Love Live! is a hugely popular series, which has spawned multiple spin-offs. With its blend of happy music and cute girls, it’s not hard to see why this would easily develop a large fan base. The story concerns a group of girls who join together to form a school idol group, eventually going on to compete in a national tournament. The stakes are high, because their school has not been able to attract enough new pupils, and is going to close. The girls realise that if they can attract enough attention to themselves with their music, more kids will want to apply to go to their school, and they might just save it from closure. By the end of the first season that’s all wrapped up, and the second season focusses on the build up to the national competition.
Much of the first season is given over to gradually building up the group, and they have to overcome a lot of difficulties even to achieve that. Forming a club in the first place is difficult, finding a space they can use to rehearse is almost impossible, and the girls they want as their members are almost always reluctant to join. But if it was all easy, it wouldn’t be much of a series. This is very much a show that’s about overcoming problems, never giving up, and daring to believe that your dreams might just come true, if only you work hard to achieve them and, most importantly, have the support of your friends.
Everyone will have their own favourite girl, but I thought Nico was brilliant. She’s probably a love-her-or-hate-her character (my wife couldn’t stand her), depending on how much you like her cute “Nico Nico Nii” catchphrase and pose, but for me her backstory was the most interesting and affecting that the series has to offer. She is a third year, despite looking the youngest, and her personality is just as full of contradictions, a compelling mix of cuteness and anger, which has got her into trouble in the past. Nico is an idol group obsessive, who tried to form a group before, but ended up the only member left in her idol club because her high standards drove the rest of the group away. Understandably, she’s reluctant to get involved with the new group on the scene, fearing that their standards will be low and the same will happen again. During the second season her younger siblings are introduced, and there’s a very fun story about how they idolise her, due to the questionable impression she has given about her fame and status, which is something she finally has a chance to turn into reality, and live up to their image of their big sister.
Another important member of the group, who is similarly reluctant to join, is Maki, who is a stunningly talented pianist and singer. The group desperately needs her help, as school idol groups have to perform their own songs, but she is classically trained and doesn’t really see the value in all this light weight pop stuff, so getting Maki on board is a major hurdle to overcome.
The centre of the group, and the main character if you could claim there to be one at all, is Honoka, who is as enthusiastic and bubbly as you would expect, while wearing her heart on her sleeve. With nine members of the group, I’ll try everyone’s patience by describing them all here, but suffice to say they are nearly all entertaining characters, who are strongly individual in their own right. There was just one I disliked: at the risk of angering her fans, that was Nozomi. I could have done without all her fortune-telling, tarot cards nonsense, but more importantly she makes a habit of groping the other girls. This is a commonplace running joke in many an anime series, and it always bugs me when I see it because it normalises sexual abuse, whether it’s played for laughs or not. Here it’s even worse than usual, because this is otherwise a child-friendly series (the first season is a PG, and the second a U) that is free from fanservice. It was a wonderful anime to put on for my kids, who loved dancing along to the music, but the occasional moments of Nozomi getting touchy-feely, often as a punishment for one of the other girls, was an unwelcome problem.
That’s the only issue I had with this lovely series. It’s not all happiness and joy, and that’s a good thing, because that’s not real life and it would have got boring quickly. The girls go through a roller-coaster of emotions to get to where they want to be, and confront many hang-ups and fears along the way. You’ll find tears and laughter here, and some important exploration of personal issues that can be a barrier to success in life, and how they can be overcome with enough courage and the help of some good friends. The visuals are particularly impressive, coming the closest I’ve ever seen to a seamless integration of traditional animation and CGI (which is necessary for the dance sequences). Best of all, the music is wonderful.
There are two seasons, of 13 episodes each, plus a movie which I am yet to watch. I will write about that, and also the spinoff series Love Live! Sunshine!! in future articles. Nico Nico Nii! RP