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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Love Live!, A-RISE, and the Music of Antagonists

As much as I love μ’s, the main group from the original Love Live!, I dig their anime rivals A-RISE (especiallyt their leader Kira Tsubasa) just as much. The reigning champions of the Love Live! school idol tournament, they represent the top of the pyramid, and their music in contrast to μ’s is techno/dance-heavy, with a high-budget sense of professionalism.

In episode 6 and 7 of Love Live! Sunshine!!, we’re introduced to Saint Snow, a duo whose slick dance moves and techno-style music are the first sign that the girls of Aqours have a lot of catching up to do. Given their similarities to A-RISE, I’ve come to wonder if that style of music has come to represent the “adversary” in the franchise.

It’s clear why A-RISE was placed in that position. Initially, μ’s are the underdogs, and A-RISE with their super ritzy high school and position as top idols are there to contrast with the homegrown, down-to-earth feel of the heroines of the story. Saint Snow, though they also hit some stumbling blocks, carry a similar contrast to the rural Numazu area that Aqours comes from.

There’s also a contrast in motivation that seems to come with this style of music. In episode 12, when Saint Snow meets up with Aqours once more, it’s clear that Saint Snow see being school idols as a competition. They want to stand on top and see what the view is like from the summit. This is presented not as a wrong way to approach being school idols, but exists in contrast to Aqours who are in it more for the experience, even if ostensibly they’re doing it to save their school. Similarly, in The School Idol Movie, Tsubasa from A-RISE expresses her ambition to continue being an idol even after she graduates, whereas Honoka is implied to not quite follow that path.

Is there any possibility that the “rival” sound will become associated with the central characters of Love Live!? Or will it at best always be relegated to subgroups within the main cast, such as BiBi and songs such as Cutie Panther?

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