Dec 30, 2017
RiverRode (All reviews)
Love Live has come a long way. It’s difficult to imagine now, but when the first season of School Idol Project started back in 2013, idol anime as we know it today didn’t really exist. Just as µ's was the guiding light for the world of school idols, the franchise led the way for the genre, and by the time of the School Idol Movie, it really had become a global phenomenon. So when µ's retired and Aqours stepped forward to take its place, fans were understandably upset and worried that this new iteration would tarnish or override the franchise’s legacy. But it was never the goal for Aqours to replace its predecessor, and instead it told its own story about trying to live up to that legacy, and instead accomplishing far more.

While the first season of Sunshine adhered closely to the formula set by School Idol Project, the second season focused on the ways that Aqours was different. The new generation was never going to measure up against the audience’s nostalgia for µ's, and that was reflected in the story. Aqours struggles with challenges that µ's overcame easily, and there are times when they actually fail. These aren’t just failure by circumstance; they will have tried their best and it still wasn’t enough to succeed. We see these characters when they’re at their lowest points, and when they get back up and try again, it makes their victories all the sweeter. The writing is about as subtle as a brick, but it gets the emotions across.

Although, those feelings wouldn’t resonate so strongly if we weren’t so deeply invested the cast and their success. Sunshine relies more heavily on personal drama than its predecessor, and it works because their problems aren’t abstract and artificial walls, but genuine fears and worries to which we can relate. And instead of having to overcome these problems on their own, the other members of the group will reach out to provide support, which sells you on the idea that these characters are actually friends who care about each other’s well-being. It’s true that some members of the ensemble get better treatment than others, with one or two being reduced mainly to one-note gags, but overall the cast is so earnest that you can’t help but root for them.

The growth of the characters is also reflected in the performance scenes, which see the characters becoming gradually more comfortable with complex choreography and each other. For better or worse, CGI has always been a staple of the Love Live franchise, and it’s been getting better with every entry. Early performances looked garish and were plagued by unimaginative camerawork, but both technology and direction have improved vastly, and it’s finally reaching the point that CGI can compete with traditional animation. Performances now come alive with dancing in 3D spaces, and varied shot composition and camera effects make for a real spectacle. It also helps that the songs being performed are really good. Aqours has a diverse discography, ranging from traditional Japanese odori to Broadway show tunes. The soundtrack outside of the performances is excellent as well, effectively matching the tonal shifts over the course of the season. On its technical merits, Sunshine soars.

If I were to look at the anime alone, Sunshine is far from perfect. There’s a lot of valid criticisms that can and should be made, but since that’s not my focus, I’d recommend checking out Yuni’s review, which addresses a lot of them. But for this, rather than just looking at the show itself, I’m also including my own experience watching it, and I find that my enjoyment greatly outweighs any criticisms. For the past 13 weeks, it hasn’t just been the show that I’ve enjoyed, but also being a part of the community that surrounds it. That’s just my personal experience, so it will differ from person to person, but all I can say is that all of the tweets, fanart, and fanfiction that I saw definitely added to my enjoyment.

I’m going to miss this generation. It’s not quite over yet – there’s still the movie – but the end is rapidly approaching. I’ve always appreciated that the Love Live franchise ends stories conclusively; the dream of being a school idol is fleeting, but the lessons learned will last forever. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to love the next generation the same way I loved this one, but the future looks bright, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.