Love Live! April Fool’s “CYaZALEA☆Kiss”: References and In-Jokes

This year’s April Fool’s brought out one of the best things ever from Love Live!: the “announcement” of a new 80s-style action anime called CYaZALEA☆Kiss

But the Love Live! fandom and the 80s anime fandom generally don’t overlap, so I’m here to explain some of the jokes/references on both sides.

The name itself: “CYaZALEA☆Kiss”

The characters featured in this video are collectively known as Aqours (pronounced “aqua”), and are the heroines of the Love Live! Sunshine!! iteration of the franchise. These nine girls, in turn, are composed of three idol sub-units with their own distinct styles called CYaRon!, AZALEA, and Guilty Kiss. In the “plot” to this video, the three sub-units must join forces, but rather than calling them “Aqours,” their separate group names have just been mashed together.

It’s sort of like if you called the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Leodonphalangelo.”

The narration is a spoof on Fist of the North Star

The introduction of a post-apocalyptic backdrop set in the year 20XX is a reference to the opening narration of Fist of the North Star, a violent 80s shounen series about a world-saving martial arts hero who can make bad guys explode with his fists. In the anime, the narrator explains how in the year 199X, the Earth was ravaged by nuclear war, setting the stage for the series. 

On top of that callback, the over-the-top voiceover featured in CYaZALEA☆Kiss is none other than Chiba Shigeru, the actual narrator from Fist of the North Star! Famously, he’s known for getting more and more ridiculous and impassioned over the course of that series, and he brings that very style to this April Fool’s gag:

The general feel of the opening is an homage to Saint Seiya

From the team aspect, to the outfits the girls wear, to even the swooping logo (featuring 80s cel-animation shakiness), the whole CYaZALEA☆Kiss endeavor is largely based around the 80s shounen manga and anime Saint Seiya. Following a group of heroes who gain special armor and cosmic powers based on the constellations, Saint Seiya is famous for pioneering the “armored pretty boys” genre, and was responsible for bringing many female readers to Shounen Jump.

The general art style is also very reminiscent of the aesthetics of Saint Seiya author, Kurumada Masami.

Sentai colors run amok

At the beginning of the opening video, all the girls in CYaZALEA☆Kiss announce their designated colors, similar to what’s often seen in Super Sentai and other tokusatsu works. But whereas those shows typically have six, maybe seven members at most, there are nine in this case. Not only does this cause a jumbled mess of talking-over, but the actual colors named can get very specific.

Chika: Mikan 

Riko: Sakura pink

Kanan: Emerald green

Dia: Red

You: Light blue

Yoshiko: White

Hanamaru: Yellow

Mari: Violet red

Ruby: Pink

These are the actual signature colors of their respective characters in Love Live! Sunshine!! too. If you buy a glow wand (or “light blade,” as they’re officially called), it’ll come with all nine of these colors.

Though perhaps not intentional, it also harkens back to the sentai parody anime Shinesman, which featured a team of red, gray, sepia, salmon pink, and moss green.

The character designer and artist for CYaZALEA☆Kiss is a famous 80s manga artist

While the overall look of this parody is based on Saint Seiya, the actual artist himself is not Kurumada but rather Shimamoto Kazuhiko, creator of Blazing Transfer Student and Aoi Honoo, aka Blue Blazes

Blazing Transfer Student is a ridiculous school fighting manga. Blue Blazes is an exaggerated semi-autobiographical work about Shimamoto’s time in art college, when his classmates included modern anime/manga luminaries such as Anno Hideaki of Evangelion fame. The former received a 1991 OVA by Gainax (the original Evangelion studio), while the latter was adapted into a TV drama in Japan in 2014.

What did you think of CYaZALEA☆Kiss? Did you appreciate it as an 80s anime/manga fan, as a Love Live! fan, or perhaps as both?

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.

Hajimari no Real G’s: Anime NYC 2019

For the third year straight, Anime NYC 2019 has continued to fill a much-needed void as a New York Metropolitan-centric major anime and manga convention that is run by experienced professionals.

More of the Javits Center was taken up by the con compared to previous years, implying continued growth. While it’s not as large as New York Comic Con, and there’s a bit of an upper limit as to how many dedicated otaku are in the NYC area versus how many comics fans there are, I don’t mind the current balance. One of the strengths and weaknesses of NYCC is that it’s extremely broad and seems more like a general nerd multimedia convention than one dedicated to its core concept of comics and comics-related things. With Anime NYC, however, it still feels like an event dedicated to anime and manga fans fire and foremost. That alone is much appreciated.

The Guests

The guests this year were pretty much straight out of my dream list. Sadly, due to both personal obligations and just the sheer amount of overlapping content, I couldn’t even see everything I wanted to. On the fortunate side, however, I got to attend both the premiere of the first Gundam Reconguista in G film and a press Q&A with the tsundere master herself, Kugimiya Rie. You can check out Ogiue Maniax’s dedicated entries to both of those in the accompanying links.

Anime NYC 2019 went with a pre-show lottery system for getting autograph tickets as a way to prevent people from trying to line up at 3am in the morning and to give a fair chance to those who are coming from far away or don’t have the means or ability to get to the convention extra-early. Despite the fact that I didn’t get any autographs, I didn’t mind this system because it seems to be about as fair as it gets.

Alternately, some autographs could be obtained through purchasing specific products at the start of each day. There were also the $125 Kugimiya autographs that sold out in literally about five minutes, but Anime NYC 2019 was her first US appearance, so that was more or less expected.

That said, I’m not especially fond of the trend I’m seeing at Anime NYC where guests will only sign things from the shows they’re at the convention to promote. I understand why it happens, given that the guests coming want to make sure that the works they’re being advertised for get top billing, but these industry names often have such long CVs that it’s a shame when fans aren’t be able to express love for the particular things they feel closest to. For example, wanted to get autographs from Yukana and Kimura Takahiro, one of my favorite voice actors and character designers, respectively. But rather than being able to have my Pretty Cure and Gaogaigar signed, their autographs were tied to Code Geass—a series I don’t have quite as much affection for. Limiting what can be signed (aside from obvious things like “no bootleg merchandise”) is a direction I’d like to see conventions move away from in general, even more than paid autographs.

Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley

I did not end up buying much at the convention—a t-shirt here, a manga there—but from what I could tell, it was not especially difficult to navigate in terms of foot traffic. At times, it could be difficult to tell which row corresponded to what designated section, but it was manageable. They also placed the Artist Alley in the same space as the Exhibitor’s Hall this year, which meant the loss of the third-floor space but maybe more reliable crossover traffic for both the big companies and the small artists.

One new feature was a special food area in addition to the food trucks outside and the food court down in the bottom level. It was a great idea in principle, but the prices seemed a bit ridiculous even for convention standards. Go Go Curry (aka my favorite Japanese curry chain ever) was the star of the show, but the line was so constantly massive that I never had time to try their convention-exclusive fried-egg-on-gyudon curry. Here’s to hoping that it becomes a standard item on the Go Go Curry menu!

Lantis Matsuri

I was incredibly pumped to attend Lantis Matsuri at Anime NYC this year, as it had an impressive lineup of musical guests: JAM Project, Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!!, TRUE, and Zaq. Months prior, I swooped in on a ticket as soon as they became available, and I’m glad that they eventually opened up more tickets for those who couldn’t get the initial ones. I wonder if they were hedging their bets, and trying to see if the demand would be there for more.

When it comes to attending anime music concerts, part of the fun is song familiarity and being able to enjoy your favorite themes live. But even for the less familiar tunes, Lantis Matsuri hit it out of the park. All the singers were fantastic, and really felt like they belonged on that stage. Guilty Kiss clearly had the largest fanbase there, and their hype was well deserved. I still have “New Romantic Sailors” stuck in my head. TRUE and Zaq ended with their best-known hits, “Dream Solister” from Sound! Euphonium and “Sparkling Daydream” from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. It was not lost on the audience that these were both Kyoto Animation series themes.

Despite the stiff competition, however, JAM Project showed they they know how to steal a show There’s something about their energy that draws you in that outshines even the brightest stars. I have to wonder how someone completely unfamiliar with them felt about their performance. They led with One Punch Man to get the crowd to realize just exactly who they are, but they also made sure to include songs less widely known by the general audience. Of particular note is their blend of GONG and SKILL, which combined two of their best Super Robot Wars themes.

There were multiple collaborations throughout the concert, and one sticks out to me above all: JAM Project with Guilty Kiss doing the second opening from GARO. Before the concert began, someone near me was expressing their love of GARO, and seeing him scream wide-eyed as JAM Project announced that the next song was “Savior in the Dark” was a real highlight of the con.

My only complaint about the concert was that the audio was a little too loud. I was not sitting especially close to the speakers, but I could feel my ears ringing the next day. I also had this problem at the Gundam Reconguista in G showing, so I have to wonder if it was a convention-wide issue.

Overall

I thought Anime NYC 2019 was great, and I’m looking forward to next year. As the convention gets bigger, though, I hope it continues to properly straddle the line between big professional expo and intimate-feeling fan-oriented gathering. It might be an impossible task, but I still want that dream nevertheless.

Anime NYC 2019 Hype Post, aka The Craziest, Most Incredible Guests

Anime NYC 2019 is only two days away, and I want to use this opportunity to talk about how amazing the guests are this year. I promise that this is not a paid or sponsored endorsement in any way—these are my genuine feelings, and my feeling is that the guest list this year is just virtually perfect.

First and foremost, you have the legendary director of Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon, and Zambot 3, Tomino Yoshiyuki. I saw him 10 years ago at New York Anime Festival 2009, and I am eager to see his return. He’ll be showing the first Gundam: Reconguista in G film, and as a staunch defender of that series, I’ve gotta go see it.

Then there’s Kimura Takahiro, animator and character designer on Gaogaigar, Godannar, Betterman, Brigadoon, and Code Geass. He is one of my favorite character designers ever, and I’m so, so stoked for him to be in New York.

Speaking of Code Geass, the voice actor Yukana will be making her New York City debut. In addition to playing C.C. in Code Geass (aka the best character in that series), she’s also Teletha Testarossa in Full Metal Panic!, Li Meiling in Cardcaptor Sakura, and Cure White in Futari wa Pretty Cure!

But Yukana is not the only Cure who will be there, as Ise Mariya (Cure Lemonade from Yes! Pretty Cure 5) is coming to promote The Promised Neverland, where she plays Ray. The director of The Promised Neverland, Kanbe Mamoru, will also be at Anime NYC 2019. He’s also the director for one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san.

Megalo Box is an amazing anime and reinterpretation of Ashita no Joe, Moriyama Yo, and both the director and producer, Fujiyoshi Minako, will be attending.

And the Lantis Matsuri concert Friday night will feature both JAM Project and Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!! Having now attended concerts for both groups, I’m pumped to see them again (and again and again in the future, hopefully). Nothing is as fantastic as JAM Project performing “SKILL,” and a part of me is sincerely hoping all the groups involved will join in for a rousing “WHOHhhHHoooHHHooOoooH.”

So see you all at Anime NYC, and I hope these guests get the star treatment they deserve.

 

Idols in Flux: Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow

After months and months of waiting, the film Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow finally hit US theaters for a special two-day event. Although cut from the same cloth as the first Love Live! film, it manages to go in interesting directions while also working extra hard to wrap up the loose threads of the Love Live! Sunshine!! TV series, all while putting an emphasis on fun, friendship, and family.

TV SERIES SPOILERS BELOW

After the third-years Kanan, Dia, and Mari graduate, Chika and the rest of the remaining Aqours members decide to continue as Aqours. When they find out that their new school doesn’t have a high opinion of them and the other former students of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School, they resolve to use their school idols skills to win over the skeptics, but they seem to be in a funk. Thanks to some advice from their former rivals, Saint Snow, they seek out the third-years to figure out what they’re missing—a journey that takes them to Italy and back.

Much like the first Love Live! The School Idol Movie, Over the Rainbow is a direct sequel to the end of a TV show where the main characters travel to a foreign country to figure out what they want to do with their immediate futures. Where the new film differs is that by having Aqours continue on—unlike the group μ’s from the previous series—it feels less like one last hurrah and more a move into the future yet unseen. If μ’s comes across as mythical because of how they came and went, Aqours is more historical in that their story keeps going.

The film can feel disconnected at times due to the way it often emphasizes the simple idea of seeing the girls of Love Live! Sunshine!! enjoying themselves and having a good time at the expense of greater coherency, but it makes for an entertaining piece that never feels boring or tedious. Central to this positive atmosphere are the multiple song and dance numbers that push the film squarely into “musical” territory, though the best song of the entire film comes from a somewhat unexpected source.

Also of note is the movie’s side story about the Saint Snow sisters, Sarah and Leah. The latter’s guilt over botching a crucial performance in the TV series is the central pillar of their narrative here, and the way it’s both explored and resolved a alongside Aqours’s troubles is possibly my favorite part of the whole thing. I actually considered titling this review “Saint Snow: The School Idol Movie.” Seeing them also made me realize that Sarah and Leah are basically if Ruby were the older sister and Dia were the younger.

Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow is undoubtedly meant for existing fans first and foremost, but the overall positive vibes and the emotional journeys the characters take feel relatable and resonant for even those unfamiliar or skeptical of Love Live! as a franchise. It encourages viewers to accept change as an opportunity and to believe again when hope seems lost.

World Shaking: Anime Expo 2019 Love Live! Sunshine!! Concert Review

For the past few years, I’ve been attending Anime Expo (AX) in a limited capacity, and it means I often don’t get to see everything I want to. In this respect, the AX Love Live! Sunshine!! concerts have been something I’ve wanted to see but regrettably kept on missing. But this time was different, and I finally, finally saw Aqours live. While it wasn’t my first time seeing a Japanese idols concert—I saw Morning Musume as part of a multi-act performance at Anime NYC—it was the very first time I had specifically sought out anything even resembling an idol group. It was an enlightening experience in terms of both performers and fans, and a unique experience thanks to a strange AX weekend filled with literal seismic activity.

The adventure that was attending LOVE LIVE! SUNSHINE!! Aqours World LoveLive! in LA ~BRAND NEW WAVE~ (how’s that for a mouthful?) began a couple of months before Anime Expo, when it came time to purchase tickets. I’m no stranger to being part of a massive online crowd trying to buy tickets for the same thing. However, difficulties I had never seen arose. After waiting in the queue, the ticket page would open, but every time I tried to select a ticket and check out, it would say that the ticket I selected was no longer available. This would happen no matter what I selected, be it general, VIP, or the mysterious balcony option that would appear and disappear randomly. I think the issue was that, as the site was trying to choose a ticket for me, it would somehow immediately get snatched up by someone loading the page a split second earlier. I can only assume all this was because of Love Live!’s sheer popularity, Los Angeles being a convenient location for fans in both the U.S. and Asia, and the Showclix website being not fully equipped to handle this level of demand.

In other words, I already had it in my head that an overwhelming amount of people wanted to see Aqours. I managed to get a general admission ticket, and then counted the days. There were two Aqours concerts at AX, but I wasn’t quite hardcore enough to attend both.

I flew to AX the day before the concert, and luckily the plane had free Wi-Fi, so I could see what was going on in the outside world. As the plane was getting ready to descend, I saw that Southern California had just experienced a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest in a long time—and attendees on social media were talking about it, wondering if the tremors would keep coming.

Friday came, and after taking the time to rest my feet (the general admission ticket was standing only), I went to the Novo in downtown LA. The doors opened at 5:30pm and the concert started at 7:00pm, so there was plenty of time to kill. Some new information came out during that time—like the release date of the film Love Live! Sunshine!! Over the Rainbow, an accompanying trailer, and details about the Love Live! Sunshine!! x Shadowverse collaboration—but most of the lull was spent waiting in anticipation. Eventually, the crowd started pulling out the glow sticks and singing along with almost everything on the speakers as a way to pass the time.

Then, at last, out came Aqours to raucous applause, a trend that would continue throughout the concert. I had about as good a spot as possible without being in the VIP section, and I was pretty close to the of the speakers, but there were times when the un-mic’d crowd was louder than the singers.

One of the nine members, Komiya Arisa (aka Kurosawa Dia), could not make it to the concert due to health issues, so I had wondered what they would do in her stead. Would they change the choreography at all? Would they adjust the songs to have other people take her parts? They decided to basically just leave a gap where she would have been, and have a recording of Dia for her parts. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it gave the feeling that they wanted to convey her being there in spirit.

I’m not well-versed in all Aqours songs, especially not compared to that of μ’s from the original Love Live!, so I was surprised by the heavy bass that seemed to show up out of nowhere during one performance. After the song finished, however, a message came in over the loudspeakers: the concert was put on hold, and what I thought was “bass” was actually an earthquake. At first, I was confused, because we were on the 7th floor and I didn’t notice a thing. But then I looked up and saw a set of lights swinging back and forth, clear evidence that the voice wasn’t kidding.

Impressively, Aqours had danced through the earthquake, and to my untrained eyes, they didn’t miss a step. After a few minutes of waiting, the concert was deemed safe to continue, and they went straight into the next song with little issue. Given that Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, I wonder if this is familiar territory to them.

A little before the earthquake, a guy standing nearby handed me a spare glow stick, perhaps taking pity on my merch-less self or wanting to make sure we as an audience looked as good as possible. This was also my first time with an official Aqours “Blade”—one of at least three he had on him—and I had no idea that these things were so complicated. A Blade comes with nine colors (one for each girl), and adept fans have all of them memorized, quickly shifting to the proper one given the song and point in the performance. The only one I could figure out immediately was Yohane’s, thanks to the Yohane cosplayer in front of me with two lights permanently set to white. I actually looked up the color for my have Aqours, Matsuura Kanan (CV. Suwa Nanaka), and taking a hint from the aforementioned cosplayer, kept it on “emerald green” for most of the rest of the concert, making a few exceptions when I could figure out what to do. At one point, the guy who lended me his spare light got so into a song, he pulled out two additional generic glow sticks and accidentally elbowed me in the gut hard. He didn’t apologize, but I honestly think he was so entranced by Aqours that he didn’t even notice.

After a fun and exciting main performance, they followed with a whopping four-song encore, which included a song where the performers would encourage everyone to bring out their official Love Live! Sunshine!! towels and swing them around. It was about the most “buy our stuff” moment of the concert to me, but I didn’t mind all too much.

When all was said and done, my only regrets were my aching feet (I had to do a lot of standing that day, concert aside), and the fact that they didn’t perform “Happy Party Train,” the song led by Kanan. It turns out that they actually did “Happy Party Train” the second day, whereas we on the first day got “Koi ni Naritai Aquarium” and its focus on Watanabe You (CV: Saitou Shuka). I’m sure some You fans wish they could’ve switched places with me, so in the end it was simply luck of the draw. Also, seeing Suwa’s pouty face during the performance was a treat in itself.

If I have the opportunity next year, I’d be interested in seeing Aqours again. At the very least, it would give me a reason to use the Aqours Blade I purchased the next day. And even if I don’t attend, I’ll still have the memories of an earthquake concert. However, given that there’s a mega live event in January that will bring together the old and new school idols of Love Live!, maybe Anime Expo 2019 will do something special as well. And if it so happens that the girls of Nijigasaki or μ’s show up and render my Blade obsolete, then so be it. I’ll be glad to see them too.

Aikatsu! and Idol Franchise “Experiences”

As Aikatsu Friends! inches ever closer, I find myself thinking about the longevity of Aikatsu! as a franchise. By this October, it’ll be a whopping six years old—a lifetime when it comes to children’s anime. Where other similar series have tried to compete, few have managed to hang on as Aikatsu! has. One of its closest competitors, Pretty Rhythm, eventually pivoted towards the male-idol-centric King of Prism series. Either by outlasting or outmaneuvering other idol series, Aikatsu! feels as if it’s conquered its own niche—though the exact nature of that niche is what I’m trying to figure out.

There are, of course, key differences between Aikatsu! and other idol character franchises. Series like King of Prism and Idolish 7 utilize male idols in a desire to capture a different market. Love Live! and The iDOLM@STER feel like they skew older. Macross Delta and Symphogear have idols as thematic flourishes as part of a greater science-fiction story. They cover various demographics, as well as various degrees of idol presence. Yet I feel there’s another element of difference that isn’t accounted for, as if Aikatsu! and Love Live! occupy different compartments of mental space, at least personally.

While this is only a tentative thought exercise for the sake of categorization, if I had to describe that difference it would be as the following: With Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER, I’m most interested in how the idols will react, but with Aikatsu! I’m most interested in the actions they’ll take. The way I phrased it makes it seem as if it’s a contrast between more passive characters and more active ones, but that’s not quite right. Instead, it’s more that the girls of Love Live! seem to draw their appeal from the way they behave and influence each other, while the girls in Aikatsu! feel as if they influence the environment around them.

Perhaps the reason I see Aikatsu! different is because of the fans and how they express their love for the series on social media compared to other idol anime lovers. Other series appear to celebrate cuteness and style. Fans of Aikatsu! revel in an aura of power and excitement. At the heart of this fan output remains the indelible images of Ichigo, that very first Aikatsu! heroine, as she climbs those cliffs and wields that axe. It’s as if Ichigo and her successors reshape and navigate the land while other idols move through it.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The Moment I Waited For: When Love Live! Sunshine!! Acknowledged Mari’s Love of Industrial Metal

One of the small but perhaps inevitable issues I’ve had with Love Live! Sunshine!! is the incongruity between the characters from one medium to the next. This is even noticeable when looking at different side stories in the School Idol Festival mobile game, where character behavior in the early ones are more subdued and safe compared to the later ones or the anime, as if the actors and writers were trying to feel out the characters. While I largely prefer the anime due to its overarching story and the chance for more character interaction, there was something missing from Love Live! Sunshine!! Ohara Mari’s official profile describes one of her interests as industrial metal, but the show made no reference to it at all.

Fortunately, that changed in Love Live! Sunshine!! season 2.

In an episode focused on the personality clash between the introverted first-years and the extroverted third-years, Mari’s music pops up as an illustrative gag. When they try to write a song together, they look for influence from the music they enjoy, and Mari plays a favorite from her collection that knocks the first-years off their feet. It’s not an entirely throwaway joke, but rather a way to emphasize their personality difference and increase the conflict of the episode.

Beyond the simple fact of it happening, I also enjoy the acknowledgement of Mari’s musical tastes because it brings into the world of Love Live! a very different music genre from what’s typically expected of a series focused on pop-y idol music. Love Live! as a franchise has some songs that go off the beaten track, like “After School Navigators” and “Suki desu ga suki desu ka?”, but they’re a rarity—much like men in their world.

Mari’s metal is actually one of many cases where season 2 of Love Live! Sunshine!! started to reflect the characters’ personalities from other mediums more, while also pushing those characters forward. Kanan seems specially serious in the first season because they had to develop the backstory of the third-years and it requires some tension between them. In the second season, she’s more balanced between jokey and stern, turning up one or the other when necessary. Similarly, Hanamaru’s personality has gone from shy bookworm to gluttonous memelord, and it feels like a natural progression because of how much she hangs out with Yoshiko. In a way, it’s fascinating to see a franchise find its feet over time, and I wouldn’t mind seeing another form of Love Live! go through this again.

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Love Live! Sunshine!! and Improved CG

Animating nine girls dancing onstage is hard work. It’s why the Love Live! anime usually reserves 2D animation for moments with three girls or less, and has 3DCG do the grunt work when showing the entire ensemble. One consequence of this is that, throughout the original Love Live! anime’s run (as well as the music videos made prior to the anime), the transition to 2D and 3D would look fairly awkward. However, what I’ve noticed from the first and especially the second season Love Live! Sunshine!! is that its CG portions are a lot better at removing the kind of “plastic” feel from the characters.

While I think the CG has just generally gotten higher in quality, making the models just look better overall, one major change I noticed that I think goes an extra long way in smoothing the switch between 2D and 3D is how the eyes are portrayed. In the 2D sequences, the girls’ eyes have a kind of soft glow that gives them an appearance of liveliness, of soul and depth. In the two Love Live! openings, when the CG switches occur, their expressions just look much blander, as if they’re puppets in the shape of the characters. With Love Live! Sunshine!!, the girls of Aqours have very pronounced and bright eyes even in the CG portions of their performances. In the second Sunshine!! season, the performance scenes keep the angles of backgrounds more consistent to make the transitions much less jarring.

This reminds me of a talk I went to at Japan Society in New York City, where anime writer Sato Dai (Eureka Seven, Battle Spirits) was giving a presentation on 3DCG in anime. One of the things he mentioned was that capturing “kawaii” in 3DCG was a major step in its implementation in Japanese animation, and I think we’re seeing the fruits of it. If the appeal of characters approaches appealing to the inner feelings of its viewers, then having eyes that appear to reciprocate emotionally would serve that direction quite well.

Love Live! Sunshine!! and the Complexities of Anime Tourism

Love Live! Sunshine!! Real Escape Game in Numazu

Love Live! Sunshine!! is a media-mix property whose purpose, apart from pushing its stars and profiting from a match of anime fandom and idol fandom, is to promote tourism to the region around the city of Numazu in Japan. What I find fascinating about its approach, however, is that it not only encourages people to visit Numazu, but also reflects and tries to address many of the problems facing Japan in terms of the link between sustaining population, community, and business.

There are three main issues brought up in terms of population in Japan in recent years. First, and the one that gets the most attention, is declining birth rates. Whether it’s “herbivore males” or the difficult choice many women have to make between starting a family and having a career, theories abound as to why fewer Japanese people are having children. Second is the post-3.11 decline in tourism; a nuclear meltdown scares off not just international visitors, but those from within Japan as well. Third, and perhaps the most familiar to people around the world, is people moving out of rural areas into urban ones, leaving the old towns a shadow of their former selves with little new blood coming in.

Flying Witch

The ways in which anime have been used in response to these problems are myriad. Famously, the popularity of the anime Lucky Star led to people visiting the very shrine featured in the show, Washinomiya Shrine. The first Love Live! School Idol Project anime had a similar effect on Kanda Myoujin Shrine in Akihabara, where the character Nozomi works. But there are also anime which try to show the splendor of Japan whether directly or not. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Flying Witch was made into an anime a few years after 3.11 when Japan was trying to revive tourism to the affected Tohoku region. Taking place in Aomori (a prefecture in Tokyo), Flying Witch features lovingly crafted shots of picturesque landscapes as if to say, “This area is lush with life.” The studio P.A. Works used the series Hanasaku Iroha to create the fictional “Bonbori Festival” and then bring it into the real world. Their more recent work, Sakura Quest, is an anime explicitly about trying to deal with a declining population in a small town through tourism and promotion.

Official Love Live! Wish Board from Kanda Myoujin Shrine

Love Live! Sunshine!! takes place in the small town of Uchiura, near Numazu. Much like the first franchise, the main characters’ school is threatened with closure due to declining attendance rates. The girls, inspired by the group known as μ’s (from the original Love Live!) attempt to replicate the latter group’s success in saving their own school, and form their own idol group called “Aqours.” Already, it’s clear how Love Live! Sunshine!! touches upon issues of population movement and tourism, but it’s especially notable when comparing the series to its predecessor.

Consider where the two properties take place. The μ’s girls of the original Love Live! are centered around Akihabara, which is both the spiritual center of otaku in Japan and, as a result, already a popular tourist destination. The Aqours girls of Love Live! Sunshine!!, on the other hand, are situated near Numazu, which has a population of under 200,000 as well as a recent history of absorbing nearby towns—a major plot point in Sakura Quest and a potential future for Uchiura. Unlike Akihabara, Numazu is hardly world-famous. And yet, if Love Live! had started differently—if it had decided to go with Numazu from the start—then I don’t think it would’ve reached its original success. Much like AKB48, it relied on the notoriety of Akihabara to build itself up, and is now paying it forward, in a certain sense. Love Live! used tourism, and now tourism is using Love Live!

Love Live! Sunshine!! can be seen as another arm of the “Cool Japan” concept, which uses Japan’s fame as a symbol of cultures both traditional and popular to promote itself at home and abroad. It appears to be succeeding, at least in the short term. In fact, over at Apartment 507 where I also write, one of the most popular posts is a guide to visiting Numazu. But as Gundam director and Anime Tourism Association chairperson Tomino Yoshiyuki has warned, short term success is not enough; permanent change is necessary, even if it’s to come from anime. The fact that Love Live! went from being supported by pop culture to being a pop cultural influence that can potentially make a change is a big deal, and I’m curious to see if this experiment has any long-term impact that goes beyond the cute idols of Aqours.

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