[Apartment 507] In Defense of Yazawa Nico from Love Live!

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I’ve written a post about why Yazawa Nico is one of my favorite Love Live! characters over at Apartment 507. Whether you’re a Nico fan or a hater, why not check it out?

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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