*DISCLAIMER: A very unorganized and SOMEWHAT SPOILERY "review" of Sunshine s2 which might ruin your viewing experience, so I'll just say "you're welcome" in advance for saving your time.
The Love Live franchise has a knack for being the defier of expectations. Those who go into the series expecting nothing but cancer usually end up taking something positive from the experience. Those who go in expecting happy rainbows and sunshine only get slapped in the face with the cold reality that is School Idol Hell. Love Live Sunshine s2 is no exception to this rule, for what was set up to be potentially the greatest installment in the Love Live anime series ended up being one of the greatest disappointments I've yet to come across.
If Love Live Sunshine had one major step up from its predecessor, it would be how it utilizes subtlety. Very rarely does the show tell you how the characters have developed, and if it does, it gives a great presentation to back it up. Love Live Sunshine actually uses the performances of the girls as ways to show you how much the characters have improved: how the choreography slowly improves from performance to performance, how the amount of band aids Chika has increases from scene to scene. There was no need to state the obvious, or to show Chika getting injured: all of that was inferred through some great shots of Chika just trying her best.
Did I just give Love Live subtlety points? SORRY GOTTA TAKE THOSE RIGHT BACK because at the same time, Love Live falls back into its old habit of friendship speeches, slow motion eureka jumping moments, repeating the same cheesy lines over and over again, and other tactics to not so subtly remind you that this is a show about friendship!
Love live teaches you that you can't solve your problems by shouting into the distance or giving your computer screen your patented GLARE OF DETERMINATION! Instead, shit goes south. Chika goes through a massive identity crisis, hinted through her subtle mannerisms and facial expressions. How is it fixed?
By having the entire school yell at her! Through sentimental speeches thrown from floor to rooftop!
Do you see the problem? Love Live always sets up these plot points with so much potential: the subtle build up, psychological conflict, and with minimal exposition and drag. Only for it all to be resolved with the usual cheesy sentimental monologues or speeches that make you cringe. There are so many opportunities for these resolutions to occur through the same methods as the build up, but noooooo let's have people yelling their solutions while jumping in slow motion, or have the entire fucking school somehow spit out the entire solution to the problem! These cheap resolutions are buzzkills and lazy lazy lazy ways of resolving drama.
Oh course, I won't pretend that Love Live Sunshine s2 is the only installment in this series that has this problem: season 1 had plenty of it, and the OG series too. However, what the OG series did was leave room for potential and improvement, and it actually took the opportunity to improve on a lot of the flaws that it had. This was why season 2 of the original was a drastic improvement, and I can even full heartedly call it good. Love Live Sunshine set up the same opportunity for its sequel to do the same, if not even more. With the way it builds up, it seemed promising at first, but it just devolves back into the same exact thing that made people so critical of the series in the first place.
Changes in directorial styles are nice, but there needs to be some consistency. Love Live Sunshine was commonly criticized for being too similar to its predecessor, and while I agree to some extent, my greatest praise for Sunshine was always how Sunshine felt like a sequel to School Idol Project as much as School Idol Project felt like a prequel to Sunshine. To me, there is no one over the other, there is no battle between Aqours and Muse. They exist together under the Love Live banner, as they should. This was due to how the recycled plot points are used as ways to develop Aqours differently than Muse, and how even though both anime series tackle the same themes, each series usually prioritizes one over the other, or they tackle the theme a different way. For example, Sunshine has more emphasis on the girls actually trying to improve as idols, and this is actually expressed fairly well through the slow improvement of choreography presented in the concert scenes. This contrasts School Idol Project's emphasis on the girls bracing for when they have to disband, something that Sunshine still touches on but not as heavily as School Idol Project. While School Idol Project dedicated more episodes to the fate of Muse, Sunshine spent less time on that theme but featured more dynamic and hardcore methods of exploring that theme, featuring a FUCKING FLYING VAN, lots of cheesy group cheering and crying. Whilst School Idol Project took the more subtle approach on the passage of time by showing the girls doing slice of life shenanigans through timed events, Sunshine brought out the big guns immediately by making the girls taste failure and fly vehicles into the moon. Unfortunately, Sunshine s2 did this pretty poorly as flying vans and having the entire school chant Aqours over and over again isn't a very effective way to convey this message. When the hard hitting, tear inducing, heart pounding, and hope brimmed scenes actually make you laugh your ass off, you know that something is wrong.
The characters of Love Live are the defining factor and also hold the most potential for growth and change. And yet, some things never change. Yoshiko's comedic antics now are about as funny as they were back then (in other words, not at all.) Yoshiko also still had pitiful development. As you can probably tell, one of my biggest hopes for this season was for Yoshiko to finally get some satisfying development. Needless to say, I ain't satisfied. But some things do change, and they are pretty nice. Dia's arc about wanting to be called "Dia-chan" was light hearted and fun, no unneeded sappiness, just satisfying fluff. Hanamaru turned her sass level all the way up, she ain't holding back anymore. Ruby had an entire arc dedicated to her growing independence in a way that also contributed to the whole "Aqours probs gonna disband" plot point. Did this save her from being worst girl? Nah, but it was still a nice touch. Meanwhile, Kanan actually had some screen time this time around. Riko too gained a decent amount of screen time and her personality was more fleshed out. Chika changed from a happy go lucky "I can do anything" character to one with genuine psychological conflicts, similar to the change granted to Honoka.
But in order to grant these characters some quality of life buffs, some other characters gotta be gutted into the ground. Take Watanabe You for example. Formerly an irreplaceable asset and fan favorite of the Love Live Sunshine story line, she was demoted into legitimately the most useless character ever conceived. Even Umi, the sociopathic queen of underdevelopment can't hold a finger to just how absolutely useless You was during this season. If you took her out of the show, nothing would change. This just proves that Sunrise just has no respect for the best girl. An instant flunk! Love Live Sunshine s2, you get a 1/10 for FAILURE!
Is what I would say if they didn't give Sakurauchi Riko, the next best thing, a lot of fluff. The dog episode featuring our homie Sakurauchi Riko is not only the best episode of the season, but one of the best episodes of the entire franchise, rivaling the legendary episode 5 of Love Live School Idol Project s2. But one good episode isn't going to sway my consensus that is Love Live Sunshine s2 may be the worst season of love live to date, if not at least comparable to the mess that is season 1 of the original.
So how does Love Live's sound quality fair for this new installment? Mirai no Bokura wa Shitteru yo is, in my opinion of course, the best OP that Love Live has to offer, not only on a song quality basis but on a directorial basis as well. It perfectly encapsulates the energetic yet melancholic strive to shine that defines Love Live Sunshine. The sparkling light in the beginning that shines down on the members of Aqours also fits the shooting star motif that's commonly brought up throughout the show. Similarly, the ED is definitely a top tier ED, but that is to be expected from Love Live EDs. The seiyuus are splendid as always: I'm a pretty big fan of the Love Live seiyuu scene, especially the Aqours members. I probably like them more than the series itself. When it comes to OST and insert songs, it's a pretty hit or miss experience. There is one piece in the soundtrack (you know the one) that is constantly played during the melodramatic scenes. While the piece by itself is pretty nice I guess, combined with the already over the top scenes in slow motion and tears that probably took half of the animation budget, it's safe to say that the OST played a big role as to why Sunshine is way too sappy. The insert songs hold a similar problem. Whether or not you like them is down to preference, but as I stated before: I liked how Sunshine used the concert scenes to show the improvement of Aqours when it came to choreography. What I didn't mention is how weirdly weaved in one particular piece of choreography was, that being the Chika cart wheel flip move. A whole episode of build up was dedicated to that one move, yet it was transitioned in so badly during the concert scene, it felt more anticlimactic than anything else, oddly placed with no satisfying transition into and out of the concert scene. Another prime example of decent build up with pitiful pay off. Yes, Chika is finally able to do the move, but her ability to do it was triggered by more friendship speeches and an unsatisfying transition. What does this have to do with the insert song? There was no good timing to insert the transition, and the song they used is somewhat at fault for that too.
You may be saying: Yuni, why are you subjecting this random idol anime to unnecessarily high standards and potential that you probably just made up on your own? No one told you to expect a masterpiece, and you shouldn't anally shreck an anime for not being what you expected!
I'm just sad that what could have been done right HAS been done right before in the past, so why not now when the possibilities are greater than ever?
Love Live is all about change and growth. Love Live Sunshine s2 achieves this change and growth but through the worst ways possible. There's literally an entire episode of build up where the 9 girls inner monologue how they have changed throughout the series. There's no implications, no subtlety, just the girls directly stating "oh becoming an idol did this to me." Similarly, the interactions between the girls evolved only very slightly, not at all, or only evolved heavily after major events and get reset somehow. The slight changes in character interactions where a measure to the development of the characters during the original series, and it's missing or played badly in Sunshine, which is a darn shame. Only a select few characters had a little bit of spice added to their interactions, like Zuramaru and Riko. Sure, this season may have delivered the growth that everyone wanted, but it was done in the least satisfying way possible, a sure cause for disappointment to me, the only one around who actually had such high hopes for a lowly idol anime called Love Live! Sunshine!!
Ah yes, and my updated order of Aqours members is:
*sigh* It's Pronounced "Yoh" > Rick > Hannah Mahroo > I wanna Dia > Yohane Sebastian Bach > Kanan you not? > Mary > Kan Kan Mikan’t > Gangstarooby