Sunday 3 July 2016

First Impressions: Love Live Sunshine!!

Love Live Sunshine!!

The time of μ's may be over but the spirit of Love Live! School Idol Project continues! After dominating the idol genre for the past few years the franchise from ASCII Media Works, Lantis and Sunrise has renewed itself for what will likely be another run of dominating the anime scene, branching off with a brand new cast and setting. Now using the banner of Love Live Sunshine!! (perfectly timed with the start of the summer 2016 anime season), this series follows nine new girls as they set out to become school idols and compete in the prestigious Love Live tournament. Welcome to the stage, Aquours.

In seaside neighbourhood of Uchiura, second-year student Chika Takami dreams of starting up her own school idol unit at Uranohoshi Girls' High School. Bitten by the idol bug after a fateful introduction to the music of μ's, she's finally found something she wants to excel in. However starting up a club is never easy, and it isn't just the lack of members she has to worry about - it's also the harsh words from student council president Dia Kurosawa. Luckily her best friend You Watanabe is there to lend a hand, and together they scope out other potential members for their new club.

Whereas the story of μ's started with the girls primarily wanting to keep their school from closing, Sunshine!! (or at least Chika) is all about the idols. Well this might make the setting seem a bit more generic than its predecessor, it does on the other hand mean that there's no overarching forced drama for the show to duck in and out of at its leisure. The episode moves at a fairly fast pace and introduces all of the girls destined to become members of Aquours, though only four of them getting any meaningful screentime - Chika, You, Dia and new transfer student Rika Sakurauchi. While right now it feels like many of the characters are only defined by their various tropes (peppy girl, transfer student, regional dialect girl, shy girl and, rather unexpectedly, a delusional chunnibyou), there's a good amount of variation on offer. It's a shame to see the show having the main character clash with the student council president AGAIN, but at least it seems to be heading in a different direction to how it did with Honoka/Eli.

Perhaps the most important thing in this episode though was how much it showed Love Live!! has improved on a technical level. While the original's animation was no slouch, everyone in Sunshine!! feels more fluid and expressive, and when combined with the beautiful summer setting really makes for an aesthetically pleasing show. Better still are the improvements to the CGI character models used in the musical numbers, which are considerably less jerky and used far more sparingly. The episode also debuted two songs for the group - opening theme Jumping Heart and Hand in Hand, performed by Chika, You and Riko. Both songs have a lot of energy in them and are good indicators for the quality of songs we'll be getting this time around.

However although this is a new generation of idols it seems Love Live isn't ready to forget the legacy of μ's just yet. When it's revealed that Chika's inspiration to become an idol in the first place was catching a glimpse of the original Love Live girls' performance at the Tokyo Dome onscreen, Sunshine goes into full nostalgia mode. Chika's monologue is intertwined with the performance footage of START:DASH!!, and its also revealed that Riko is transferring in from none other than Otonokizaka High. It makes perfect sense for the original series to be referenced here in such a fashion - μ's seemed to heavily change the landscape of school idols during their time together and seeing that influence passed on to a new generation is a great idea. I just hope that following this references will be in passing and the Sunshine!! cast will prove themselves more than capable of standing on their own two feet.

Premise-wise Love Live Sunshine!! hasn't really gotten off as an intriguing start as its predecessor but its certainly proved itself to have just as much life and energy. The cast are looking to be a rather fun bunch, and with great music, great scenery and improved scenery the series is already looking to be the perfect breezy summer viewing.

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