Love Live + Yellow Magic Orchestra?!

One of my favorite Love Live! songs is “Suki desu ga Suki desu ka?.” It’s a tune by Hanayo and Kotori with a kind of funk/disco flair. What I might have discovered recently, however, is a more specific reference to 70s music. Namely, the song might be taking cues or paying homage to the electronic music and techno pioneers known as Yellow Magic Orchestra.

At about 1 minute 13 seconds into “Suki desu ga Suki desu ka,” there’s a particular melody during the following lyrics:

Soshite watashi dake o (Oh yeah, oh yeah!)
Mitsumete hoshii no (watashi dake mitsumete)

If you listen to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s hit song Technopolis, there’s a similar combination of notes early on in the song, at about 42 seconds in. Have a listen below:

What do you think? Mere coincidence or an intentional nod to the masters of electronic music?

[Apartment 507] Passionate Whispers: Hanayo Koizumi is the Best Love Live! Character

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To end off my Love Live! Character Spotlight series, I’ve written an article about my favorite school idol, Koizumi Hanayo.

May the rice be with you.

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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Happy Birthday, Koizumi Hanayo!

Today, January 17th is the birthday of Koizumi Hanayo, the rice-loving, school idol-adoring best character from Love Live! So, what better way to celebrate than with the Hanayo Nendoroid I recently acquired?

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See Hanayo.

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See Hanayo with rice.

Hanayo is one of the nine original Love Live! Nendoroids, based on their outfits from the first anime opening. In order to facilitate any fans’ desires to collect them all, they come with fewer accessories as well as a lower price tag to match. I did not buy the other members, but if they’re as good as Hanayo’s Nendoroid then I think they’re a worthy investment, especially if you have a favorite Love Live.

There’s an even better Hanayo Nendoroid that comes with a rice cooker and glasses, but it has yet to be released. I do wish I had it for this occasion, but maybe next year.

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Best Anime Characters of 2015

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Sunakawa Makoto (My Love Story!!)

In the narrative of My Love Story!!, Sunakawa is naturally handsome, intelligent, and charismatic to the point that girls from ages 8 to 80 seem to fall in love with him at first sight. However, what makes him truly stand out aren’t his looks or his smarts, but his genuine bond with his best friend, the seemingly brutish Gouda Takeo. Sunakawa’s opposite in practically every way, but the two share one important thing in common: big hearts. Sunakawa sees not only the goodness in Takeo but the petty shallowness of those who judge people only by their looks, which affects him just as much as Takeo himself.

Takeo is also a worthy pick, but it’s the way Sunakawa looks out for Takeo that makes him the Best of 2015. Whether you want to be Sunakawa or have him watch your back, there’s no better best friend in all of anime (except maybe Tomoyo).

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Koizumi Hanayo (Love Live! The School Idol Movie)

Last year, Koizumi Hanayo was in the final running for Best of 2014, but ultimately the immensely powerful personality of Kill la Kill‘s Kiryuuin Satsuki won out. Now, with Love Live! The School Idol Movie being the swansong for the original Love Live! girls, I thought it best to call Hanayo Best Female Character of 2015 because there might never be a chance to do it again.

If there’s one word I would use to describe Hanayo, it would be “passion.” It’s her nearly unrivaled love of school idols, along with some support from her friends, that allows Hanayo to take the step from fan to idol in the first place. The fiery look in Hanayo’s eyes and her characteristic “quiet scream” when something big is happening is unmistakable. When Hanayo helps Rin overcome her negative self-image, it’s from a place of genuine care and compassion. And when Hanayo goes on a rant about how rice is the central component of a proper meal and that this is one of America’s most critical flaws, why, it’s only appropriate. Hail to the Rice Goddess.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to determining my favorite characters in anime, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that they often possess either admirable qualities I would like to emulate, or traits that I can directly relate to. Sunakawa’s perceptiveness and compassion are things that my oblivious self would love to have. Hanayo’s devotion to food is a match for my own constant desire to find the latest, greatest things to eat, and her instant switch from shy to fervent fan also reminds me a lot of myself. Of course, these are not their only criteria, and ultimately it is their impact on their friends and loved ones that is in a way much more significant, but there’s something about both Sunakawa and Hanayo that makes them both like quiet fist pumps in anime form.

Yesssss.

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Story is Not a Side Dish in Love Live! The School Idol Movie

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Love Live! is huge, no doubt about it, and I would say deservedly so. Between the quality of the anime TV series, the appeal of its characters, the addictive nature of its mobile game, and of course the slew of songs produced, in a way it’s no wonder that Love Live! manages to attract both male and female fans in large numbers. I attended the New York City premiere for Love Live! The School Idol Movie, and as expected was greeted with a long line full of cosplayers, glow stick wielders, capes adorned with the characters’ faces, and just generally fans who love the main idol group so much that they practically treat the showing like a live concert. Watching the movie amidst an audience of differing values and perspectives, what I found most interesting is how the movie juggles all the various aspects that go into the franchise while maintaining both a fun experience and a solid narrative, and which speaks further to how malleable Love Live! is as a fan experience.

 

Synopsis and General Thoughts

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In the world of Love Live! are idol groups that represent specific high schools. Kousaka Honoka, a new attendee at Otonokizaki High School, forms a “school idol” group called μ’s along with eight other girls so that they can save their school from rapidly declining attendance and closure. Eventually, through various trials and setbacks, they not only manage to keep their school, but win the biggest school idol competition, the “Love Live,” defeating the defending champions A-Rise in the process. However, because they cherish the specific circumstances and experiences that brought them together, they decide that they will retire μ’s and its name. As the TV series, ends, however, they receive a note of great importance, leading directly into the film.

The note turns out to be a request to fly to New York City and shoot a live performance to promote a bigger and better Love Live, which results in the film being split into two parts: first, the trip to NYC, and then the build-up to a concert back in Japan. Given the first half, I find that there’s something special about attending the NYC premiere, especially because of how much care and attention they put into replicating New York’s landmarks at overall atmosphere. Jogging through Central Park, visiting the new World Trade Center, what stood out to me in particular were actually the restaurants. Visiting thinly veiled analogues for such NYC institutions as Junior’s (where they experience American cheesecake for the first time) and Japanese restaurant Kenka (where the surrounding St. Mark’s Place atmosphere is captured surprisingly well), it’s clear that the people responsible for the movie did their research, and in terms of capturing the NYC experience they did a good job.

As for the second half of the movie, it’s very much designed to conclude the story of the nine girls of μ’s, which in a way is a major surprise. Not only would it be obvious to have their adventures continue forever given their appeal (and I’m sure they’ll find a million ways to extend the overall life of the group), but the film doesn’t even mention the fact that they’re creating another anime with a new group of girls aspiring to be school idols. One of the criticisms of Avengers 2 is that it feels like a stopgap between two different status quos, and it would have been all too easy to feature the new girls in the movie conspicuously as a way to promote them. In fact, there’s nothing of the sort, at least as far as I can tell. This movie, whether it’s truly the end or not, at least feels like a conclusion to a long and entertaining journey.

As a film that’s supposed to be both the sequel and bookend to the story of μ’s, I find that Love Live! The School Idol movie strikes a good balance of calling back to beloved moments of the TV series, being its own story, and giving enough time and energy to each of the characters without having them overcrowd each other. Some figure more prominently into the main narrative than others, especially in the second half, but there was clearly a lot of effort made to keep the movie tight and not to bog it down with having to showcase each girl like it was a fighting game movie. Notably, entertaining musical numbers group the girls together by year (there are three 1st years, 2nd years, and 3rd years among the group), with one girl in each group being the “center,” and are in a way reminiscent of a Fred Astaire movie.

The Characters of Love Live! in The School Idol Movie and Beyond

A lot of the time, what makes Love Live! work is that the characters’ key traits allow scenes to practically play themselves out, and this comes across very well in the movie. For example, certain characters have their favorite foods. Kotori loves desserts and sweets, so naturally she would view America and New York as a never-ending wonderland. In contrast, Hanayo loves food in general but reveres plain white rice above all else, and suffers in an environment that emphasizes bread and pastries and considers rice merely a “side dish.” In such a circumstance, the normally quiet and reserved Hanayo would act out. It only makes sense for Umi to be a nervous traveler, for Maki to be flustered by a close interaction with A-Rise’s leader Tsubasa, and so on. It’s moments like these which capture the appeal of the characters so well, while tying them into the story.

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There are a lot of different values carried in Love Live! fandom, and given people’s differing opinions on favorite characters (Hanayo is the best), level of interest in yuri, amount of fondness for idols in general, and more, it occurs to me that one of the strengths of Love Live! is that it has as much or as little “depth” as you want it to. Take the character of Nico, who’s also by far the most polarizing figure among Love Live! fans. Her appeal (or to some lack thereof) comes from the fact that she’s both the most cynical and optimistic member of μ’s when it comes to being a school idol. She’s sort of like a pro wrestling fan who knows all of the behind-the-scenes information behind wrestlers’ real personalities and controversies, but at the same time gets more excited than anyone else (with the possible exception of Hanayo) by the illusory presentation of the performance.

In wrestling terms, Nico would be a “smark” turned pro wrestler. Having all of this enthusiasm and background knowledge and fully believing in its potency is what prompts her coy, girlish persona and her use of her signature catch phrase, “Nico Nico Nii!”, which has been optimized to be the perfect idol moment. And yet, it’s very easy to say that Nico = “Nico Nico Nii!” Hanayo is rice. Rin is meows. Eli is “khorosho.” Both sides, the simple and the elaborate, are represented well in Love Live! The School Idol Movie, and rather than impacting the quality of the movie and Love Live! in general, I think what it serves to do is widen its appeal. Whether that’s a good thing or not is, of course, up for discussion.

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As a final note, I’d like to talk about the present we received at the premiere. Attendees received character signboards as well as codes for the Love Live! School Idol Festival mobile game. It’s the first time I’ve received anything of the sort, and I think it went a long way in making fans of Love Live! feel like they were part of the franchise experience as a whole, even if they couldn’t fly to Japan. As shown above, I received a Nozomi signboard, which I’m happy about, as she is indeed one of my favorite characters. But if anyone has a Hanayo… leave a comment below.

Actually, one last thing: internet fandom in a nutshell.

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The Dream of the Hanayo Team is Here

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Recently I accomplished one of my goals over the past couple of years: I finally created a team of 9 unique Hanayos in the popular mobile game Love Live: School Idol Festival. Seeing as how tomorrow I’m going to see the Love Live! movie, I think now’s as good a time as any to discuss how I play School Idol Festival  as a fan of the franchise, but also as someone who knowingly restricts his exposure to the game, and creates games within games.

There was a time when I didn’t feel as strongly about Love Live! as a whole. All I knew was that I liked the anime quite a bit, and when I discovered the increasingly popular mobile rhythm game, it introduced me to the collector’s mentality that goes into supporting idols, digital or real. What began as a curiosity became an understanding of how involving the rhythm game with its collectible card aspect, character loyalty, and other aspects could be. The game taunts you with the prospect of buying more gems to give you that next gashapon-esque crank of the lever. If you choose to not give the game money, it then becomes the absolute biggest time sink there is. It’s a dangerous combination not uncommon to mobile games, and seeing the potential threat to my free time that the game posed, I knowingly restricted my goals. Thus, the All-Star All-MaddenHanayo Team starring Jerry Rice became my aspiration. I could pick my battles, prioritize certain events over others, and prevent the game from destroying my free (or not free) time.

While I hit my original goal, what’s funny is that somehow I feel that, by aiming for it so intently, it actually got further away from me. What I mean is that in the process of trying to get 9 unique Hanayo cards, I ended up with full teams of Eli and Umi without even trying. I’m sure there are fans of those two characters who would devote their everything to having full squads, but it was merely a stepping stone in my process. Again, it’s a good thing I didn’t approach the game with a completionist mentality, or else I would really be in trouble.

In the end though, I find that the game was merely supplemental to my fondness to the anime, which is why I’m looking forward to the movie far more than my anticipation over getting the final 9th Hanayo on my team. There’s an interesting disparity between the worlds of the game and the anime, and that has to do with the role of men. While players of Love Live! traverse all sexes, genders, and sexual orientations, there’s still the residual effect of idols classically being a point of desire for guys. A lot of the rewards for playing the game are messages from the girls, who will talk about how they want to be alone… with you.

In contrast, men are virtually non-existent in the anime. This is what perhaps makes it yuri fuel for a certain contingent of the fanbase, and certain characters’ actions acknowledge that men exist in a kind of abstract sense (Nico’s behavior, for example), but a lot of the character dynamics and interactions are pointed towards each other rather than the hypothetical viewer/player. The game is where I show my support as an extension of my fondness for the anime, and even if I ever buy a CD (NicoRinPana of course), then that’ll also be supplemental to my fondness for the overall narrative and theme of Love Live!

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Ogiue Maniax Talking Love Live! on The Anime Now! Podcast

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Love Live! is a cool show not to be underestimated. I recently made a guest appearance on The Anime Now! Podcast to talk about it along with ANN’s Bamboo and host Bradley. More importantly, I explain why Hanayo is the best Love Live.

Listen here

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