Thursday 4 January 2018

Anime REVIEW: Love Live! Sunshine!! Season 2

Love Live! Sunshine!! Season 2
Love Live! Sunshine!! is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

With the immense juggernaut that is the Love Live! franchise showing no signs of retiring any time soon, the reveal that Love Live! Sunshine!! would be returning for a second season was anything but a surprise. After all, why would ASCII Media Works, Lantis and Sunrise give up on their premier money-spinner while the story of Aqours is still only half-finished? With the show’s first season establishing the nine new girls as a group looking to follow in μ's footsteps, it’s the second that aims to take them beyond that and make a proper name for themselves.

The cast of Love Live SunshineAqours On Stage

Undeterred by their failure to make it past the regional qualifiers at the end of the previous season, Aqours continue their mission to enter the next Love Live! event the following Spring and save Uranohoshi High School. But with the decision already made to close the school, the girls face the almost impossible task of recruiting a hundred prospective students before the end of the year. Between writing songs, raising money through part time jobs and preparing for the upcoming qualifiers, it’ll take a miracle to turn a zero into a hundred.

In the year that follows, Chika, You, Riko, Dia, Kanan, Mari, Yohane, Ruby and Hanamaru learn first-hand that their path was never going to be as simple as μ's seemed. With Aqours set to disband at the end of the year when the third years all go their separate ways, the group must come to accept that prepare to say their farewells to create a legacy that that lives on far longer than Uranohoshi High.

Uranohoshi High SchoolSaint Snow

As much fun as the original Love Live! was, one thing it certainly wasn’t was unpredictable. While it was the characters themselves and their own individual little stories that kept things interesting, it never really felt like μ's were going to fail to save their school or even lose the Love Live. And since this formula was such a success, there was every chance that Sunshine was going to be exactly the same. However after the first season ended with the resolution to not have Aqours follow their predecessors beat for beat, Love Live! Sunshine!! season two continues on in a much more interesting direction. It’s constantly reiterated to viewers just how much harder these girls’ task is (and in typical Love Live! fashion there isn’t a teacher in sight to help them – are these places even staffed?), and that message isn’t just conveyed through Aqours either. The show is similarly hard on first season rivals Saint Snow, emphasising just how perfect everything needs to be in this all or nothing competition. At face value this doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of happy go lucky series Love Live! has previously painted itself as, but it does make it feel that much more believable.

The divergence in Aqours’ path comes at the expense of the Love Live! event itself, which almost feels background to the girls’ school lives. As well as struggling with the potential closure of their beloved school, the season also addresses the fact that the group will be breaking up at the end of the year. Sunshine handles this far better than the original series did, showing where the third years are headed next while also comfortably closing off this chapter for the other six girls too. Other slice-of-life shows have handled friends parting ways better, but Sunshine’s take was a lot more emotional than expected. The character quirks are just as over the top as ever (in Hanamaru’s case maybe more so), but now this silliness has become part of the charm - coming especially in handy to brighten the mood and remember that at the end of the day these shows are supposed to just be silly idol fun.

Ruby and LeahRiko and Yohane

But perhaps the greatest praise for the season should go to the production quality, which has really come a long way since the franchise started. Sunshine!! already had the edge over its predecessor thanks to its vibrant colours and luscious seaside scenery, but here it takes the edge with the all-important dance sequences too. The CGI is looking better than ever, not just blending better with the 2D animation that sandwiches them but providing far smoother choreography. If you pay close attention to the sequences you’ll also notice said choreography improves over time too, mirroring Aqours improved confidence and determination when they take the stage. The songs are also a marked improvement, with plenty of memorable songs to take away from the story’s key moments. Admittedly none of them still manage to match the heights of ‘Aozora Jumping Heart’, but in what’s now clearly a Love Live! tradition that song isn’t far away to rear its head for an encore performance.

That isn’t to say the season is perfect though. As is usually the case with shows juggling such a huge cast development over the course of 13 episodes is a bit uneven, but at the very least the bulk is given to those who came out of the first season needing it more (and depending on your opinion, the best girls). Ruby had an excellent little arc which tied into Saint Snow’s appearance, Dia got a lot more screentime, Riko and Yohane shared a brilliant focus episode and Chika was of course Chika. She was always going to be the main character, but at least everyone got to shine around her as well. Thanks to the story going off in a different direction there’s also a considerably different approach to key events. As mentioned earlier the Love Live! competition feels almost superfluous despite being the huge emotional climax, so isn’t built up with quite as much fanfare as you’d expect. Arguably better things are in its place, but it’s still fairly strange considering it’s the name of the whole show.

Aqours strike a poseGoodbye Aqours

After Love Live! Sunshine!!’s first season struggled to break out of its predecessor’s colossal shadow, the second takes that spark of potential and ignites it into the strongest Love Live! offering yet. Despite its uneven character development Sunshine takes the “rags-to-riches” premise of the franchise and turns it something much more believable, providing its cast with a more relatable experience of acceptance, goodbyes and what it means to create a legacy. The path was rockier, but in many ways Aqours managed to surpass μ's even if they weren’t able to reap the same rewards. As the fitting end to the story of the girls from Uronohoshi High, the forthcoming movie already has some pretty big shoes to fill.

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