The original series of Love Live! was about a group of schoolgirls forming an idol group, their difficult path to winning a competition and attempting to use their newfound fame to save their school, which is threatened with closure. The spinoff series, Love Live! Sunshine!! is about a group of schoolgirls forming an idol group, their difficult path to winning a competition and attempting to use their newfound fame to save their school, which is threatened with closure. The movie to complete Love Live! was about how the girls deal with moving on with their lives after the oldest three members graduate, and features their final performances as a group of nine and a trip abroad. The movie to complete Love Live! Sunshine!! is about how the girls deal with moving on with their lives after the oldest three members graduate, and features their final performances as a group of nine and a trip abroad. So you can guess the problem here. How can a spinoff series distinguish itself from its parent series, especially when the narrative follows such a similar course?
The solution Love Live! Sunshine!! found to that problem was somewhat superficial: tell the same story but with the opposite outcome. In the parent series the school is saved. In the spinoff it isn’t. In the parent series the group decides not to continue once the oldest three members graduate. In the spinoff they decide to continue. This makes the focus of this film a little more positive than the first film, which was at times a rather melancholy affair that felt very final. In contrast, Aqours is going to continue with the remaining six members, so there is a positive future ahead of them, but they have to get their heads around how to continue as a smaller group, which just doesn’t feel right. They do eventually manage to work their way through that problem, although the writers can’t quite bring themselves to allow the group to stand alone, with the older members even featuring in the final song of the movie, albeit performing their bit from a different location. The idea is that they are always going to be members of the group in spirit, but I’m not sure the film quite answers the question it sets out to address.
A big strength of the spinoff series was the way it featured a much more memorable rival group, Saint Snow, and how Ruby from Aqours and Leah from Saint Snow faced similar issues from singing in a group with their sisters. That has not been forgotten, and we get to see how Leah is struggling with her sister graduating and their group disbanding as well, which is a very strong aspect of the movie. The part of the movie set abroad is also an improvement, with Italy proving a more fruitful location than New York as a backdrop for a bit of drama and some great music. Their performance on the Spanish Steps is spectacular.
And that’s where this film really wins through: the songs. The first film was good, but this one is amazing. The songs are great, particularly the closing number that continues to play over the credits, and the visuals are spectacular. It felt at times like the animators were over-stretching themselves for the first film, particularly for scenes with crowds of extras, but this one manages a much better integration of CGI to achieve the fluid motion of the dance sequences. It’s a film that just looks breathtakingly good from beginning to end.
Whereas the first film was very much centred around Honoka, the second one achieves more of a group focus. Yoshiko is still one of the most irritating anime characters ever created, but mercifully there are not too many moments with her broken-record “Yohane” chunibyo nonsense. Let’s hope the next spinoff series doesn’t give us another irritating chunibyo girl. And there is another series. In fact, there are two more, but at the time of writing Superstar!! is in the process of debuting in Japan. Next up is Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, which we will look at in a future article. It looks like this franchise will run and run, and why not?
Shelley said, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” and that’s something I think this franchise has understood very well so far, focussing on the challenges, disappointments and sadness the girls face as well as bringing them to the heights of achievement through their persistence and friendship. In doing so, it presents us with a microcosm of human life. RP