Episode 4 of Love Live! Sunshine!! focuses on two of the first-years, Hanamaru and Ruby. We had seen some of these two before, with Ruby clearly interested in school idols but not quite willing to join the club for some reason. These two had been early favorites of mine ever since the group was initially announced, and while my favorite girl rankings have been quite volatile throughout the anime (You is making strong plays for the top spot), this episode has definitely made strong cases for the two to remain near the top.
The theme this episode seems to be about being true to your heart. Before I begin, I should mention that I am not a fan of the whole “follow your heart” adage. It sounds inspirational in a world where most people just go along with what everyone around them is doing, but sometimes, our hearts want us to do things that are not good for us. That said, I do think it is good to be aware of what our heart’s desires are so that we can address them properly, seeking wise counsel and using our brains to determine if they are worth following or not. And sometimes, our hearts are being held back for the wrong reasons, which is what I will be looking at with both Ruby and Hanamaru in this episode.
In addition to that, this episode has some of the strongest references to the original Love Live anime yet, which will definitely strike chords with longtime fans but might leave newer fans confused. As such, I will also talk about the original Love Live anime, specifically episode 5 of season 2, so expect some spoilers from that episode, albeit nothing too huge.
Ruby (and Dia)
In this episode, we learn more about the past with Ruby and her older sister Dia. Both of them were major fans of μ’s and shared their fandom with each other until Dia first entered high school. Suddenly, Dia seemed to show disgust at school idols, telling Ruby to stop looking at school idols in magazines. Because of this, Ruby started hiding her school idol interest from Dia and would only join the newly-approved School Idol Club as a trial member in secret from her sister. Hanamaru notices this and realizes that it is eating away at Ruby, so she takes steps to push her to be true to her desires, even going as far as putting her in a situation to honestly declare her intentions to her sister.
While we do not know what exactly caused Dia’s change of heart towards school idols (though we do know she is still a big fan of μ’s), it is still easy to see why Ruby would be a bit fearful of continuing her interest in front of her sister. It is one thing to hide an interest of yours from people that do not look favorably on said interest (anime fans get this a lot), especially if said people are family members. Dia, however, was once a fan alongside Ruby, and her sudden turnaround in a way seems like an outright betrayal, or at least the suggestion of something very sensitive to Dia that could cause problems if she were triggered the wrong way. Nevertheless, Hanamaru’s pushing does work, and Ruby is able to stay true to her desires and join as a school idol without Dia outright opposing her.
I can go on and on about how fear of what others think of us hinders our doing what we truly want to do, but I think that is a message that we hear plenty of already. By all means, though, it is a message worth hearing again, and I do like how this episode handles it. In addition to fearing her sister, Ruby has also shied away from becoming a school idol because her friend Hanamaru was not quite as interested in doing it. As nice as that sounds, it really is just another form of letting what others think of what you are doing hinder you from doing what you really want to do. As such, the moment where, while running up a long set of stairs to a shrine, Hanamaru encourages Ruby to follow her own dreams, rather than holding back for her sake, and gets Ruby to leave her behind and run to the top herself, is both quite symbolic and a great moment in and of itself.
Ruby’s situation can be very relatable, especially for Christians, for those who have faced disapproval from friends and loved ones for following their faith. Some might have had to deal with siblings or friends who were once a beloved brother or sister in Christ but had a falling out with the Church, making them feel like they are walking on eggshells when talking about their faith. Others had to turn away from their friends and loved ones to pursue Christ, exemplifying the hymn line, “though none go with me, I still will follow”. But if we have the courage to pursue what our heart truly believes in–and if we do not, God can give us that courage–we know that the goal is worth any amount of human disapproval.
Looking Back at Rin Hoshizora
Of course, all of Hanamaru’s efforts to open up Ruby’s heart are hiding the desires of her own hearts. Feeling like she has nothing special to offer and is best at only being a supporting friend, she lacked confidence in becoming a school idol and tried not to be too interested in the club her friend was in. However, while looking through the school idols in magazines, one in particular caught her eye: a picture of μ’s member Rin Hoshizora in a beautiful, bridal-gown-like dress.
The significance of this picture is multi-fold, and one that only those familiar with the original Love Live anime will get, so I shall take some time to explain it here for newer fans. For better or for worse, there are some pretty noticeable parallels between members of Aqours and members of μ’s. Chika is the leader like Honoka, You is the supportive friend like Kotori, Riko is a red-haired musician like Maki, Dia is the Eli-like strict student council leader, and Mari is the Nozomi-like playful girl that is pushing the group forward on her own terms. Likewise, Ruby is pretty reminiscent of Hanayo, another shy girl with a deep interest in school idols. And just like how Ruby has her close friend Hanamaru push her to becoming a school idol, so too does Hanayo have her own close friend that does some pushing: Rin.
Rin does have a noticeably different personality from Hanamaru; whereas Hanamaru is a quiet bookworm, Rin is a loud, energetic tomboy. In a similar way, though, Rin feels like she is not really suited to being a school idol, in her case because of her tomboyishness as opposed to Hanamaru’s lack of athleticism. In season 2 episode 5 of the original anime, the group has to perform at a fashion show without their de facto leader Honoka (as she and the other second years are stranded at their school trip in Okinawa). The others want Rin to be the leader, which she tries to refuse as she thinks she would not look cute in the dress the leader wears (she got teased as a child when she tried wearing skirts). The others do succeed in getting Rin to wear the dress (in which she looks absolutely adorable, by the way), and since then, she has been able to embrace her more feminine side, which she had suppressed for so long.
In this way, Rin represents the part of ourselves that we want to express but feel like we cannot because of our insecurity and lack of confidence. Likewise, Rin in her Love Wing Bell dress represents how we can overcome those insecurities to express the person we truly are. It is no wonder that, in-universe, even five years after the end of the first Love Live story, she continues to appear in school idol magazines.
This brings us back to Hanamaru, who now has a similar desire to become a school idol after seeing this image of Rin, albeit a desire she still does not feel confident in pursuing. It is almost ironic how she believes Ruby is too considerate of others to follow her own dreams, and yet she herself has the same problem. In her case, instead of her consideration for others being the direct reason for not becoming a school idol, it is a cover-up for her true desires. Ruby and the others notice this, though, and through pointing out the significance in her interest in that image of Rin, they convince her to try becoming a school idol.
Being a helpful supporter is great, but I think sometimes we can use the job of “helper” as a crutch to avoid facing the reality that we are not doing what we really want to be doing. After all, anyone can help out with small things, and it is definitely a meaningful role, with some people truly being called to be full-time helpers. However, others can use helper roles as a way to feel good about themselves without facing the challenges involved with whatever they actually want to do. Again, this is not to say that abandoning a helper role to pursue our dreams is always the right choice, but hiding behind such a role will never help us make that choice, and can lead to serious resentment or regrets down the line.
Still, I have to admire Hanamaru for her overall supportive attitude toward her friend. It is one of the reasons I like her so much from this episode, even if it means her friend needed to give her a push back. After all, two people pushing each other to be all they can be is a sign of a good friendship. It also nicely mirrors how, in the original anime, Rin gave Hanayo a push to become a school idol, and Hanayo would then later push Rin to wear her Love Wing Bell dress. (Of course, considering how much I like Hanayo and Rin, perhaps it was inevitable I would like their Aqours counterparts… I will probably address the matter of these character parallels more when all of the main nine in Sunshine get more development.)
Our next meeting shall be a fateful one, as the fallen angel Yohane descends to grace us with her presence as the focus of the next episode! I can already tell I am going to have fun blogging this one.
As a final note to Christians, remember that God knows what is truly in our hearts, and more importantly, He wants us to know as well. Only by knowing what we truly want can we see if we need to change our direction in life… or if we need to address issues that are corrupting our hearts. The psalmist that asked to “search my heart, O God” is a great example to follow, as he wanted God to not only find the good things we hide but need to show to others, but also the bad things we try to hide but need to expose to God’s healing grace. So while we should not always follow our hearts, we should definitely listen to our hearts, and take what they have to say seriously.