(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Have you ever thought about how important sunshine is?
Sunshine heats you up. It gives you nutrients like Vitamin D. It even lights your way during the day, keeping darkness at bay with many a ray.
Sunshine, the anime, is not like regular sunshine. But, as it shows, it took some inspiration. Bringing warmth, goodness, and a path worth following.
Sunshine stars Chika Takami, a second-year high-school girl who has never been a part of something special. Upon learning of a not-so-unknown group of girls who go by the name of μ’s, she aims to take part in
the world of school idols, hoping to find happiness and fun alongside everyone else.
It’s no question that Sunshine is a fun slice-of-life comedy. Chika and You singing about song lines, Hanamaru impressed by computers, and Mari double-checking that Kanan has grown up prove its comedy chops well enough.
It’s no question that Sunshine is a musical of sorts. Not in the Hollywood sense where the characters literally break out into song and dance during their scenes, but it does have the occasional dance number. Complete with fancy outfits, harmonized singing, and various musical compositions.
It’s no question that Sunshine is a drama. Aquors do not form their group all at once, and, during their time together, it doesn’t always go according to plan.
If one wants, these three aspects – comedy, musical, drama – can simply be the extent of the anime. And that’s fair. Like any story, Sunshine’s is there to entertain, and, for the most part, those comedic and music and dramatic parts achieve this necessity.
However, should one look deeper, the anime has a strong, underlying message that it relays.
Sunshine is very much a classic follow-your-dreams tale. Chika, You, Riko, Yohane, Ruby, Hanamaru, Kanan, Dia, and Mari work together, through the good times and the bad, accomplishing goals both big and small, as they steadily make their way through the school-idol universe. The different monologues on changing that zero to a one, or the show focusing on their aspirations, make this direction evident enough.
Yet dreams aren’t the only end goal.
One of the show’s biggest elements is its spiritual succession to the original Love Love seasons. μ’s does not ever show up in person, but their presence is certainly felt. Posters of Honoka and the gang. Snippets of videos taken of their performances. Constant references to their accomplishments and popularity.
Sunshine goes so far as to have Aquors visit the same locations that μ’s did. From the shrine at the top of the stairs to that beach where emotions run high, the narrative makes μ’s a vital part of the Aquors process. Even the plot – Aquors’ in danger of losing their school – matches that of its predecessor.
Before diving into why this direction is important, it’s arguably done to a fault. That the show spends too much time on μ’s, distracting itself from what really matters. Namely, Aquors and their journey. At the minimum, Chika fawning over μ’s for the umpteenth time does not exactly inject a whole lot of variation in the dialogue.
Even if such overreliance is the case, what Sunshine does with it, the purpose behind doing so, more than makes up for any problem it may be.
The best way to understand this thinking is through Aquors’ opening line in their opening track: “Chasing down the path of a dream I’ve never seen.”
The girls of Aquors are following their dreams, but, clearly, they also look up to μ’s. In a meta sense, these idols are following in the footsteps of their idols. And that’s what’s shown. They do the same training regimen, they go to Tokyo to gain inspiration, and they believe they can conquer Love Live if they give it everything they’ve got.
So, looking up to one’s role models becomes Sunshine’s main directive. That is, their “never seen” dream is the one that μ’s made real.
But, the more that Aquors experience the troubles of keeping and forming a group, as well as the different difficulties of following μ’s step-for-step, it becomes obvious that they cannot. Not only because they aren’t as talented or as strong as μ’s (which is true at this point in the narrative) but also because this directive isn’t the right way to go about “chasing down the path.”
Their first foray as school idols does not go as smoothly as they hoped when almost nobody shows up to see them. When they try to gain popularity by being something they’re not, it backfires in their ratings. Their first shot at a promotional video doesn’t capture what makes them and their town special.
Over and over, Sunshine shows that μ’s is out of Aquors’ league, but it’s episode eight that hammers home just how far down on the ladder they currently are. Earning zero votes, Aquors (still with only six members at this point) are handed a huge reality check. That, no, it’s not enough to just emulate those that they idolize.
It’s a tough situation to watch, but it’s needed. For, thematically, it not only challenges that emulation but also their resolve. To this end, their seniors help, growing Aquors both in size and in mindset through the seniors’ own idol-based troubles.
With the group fully assembled, they start to realize that they can’t just copy μ’s and hope for the best. They make a trip to the school that μ’s saved, hoping to understand what made μ’s different. Chika has that realization: μ’s is special because they are nobody else but themselves.
So, Aquors join hands (fingers, really) and come together with the right directive in mind. They won’t just blindly follow μ’s. Rather, they’ll chase down that path towards their own dream, in their own way, while remaining inspired by the girls that came before them. In Chika’s own words, “I’m not going to follow you, I’m going to run forward, in search of my own place. With everyone. Someday. Someday…”
Beyond Sunshine’s thematic presence, the performances are also noteworthy, for they each serve a clear purpose. For instance, when the third-years join, their dance incorporates their transition from their old group into the new one. Or take their qualifiers performance. The duality between Aquors’ song and Riko’s piano playing emphasize the other.
While these parts make up the highlights of the anime, Sunshine is not without faults.
At least early on, it has too many loud screams into panned-up shots. It’s done with comedy in mind, and it is funny, but hearing Chika scream treads into repetitive territory.
The anime also has a hard time conveying how well they are progressing as a group. Not in gaining members because that’s an obvious indicator of their growth. Rather, something as simple as showing them practice. They all just sing well and dance well without it being shown how.
Granted, and arguably, Sunshine cares more about its comedy, slice-of-life, and drama, meaning it would rather show off these than “waste” time on depicting Aquors improving themselves. Still, when part of the anime is about them becoming top-tier idols, actually having that sense of progression is almost required.
Furthermore, most of the drama itself leans towards problematic. Chika trying to touch Riko’s hand or Yohane running away from the others inflates the current conflict or issue unnecessarily, reducing the drama’s overall impact.
Despite these problems, Sunshine’s personable theme on idols as well as its purposeful performances give this certain set of sunny school girls a stronger start than perhaps at first perceived.
Sunshine does not have the most elaborate art. Especially when it comes to its locations and its backgrounds. While lighting can sometimes play a part in its scenes (most often a setting sun of some kind), the unassuming school, Chika’s home, and the nearby beach do not give the anime a whole lot of chances to strut its stuff. Bustling Tokyo may be an argument against this thought, but it’s not a place that the cast visits often.
Still, the anime does very well in one specific area: the musical performances.
Considering that Sunshine is about school idols, it’s important that its musical performances are given their due attention. Thankfully, they are.
One of the cooler techniques is the show’s blending of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. The previous iterations in the series used a similar technique, and it works well here again. The three-dimensional parts do not look overly stiff, avoid drops in detail, and provide the two-dimensional segments more breathing room than if the performances were wholly as such.
(Granted, if the creators had infinite time, money, and resources, these performances would most likely ditch the three-dimensional art since it does not look as crisp as the two-dimensional parts. But, sadly, such bottomless supplies do not exist.)
Where lighting is normally acceptable for what it is during the regular parts of Sunshine, the performances step it up. Firework displays, floating lanterns, and multicolored spotlights dazzle the stages and, in turn, dazzle the audiences (both in and out of the anime).
Such lights light up Aquors’ outfits which are very pretty and, if nothing else, quite detailed. Each performance changes what they wear: prom-night dresses, traditional-yet-modern pieces, and polka-dotted, frilly creations. The styling, colors, and accessories further make the performances a treat to watch.
And the choreography of the dances within the performances are also worth praising. Aquors do not just stand around and sing a song. Instead, they are moving around and interacting with each other. Hand flourishes, winking eyes, pointing, small jigs, and special actions. In short, the girls are a playful bunch while onstage, injecting a lot of fun, a lot variety, and a lot of purpose into every performance.
Sunshine is not always showcasing a performance; there are about six in total. So, for most of the anime, Aquors are in a more realistic setting. Here, the anime does well, too.
On an artistic level, the show creates many expressive faces that get at its comedy. Dia buzzing when the girls are wrong, Yohane trying to play off how hurt her legs are, and Ruby shying away from everyone are just a few examples of the show’s clear aim at detailed reactions.
On an animation level, the characters are almost always moving. Usually within their own space. Mari running hard in the rain. Riko “flying” over to her balcony. Hanamaru chowing down on some Stewshine. While the performances easily have the more involved animated sequences, the downtime portions of Sunshine are certainly not without their own moments.
Finally, the character designs are what they need to be: cute, simple, and not overly specialized. Ruby gets at that cuteness with red twin-tails and a shorter physique. You gets at that simplicity with short hair and charming blue eyes. And Dia gets at that specialization through the beauty mark on her chin.
Of course, the girls are not just one of these details but some combination of the three. And, while they each (besides Hanamaru) wear the same school outfit – grey skirt, yellowish cardigan, and a bow on top – their color symbolism continues the strength in their designs. Yohane’s dark-teal symbolizes her “corrupted” yet sweet side, Chika’s orange symbolizes her contagious happiness, and Kanan’s purple symbolizes her inherent beauty.
If nothing else, their bright, jewellike eyes are enough of an eye-catch to make the designs worth talking about.
While Sunshine’s characters are not the most complex, they are at least given their own time to, well, shine. Considering that it has nine different cast members of high importance, it’s nice to see them all get something.
Not counting You (since she was there from the beginning), Riko is the first person to join Chika on her school-idol quest. Their initial meeting left them floundering in the ocean, but it gave them the opportunity to speak with each other alone. Riko talks about wanting to hear the sound of the ocean, and Chika describes how she’s “…a normal person born on Planet Normal.” Chika’s words on her normalcy, and how μ’s let her know that even someone as normal as her could go far, encouraged Riko.
But not enough courage to switch to the world of school idols. For, despite going to Chika’s school and hearing her pleas, Riko staunchly refuses to join the club. She has her song-writing background, but she doesn’t want to give up on the piano despite the psychological block she has encountered.
Chika and You help her out. They take her out diving where she discovers the sound she has been searching for. Their small outing together enlists Riko into their group – but to write songs only.
To her, switching from all that she knows and has practiced – playing the piano – would be disingenuous both to Chika and to herself. Even if she currently views it as not “fun” and “nothing changes.”
But, as Chika says, she can just try, and, if nothing else, she’ll put smiles on people’s faces. Especially Chika’s. Because that’s “…what a school idol is about. And that’s a wonderful thing.” Thus, Riko officially joins.
However, unlike the other girls (besides Chika), she gets even more attention. Later, when the group has fully assembled, she finds herself partially regretting not following through with the piano. It’s always been a part of her, and it’s something that she has always known. So, understandably, the new direction her life has taken, a direction that doesn’t involve piano, does not sit all too well with her.
Chika, being the good leader and the even better friend that she is, pushes Riko to continue playing. While she may not take part in one of Aquors’ performances, Chika knows that the piano is a part of Riko. That, by following through on the passion she has always had, and beating that brain block that has plagued her for far too long, Riko will come out the better for it. And, as expected, she does.
Discussing every girl to a similar depth would take up a lot of time; there are nine of them after all. However, it’s clear that they each go through some type of conflict that they eventually overcome.
Ruby doesn’t let her sister’s (current) feelings on idols dismay her. Hanamaru moves away from her lonely time with nothing but books and into a group filled with both old and new friends alike. Yohane doesn’t let go of her chuunibyou antics just because they are a little strange. You gets rid of her jealousy. Chika lets her frustration out rather than keeping it all bottled up. Dia, Mari, and Kanan mend their relationship circle after discovering that they have simply been looking out for one another in their own roundabout way.
On top of their more dramatic developments, each girl of Aquors has her own distinct personality. Some of the more notable ones include Hanamaru’s “zura” vocal tic, You’s obsession with outfits and saluting, and Mari’s feeble attempts at speaking English. As Chika puts it, “Each of us has our own personality and charm.”
While it’s almost a necessity that the characters define themselves separately from each other (because having two protagonists who match in behavior would almost always make for quite the boring story), it’s nice to see Sunshine put effort into all of them so that the group is not just a lot livelier but also the audience can have many different idols to root for.
Again, and technically, these girls do not have much going for them besides their kindness and their quirkiness. And, once their respective episodes have finished, they do not contribute a great deal to the overall story except for the usual comedic actions and banter.
However, like said story, looking beyond these superficial traits reveals something interesting.
The easiest example is Yohane. Her entire episode revolves around keeping her “fallen angel” self. She tries to resist it, and Aquors try to conform to it, but, in the end, only Yohane and her “little demons” can “descend” upon others.
How about Riko’s conflict again? She reconciles with her past, the part of her self, that she had just about given up on.
The senior girls are the most intriguing. Kanan “couldn’t sing” which forced the original Aquors group to disband, giving Mari a chance at the future she deserved – but not the one that she wanted. Mari didn’t want to study abroad because she was worried about Kanan and wanted to help her. And Dia, in support of both, foregoes her adoration of all things idols. So, the girls gave up their own selves to protect each other.
To put it differently, just as the story deals with Aquors as a group maintaining their sense of self, the characters, on an individual basis, also deal with maintaining their sense of self. This parallelism boosts the strength of the characters by giving them something more than just a bit of development and cute personalities.
In a show like Sunshine, music must aim higher than usual. It is, after all, one of its selling points. As such, what’s given is respectable.
Most notable are the songs sung during the performances. They each have the same approach, with the girls switching on and off in individualized and grouped fashion, and the songs don’t extend too much beyond the pop genre. But they do try for something new each time.
The first official song – with just You, Riko, and Chika before they are school idols – uses the constant “hand in hand” and “wow o wow” lyrics as a motif that carries the piece. St. Snow’s song takes on an unconventional, edgier direction when compared to other school idols. And Aquors’ first song as a full group takes advantage of slowness, simple guitar strings, and a cultural presence that turns it into arguably the best of the songs Aquors perform.
At least within the plot of the anime. For the opening track stands above the rest. It’s a cheerful, optimistic, and exuberant song due to the harmonizing of the group, the quickness of the beat, and the loud yet light instrumental work. Plus, it’s just catchy to listen to.
The original soundtrack also deserves its own praise. While the performances are obviously more complex, and the tracks themselves are nothing too fancy, they get at the sincerity and hopefulness that Sunshine strives for. In particular, the OST’s use of trumpets, flutes, pianos, acoustic guitars, and chimes create, if nothing else, a set of thoughtful pieces.
Returning in this iteration of Love Live is the eponymous transition. It’s a small, albeit expected, inclusion, but it brings back the charm of the series with ease.
The ED isn’t awful, but, again, this anime is a musical one, so it needs to bring it. But not much was brought. It gets points for switching up who is singing the song almost every time (meaning there are as many as thirteen variations) and for the slight shift in composition near its tail end. But it lacks the oomph necessary to make it a memorable piece let alone a comparable one to its other offerings.
As for voice acting, Sunshine has one too many have-the-girls-make-an-audible-sound-to-indicate-inclusion moments. But since the women who portray the girls of Aquors are each in their first-ever major role in an anime – an impressive feat to have nine simultaneous newcomers fitting their characters – it could have been a whole lot worse.
This series is one that I watched early on in my writing career. It wasn’t one of the very first anime that I reviewed, but it was when I was still learning the ropes and establishing myself as a critic.
Years later, I find myself reviewing a part of the series again. And, thankfully, it was just as entertaining – if not more so.
One of the biggest positives is the cast. While I don’t value them all the same, I do like them each to some extent. They bring their own flair and their own comedy, providing many chances for me to find something funny (which I almost always did). To put it differently, I did not find myself disliking any member of the cast.
I thought that was going to happen for some of the plainer members like Chika, Mari, and You. But it didn’t. Chika’s unending determination, Mari’s silliness, and You’s need to salute the others made them fun in their own way.
If I had to choose my top three favorites, they would be Yohane, Hanamaru, and Kanan. Yohane because of her chuunibyou, Hanamaru because of her reactions, and Kanan because of her attractiveness. Again, I like them all, but these three are ahead of the rest.
Some of the funniest scenes to me were when they were depicted in their childhood. They occasionally appeared, but they were hilarious nevertheless. Kanan’s way of pronouncing “hug” when first meeting Mari, Dia getting a phobia of Tokyo, and Hanamaru’s “It’s the future!” exclamation when first encountering a nighttime spotlight each made me smile.
I even got emotional near the anime’s final couple of episodes. When the group declared that they would follow their own path and not μ’s, and their closing song where they recapped how they got to where they are now, I was happy to see them going for and succeeding at accomplishing their dreams.
And I really liked the performances. More so than I probably should. Their exaggerated moves were cute to see and fun to watch. I even found myself mimicking them here and there. (And no, there’s no video of that.)
Basically, I had an awesome time yet again with this series.
Love Live! Sunshine!! sings with all its heart. A strong theme on following one’s idols, a diverse cast of characters, and both nice-looking and well-sounding musical performances add up to equal a strong start for the girls of Aquors. Come rain or shine, their future is a sunny one indeed.
Story: Fine, while the more dramatic conflicts miss the punch and some of the finer details lack finesse, a theme on being inspired by one’s idols provides a strong foundation for Aquors to begin their own journey
Animation: Good, okay artistic direction, well-crafted performances, above-average actual animation, expressive faces, and nice character designs
Characters: Good, the girls of Aquors each get time to shine, carrying its theme on maintaining one’s self
Sound: Fine, good OP, bad ED, okay OST, okay VA performances, and good insert songs
Enjoyment: Great, fun characters, nice comedy, emotional moments, and entertaining performances
Final Score: 7/10