Finally, at long last, Love Live is back, singlehandedly saving the anime season from being naught but three solid months of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure memes. What a terrific first episode it was, too.
It’s kind of funny going back and reading how strangely lukewarm I was on the first series of Love Live back when it first started – certainly, what I was writing doesn’t exactly match up with my memories of back then, and most assuredly don’t with the way I felt once the series concluded. It doesn’t really ring true with my reaction to re-watching the initial episodes either, though my re-watch has only progressed as far as the sixth episode at this point.
Still, I’ve been looking forward to this show, which rather awkwardly does nothing to denote it’s sequel status in it’s moniker, returning to our screens – pretty much increasingly so as the months have gone on. Maybe it’s just all the Love Live music I’ve been listening to in the interim bolstering my excitement (though still only the stuff actually used in the anime, for the most part – I’ve not listened to any of the subgroup or character singles or anything).
It’s probably worth a quick mention that the first three chapters of (one of) the Love Live manga went up in English on the recently-released Comic Walker platform in the last week. It’s… Interesting, in so much that there are some things which are broadly very similar to things which occurred in the anime, but much of the minutiae is very different. I mean, Honoka as a Kendo champion? It may well be worth keeping up with just as a bizarro-world version of the franchise, but I can’t remember if this is the specific version in which Eli has brothers instead of a sister.
Before getting started in earnest, let us take a moment to try and figure out when this new series is taking place. Given that the episode begins with a school-wide assembly, it’d be natural to assume that it was taking place at the beginning of the second trimester at the beginning of September, but that may not be the case, particularly given that they’ve had time to elect Honoka already.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Japanese school year (unlike the British one) runs on more-or-less the financial year – that is, it starts in April (though I guess Yukiho confirms this in the episode). The first series started with the characters in their Winter uniforms, at the start of their school year. They switched into their Summer uniforms mid-way through the series, which they remained in up until the end. They switched back to the Winter uniforms for this episode (and the OAV as well, for that matter, but let’s put that to one side as being, quite frankly, weird), so clearly it takes place after the summer. Speculatively, because of the switch to the winter uniforms (which apparently traditionally takes place around October, if, again, the internet is to believed), we are probably floating around the beginning of, well, October here. This would pretty much tie in with Eli saying that they have six months left at school toward the end of the episode.
The chronology of the first season, of course, isn’t actually all that clear. It’d actually make the most sense for the whole thing to take place during their first trimester – it’s not really clear as to whether or not their trip during the tenth episode was taken during their summer break or not, but I’d presume it was just a weekend excursion. The significant thing that’d make the whole thing taking place during the first trimester make sense is that Kotori was heading off to study aboard – most European countries (and many US States, apparently) have their schools convene in late August/early September, so her relocating around late July in preparation would make some sense.
Not that you’d really expect logic from this show, so for all my attempts to reconcile what we’re being shown, this series probably does start at the beginning of September. I’m really just interested in getting a rough mental approximation of how much time, assuming the staff are even keeping track of it, they have left to play with in regards to the third years, particularly given we’ve been dropped a couple of significant dates. Speculative series composition and all that you understand.
That, and the big take away is that we skipped entirely over the girls summer vacation – at least in animated form. This is probably where someone who has been following the CD releases in the gap between the two anime series informs me that some really interesting stuff went down during the accompanying drama tracks.
But, anyway, that’s quite enough of that, let’s get on with the key points.
1) Truly, the Citizen Kane of Idol Anime
Not that I’ve actually ever seen Citizen Kane – I’m neither that old, a film student nor a hipster looking to establish some sense of superficial superiority in the field of cinematic discussion. It’s not as if Orson Wells can really match up to the super-directors of today, such as Michael Bay or Paul W S Anderson, anyway.
That being said, I’m only making the most superficial of comparisons here, being simply amused by the opening shot of the episode. It’s is somewhat reminiscent of the famous Rancho sign shot from Kane with the whole camera-through-thing thing.
Of course, what was once groundbreaking film-making technique (and, dare I say it, showing-off) is so trivially easy to replicate in the specific fashion you see here in animation using modern computer animation and compositing techniques (or even in live action via CG) that it’s something you don’t really see, or at least no longer clock as being significant. It’s noticeable here just because it’s the opening shot, and because Love Live is all about it’s peculiar scene transitions – also see them using Nico’s arse as a screenwipe later in the episode. The directors deftness in their application is how they manage to get away with so many odd leaps in time without matters coming across as incoherent.
Saying that, it is pretty effective here as an establishing shot, though in reality we all know that WUG was actually the Citizen Kane of idol anime. It had a Citizen Kane poster on display, after all, and that’s totally how it works, right?
2) Judgment Day
I’m pretty sure Honoka is the Arnold of school politics, or maybe I’d say Boris Johnson, if I thought anyone outside the UK would get that. In any case, regardless of the quality of whatever politics she was espousing, she was likely only elected due to being the person on the ballot that people had actually heard of, presumably without actually knowing much about her true character.
I mean, just from the few episodes of the first series I managed to rewatch last night, she is a self-confessed scatterbrain and someone who was caught on documentary film as sleeping through her classes, which is not to mention the fact that she went weeks of apparently having her group members count themselves out loud prior to their practice sessions before someone finally pointed out that they, infact, had more than enough members to form an official school club.
This is without mentioning that she, you know, kind of completely failed to get her school idol unit into the Love Live, for reasons which mostly can be tracked back to being her fault, and spent several weeks in a passive funk as a result of her failure. Do you really want a student president who buckles under pressure like that?
Also, she’s kind of dumb, or at least mathematically challenged. Not really student council president material at all.
Aside from, or at least bolstering, her chances beyond mere popularity, I imagine that there were three possible scenarios here assisting in her election :-
1) People actually wanted Umi as president, but knew she wouldn’t run herself. Umi as vice-president is the consolation prize.
2) The Wider Love Live Esper Theory. I’m pretty sure I’ve already postulated that Honoka possesses a MentalOut-like ability to bend people to her will, or at least stupefy them into a sense of docile obedience with that vacantly happy stare of hers.
3) Nozomi did it. I’m pretty sure she has her ways of making people willingly (pretend to) forget things. Ways which probably involve groping. Lots and lots of groping.
Although, obviously, whatever the situation, the important thing is that a member of Mooo’s got in as the Student President – after all, what would happen the next time they need to requisition and redecorate the entire school in order to shoot one of their PVs if they had a Student President they had an antagonistic relationship with?
(Let’s just forget that one time they did in the first series, OK?)
(Also, arbitrary side-note – Kotori is on the student council too? Between being a grade-A student, being a member of a school idol unit, designing and making all the costumes and being the legendary Akiba charisma maid Minalinski, I have to wonder what she is cutting back on to find the time…)
3) Sa! Iko Hikaru….
Come on, admit it – you totally expected Honoka to break out into Idol Katsudou -Rock Ver- when she flung that microphone into the air, right?
As a random note, it’s nice to see that attendance figures – or at least the number of new students applying – has picked up, though it can’t help but notice that no-one has realised that it’s only really solving the immediate problem. At least until science catches up, attracting all the neighbourhoods girls to, well, an all-girl school probably isn’t going to help much with the wider birthrate issues that caused student numbers to drop in the first place.
Not that anyone really wants to think about such things whilst watching their soft-core lesbian idol cartoons.
4) The More Things Change…
This cut, from right at the beginning of Honoka’s song-and-dance number about becoming the Student President, is an almost weirdly specific callback to the scene in the first episode of the first series of Love Live, when she is being rather delusional about the fact that the school is being closed down.
To contrast, here’s the cut from the previous season –
Note the exact same layout being on display, with people standing in the exact same positions. Background art differences aside, the thing which breaks it, aside from the improvement in art, is that they’ve changed two – just two – of the girls in the background. Admittedly, that one further into the back looks like a minor recolouring, but that girl up front has changed completely.
But, hey, fashions and friendships change, and Kakifly’s lawyers continue to have Sunrises number on speed dial in the event that Umi is ever caught on frame with a bass guitar or a girl who could possibly look like Ritsu from some angles if you kind of squint a bit. I can’t blame them for playing safe.
All joking aside, this sequence was pretty much the perfect way to restart the series – it’s a good way of luring the viewer back into the irreverent tone of the series whilst reminding them of it’s background. That I spent the entire thing assuming it was a dream sequence, for it to suddenly cut to not being a dream sequence, only to cut again to it actually being a dream sequence in a context entirely different to what I’d expected just made it all the funnier.
(I do wonder if that cut in the first season was altered for the BD release – I’ve only seen the TV version, so it’s quite possible the BD version matches more closely with what they’ve done in series 2)
5) I’m pretty sure your predictions are only true because you pull strings…
Once again, Nozomi is making one of her predictions, which, when you go back through the first series, pretty much come across entirely as her manipulating people under the guise of destiny.
Still, let’s have a look at what Wikipedia says about the Hanged Man card:
The Hanged Man’s symbolism points to divinity, linking it to the Passion in Christianity, especially The Crucifixion; to the narratives of Osiris in Egyptian mythology, and Mithras in Ancient Persian mythology and Roman mythology. In all of these archetypal stories, the destruction of self brings life to humanity; on the card, these are symbolized respectively by the person of the hanged man and the living tree from which he hangs bound.
The Hanged Man is also associated with Odin, the primary god in Norse mythology. Odin hung upside down from the world-tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days to attain wisdom and thereby retrieved the runes from the Well of Wyrd, which in Norse cosmology is regarded as the source and end of all sacred mystery and knowledge. The moment he glimpsed the runes, he died, but the knowledge of them was so powerful that he immediately returned to life.
Well, that’s the interpretation, anyway – it all sounds rather like the series composition of the first series, assuming you equate hanging upside-down from the World Tree with suffering anime-rain disease.
The keywords listed for the card are…
Sacrifice — Letting go — Surrendering — Passivity
Suspension — Acceptance — Renunciation — Patience
New point of view — Contemplation — Inner harmony
Conformism — Non-action — Waiting — Giving up
Which, again, sounds a lot like the series composition of the first series! Still, I guess we can come back and tick things off the list as they happen later on – regardless of whether it’s Nozomi manipulating people or not, the shows use of tarot cards has actually been mostly spot-on thematically.
6) Friendly reminder that Nico still the best character
Just in case you were in danger of forgetting, I just thought I’d remind you of this most important of facts. I do wonder if Maki’s assertion about feeling sick in the following cut is in relation to Nico’s increasingly saccharine stage persona, or if it’s more to do with the assertion that Nico belongs to everyone, not just her.
With the shift to Winter uniforms, we see the girls shifting to their Winter practice wear too. That being said, we saw everyone other than Maki in these clothes back in the OAV, or at least those of us who watched it did. I do rather like Maki’s new practice wear, too – particularly the hat and the Hisa-style hair ties – though I do wonder if the striped leggings might actually be colder than the trousers she was wearing in the summer.
7) SHOCKING CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT!
It would seem, at some point, Hanayo managed to learn how to not say the opposite of what she means in shocking situations. Sure, she is still being a little over dramatic here, but at least she isn’t exclaiming that it’s terrible and isn’t begging for help in a situation that does, in fact, have rather positive ramifications.
Still, the important point here is that they’re running a special-format Love Live, in which having a certain degree of popularity isn’t going to be a pre-requisite for entry – because, you know, there’s no way a former top-twenty school idol group who dropped in position only through inactivity could possibly regain their qualifying position. Now, with the new format Love Live, we have something with an even more game-like, tournament-like structure than we had previously.
This does remind me that the PSVita game – or the three of them, to be more accurate – was originally due to be out next month, before being pushed back a month or two. I have to admit, on an entirely selfish level, I’m kind of glad it got pushed back, as with a new iDOLM@STER game and a pair of Macross Frontier movies to pay for a week or two prior to the original release date, I don’t really need to be dropping another £300 a on bunch of LE Love Live games in that particular month.
8) Upon reflection, this is kind of dumb
I shouldn’t really pick on this cut too much, because they’d actually done it properly in pretty much the entire rest of the scene, but I’m pretty sure mirrors don’t work by simply replicating the appearance of the side of the person that is facing away from it. They probably would have gotten away with it had they used a character other than Nico here, but I’m sure we all know that the long bangs running along the side of her face are asymmetrical – the one on her right side, which should be most prominently displayed in the mirror, runs longer than the length of her face, and should therefore be fully visible.
(Also amused that, despite the apparent urgency of the situation, they all still found time to change back into their uniforms!)
9) What’s that on your face?
Maybe it’s just me, but the some odd reason, this particular cut of Honoka looked really late-80s/early-90s throwback. I think it’s the think lines around the mouth – it’s looks almost as if they got Satoshi Urushihara to draw this cut, except her flesh isn’t quite shiny enough for that.
10) Nico x Maki, 24 Hours a Day
It’d be real easy to make a joke about 24 when a multi-way split screen cut like this appears, but honestly, I’m most interested in what is going on in that middle frame. I mean, it’s so late at night that most of the characters are in their nightwear, preparing to sleep, whilst Nico and Maki are standing on a dark street corner in the middle of the night. In short skirts. I think we all know what is going on here…
They are totally moonlighting as elegant lady thieves. One considerably more elegant that the other, obviously.
All joking aside, it’s pretty cute that Nico has donned a skirt quite that short, particularly coupled with those heels. It plays back into the brief comparative body-complex gag from back in episode 10 (the beach episode) of the original series.
(Also, increasingly rare shot of Hanayo wearing her specs!)
11) Why, Indeed
I don’t really see, I must confess, how losing in a stair-climbing race would place Honoka under onus to enter the Love Live.
The most amusing thing about this situation, at least to me, is that, much like with the conclusion of the first series, the main drama kind of boils down to the fact that Honoka is being far too considerate about things in a way that is proving problematic. I guess it makes a change from the major drama in a series being some kind of comically contrived villain (see just about the only sporadically annoying thing in Build Fighters), but with Nico being just about the only character with some kind of vaguely malicious – or at least self-serving – streak in the franchise, that was never likely to be a significant part of the proceedings anyway.
12) Wait, when is the next Love Live again?
I have to admit, this sequence muddied my understanding of the series continuity somewhat. They mention a couple of times that the next Love Live is going to be starting in March, but it’s unclear as to whether they are referring to the next regular Love Live (which they, the third years, wouldn’t be able to compete in due to having graduated), or if it’s the one they’re looking to enter, falling of the cusp of them leaving school. I’d have thought it’d be the later, though it’s going to potentially present an interesting series composition challenge.
They have thirteen episodes, I presume at least, which means that they are going to have to cram in some degree of training, a tournament-arc of sorts and, of course, an episode or two of poignant graduation related content (though I guess that could be bundled into the Love Live finale in some fashion). I guess they will have to deal with the inevitable School Council-related trauma as well. It seems like an awful lot for them to get through, in any case, so I’m obviously curious to see how things pan out.
(Also, pretty sure that Nico didn’t actually get anywhere near having her face being close enough to the floor to require needing a plaster. I reckon she’s just trying to guilt-trip Honoka into compliance here)
13) You’d think Honoka would know better…
I mean, remember what happened last time Honoka ran up the stairs in the rain? You know, the sick, bed-ridden state that caused her to have to pull out of the Love Live? You would really think that she would know better than to risk Anime Rain Disease here, especially after having agreed to give the Love Live another shot.
That being said, perhaps her prior experience has given her immunity to such ailments? Or maybe turned her into a Suzumiya Haruhi-like deity, assuming she wasn’t already, given that she now possesses the ability to disperse weather by yelling at it?
(Of course, I’m pretty sure you all realised that the series of cuts climaxing with the spinning shot of her running towards camera was a direct reference to a scene back in the first episode of the first series again, if rather more obvious a one than that mentioned above)
14) It all ends in the way its starts
By which I mean that they made us wait until the end of the episode to see the new OP sequence.
I have to say, I think the CG in Love Live’s performance sequences rather peaked with No Brand Girls back in episode 11 of the first series, and a lot of that was probably to do with the subtle ways that the heavily rain-soaked roof could hide things. Even if it looks more expensive in many ways, the CG in the new opening actually looks somewhat worse to my eyes than the opening of the first series.
I’m not quite sure why that is, honestly. Obviously, in the screen cap above, I cherry picked an angle in which the Love Live CG always looks slightly odd – the way their heads look has always looked kind of weird when the characters have been framed in this particular fashion – but otherwise, whilst the characters might actually look pretty good in stills, there’s something which doesn’t quite work about it when it motion.
It probably comes down to the animation, as without some of the specific tweaks and techniques used in hand-animation, what might have looked like a perfectly proper dance sequence comes across as somewhat stiff and mannequin-like (not that CG models aren’t entirely mannequin-like, in a sense, anyway). Funny thing is that, as much as people pointed and laughed at the jerky flailing limbs of the content they couldn’t pull directly from the game when it first started, I think the dance animation from Aikatsu is, if not necessarily better, then certainly more laden with character and charm than Love Lives at this point – particularly when you start to look at things like 2P Ichigo’s slip-ups in recent episodes, not to mention Sora’s trippy image song.
Of course, the fact that they aren’t dealing with having to mixing 2D and 3D animation in Aikatsu is to that shows benefit – they don’t have to worry about style-matching the animation so much, and perhaps more importantly, matching the frame-rate – I’d wager that even the exact same animation seen in Love Live would look an awful lot more convincing not done on the virtual 2’s or 3’s.
As for other elements of the new OP, the song is catchy enough, and it’s real cute that most of the 2D animated scenes they cut away to are direct references to those great BD cover illustrations from the first series home release.
Random Reminders of Possibly Important Information
I’m sure you all remember A-RISE – the cast of the show certainly do, and they did have the best song in the series in the form of Private Wars. He’s a reminder of the character names, given that they’re likely to show up before too long.
Nico still has a bunch of posters of various idol groups in the club-room. Well, I say various, but two of them are of A-RISE. Of the others, pictured above, the group shown on the right is DREAM, or at least they were denoted as such in a magazine spread that Honoka was reading early in the first series, and are a school idol unit from Fukuoka. DREAM finished ninth in the previous Love Live.
The middle unit appeared on a magazine cover, but has thus far gone unnamed. Could they be the enigmatic George? Nico certainly seems to be a fan given that there’s a few George banners scattered around the room…
Also, your friendly reminder that Rin still isn’t an actual character.