Love Live! Sunshine!! Ep. 11: Unbalanced Love

Love Live! Sunshine!! has its long-awaited You episode. With Riko officially gone to her piano competition (and props to the show for not finding some excuse to bring her back, I guess; no taking the easy way here), You is chosen to replace her as the co-center with Chika for their Love Live qualifier performance. The change does not go well at first, in part because of Chika’s difficulties in adjusting to You’s steps, but also because You has not been in the best of moods. She sees her best friend since childhood spending more time with Riko and enjoying being with her, and feels like she is getting more distant from her. Thankfully, Mari notices what is going on and talks to You about her feelings.

The childhood friend character, or osananajimi, is at the same time my favorite and least favorite character type in anime. On the one hand, their romance stories are overall my favorite type of romance story (something I have talked about before). Even when they are not the romantic victor or even a romantic interest, their close friendship and general supportiveness means that, when written well, they are almost always one of my favorite characters in their show. Unfortunately, they are all too often poorly written. Many romance shows just throw in a childhood friend character either to tick off another box on their list of romance story tropes, or as a cheap and easy source of drama. The idea that “the childhood friend never wins” is nowhere near true—they win quite often, actually—but the number of shows that just add such a character in, with no intention at all of making them a serious romantic interest or even consideration for how they might add to the story positively, are what give childhood friends their reputation for being the “losers” in romance stories.

This might just be a delusion, but it’s still the third kabedon (wall slam) in the series. Someone on the staff really likes these.

As such, I find this particular episode of Sunshine interesting in that, in many ways, it mirrors a common storyline of these “unlucky childhood friend” stories: friend meets new person, spends a lot of time with her, and seems to really enjoy being with her, while the old friend feels left out. However, with all the characters involved being girls and any romantic elements limited to jokes and delusions made to appeal to the show’s yuri-shipping fanbase, the scope of these feelings are still within platonic friendship. Without the burden of adhering to overused romance tropes, this episode is a perfect opportunity to look at the “childhood friend gets left behind” plot device in its purest form and see what we can gather from it.

No One but You

When talking to Mari about her feelings about Chika, You talks about how she had always wanted to do something with Chika, but Chika had always refused for reasons. When she joined the School Idol Club, she thought this was her opportunity to spend some quality time with her best friend. However, Riko and the others soon joined, and before she knew it, You had lost the time for just the two of them. Even with the two of them being co-centers for their upcoming performance, You found that the best way to get their steps right was for Chika to perform them like she did when Riko was her partner and adjust her own steps accordingly.

When your entire understanding of interpersonal relationships comes from shoujo manga…

It is interesting to see how much value You puts in finding something just for her and Chika to do. It would be one thing if You was in love with Chika (genders notwithstanding), but even at the platonic level, You wants Chika to herself, if not all the time, then at least for some particular time and purpose. Yet, You’s feelings are not exactly unusual; worries over the growing distance from an old friend as she does more things apart from you are very understandable and relatable. As much as we sometimes say “the more the merrier”, there is something special about spending time with just one other person, even if they are not your lover. Your attention is on each other and you can use that time to do something the two of you particularly enjoy, rather than having to accommodate the wishes of several people. You can talk about things specifically relevant or interesting to you two. It is a way to reinforce just what makes that other person special and irreplaceable to you.

That is what I think You really wanted from Chika: to know that she is still someone special to her, as a friend that cannot be replaced. This human desire of being special to someone else is at the core of every close relationship; while it is especially prominent in romantic relationships and one of the major reasons major societies still generally view marriage as monogamous, it definitely applies to non-romantic relationships too. Jealousy in this case can be seen as a reaction to when we feel this specialness is threatened, such as when You cannot spend as much time alone with Chika and feels like she needs to copy Riko’s steps for the dance. Thankfully, You finds that she has not lost anything; Riko tells her that Chika was determined to be a school idol with You to make up for all the times she turned down her invitations before, and then Chika herself bikes to You’s house at night to tell her that they should do their dance according to You’s steps, not Riko’s. The resulting scene is, frankly, so heartwarming that it can melt an igloo.

More hugs. Because you can never have enough hugs.

Why do we desire to be special to someone else? This is the same idea I brought up with episode 5, in which we desire to be more than just a normal human being, but applied to relationships. God created us to be special, unique, and irreplaceable to Him, and likewise to the world around us. In this sinful world, that desire can oftentimes get warped into jealousy and other feelings, possibly leading to some ugly actions. However, we can also channel this desire in positive ways, by showing others how special they are to us. And if you need another reason to spend time alone with God, separate from worship gatherings and small groups, consider such times a chance to show God how special He is to you.

Feelings Become One

With the tension between Chika and You sorted out, the episode closes with the Love Live qualifiers, and the next insert song, “Omoi yo Hitotsu ni Nare”. Despite Riko not singing in the song, the animation and music actually do a nice job of “adding” her to the song, overlaying scenes of her (successful) piano performance over the group’s dance, which includes piano-playing motions, while the music nicely incorporates piano strains to indicate her presence. Of course, the highlight is Chika’s and You’s dance with each other, now completely in sync. All in all, this was a great way to wrap up this storyline.

Next Stage

We are nearing the end of this season of Love Live! Sunshine!!; in fact, I am reading from some sources that next week will be the last episode of the season, with episode 13 being DVD-only. Take that with a grain of salt, though. One thing is for sure;Sunshine will almost certainly have a second season, so while we may be nearing the end of this road, we are a long ways away from the end of the journey. In the meantime, consider spending some alone time with one of your friends or loved ones, or otherwise let them know how special and irreplaceable they are to you.

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