In the beginning, there was Love Live! School Idol Project. Then came the sequel, Love Live! Sunshine!! And now, we arrive at the anime adaptation of the third story about a high school club stepping into the world of idol performance for the sake of school spirit, Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club. Well, technically, the fourth project is already underway, but I still want to commit to paper (so to speak) my thoughts on the girls of Nijigasaki.
I began as a Love Live! skeptic of sorts, but the first anime won me over thanks to the sheer presence of its characters. Love Live! Sunshine!! is also a treat, but even though it has elements that help to differentiate it from the original, they still feel built from the same essence. In both cases, while each of the girls that comprise their respective groups all have their own particular charms and personalities, their philosophy is that of group unity and togetherness. In Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, however, the focus is on the characters as solo idols. The first two thirds of the series spend each episode focusing on each character, with a special musical performance highlighting the star of each episode, before bringing everything together leading into the finale. This can even be seen in the fact that they have no formal stage name as a whole. Whereas Love Live! has μ’s (pronounced “Muse”) and Sunshine!! has Aqours (pronounced “Aqua”), these girls are just the “Nijigasaki High School Idol Club.”
If I had come to this anime as my first Love Live! experience, I probably wouldn’t have thought that this series’ emphasis on individuality as especially notable, but because I’m not new to the franchise, this change of direction stands out all the more. Combined with a different visual style (the character designs come across more “matte” than “glossy”), and Nijigasaki comes across as more of an alternative than a sequel.
I thoroughly enjoyed the previous Love Live! anime, and I have my favorites among the characters, Koizumi Hanayo chief among them. But when it comes to Nijigasaki, I find myself personally relating on some level to all of them. I’m not certain if it’s by general design (“They should all be relatable!”) or if it’s just my own specific circumstances that lends me to directly empathize with the Nijigasaki girls, but I didn’t quite have the same experience with the previous works. Whether it’s Asaka Karen’s lack of directional sense, Konoe Kanata’s perpetual sleepiness, Tennouji Rina’s struggles with outward expression (it’s why I’m a lot better at writing than speaking), or any number of qualities, it’s like I can find fragments of myself in each character—including the audience insert character, Takasaki Yu, and her desire to find her own dreams.
For that reason, I also can’t quite decide on a favorite Nijigasaki character, though I lean a bit towards Yuki Setsuna due to her Clark Kent/Superman duality as the student council president and how her love of anime and manga comes out in joyful bursts due to a strict family that looks down on such things as frivolous. It’s been a long time since I was in high school, but I can still remember those feelings.
One of the entertaining aspects of Nijigasaki is that it’s full of references both meta and cultural. The characters of Nijigasaki first emerged via the Love Live! mobile games, and that origin is paid homage throughout the anime. Three of the girls started off as “normal rarity” cards in Love Live! School Idol Festival, and many of their former peers show up in the anime as the school idols of other schools. While a different series would treat these characters as nobodies, Nijigasaki does the opposite. To use pro wrestling lingo, it would be all too easy to bury them and present them as lesser, the anime makes them the established idols of nearby schools that the Nijigasaki club aspires to match. At the end of the series, the event they hold is called “School Idol Festival,” bringing the name of the games they came from to the forefront, only now as a literal festival and not just something that sounds neat. As for non-Love Live!-specific references, their school is literally Tokyo Big Sight (complete with interior architecture that works great for a convention center but is weird to have for a school), and the anime’s Odaiba setting features cameos by the life-size Unicorn Gundam model currently located there. Sunrise, the studio behind Gundam, also does the Love Live! Anime.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club brings something new for existing fans of Love Live!, but it’s also a solidly pleasant anime for fans of all stripes. While the original is still closest to my heart, I appreciate what this series does, and I feel the most personally connected to the characters and what makes them tick. I look forward to a second season, especially if a certain Hong Kong–native makes her appearance.