As a big fan of the Love Live! franchise, I have been following the development of Sunshine ever since it was announced and started last year. I have had plenty of exposure to the original group, μ’s, between the anime, their music, and my time with the School Idol Festival mobile game (which I admittedly do not play much anymore), and when the new group was announced, I looked forward to how their story would play out. With only a handful of songs and very basic outlines of the girls’ personalities, I came to the Sunshine anime looking not only for a worthy successor to the original anime, but also a chance to really fall in love with these girls and their music.
Did the first episode succeed in doing that? Well, it certainly set the stage for greater things to come, but it also had some good moments already, so overall I would say my expectations were met.
The location this time is a small seaside town in the Shizuoka prefecture, a far cry from the bustling Tokyo setting of the original Love Live. The star of the episode is Chika Takami, who is very easy to compare to the central character of the original Love Live, Honoka Kousaka. Aside from the orange hair, she is equally energetic and enthusiastic about starting a school idol group. One notable difference, though, is that while Honoka was initially motivated by trying to keep her school Otonokizaka High from closing down, there seems to be no such danger for Chika’s school Uranohoshi High. Chika has more personal reasons to start the club, having been inspired by a performance she saw once.
The episode introduces the other eight girls that we can presume to eventually join Chika’s school idol club, to different degrees. Most prominent is probably You Watanabe, who is one of her childhood friends and a member of the swim club. She acts as Chika’s main supporter, and even becomes the first one to join her club at the end.
Just like in the original Love Live, we also have a student council president, Dia, who is very much opposed to Chika’s forming a school idol club, thinking that it is frivolous. Whether she will come around later… of course she will. The only question is how…
Most of the other girls only get short scenes so far. Hanamaru is one of the girls that Chika tries to recruit for her club. Not much else is known about her from this episode, other than her tendency to end her sentences with “zura”.
Ruby is Hanamaru’s friend, and seems to have some interest in this whole school idol thing. However, she’s very shy and reacts quite loudly upon being touched.
Yoshiko Yohane is the ever-popular chuunibyou character, and far from the first one to pursue the idol path (if you’re a fan of The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls‘s Ranko, Yohane might be your type of girl). Her antics over pretending to be a fallen angel are quickly interrupted by Hanamaru, who recognizes her as Yoshiko from back when they were in kindergarten.
Kanan is Chika’s and You’s close friend, who is one year older than them. Her family runs a diving shop, and because of circumstances, presumably involving her injured father, she cannot attend school at the moment. Upon hearing of Chika’s plan to become a school idol, her only response is that she’s a third-year, implying complicated feelings about her impending graduation.
We only get one brief shot of Mari, whose heavy accent and blond hair is the classic anime indicator that she’s half-foreigner. Other than that, all we know is that it’s been two years since she’s been in the area.
The one other girl we spend some time with this episode is Riko, who transferred to Uranohoshi recently. She seems to be a piano player and music composer, and has been having trouble finding inspiration for her compositions. Oh, and the school she transferred from? Otonokizaka High… the birthplace of μ’s.
Love Live – The Anime Musical
So that’s enough character introduction… let’s talk more about the episode and this show in general. One thing that I should mention is that Love Live! has a particular storytelling style to it; the best way I can describe it is that it is the anime equivalent of a musical. This means that a lot of the characters’ words and actions are exaggerated for theatrics. It certainly adds to the fun of the show, and compared to other idol shows, Love Live! has always been more about being fun than anything else. This, of course, culminates in the random musical number we get at the end of the episode (which seems to take place all in Chika’s imagination), similar to how the first episode of the original anime ended with Susume->Tomorrow.
And since the music of Love Live! is my favorite aspect of the franchise, I should mention here that the music so far is wonderful; the OP, Aozora Jumping Heart, is a cheerful and energetic song similar to the original anime’s opening songs, and the song at the end (which is not the ending song), Kimetayo Hand in Hand, is also similar to Susume->Tomorrow in its raw energy. In fact, I personally prefer Sunshine‘s songs to their counterparts in the original. As for the dancing sequences, which use a fair amount of 3DCG, they’re okay; I’ve never been a big fan of CG dancing but I’ve more or less gotten used to it with this franchise. Of course, your mileage may vary.
The Appeal of School Idols: Normal Yet Dazzling
The real highlight of this episode is just past the halfway point, where Chika meets Riko for the first time, as the latter tries to go swimming to hear the sounds of the ocean for musical inspiration. During their conversation, Chika talks about how she first got interested in becoming a school idol. She had always seen herself as a “normal” girl, with no standout traits or skills (especially compared to You, who was a talented diver even as a child). Then, one day, she saw μ’s’ performance of START:DASH!! from the end of season 1 of the original anime, which is notable in that they all performed it in their school uniforms instead of any flashy idol costumes. That is what particularly inspired Chika, as she realized that the girls in that performance, like her, were all rather normal, and yet they could still put on a dazzling performance.
I would even go as far as to say that, in general, this is the appeal of the Love Live! School idol project franchise to its real-life audience. Separated from the world of professional idols, these girls do all their idol activities like any other school student would do club activities; as such, they can seem more down-to-earth than professional idols. That extra relatability in turn inspires people to make the most of their lives even if they do not have the seeming standout traits of their own personal idols.
As a Christian anime viewer, I always enjoy a story of an ordinary person learning to do great things. The Bible is full of stories of everyday people becoming heroes of the faith, and for good reason. At a time when social class largely determined how successful you could be, God wanted His people to know that they can contribute to His Kingdom’s work even if they were born from a lowly status. Even today, that message applies well to people who often lack confidence in their own selves. While the really great heroes of our world provide plenty of inspiration, sometimes, what we want in a role model is that relatability that makes us think that, even if we are like how that person once was, we can also become what that person has become. Just as Chika found inspiration in a group of normal high school girls becoming school idols, we too can find inspiration both in the Bible and in the community around us from everyday people becoming good and faithful servants of God.
Of course, the other appeal of school idols is that, being separated from the professional world also means being separated from all of the uglier aspects of said world. This is why, as I mentioned earlier, compared to other idol franchises, Love Live is more about having fun than anything else. So far, it looks like Sunshine will follow in the footsteps of the original as far as having fun goes. There probably will be drama later, just like in the original, but hopefully it will never overtake the show’s sense of fun.
All in all, this first episode is still mostly setup, so the really good stuff is yet to come, which is fine as I expected that much. Next time, it looks like Chika will be trying to convince Riko to become a school idol, so that the group actually has a music composer. Of course, they still have to convince Dia to approve the club somehow, as well as gather all the other members, but it should be a fun time nonetheless.
And yes, I will be blogging Love Live! Sunshine!! episodically this season. As a Love Live fan I cannot pass up the opportunity, both for other fans of the franchise and for others who are wondering just what is up with these singing, dancing schoolgirls. So whether you are an existing fan or someone new to the franchise, feel free to comment and let me know what you think of Sunshine so far.
And before you ask… right now I’m leaning towards Hanamaru as best girl, with Ruby and You as runners-up. However, it is still early in the anime and we still do not know a lot about the girls, so the best girl rankings can easily change. But hey, that is another reason why I am looking forward to more Sunshine, as all these girls look interesting already and I am definitely eager to learn more about them!