Recent Thoughts on Love Live's Nijigasaki High School Idol Club

In the past, the third Love Live! multimedia project, “Nijigasaki High School Idol Club” (previously known as “Perfect DREAM Project”), had somewhat eluded me in terms of its appeal. Certainly, when it comes to Love Live! In general, I’m usually something of a late adopter—it’s usually the anime adaptations that bring me in, as opposed to the games, magazines, or even the songs. I’m also not so big a fan that I’ll follow every crumb of information, or try to pick favorites before I’ve had a chance to learn about the characters.

Two things have changed since then: the Love Live! School Idol Festival All Stars mobile game (hereafter LLSIFAS) came out, and I attended a delayed viewing of the “Love Live! Fest” concert featuring the girls from all three generations. Together, they’ve given me a better insight into how this third Love Live! Is supposed to work, and its concept of “more individualized school idols” has me curious.

As soon as the nine Nijigasaki girls came out on stage at “Love Live! Fest,” it was clear that the thinking behind them diverged from what went into their predecessors. Rather than appearing as a nine-member unit with matching outfits, each of the singers/voice actors dressed like their characters, who themselves all have very different concert wardrobes. So instead of, say, having all of μ’s in white for “Snow Halation,” it was a hodgepodge ranging from a Swedish dress to a fancy nightgown to a kind of Vocaloid-esque ensemble. Their styles were incongruous, and intentionally so. As explained by one of the members, the theme of the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is to emphasize each girl’s uniqueness above all else. It’s quite a departure from previous Love Live! projects, which were all about nine girls working as one. 

Each of the Nijigasaki girls also has their own solo number (in addition to a couple of group songs), which is something that the members of μ’s and Aqours didn’t get until later. I think it actually helps convey what each of their personalities is like, as opposed to trying to figure out which girl is which when they’re all singing at the same time. Asaka Karin is supposed to have a more mature sex appeal, and it comes across in spades when she’s the only vocalist. Speaking of Karin, learning about her character was an experience. First, she came out and called herself the “sexy” one. Then, she called her fans “slaves.” Last, it showed her signature symbol: a high heel (hmm). It dawned on me that Karin (as well as the other eight girls) are likely all going for very different audiences from one another.

LLSIFAS somewhat departs from its mobile game predecessor by having more of an ongoing narrative in the story mode. In Chapter 1, you learn that the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is in a sorry state and on the verge of being shut down. Your goal is to bring back the old members and recruit some new ones, and you basically learn about each of the characters along the way. I think this has been effective in helping me get a better sense of what each of them is all about, with the heavy amount of interaction and the clearer direction doing a good job of showing how the characters are when there’s an obstacle to overcome. Still, I wonder why the forces that control Love Live! as a whole decided to move in this direction for their third endeavor.

I’m not ready to fully embrace Nijigasaki because I find that a bit of resistance is for the best when approaching idol franchises, even the continuation of one I’m already a fan of. The original Love Live! won me over even as I was very skeptical of it, and it took some time for me to enjoy Love Live! Sunshine!!, but it happened eventually. I don’t need to pick a favorite Nijigasaki girl, I don’t need to enjoy every song, and I don’t need to go all-in from the start. That said, I’m looking forward to how the more focused format of an anime will tell their story, and how this idea of individuality will play out. And with a fourth Love Live! project on the way, the Nijigasaki idols will become “senpai” themselves.

Normal Girls Ascend to the Throne: School Idol Festival Perfect DREAM Project

In the world of Love Live! and its “school idol” setting, there have traditionally been stars that shine brighter than others. This is by design—in the Love Live! School Idol Festival mobile game, for example, a sharp distinction is made between “rare” characters, i.e. those based on the main eighteen characters of the franchise, and “normal” characters used to level up your stronger cards. Over time, however, the “normal girls” have increasingly encroached on that hierarchical barrier. Their artwork on the cards has improved. They’ve received special gag comics dedicated solely to them. Now, thanks to Love Live! Perfect DREAM Project, a new School Idol Festival endeavor, three of the “Normals” have crossed over to become part of an actual school idol group.

The trio in question are Osaka Shizuku (a yamato nadeshiko type in the drama club, sixth from left), Emma (a Swiss exchange student, first from left), and Konoe Kanata (a perpetual sleepyhead, second from left). Along with six brand new characters, they’re receiving the star treatment: distinct profiles with blood types and ages, more extensive details on their backgrounds, and even voice actresses to play them. They even have a school to call their own, Nijigasaki Academy, instead of just being “students at your school!” in LLSiF. It’s a major step up for characters who started off as experience fodder.

A comparison to The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls is inevitable. Cinderella GIrls originally began as a mobile game that expanded the number of idols dramatically, but restricting their format to something more simplistic. Over time, certain characters gained popularity, and when the Cinderella Girls anime was made, a lot of them gained voices and more firm identities. However, a major difference is that all of the later iDOLM@STER characters that began in Cinderella Girls and on were designed to be someone’s favorite, instead of having the sharp distinction between “rare” and “normal.”

Perfect Dream Project seems to be a middle point between the older Love Live! philosophy and The iDOLM@STER‘s. It’s not as if all of the Normal Girls are getting upgraded immediately, after all. This could change over time (as is implied in the phrase “and more…”), but for now only three have reached the other side, as far we know. I have to wonder if they’ll end up in a similar position as the three main girls of the Cinderella Girls anime—aspiring idols who are being thrust into a new and exciting world.

One question I have is why Shizuku, Emma, and Kanata were chosen. I have nothing against them or any particularly strong opinion, but it’s just curious that these would be the first. My initial assumption is that they’re the most popular, but that’s not necessarily guaranteed either. Do they hit upon various elements that have not yet been emphasized in Love Live!? Perhaps the unqiue appeal of Emma that, while she’s of European descent like Eri and Mari, she isn’t half-Japanese and she isn’t blonde. Or maybe they’re directly trying to compete with Cinderella Girls. Kanata’s state of constant tiredness brings to mind the master of sloth, Anzu Futaba.

I find the potential future of Love Live! to be quite intriguing. At the same time, I wonder if going too far off their original formula might lead the franchise to lose its core appeal. Having a smaller core roster to work with has its benefits. As long as Love Live! doesn’t lose sight of itself, I think this will turn into a net positive.

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