Wednesday 23 March 2016

Anime REVIEW: Love Live! School Idol Project

Love Live! School Idol Project

Every so often there comes around an anime franchise that seems almost impossible to ignore no matter how hard you try, and in the past three years Love Live! School Idol Project has definitely qualified as one. The idol-themed series from ASCII Media Works', music label Lantis and animation studio Sunrise has gone from strength to strength spawning not only an anime series but also a movie, multiple manga adaptations, light novels and a rather addictive iOS/Android game by the name of Love Live! School Idol Festival. Summer 2016 will see a brand group of idols take the reins in spin-off series Love Live! Sunshine, but for now we're looking back on the ones that started it all. The original Love Live! School Idol Project ran for a total of 26 episodes split into two 13-episode seasons, with the first airing late 2013 and the second following mid-2014.


When middle-year student Honoka Kō­saka discovers that Otonokizaka Academy is set to close down due to a lack of applicants, she becomes determined to save her beloved school. Discovering the popularity of school idols, Honoka ropes in her best friends - Kotori Minami and Umi Sonoda on the scheme, forming the group "μ's" (pronounced "Muse"). Despite a lack of interest and opposition from the student council president, the trio remain determined to succeed. And thanks to that determination, it isn't long until μ's expands its membership to nine.

Together with third year students Eli Asase, Nozomi Tojo and Nico Yazawa and first years Rin Hoshizora, Maki Nishikino and Hanayo Koizumi, μ's continue their quest to save their school as well as turning their attention to the Love Live - a competition where rival school idol groups battle it out to be crowned the best of the best.

μ's first concert

Despite following the standard perceptions and conventions of what constitutes as an "idol" in Japan, Love Live! is a rather different series when compared to what is perhaps its closest rival. Although μ's popularity becomes more widespread as the series progresses, the show doesn't really have any interest in following the fame that comes with becoming a successful idol. Instead it is a show with two very firm goals in mind - saving the school and competing in the Love Live competition. And due to a bit of abrupt drama cropping up at the end of the first season, the latter is neatly pushed aside to become the dominant focus of the second season. Save the school, then save the hearts and minds of Japan with your idol ways.

The funny thing is however that despite these lofty goals dominating the whole of the Love Live! story, very little of the running time is spent addressing them directly. Undoubtedly μ's actions as an idol group have a direct affect on getting Otonokizaka Academy noticed and increasing its applicants, but the end result feels strangely hand-waved away in light of a more personal crisis for the group. Similarly despite their entry into the Love Live competition being the crux of season two barely any time is actually spent at the competition or covering the wider influence of it. Outside of μ's the only other school idol group to properly appear in the show is established stars A-Rise - and despite all the build up they hardly come across as particularly gripping rivals. With this in mind it becomes clear that once the group has properly formed Love Live! isn't a show overly preoccupied with the tension, suspense and the competition its very name is taken from - it's a story about nine very different schoolgirls who bond over a mutual passion. Sure it has moments of drama and (like any school-based show worth its weight) deals with the realisation that your school days don't last forever, but Love Live! is a generally upbeat show that puts fun first.

μ's Halloween show
Hyper Music

As is the case with most idol-themed shows, Love Live! deals with a pretty sizeable main cast that unfortunately don't get equal opportunities when it comes to character development. All nine members of μ's get some sort of focus over the course of the 26 episodes, but for roughly half the cast this comes in the form of one-shot stories during the second season. As the lead character Honoka takes centre stage pretty much throughout Love Live!, and as the first members to join her Umi and Kotori aren't too far behind. Kotori particuarly gets a great deal of focus during the final few episodes of the first season as the story begins to revolve around her, meanwhile Umi is prominent but relatively unremarkable. The fact she comes across as a carbon copy of Mio from K-On! (right down to her role within the group) doesn't help her case either, as fans of both shows would be able to predict any jokes involving her before the punchline. Eli and Nozomi are next, with the former's initial opposition to μ's ensuring her prominence in getting the story rolling. What Nico and Maki lack in story focus they make up for in memorable attitude, leaving Rin and Hanayo as probably the weakest members of the cast. Poor Rin especially, given that perhaps her most memorable quirk is something that solely appears in the end credit sequences.

"Nico nico ni!"
Plug in Baby

Visually Love Live! is almost everything anyone would want out of a cheery idol anime, but unfortunately falls victim to the same issue that also plagues many of its closest competitors. Whereas the show itself sports some great animation, the openings and musical numbers replace the character animation with CGI models and it is pretty off-putting. Admittedly it's the kind of issue that you get more used to after a while, but the jerky movements and generally unnatural aesthetic of it all is always there to remind you that the sequences could be so much more than they are. The music on the other hand is great, providing the kind of catchy tunes you enjoy in the moment even if some of them don't leave too much of a lasting impression.

μ's watch the sunset
Take a Bow

Love Live! isn't a series that's built its popularity on being particularly groundbreaking. It has however built it on being especially good at the things it does best. Colourful, catchy and filled with kind of characters everyone can find a firm favourite in, Love Live! is pure enjoyment from start to finish with its flaws almost seeming negligible in the sheer amount of fun it has. Moments of character drama peppered in keep things interesting, but aren't either to weigh down the show into deeper territory whether that be for better or for worse. Go into Love Live! expecting a good time, and that's exactly what you shall receive.

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