Wow. This might be the most emotional episode I have seen from either Love Live series.
True to the foreshadowing from the last episode, things do not go well for Aqours in Tokyo; however, things go even worse than I had imagined. That said, this failure is arguably exactly what this series needed in order to distinguish itself from the original series. Looking back, μ’s never had a true “setback” moment; after their nearly-empty first performance, they only really went on to post success after success, with any issues that held the group back happening mainly because of personal issues. Compared to them, Aqours now has to deal with the fact that, as much as they want to follow in μ’s footsteps, they cannot simply expect to ride that same continuous elevator of success.
As the episode tells us, the environment around school idols is much different than it was in μ’s time. The popularity of school idols had exploded since μ’s, and there are now over seven thousand school idol groups registering for the Love Live! competition. The standard of quality has likewise gone up, with even a group like Saint Snow, who kicked the episode off with an incredible performance of their song “Self-Control”, only placing 9th out of 30 groups, and failing to make it into the winners’ group. For Aqours, whose results are even worse, this event is a major wake-up call about the reality of the dream they face.
So what exactly happened to Aqours in Tokyo, and what does this mean for the group now that they realize how much harder it is for them to be like μ’s?
To Aqours’s credit, their performance was not the disaster. While we do not get to actually hear it or see it beyond a few stills, we know that they performed the best they had yet, that the audience enjoyed it, and even St. Snow acknowledged the quality of their performance. However, that is where the good news ends. Among the 30 groups participating in the Tokyo event, Aqours placed in dead last. Worse, out of over 2,000 audience members voting for the best group, the number of them who voted for Aqours was…
Ouch. This was not just a failure, but a complete failure. The group might have gained a lot of popularity recently, but compared to the existing big-name groups, they just cannot compete. And if they want to win the Love Live! like μ’s did, they would have to beat all those other groups… which right now, they are nowhere even close to doing so.
Dia(mond) in the Snow
As a bit of housekeeping, it is time to revisit Saint Snow. One thing is clear from this episode: they are nowhere near as nice as A-RISE was. After the event results were distributed, they talked to Aqours and while they did give credit to their performance, they also told them to just give up on trying to win the Love Live!, claiming they were just treating it as a game. Of course, at this point, it is clear that they are not in the same position as A-RISE was; whereas A-RISE were the leading school idol group and carried themselves with the dignity that one expects from being at the top, Saint Snow were also losers in the current school idol battlefield, with much of their behavior explainable as raw frustration. As such, I think I will give them a pass, until the next time their paths meet.
For now, though, let us talk about Dia. For much of the early part of the anime, her attitude towards Aqours has been mostly antagonistic, though she has softened somewhat lately, especially with regards to her sister, Ruby. Now, after the disaster that was Tokyo, though, she instead gives the girls some reassurance that they still did well, while still explaining the reality of how difficult the school idol competition is.
Not only that, but she also explains her own history with school idols, and why she was against a school idol club in the first place. Two years ago, when she was a first year, she had also heard a rumor of Uranohoshi shutting down and got the idea to start a school idol group to save the school, bringing her friends Kanan and Mari with her. They too were supported by the community and gained some popularity, and they too were invited to perform in Tokyo. However, things went even worse for them there, as they were too intimidated by the atmosphere and the ability of the other groups, and could not even sing.
This led to Dia opposing anything related to school idols, in order to prevent others from suffering the same fate. We also see Mari and Kanan meet up after learning about what happened to Aqours. Mari, for her part, still wants to return to the happier times she had with Kanan and Dia during their school idol days, but Kanan, who seemed to be hurt the most by their failure, wants nothing to do with it to keep anyone else from getting hurt. It is definitely the most we have gotten regarding the third years, who will likely take a larger role in the coming episodes.
(Not) Giving Up
The question Aqours faces, though, is whether or not to give up. They know their current standings and how difficult it will be to continue on the school idol path. They have had Saint Snow telling them to just give up. To some, quitting would be the logical choice, as there is no point in going further if you are aiming for the top, but your current best performance only puts you dead last, with absolutely zero accomplishments to show for it.
And yet, it is because their current status is zero that Chika cannot quit just yet. It is because of the frustration she feels that all their current efforts have resulted in nothing that she has to keep going, so that she might find a one or a ten or something more; if she just quits now, though, their final score will be zero. And so, amidst her tears of frustration, she must keep going.
I would say that Chika has the right attitude here. There are definitely times to quit something, and if you are doing something just for fun, it might be a better idea to just keep things that way. But if you are truly passionate about something, but have encountered a complete failure, that is the worst time to quit; keep going and try to find something worthwhile first, even if it is not the end goal you envisioned. For Christians, the question of whether or not to quit something is complicated by stories of other Christians talking about how God called them away from one pursuit they were passionate about, because there was something better somewhere else. As such, we might worry that, if we do not quit where we currently are, we are missing out on the full goodness of God’s will, somehow. However, the people who had been called out by God oftentimes had led fulfilling lives in their previous field, accomplishing much for the Kingdom of God in the process. God has placed us in different places at different times in our lives, and chances are, God has something for us where we are now. If we quit just because we encounter a failure and think we cannot potentially achieve much, that is when we try to follow our own will rather than God’s.
At this point, the complaints about this series being too much like the original are not only invalidated, but outright deconstructed. It is almost as if the show wanted to trick us into thinking that this series would be like the original but with a new group, only to hit us with this moment and show just how impossible that idea is, given both the in-universe and real-life popularity of μ’s. One way or another, this episode marks the real turning point for Sunshine as an anime series, the point where it gains its own identity separate from the original, and I am looking forward to what this new version of Love Live brings from here on out.
Meanwhile, next episode looks like it will focus on Kanan, whom we probably know the least about at this point, so that will be very welcome.