[APT507] School Idols vs. Pro Idols: The Hints of Sobering Reality in Love Live!

Something that’s stuck with me for a long time is the distinction that Love Live! makes between idols and school idols. I find that it hints at the harshness of the idol industry, though in a very, very indirect way. I wrote a short article on it over at Apartment 507, if you’re curious.

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Fan vs. Official: Bokura no Love Live 12 + Love Live! School Idol Festival Thanksgiving 2016

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In my most recent trip to Japan, I attended two different Love Live! events in one day. The first was “Bokura no Love Live! 12,” a doujin event. The second was Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016″ (School Idol Festival Thanksgiving 2016) in Ikebukuro, an official event held in celebration of the School Idol Festival game. The contrast between an event that revels in fan expression and one that presents everything in an official capacity is interesting to me, because I think it shows both the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to fandom.

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Though I had the opportunity to take a look at both, a question occurred to me as I was traveling from one to the other: if I could only go to one, which one would I choose? I took this from the perspective of a Koizumi Hanayo fan. At the doujin event, I could buy Hanayo-dedicated fan comics from people I knew were fans of Hanayo as much as I am (if not more!). I found a bunch of amazing comics and parody works, and I even got a couple of amazing tote bags that might be my favorite purchases of my entire Japan trip. There’s sort of an interesting magic to buying things in person that get lose with just ordering online, and it’s enhanced when you know the person behind the table put their heart and soul into it. Overall, it was one of the best highlights of my trip to Japan.

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However, doujinshi are, of course, not official portrayals of the characters. This is in many ways the advantage of fanart, fanfiction, etc., but what’s also clear is that the fan material feeds off of the official presentation. Much for the art at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” was clearly inspired by the images found in magazines, the mobile game, and everywhere else. There is a kind of power to official merchandise because it presents the characters at their best, but it’s also limiting because they can’t stray too far off from what is deemed “okay.”

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For example, the shirts being sold at “Thanksgiving 2016” were all prints of existing art that could be found in lots of places, while the merchandise sold at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” felt a little more unique because they weren’t officially sanctioned images slapped onto clothing. That’s not to say official Love Live! merchandise has to look blunt and straightforward (I actually also got a swank Love Live! polo shirt just the day before these events), but they seem to lean in that direction.

Another instance of the difference between events has to do with yuri and pairings. Love Live! encourages yuri to a certain degree, but has to keep it implicit because it’s supposed to appeal to all sorts of people (and indeed I saw everything from little girls to businessmen at Thanksgiving 2016). A doujin event, on the other hand, can go as explicit as possible in more ways than one, and can even merge the innocent with the racy and have them all exist in one place. Characters can be drawn to fit the whims of the artists to a greater degree with the doujinshi, but they necessarily must feed off the source material at least to a certain extent. Nico/Maki doujinshi can go the distance, but the dynamic between them is rendered through the anime, the game, and other canon resources.

Official events also have resources on their side. One of the highlights of “Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016” was a live School Idol Festival game where nine different people played simultaneously, each one commanding one of the buttons by stepping on them. The cards being used where all nine of the μ’s girls, but with special outfits for the event, and they were surrounded in a mall by throngs of fans dancing and singing along. A doujin event really couldn’t pull that off to the same capacity, nor could they be the place to get official Love Live! Final μ’s Concert shirts, which were a popular item at both events that granted legitimacy to the wearer’s fandom.

The division between official and unofficial events can be rather gray because of how the two feed into each other. The output of fans, albeit more often in the form of monetary purchases, informs the official companies responsible for Love Live! just what the fans are into. The fans, as mentioned, take inspiration from the official material, and convert it, thus spreading the joy of Love Live! further.

It’s hard to choose between the two when both have so much merit, but ultimately I think I would have gone for the doujin event just so I could have that experience of walking around and buying fan-made works. It’s sort of the difference between attending fan panels and official panels at conventions. The official panels are where you can meet the creators, but many times they’re curated and micromanaged heavily, whereas doujinshi and fan panels can stray from the “company line” so to speak. This makes them, in my opinion, overall more interesting, but I’m well aware that all of the Hanayo rice memes required the source material to emphasize it in the most amusing ways.

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The last thing I’d like to talk about is actually a little card found in the bag of freebies from Thanksgiving 2016 which is a drawing of some of the School Idol Festival-original girls. Unlike The iDOLM@STER, there is a clear stratification between the main girls (be they μ’s or their successors, the new group Aqours), who are considered “Rare Cards,” as opposed to the “Normal Card” girls that are basically fodder for the former. Here, even at this official event was a small token of appreciation for the lesser idols, and a part of me wishes that someone, be they official creators or doujinshi creators, would take the next step and flesh them out. The result would be different on either side, but both would provide value in their own ways.

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PS: I mentioned a freebie bag for “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016,” and I happen to have an extra one. I’ll be holding a contest soon to determine the winner, so stay tuned!

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