Aqours just cannot seem to catch a break. Every time they seem to make some progress, they encounter yet another setback to their goal. Their first concert was nearly a disaster, their trip to Tokyo had them find out just how far behind in the competition they were, and while they do pass the qualifiers and their PV has gotten a massive number of views, they find that all this has done nothing for their school popularity, with there still being zero applicants for the upcoming open house. Compared to µ’s, who by the time they had qualified for the Love Live had long since had their school saved, it is yet another harsh reality check for these girls that want to follow in their footsteps so badly. Trying to find an answer to what exactly µ’s had that Aqours does not, Chika takes the group on one more trip to Tokyo.
This means that it is finally time to address the biggest complaint leveled against this show: the similarity to the original Love Live anime. Many have claimed that Sunshine is nothing but an easy cash grab, following the path of the original, highly-successful anime. They point to the similarities in the characters to the original’s characters, the constant references to the original, as well as how the story structure follows much of the same path, even going as far as adding in a “save the school” plotline where none existed in the first place. I personally did not really find a problem with the show “copying” the original, as the characters and story did have their differences, but also because I felt that the show might be purposely trying to deconstruct the concept Aqours trying to copy µ’s. Episode 8 proved that to be true, but it is this recent episode that really explores the issue of following µ’s shadow.
While at Tokyo, the first thing Aqours does is meet up with Saint Snow, now confirmed to have attended the same UTX High School that A-RISE did. There, they talked about their own inspiration from µ’s and A-RISE, before deciding that they wanted to win the Love Live above all else. Now, I could talk about whether Saint Snow’s attitude of “winning is everything” is right or not, but that is something that will probably be more relevant in the inevitable second season. For now, though, we know that they have determined their own path, which will be important later.
As for Aqours, their next stop is none other than Otonokizaka High, the school where µ’s came from (and also Riko’s school, though that is not quite as important here). There, they meet a student (who looks and sounds suspiciously like Hanayo fromµ’s), who identifies them as school idols and tells them that µ’s took everything of theirs—their awards and the like—with them as they disbanded, leaving no physical trace of their existence behind at the school. Combined with an encounter with a girl that looks like a young Honoka, riding down the railing like Honoka did in the first episode of the original anime, and the student’s sudden disappearance soon after, and the whole scene feels just a bit supernatural.
After all these events, Chika finally has a breakthrough: Aqours has, for this whole time, been shackled in pursuing µ’s. In order to reach the level they need to achieve their dreams, they need to break away from µ’s path and chart their own course through the school idol seas. Saint Snow finding their own path is one thing, and obviously not the path Aqours wants to follow, but nevertheless they do provide some kind of example. µ’s themselves also left that message for the school idol groups in front of them; by taking everything of theirs out of the school, they are telling anyone from the school and elsewhere looking to them for inspiration to find their own identity as school idols.
It is one thing to find inspiration in someone else, but when we set out to copy their life path, even if only partially, we are making ourselves slaves to that person’s story. We start thinking that if we are not doing the same thing they are doing, or are doing the same thing but not getting the same results, that something is wrong with us. It is the same thinking trap we fall into anytime we compare ourselves to others, neglecting what makes us unique in the process. In order to free ourselves from that thinking trap, we must decide our own identity and path, not borrow someone else’s. Or, for Christians, we must choose to follow God and allow Him to guide us in choosing our identity and path. (After all, saying we “follow Jesus” does not mean we do the same “carpentry then go around telling parables and then go die on a cross” thing he did!) Again, this does not mean we cannot take inspiration from others and even incorporate some of their strategies, adjusting them to fit our own needs as necessary. But when we move from that into making those people our idols (hah!), we start going down the wrong path.
I am reminded of Simone Biles, the American gymnast who won both the individual and team all-around women’s gymnastics gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, who said afterwards, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.” That is quite possibly the best quote I have ever heard from someone, as it perfectly illustrates what it means to find your own identity in a world so determined to find the “next” version of the last big star. And it is a perfect quote to sum up this episode, too. The episode ends with a shot of Chika’s room, but now with her poster of µ’s taken down. It is a great symbol of her own growth and the growth of Aqours in general, to realize that Aqours does not need to be the next µ’s; they need to be the first Aqours.
The theme Aqours has adopted for now is “from zero to one”. It has been the constant struggle they faced, and now it has become their war cry. (On a side note, “Step! Zero to One” is a great Aqours song that you should listen to if you can find it.) And there is also another nice symbolic scene at the end where Chika catches a feather, referencing the ED of the original anime’s second season. Now that Aqours is making its own name for itself, it can now truly take the baton from µ’s and move the Love Live! franchise forward in its own hands.
We do have one last episode next week before the wait for the inevitable second season, and I am looking forward to Aqours’s future even more now. What kind of unique identity can these girls form for themselves? And in the meantime, what kind of finale can the first season give us?