in Anime
Idol Anime Spin-Offs and Crossovers

by Christopher Farris & Steve Jones,

It's traversing the multiverse, but the anime idol version. Join Chris and Steve this week as they explore some of our beloved idol anime favorites, including spin-offs and crossovers.

BanG Dream! It's MyGO!!!!!, Love Live!, and Yohane the Parhelion -SUNSHINE in the MIRROR are streaming on Crunchyroll.

Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Steve, we talk about isekai at a distressing amount here, but do you ever wonder what things might be like for us in different worlds? Maybe there's an alternate version of our silly little show where we have some fantasy adventure. Or one where we're all in a band!
Some theories posit infinite parallel universes, full of every possible iteration of any idea you can imagine, so the multiverse is one's proverbial oyster. It boggles the mind; it does. But if I had to quantum leap into one of them, I'd go with the one where I have a talking companion dog double my size.
At last, the wish-fulfillment aspect of these fantasy travels is at its most understandable. Yoshiko Yohane of Love Live Sunshine may never have gotten to become a real fallen angel. Still, at least she's achieved that comparable dream with her fantasy world spin-off, where she has magical powers and a very good, fluffy girl for a best friend.

A best friend who still dunks on her regularly. So things have mostly stayed the same for her.
There's the rub, though. How much change is the right amount when talking about spinoff series? Specifically, this season we have two idol/idol-adjacent franchises, Love Live! and BanG Dream, with shows that veer off the main canonical path and explore their own unique cul-de-sac. These are opportunities to appease the longtime fans, of course, but they're also potential entry points for newcomers who might not have clicked with the usual idol antics. Do these shows toe that line, and if they do, how well?
When you've been in the musical merchandising game as long as the likes of Love Live! and BanG Dream, finding ways to bring in new fans is just as important as retaining the loyalty of the old fans. Spin-offs thus make an attractive proposition for these kinds of franchises. Heck, Yohane herself is a product of Love Live!'s own venture into the more typical style of these series, staying within the same broad setting and framework but starring a freshly-started new cast of characters.

Yes, we are so deep into talking about spin-offs already that one of the spin-offs we're discussing is a spin-off of a spin-off. The idol anime rabbit hole runs deep.
Look, you need a lot of marketable characters to fill up that gacha pool, and multiple continuities are one way to do it. But beyond the spinoff-ception phenomenon, Yohane the Parhelion deserves a deeper analysis as Love Live!'s first foray into fantasy—not counting Honoka's weather and time control powers.
We also don't talk about Ghost Child Maki from that one bonus episode enough, but I digress. Sunshine in the Mirror (a series so grand it gets two titles, neither of which include "Love Live!") is a bizarre swerve that could have only started as an April Fool's joke. And on paper, it certainly seems like a slam dunk to entice crowds outside Love Live!'s usual audience to engage with Yohane and her music-mates. All the characters are reintroduced to potential new viewers, existing outside the high school musical genre that some people would never allow themselves to be fans of.
Granted, we are still firmly in the realm of "musical," so you have to remain open to characters breaking into song between their mercantilism. But we can't downplay the importance of the setting change. It does a lot for the story's vibes, and that portion of the audience allergic to high school anime might be won over. Also, as a fan, I got a kick out of the girls holding regular-ass (and some not-so-regular-ass) jobs. It feels like fanfic, in a good way.
This is either Yohane's indulgent AO3 upload or the girls of Aqours enjoying some tabletop role-playing campaign, and either way, I'm here for the raw imaginativeness of it. It's funny how Sunshine in the Mirror, much of the time, actually feels more easygoing and down-to-earth than the madcap comedy its parent series codified in the Love Live! franchise. Except then, three episodes in, Dia drops in as a Kamen Rider with her sister (a fairy now), merging with the mechanical consciousness of her motorcycle.

The resulting musical fight sequence feels straight out of Symphogear, and the fact that they haven't returned to anything like it since only makes it come off even more like a magnificent fever dream.
It's tough not to choose the third episode as my favorite. Besides everything you already mentioned, we've got Chika and her sisters doing their own entirely separate tokusatsu bit under the direction of their TV-broadcasted mom. Also, there's a magic ocarina, and they're fighting possessed deer. It's a masterpiece.

They're building up backstory and such, leading to the possibility that we might see more stuff like this, probably in the season finale. But it's just the (incredibly satisfying) climax amidst all the slice-of-fantasy-life stuff about Yohane becoming friends with her alternate-world bandmates so she can happily do laundry and taxes with them.

That's the most distinguishing part of this spin-off for me, as an established fan of Love Live! Prime. Those series have always firmly been ensemble pieces, rotating between focal cast members on an episodic basis. On the other hand, Sunshine in the Mirror is very much The Yohane Show, with the others all serving as her supporting cast members, encompassing her personal journey.
It's a nice change of pace. Yohane isn't the archetypal Love Live! lead either, so putting her quirks front and center gives the show leeway to play around more too. Now, imagine if we got one with Nico as the protagonist. It would be awful, and I'd love it. The show doesn't veer far away from the conflicts and character writing that OG Love Live! is known for. For example, Mari's social anxiety arc feels like it could have been put into Sunshine, but that's not to say I don't think it works better here.

And I like Love Live! The series has good foundations, so it makes sense to keep building upon those.
The Demon Lord isn't an enemy of humanity; she's just shy. Seeing how the Yohane-centric setup motivates them to take those different approaches is interesting. Thus, you have stuff here like Mari's character arc being couched in her relationship with her subunit members Riko and Yohane, as opposed to how her OG version was more about her interactions with fellow third-years Dia and Kanan. It decidedly sells the "Alternative" part of this whole alternate-universe deal.

It does, however, raise a question that's a little tricky for either of us, as Love Live! lifers, to answer. That question is how well these character rejiggering work as remixes of their original foundations and how they hold up independently for those hypothetical new viewers they're also trying to bring in.
While there's that layer—the play on their original personalities—that newcomers won't be privy to, I think the characters are likable enough on their own. For instance, we can immediately relate to Yohane because she's a giant loser, and then we relate to the other characters because they dunk on her for it. That's a winning formula, regardless of the circumstances.

There are also a bunch of objectively good decisions that Yohane the Parhelion makes, like never explaining why Ruby can turn big, nor ever having anybody comment on it.
I know I said that Sunshine in the Mirror seemed lighter on the comedy compared to its source show, but that particular gag is at least a perfectly delivered piece of dry humor.

Part of me has to wonder if them regularly bringing up that she and Dia are sisters (despite this objectively making zero sense) comes across as even more hilariously absurd to the new viewers who weren't already aware of them as siblings back in their home universe.
Could be! I also love the equally absurd transposition of Dia from student council president into Dia, the overseer of the panopticon.
When she couldn't performatively hone in on disallowing school idols, Dia and her crew went all-in on the surveillance state.

Huh, so she's less Kamen Rider and more like Chris Nolan's Batman.
Jokes aside, I really can't say how much Yohane will attract new Love Live! lovers. It's different, but it's not revolutionary. However, it's worth a shot if you're craving some non-isekai fantasy with a good heart and tunes. The OP goes hard, by the way.
I was pleased they didn't go the route of original-recipe Yohane getting isekai'd; instead, they just had a fresh start in a uniquely realized fantasy setting. Whether that radical take will motivate new viewers to go back and check out the "normal" idol antics of Love Live! is hard to say. However, it does funnily recall an earlier time. Before the likes of Love Live! arrived with the new era of idols we're currently living under, a juggernaut of the genre would go with the genre-switched spin-off option as its inaugural anime adaptation.
Yeah, it's wild to look back on 2007—eons ago—and consider the anime landscape back then. Given the time, it makes sense that Idolm@ster thought its best chance for serialized success was dropping its girls into mecha cockpits. Nobody back then knew that everyone on the planet would soon own a little pocket computer to grind out rhythm games and spend thousands on jpegs of cute girls.
I wish we could've talked more specifically about Xenoglossia for this topic since the concept is as buck-wild, if not more so, than Sunshine in the Mirror, and it's fascinating to see how it represents the genre at a time when the dominant platform for playable idols was arcades rather than smartphones. But sadly, the series isn't officially streaming anywhere, which is emblematic of how the idol anime market has shifted to that more standardized spin-off model.

There was a modern Idolm@ster spin-off just last season called Cinderella Girls U149. In the interest of this topic, I decided to sample it as someone who doesn't know much about the franchise beyond thinking that Rika and Mika Jougasaki look pretty cool. Which is to say, I don't know how well I was prepared for Idolm@ster Babies.
Speaking on the most technical basis, I suppose a show where every star has to walk under a 149 cm tall "You Must Be This Short to Idol" sign does qualify as a spinoff. But I can't imagine it's a spinoff that would appeal to the non-idol-poisoned crowd. I don't think their main complaint was, "These girls are just too dang tall!"
It's a weird case because while I can see some potential interest in following the subject of very young junior idols, what I saw of U149 didn't click for me as personally entertaining. And I consider myself to be idol-poisoned on some level! Maybe it turns out even I really have a threshold for too cloyingly cute, or maybe it's just that in an anime era where we get a Selection Project or 22/7 every season, something like this doesn't stand out as especially encouraging me towards Idolm@ster.
It's not my cup of tea, either. I'm more into animated soap operas about a gaggle of awful teenagers who spend each week finding new ways to be terrible to each other. Pics are highly related.
Okay, you got me. The other reason I don't think I can find time for Idolm@ster is that I am already in a stranglehold by Bushiroad's BanG Dream franchise and its gaggle of guitaring girls.

If you know me, you are likely already too aware of this fact, which is one of the main reasons I finessed this subject for the column.
While you may be a BanG Dream veteran, I am but a humble neophyte who found myself intrigued by the impressions MyGO was getting on my Twitter timeline. So I will rely on you as my guide into this brave new world populated seemingly exclusively by lady rockers. And my first, most important question to you is thus: does the rest of the franchise have this high a quotient of toxic lesbians?
That's one of the fascinating points of the It's MyGO anime: While it doesn't do the hard setting shift that Sunshine in the Mirror went with, it's making a point of doing things "differently" from the previous stuff. Earlier BanG Dream had its ups and downs but trended tonally closer to stuff like Love Live!. For this one, Bushi has boldly decided to introduce their newest group of marketable gacha-bait to the franchise using this stupendously soapy serious girls' band drama.
Finally, some real music anime.

That's literally how the most recent episode ends. It's the most accurate any of these shows have ever been about playing with other human beings in a band. I love it.
From the perspective of an established fan, it's also very compelling. Previous Bandori stories had dealt with past bands breaking up for personal backstory reasons or wanting to keep the group together for their goals. But MyGO delves into the darker strains of those mindsets, poking at ideas like "Hey, maybe pinning all your hopes and dreams on the success of a high school band is indicative of some much deeper psychological issues."

I need to clarify, for stress's sake, that it's not all that kind of dour doom and gloom getting there, and MyGO's deep dives are spaced out between more conventionally comedic girlfailures, lovable characters who like collecting cool rocks, and guest appearances by our lord and savior, Aoba Moca.

I like Anon as our POV character. She blithely stumbles into the cratered ruins of this former band, but she's too focused on becoming a star herself to see the smoke rising up out of the still-smoldering cinders. At the start, it puts the audience in a neat position, too, because while we don't know the whole picture yet, we know something is up, making for some delicious schadenfreude.

She's also the most "we have Bocchi at home" character, in the best way.
Anon genuinely seems to think she's a Bocchi, but she has neither the actual talent nor enough self-awareness of her potential pitfalls to pull it off. It just results in her being her own uniquely entertaining character.

Also, you know, instead of Bocchi the Rock, she's wound up in a band story that's always about five minutes away from ending like The Commitments.
This is the first scene of the show, and it's already full of supposed friends spitting nasty comments at each other. From the get-go, MyGO wants you to know that there will be melodrama ahead, behind, and all around you. It knows what it wants to be and instantly gelled with me.
I can't overstate how "Being in a band with your friends is fun" was effectively the overarching thesis statement for every Bandori installment before this one.

It's great not just because it feels fresh to franchise fans and anyone who's seen so many other "conventional" idol-adjacent music anime but also because it lays out calculated contrasting runways for the odd, uplifting moments of triumph. Sure, poor Tomori is probably the most purely decent member of the group, and that means we want to see her succeed, but we're also torn about how that's possible given who she's wound up grouped with in doing so.

Yeah, and while we're highlighting great third episodes, MyGO's is where it flexes the breadth of its tone and ambition. I wouldn't exactly call it avant-garde, but putting together an entire episode through the first-person perspective of a side character is a bold choice that ends up grounding a lot of the series' heightened emotions. The circumstances of the rise and fall of CRYCHIC become tertiary to the emotional effect it has on Tomori and the others, and it sets the stage for the fireworks yet to come.

The series started with an hour-and-a-half premiere because they wanted to show off that third episode as early as possible. It's attention-getting, not just in showcasing Tomori, whose coding and characterization could be worth an entire column on her own, but for really hammering home the tonal elements of the series.

Also, hey, you have to appreciate earlier foreshadowing of how some of these girls wouldn't be willing to cut toxic people out of their lives immediately. Always block on sight, kids.
Unfortunately, that doesn't stop some people.

Soyo is my favorite character, as I'm sure you're shocked to find out.
Oh yeah, huge surprise that Steve adores the antics of Gaslight Gatekeep Girlboss here; I'm sure the TWIA comments section is agog with stunned reactions as we speak.

The show's careful portrayal of her interactions with others and animations of some of her subtler habits have paid dividends over the past few episodes.
It's so good! Through pure subtext, it's immediately obvious that she's just using Anon's aspirations to revive CRYCHIC. There are so many pregnant pauses during which she's framed like Hannibal Lecter before she says the most manipulative thing possible.

But she also keeps getting more desperate and pathetic as the show progresses until she's literally on her knees, clinging hopelessly to her crush like a lamprey. It's so rancid. She's perfect.
Speaking of Love Live! spinoffs, I remember being disappointed at how defanged the character of Lanzhu wound up feeling in the second season of Nijigasaki High School Idol Club. So it's incredibly engaging to see BanG Dream deliver a real messy would-be mastermind as an antagonistic force at this moment in the story.

It's also fascinating to me, as someone who has gotten a general idea about how BanG Dream "works" over all these years. Soyo is in MyGO, officially! She will presumably be added to the game with them all together to be rolled for and assembled like any other performers, including the one in the freaking pink bear mascot costume. It makes me curious where the anime's story will eventually take her and the others. BanG Dream has done "villainous" characters before, but that amounted to stuff like RAISE A SUILEN, basically playing Dick Dastardly for the second season.
MyGO, incidentally, is a pun on the Japanese word for "lost child," so it's fitting for the band to be made up of girls who don't fit in or who have been led astray. Even with Soyo, you can sympathize with where she's coming from. But the writing doesn't pull its punches either, and its dedication to the varied messiness of these bandmates is what feels so fresh and captivating to me. And with the context you've given me, I'm even more impressed that BanG Dream went so hard on that angle.
You have to keep these kinds of franchises freshly invigorated somehow. I went into MyGO as a fan of BanG Dream, who's been critical of plenty of its previous entries (ask me sometime about the first season, which nearly killed the whole series). While it took a minute for me to cotton to where this spin-off was going, it's paid off as I've seen how it's kept building, and as you said, the noticeable chatter that's picked up about the series, especially with the past couple of episodes.

It's no full transportation to a fantasy world, but it turns out that taking a series like BanG Dream into the realm of toxic interpersonal drama can be just as dramatic a setting shift.
And hey, it managed to snag my attention and eventual adoration, a complete BanG Dream noob. Given that scientifically sound sample size of 1, I'd call MyGO a resounding success in appealing to the masses. Provided those masses have the stomach for toxic bassists.
You say that as if there's any other kind.

Dang, Anon could have learned so much from Bocchi.

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