One thing I like about Love Live! Sunshine!!, especially episode 8, was how the drama focused on the girls’ attempts to achieve something and the trials they faced because of that. It is something well-suited to idol anime in particular, since idol activities combine an artistic element and a physical, sports-like element, as well as often having much deeper personal meaning for the characters involved. This is not to say I dislike interpersonal drama, but rather, when there are so many other, less topically focused anime that can do interpersonal drama well, I prefer it when idol anime focus on something else. So when episode 9 takes its long-awaited look at Kanan, Mari, and Dia’s backstory, and it turns out to be heavily interpersonal, I could not help but feel like this episode paled in comparison to the last.
It does not help that Love Live has a pretty bad track record when it comes to interpersonal drama. The end of the first season of the original anime was probably the worst case of this, with the leader Honoka getting overworked during a performance and collapsing, her friend Kotori getting a great opportunity to study abroad, except she does not really want to leave, and then Honoka declaring she would quit the group out of guilt over worrying her friends. It was frankly all a mess, not helped at all by how much it had distanced itself from idol activities. With Sunshine, Kanan, Mari, and Dia’s backstory does have much of those same elements, though the results play out differently, which at least makes the situation more interesting… but the resulting drama is still rather messy. Not all is bad about the episode, though, but I might as well get the problematic stuff out of the way first.
As the group prepares for their next performance at a local festival, Chika cannot help but feel that there is something more to why Kanan quit being a school idol, given that, based on her memories of the two together as children, she knew Kanan was not the type to give up after a failure. With some pressure on the third-years from the other girls, they finally find out the truth. Turns out, the reason the third-years did not sing at their Tokyo performance was not so much out of fear as it was Kanan purposely choosing not to start their performance, as Mari had a bad foot injury at the time. Later on, Mari would get numerous offers to study abroad, and Kanan, not wanting to hold her friend back from opportunities for her future, quit being a school idol to give Mari a reason to go.
Mari, however, still thought Kanan was depressed over being unable to sing at Tokyo, and combined with still wanting to do more school idol work with her friends, had no interest in studying abroad. She eventually agreed, though her return in the current year did not make Kanan happy (she likely thought Mari was wasting a good opportunity). Basically, the whole situation is a mess of miscommunications, with Kanan failing to tell Mari the real reason for not singing and not telling her how she felt about holding Mari back from pursuing good opportunities; meanwhile, Mari failed to express her real concern to Kanan and why she did not want to study abroad. Had someone spoken up about their true intentions, none of this drama would have happened.
I think the problems that can come from miscommunication speak for themselves (and if not, there is another blog post that goes further into the subject). One thing I would like to address is Kanan’s attitude of trying to look out for Mari and her future, encouraging her to take her study abroad opportunities rather than continuing her school idol work. It sounds like a noble thing, but it only hurt Mari in the end because she never tried to understand her wishes. Unfortunately, this is a common attitude for people to have: they push the people they care about into doing things their hearts are not really into, and when they object, we say that it is best for their future. However, pushing others in this way can cause resentment to build up, on top of other issues such as trying to project our unattainable dreams on others or, for Christians, ignoring what God wants the other person to do. (Saying that “this is what God wants you to do” is a good sign you are trying to play God.) This issue is particularly dangerous for parents, who might sign their children up for various activities or push them towards certain careers despite objections. Whatever the case, communication is important here, not for trying to persuade the other person to doing what you want them to do, but for understanding the reason behind their objections and giving consideration to their wishes, while explaining your own wishes.
Despite not being a fan of the miscommunication-heavy drama from this episode, I still found plenty to love about it. Finally completing the backstory of the third-years and seeing Kanan and Mari make up at least made all the drama a bit worth it, and we even get some quick, cute scenes of the girls as children. Chika standing up to the third-years when they got into a fight and forcing them to talk it out in the first place was also a great moment.
But most importantly, we finally have the full nine members of Aqours! Kanan and Mari joining after their make-up was a given, but Dia gets dragged back into the group surprisingly easily after that. Though, maybe her joining was not that surprising, given one final revelation. Dia, Kanan, and Mari’s school idol group from two years ago was also named Aqours, and it was in fact Dia who put her old group’s name in the sand for the new girls to unwittingly adopt as their own. I guess that deep down inside, she really did want the group to succeed and even join up with them at some point.
The real highlight of this episode for me, though, was the insert song Mijuku Dreamer. I love a lot of Love Live songs but I will admit that my love for most such songs lies in their catchiness, energy, vocals, or love for certain musical styles, rather than anything really having to do with the quality of the musical composition. This song, however, is composed so beautifully that the rest of the episode could be horrible and I would still go back to this episode just to watch this performance and listen to the song over and over. I am not quite sure if it is my favorite song from Sunshine (still need to listen to the full version), but it is definitely well up there and really goes to show just how good the music from this franchise can get.
With all of Aqours assembled, the group can now move forward with the full strength of its cast dynamics. One of my favorite aspects of the original anime was how well the entire cast interacted with each other, and so far that seems to also be the case with Sunshine. At the very least, if this means we can see more of Kanan, Dia, and Mari in action, especially as school idols, it will be all worth any of the issues I had with this episode. For now, though, I am going to go and listen to Mijuku Dreamer a bunch more times while I await the next episode.