It’s kind of a curious experience watching Love Live! School Idol Project because the more I see, the less the “idol” aspect matters to me. Sure, the songs are catchy and the dance sequences can be quite fun, but I find that it’s actually the show’s sense of humor that really stands out for me.
There are many different ways in which anime does comedy. There’s the slice-of-lifey approach of K-On! or Hidamari Sketch, where the idle moments provide grounds for chuckles. There’s the wild and wacky form of something like gdgd Fairies or Sakigake!! Cromartie High School, featuring one absurdity after the other. In many cases, the characters themselves are not only important to the jokes, but the jokes are subordinate to showing off the characters and how crazy/cute/sexy/rad they are. Love Live!, especially its second season, often feels closer to a classic sitcom than a typical gag anime.
Episode 7 of Season 2 is probably the best example of this so far. When Hanayo is happily chowing down on her over-sized onigiri as Honoka complains about her diet, there’s both the humor of Hanayo inadvertently rubbing it in and the humor of Hanayo’s increasing hubris leading to her inevitable downfall (carbs, man). Later in the episode (10 minutes, 30 seconds), Honoka and Hanayo are jogging when they come across a restaurant. The sight gags and the way they communicate with only excited grunts reminds me of an I Love Lucy skit like the chocolate factory, or maybe something from The Honeymooners. There’s even sort of a similarity between Yazawa Nico and Ralph Cramden.
That’s not to say that the characters are not a focus of the anime, as it is in the end a show about idols designed to have you become a fan and buy all of their merchandise. Despite their looks, however, I often find that the humor isn’t simply about “moe” even when it comes to highlighting their personalities, or if starts out that way then it becomes something else over time. Hanayo, who I describe as “a G Gundam character with the volume turned down to 10%,” essentially has a soft scream that sets up or supports a lot of the jokes in the show. Perhaps the most prominent example of the show doing more with its characters is Sonoda Umi, who in Season 1 is sort of an Akiyama Mio from K-On! type—a cool-looking and responsible girl who is easily embarrassed and writes cute lyrics. However, while she retains those elements to a degree in Season 2, she also begins to show a kind of hilarious intensity that is best summed up by the gif below.
Another aspect that works in the show’s favor is that it will sometimes take episodes to set up a joke and reward those who’ve been paying attention. In Season 1, it’s when they get a club room (or something, my memory’s still a little shaky), and you can see Hanayo just casually using a rice cooker in there. It’s not the focus of the scene, and no one really makes mention of it, but then when they have their training camp, you see the fact that Hanayo has this gigantic bowl of rice piled so high that it looks like a snowy mountain. When someone finally asks about it, Hanayo’s rsponse (“Don’t let it bother you”) comes and goes so quickly in part due to her soft, high-pitched voice that somehow it just gets funnier.
In Season 2, episode 1 shows Honoka yelling at the sky to stop raining. When rays of sunshine start peaking through the clouds, we’re supposed to think of it as Honoka showing that people can do anything if they set their hearts on it, an inspirational moment for the characters. However, a few episodes later Honoka, Umi, and Kotori get trapped in Okinawa because of a typhoon, and as the weather gets increasingly bleak, we can see Honoka trying to stop the weather again, only this time to no avail. I actually think that little moment in the first episode was partly done to pave the way for this punchline a little down the road.
I find that humorous anime tend to attract a particular audience because it isn’t quite the same as what you’d find on television, and the fact that Love Live! often veers towards the latter may either be a welcome aspect or the very thing that they ran away from when they discovered anime in the first place. The “idol” aspect may also be a turn-off for some, as the concept implies a certain desired level of maniacal devotion, even more than other anime that rely on the charm of its female cast. With Love Live!, however, there’s some real meat to the comedy, utilizing the characters’ personalities but not being solely in service to them.
By the way, my Love Live! top 3 are Hanayo > Nico > Nozomi. 4th is actually A-Rise lead Kira Tsubasa.