What better way to conclude a successful anime series than with a movie, and this feels very much like the last word on the story of the original line-up. Unlike a series where the storylines can be divided evenly between the main characters, a movie has to have a tighter focus, and this is very much Honoka’s story, although the other girls all get their moments to shine, particularly in the song performances.
Whereas the series examined the process of the rise to fame, and the girls’ struggles to get there, the movie looks at what happens afterwards. There is a shift of power, which the girls find hard to get used to, because they have suddenly become more popular than the competition that made them famous. They needed Love Live! but now the Love Live! competition needs them. They are trying to sell out the Tokyo Dome, and they want μ’s to perform, and offer to send them to the USA on a publicity tour.
The film’s running time is therefore divided between the USA and Japan, but it is the latter that is most significant, because the girls return to enormous popularity and pressure from all sides to continue as an idol group. There is a problem with that: at the end of the second series there was a strong focus on the girls agonising over the future of the group, with three of their members about to graduate from high school. So they have already decided that μ’s will come to an end when school finishes. That’s not a problem for their final performance at the Tokyo Dome, but that is supposed to be their swan song. Their popularity, the dedication of their fans, and pressure from the school principal, all lead them to question their decision… well, some of them.
I thought this was a bit of an odd way to go for the movie. Firstly, we’ve been here before, with the question of the future (or lack of) for μ’s already settled after a great deal of soul-searching. Secondly, most of the girls are entrenched in their decision, working on some kind of false logic that they have to disband because they already said they would. I’m not sure that sends out a good message to the viewers, because it seems to suggest that decisions should never be reversed, but when facts change then decisions need to be re-evaluated, and these girls have reached a level of popularity they could never have dreamed of. Anyone who has ever craved fame or success will probably find this very frustrating to watch. Why not continue as an adult group? Why disappoint the fans? When Honoka announces the end of μ’s there is an awkward silence from the fans, and then tears. It’s hard to understand the logic. Their dedication to the school idol phenomenon is admirable, but their inability to think beyond being school idols themselves in terms of their music is frustrating.
Luckily it doesn’t really matter if you like the storyline or not, because this film was always going to be about the music. It’s the closest you’ll get to a full-on musical movie in animated form, doing that reality-abandoning thing musicals do, where people start singing in the street and it turns into a huge impromptu performance. The songs are great, and one in particular had my son trying to sing along (good luck if you want to try; the songs aren’t dubbed, and quite rightly so), and a repeated request to replay that bit. The visuals are spectacular, but occasionally overstretch the animation, taking it into the realms of jarringly-noticeable CGI, particularly when there are scenes with huge numbers of performers or fans being animated. Even on a movie budget, the excellent integration of CGI and more traditional animation that the first season achieved doesn’t seem to have been recaptured.
I suspect none of this will really matter to the dedicated fans of the series, because all they will have wanted from this is to see their favourite characters performing some great songs. The movie never disappoints when it comes to the music and despite retreading some old ground it still works well as a conclusion to the original Love Live! series. Fittingly, in the end it’s the music that matters. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Love Live! Sunshine!!