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.

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Otakon 2019 Interview: Inoue Kikuko

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019. I had the opportunity to sit down with voice actor Inoue Kikuko for an extended period, so this is a longer interview than usual. Inoue is known for many roles, such as Belldandy in Oh My Goddess! and Aina Sahalin in Gundam: 08th MS Team.

Ogiue Maniax: Hello, Inoue-san, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I have many questions, as you have an illustrious career, and I’m looking forward to this interview.

Inoue: I’m pleased to hear that! Thank you!

Ogiue Maniax: First, I’d like to ask you about one of your most recent roles, as Tachibana Mayumi, the mother character in Mix. What is it like working on the series and how familiar were you with Adachi Mitsuru’s manga prior to working on the show?

Inoue: With regards to the manga artist Adachi Mitsuru, you could almost make his work a genre—the Adachi Mitsuru genre of manga. They’re very close to my heart, and I don’t think it’s just me who thinks so. Most of the Japanese people I know who read manga might feel the same as me. I believe that in a way, you can say it’s almost nationwide, his manga. So when I got the role for Tachibana Mayumi in Mix, I was very happy that I was able to become the mother of the main characters.

This is because I believe that Adachi Mitsuru manga are very unique—very docile, very gentle. This is something we are seeing less and less of these days, with the very fast-paced and exciting styles of anime these days, but Adachi Mitsuru has a style that’s more slow-paced and gentle, but very deep in thought. So I believe these are distinct and very unique values too that are very important in this day and age, and I am very happy to take part in such a great work.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is about the character Aina Sahalin in Gundam 08th MS Team. It was a series that ended up with two directors due to the unfortunate passing of Director Kanda. How would you compare working with Director Iida to working with Director Kanda on 08th MS Team?


Inoue: With regards to Aina, back when I got the role for her, I was a relatively new voice actor, and I believed that Gundam was far beyond what I was able to do back then. I was auditioning for many things but not all auditions would go great, and Gundam was a very big franchise even back then, so being able to get the role of Aina was a special moment for me.

The director Kanda-san wasn’t someone I was able to talk to often, as I was a very new voice actor at the time, and I couldn’t really muster up the courage to go and talk to him as much as I would have liked to. In that sense, I regret not being able to get the courage back then because when Kanda-san passed away, I had very sad thoughts because I wasn’t able to talk to him anymore.

When Iida-san took over the project, I believe that the 08th MS Team story had been passed on in terms of the theme still being there, and I do believe we—Kanda-san, Iida-san, and I—were all on the same page in terms of saying that in war, you have these things happen. There’s an anti-war message in there, and in that sense, I believe we were all on the same page, and Iida-san took on the torch after Kanda-san very nicely.

Ogiue Maniax: You’re generally known for playing very gentle and kind characters, but one character you’re also known for is I-No in the Guilty Gear series is famously extremely rude and aggressive. What do you focus on differently when playing a character like I-No, as opposed to your other more famous roles?

Inoue: In terms of characters I’ve played, I-No is a very unique character because she’s very foul-mouthed, one might say. So when I got the lines for I-No in the studio, I was actually going, “I can’t say this out loud! But I’m a voice actor, so I have to overcome this, right?” So I went in there and shouted horrible things, and I didn’t know how to feel. But now, when I look back, I really feel that I grew as a voice actor then, and now I love the character very much.

At first, I felt kind of bad for saying her lines, and I didn’t really comfortable saying them, but after a while it actually became pleasurable.

Ogiue Maniax: More recently, you’ve been playing characters who are not just motherly and kind but literally mothers. I noticed that, often-times, even though they’re small parts, they are quite memorable, and people remember your characters even though they appear for only one or two characters. Two examples I can think of are Ban Kenji’s mom in Heartcatch Precure and Nishikino Maki’s mom in Love Live! How do you enjoy these roles, and do you bring your own ever bring your own experiences as a mother to your performance?

Inoue: When I was still a new voice actor, the very first role I ever got as a regular role was as a mother character. That was when I was in my 20s, when I wasn’t a mother, but I still got a mother character. And after that, another mother character. And after that, another mother character. All of these characters I had were mothers, so I actually thought, “What is it like to be a mother?” I referred to my mother, as she’s the kindest person I know of, and I actually think she’s the kindest mother in this world, so I would channel her into myself and make myself act like her. But after becoming a mother, I noticed that I was taking these roles very naturally, and I didn’t have to refer back to my mother on all these literal mother roles. It might have become second nature

Ogiue Maniax: Your daughter, Inoue Honoka, is also in voice acting. Has there been any advice you gave her about working in the industry?

Inoue: At first, when Honoka said she wanted to become a voice actor, I actually felt a bit uneasy because in this day and age, when the market has very talented people at such young ages, and it’s a very difficult place to succeed in. But I found out that she’s very studious and really wanted to become a voice actor, so I looked at her scripts, and at home, we would practice together. I’m not sure if this would count as advice, but what I said to her was, “When you speak, you’re not speaking with your mouth—you’re speaking with your heart. All these lines that you say, they’re from your heart, and your mouth is only where they come out. It’s really from the heart, so don’t let the mouth get to you.”

Ogiue Maniax: There’s a character you play in Fate/Grand Order named Scheherazade who has a growing friendship with a character named Nitocris. What do you think of that relationship, especially through the summer event?

Inoue: At first, I thought Scheherazade was very docile and didn’t have her emotions show on the surface, so I was very happy when these lines hinting at their friendship came up. Scheherazade felt lonely at first, so having a friend who comes up in her lines makes me feel happy for her now.

Ogiue Maniax: Another role that I think a lot of people remember you for is Kazami Mizuho in Please Teacher! How did you feel playing the role, and somewhat related, what was it like in your brief appearance in the anime Waiting in the Summer?

Inoue: As I referred to earlier, at the time of Please Teacher!, many of my roles were mother or big sister-type roles, and I still kept getting those roles. But Mizuho was a character who was a proper heroine in the sense of being a main female character. At the time, I was much older than when I first started out, so I thought I might not get the role, that it might be impossible for me. But when I auditioned, I got the role, so as a voice actor, getting the role of Mizuho was very significant. I actually thought that, after I had played Mizuho, I felt I had lived a good life, and that I didn’t have any regrets from then on.

In regards to my appearance in Waiting in the Summer, let’s just say that I can’t comment too much about the voice due to difficult reasons, so let’s just keep that a secret.

Ogiue Maniax: I’ve actually read that you voiced the character Princess Vespa in the Japanese dub of the American movie Spaceballs. It’s kind of a cult favorite in the US—did you know what it was before you played the part, and do you know how the movie was received in Japan?

Inoue: I actually had no idea that it had such a cult following in the US! It was such a long time ago, so I can’t remember what it felt back then, but I’m sure that one of the things I was thinking was, “Wow, what a movie! Are you even allowed to do this?” That’s one thing I’m certain I felt.

Ogiue Maniax: Going back to the fighting game genre, you played a character named Lily McGuire in the Fatal Fury OVAs and movie. What was it like working on that series, and what was it like acting opposite Terry Bogard’s voice actor, Nishikiori Kazukiyo, especially because he appears to have more experience in live-action than voice acting?

Inoue: Fatal Fury was a very memorable franchise because the director was Obari [Masami]-san, who was relatively young back then. When I think about directors, I always imagine someone relatively older than me, but he was very young, and it was a very fun project too. So I kind of thought that it was interesting how someone this young could have such an interesting project going.

As for Kazukiyo-san, is he from Johnny’s?

Ogiue Maniax: Yes.

Inoue: Oh, right! I couldn’t really talk to Kazukiyo-san much, so I can’t comment too much on him. Sorry about that!

Ogiue Maniax: This is my last question, to follow up on the previous one. Do you have any interesting stories about working with Obari-san on Fatal Fury?

Inoue: As I said earlier, for the question about 08th MS Team, back then, voice actors didn’t really talk too much with the directors directly. There was a big wall of people between the director and voice actors. We couldn’t talk too much to many of the directors, but Obari-san was actually a bit different. He was very friendly, and we were able to talk to him very openly. In that sense, he was a very kind character.

These days, I don’t work as often as I did back then, but being in the industry, being around a similar age when we were doing Fatal Fury, and having matured in the same time in the same industry, I feel proud every time I see his name in the credits of an anime. I am very pleased to have worked with him back then.

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you!

 

 

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.

Real vs. Perfect: The Two Opposing Idol Values

1983’s Creamy Mami was the first idol anime, and it made an idol out of Mami’s voice actor as well. Watching her videos from back then, a 15-year-old Ohta Takako comes across as awkward and unaccustomed to the spotlight, even in “Love Sarigenaku” above, her most “grown-up” song. Compared to many of the slickly produced pop hits of later years, Ohta can come across as almost unprofessional, but that’s exactly where her appeal lies. When it comes to Japanese idols, there are two general directions: “unrefined and real” or “polished and perfect.”

When comparing the Japanese idol juggernaut AKB48 to the K-Pop sensation Girls’ Generation (who have been enormously popular in Japan), the latter visually comes across as a much more “professional-looking” group. While calling them idolsTheir dance and choreography are on point, and their music videos make them look like a million bucks. But while the girls of AKB48 have a kind of awkwardness about them, and many aren’t the greatest singers, there’s a sense of them “trying their best,” and this is exactly what the fans want. In other words, perfection isn’t necessarily desired. It can be, but that strain of inexperience and perseverance is just as strong.

These dual forces can be seen in idol anime in spades. In Love Live! School Idol Project, the main characters are the ragtag group μ’s (pronounced “Muse”), and the defending champions are the practically-professional A-RISE, who come from the richest high school in Akihabara. In Aikatsu!, Hoshimiya Ichigo is shown as having some kind of natural spark of genuineness that contrasts her from the seemingly unassailable Kanzaki Mizuki. And in Macross Frontier, the main love triangle features, as seen above, the humble waitress Ranka Lee (right) vs. the sultry Sheryl Nome (left). In every case, what causes the “small fry” to ascend isn’t that they transform into polished and perfect idols, but that even as they improve, that unrefined and authentic quality shines through. Perhaps it says something that the main heroines of these shows tend to lean that way as well.

And yet, as touched on briefly in the beginning, voice actors who play idols in anime actually end up being idols themselves. When the girls of Love Live! hold live concerts their flaws come out, but that’s part of the appeal of seeing them in person. When watching the characters in the anime or in music videos, that imperfection doesn’t come across in the performances so much as in the dialogue and supporting materials. A similar phenomenon exists all the way back with Creamy Mami. She comes across as much more “polished” than Ohta Takako does, yet they share the same voice.

An interesting case of the strange interaction with the 2D vs. 3D and real vs. perfect contrasts are those that toe the line, like Hatsune Miku or virtual youtubers. With Miku, her limitations—the fact that her voice sounds robotic—is considered part of her appeal. With virtual youtubers, the fact that there’s a person performing behind the character is much more obvious, and the idea that they start to break down or break character is what lends a sense of “realness.”

In this regard, California-born Japanese idol Sally Amaki is especially interesting. A member of 22/7, an “anime-style characters” idol group in the vein of Love Live!, she plays the bilingual character Fujima Sakura while bringing along her own fans as Sally. Not only does she perform the virtual youtuber role as Sakura, but her native English fluency brings an interesting dynamic that highlights a sense of “realness,” especially for English-speaking fans. Not only is there often a contrast between Sally’s “cute, practiced idol” voice and her Californian mannerisms when switching between Japanese and English, but she’ll mention something that only someone growing up in the US would know off the cuff. This lets American fans connect with her sense of authenticity in ways that they might not have been able to in the past.

In the end, “real vs. perfect” is not a true dichotomy by any means, and every idol/idol group approaches that divide in different ways. Whether you’re an idol fan or not, which do you prefer?

Love Live! and the Four Tendencies

I recently read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, a self-help book about how to better understand certain facets of oneself and others. While it’s been helpful in my personal life, I also noticed that it can be an informative way to understand characters and character interactions in fiction. Often, characters are designed relative or in contrast to those around them, and seeing how they respond to each others’ expectations can shed a lot of light on those dynamics. For this blog post, I decided to take a look at how the four tendencies can apply to to the cast of the original Love Live! School Idol Project.

An explanation of the four tendencies can be found on Rubin’s blog:

In a nutshell, it distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution)…

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)

  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations

  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

So let’s take a look at the girls of μ’s!

First-Years

Hanayo is a questioner. At first, she seems like an obliger because she’d been unable to fulfill her childhood wish to become a school idol, but that’s more because she was convinced she couldn’t. Once persuaded, she fully embraces the idea. Same goes for taking over as president of the school idol club. When she does have a strong stance, such as rice being the best food in the universe, Hanayo is stalwart.

Rin is an obliger. Her main reason for becoming a school idol is to help Hanayo; otherwise, she’s relatively undisciplined if left to her own devices. She believed for most of her life that she couldn’t/shouldn’t wear skirts and dresses, but that’s more because she projected the standards of others onto herself. Only when the other μ’s girls give her new expectations to fulfill—that she can wear them and that she is beautiful—does she change her mind.

Maki is a questioner, and not just because her signature catch phrase is “What the heck?! You’re not making sense.” Left alone, Maki is extremely self-motivated and fulfills inner expectations easily—as seen in her goal of studying medicine, and when she writes a song for μ’s prior to joining. However, she won’t do anything she doesn’t think is off-base. Of course, sometimes that logic is “this would benefit Santa Claus”…

Second-Years

Honoka is a rebel. While it might seem unusual for the team leader to be the rebellious type, it’s clear that Honoka’s inner fire only blazes when something truly interests her, especially if others think she can’t do it. Her starting a school idol group is in itself the product of defying outer expectations. At the same time, she completely shirks both inward rigor if left to her own devices unless, again, it’s something she cares about from deep within.

Umi is a textbook upholder through and through. If her unmatched self-discipline and desire to ensure everything goes right wasn’t enough evidence, her love of schedules, regimens, and pie charts guarantee that she can’t be any other tendency. Her fear of having carefully laid plans go awry also points in this direction.

Kotori is an obliger. Considerate and prone to indecision, she’s at her best when supporting Honoka and Umi’s decisions. Even her costume-making seems motivated more by the positive expectations of others. Her alter ego, the legendary Akiba maid Minalinsky, is the result of her trying to work on her confidence—by being in a customer service job where she has to project strength and ease.

Third-Years

Nico is a rebel. She does what she wants, when she wants, unless she decides for herself that something is the right choice. She might seem like a questioner based on how much she researches proper idol etiquette, but it’s clear that she lives and dies even more by her passion. Before μ’s, she was always fully convinced she could be a school idol; it’s just that her drive and desire to actually keep it up was sapped by the resignation of her old partners. When μ’s calls her in to join them, she quickly falls back into her self-proclaimed role of “super idol.”

Eli is an upholder. Whether in μ’s or the student council, she still shows a strong sense of responsibility to both herself and those who need her. Mature and strong-willed, Eli will get everything done that she can, but on her terms. Eli also definitely isn’t a people pleaser, and believes in tough love as only a former Russian ballerina can—as seen when she first confronts the rest of the girls with what it means to truly be able to dance.

Nozomi is an obliger. On the surface, she looks like more like a rebel, but her backstory reveals that she values friendship above all else. Nozomi can be aloof because she’s suppporting Eli, and to a lesser extent the rest of the girls. In fact, Nozomi explains that seeing Eli essentially refuse to show any weakness is what drew her to befriending and helping Eli.

Overall

Doing this exercise made me realize are some of the vital distinctions between characters and how they behave. For example, while RIn might be seen as generally stronger than Hanayo due to her energy and fun-loving personality, you can see how their different responses to both outer and inner expectations shows that they complement each other in important ways. Of course, fiction doesn’t wholly map onto reality, and the four tendencies framework isn’t exactly a rigorous scientific study, so it’s not like these interpretations are set in stone. If you think certain characters better fit different tendencies than I’ve categorized, I’d love to see you responses!

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.

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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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