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Monday, January 29, 2018

Anime Hajime Review: Love Live Sunshine Season Two

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Love Live Sunshine Season Two. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Failing to reach the finals of the prestigious Love Live competition is not an easy thing to get over. But this is not the time to quit. No this is when one needs to try even harder. A sentiment felt by the up and coming school idol group, Aquors.

The group's leader, Chika Takami (voiced by Anju Inami) has never felt more determined. And with her beloved Uranohoshi Academy still on the line, the only direction is forward. Such spirit fuels the drive of Aquors’ remaining eight members.

These are the first-years, Yoshiko Tsushima, Hanamaru Kunikida, and Ruby Kurosawa (voiced by Aika Kobayashi, Kanako Takatsuki, and Ai Furihata). As well as Chika’s fellow second-years, Riko Sakurauchi and You Watanabe (voiced by Rikako Aida and Shuka Saitou). And rounding off the team are the third-years, Kanan Matsuura, Dia Kurosawa, and Mari Ohara (voiced by Nanaka Suwa, Arisa Komiya, and Aina Suzuki).

Though they are nine, they move as one. Together, they know they can both save their school and win Love Live.

But in their final push, they must discover that one thing that makes them shine.

Series Positives

Let me give you a quick rundown of my thoughts on the Love Live franchise.

The original series had a lot of problems. Scratch that, it was filled with problems. There was odd pacing as well as many questionable plot points. The show also set the tone for what Love Live is. The anime is only a part of a much larger project. This is a merchandising juggernaut. One that has remained strong ever since the last episode aired back in 2014.

That notwithstanding, I still enjoyed it. There was a charm that counterbalanced the long list of issues. The main one being the center of everything, μ’s (muse). And aiding that were the individual members that made up that group. They have kept the original’s memory alive.

Love Live The Movie, on the other hand, was another thing altogether.

The film was not great. Like the series, there were problems galore. Unlike the series, though, the film didn’t leave much of an impression. μ’s remained the highlight. Too bad there wasn’t much to highlight. The one thing I remember about the story was it having two distinct halves.

One was more akin to what might actually happen in a movie plot, regardless of how pointless it was. The other did what the series had already accomplished. By themselves, these parts could have been okay. Yet together they made for a messy watch.

Then we got to Love Live Sunshine and I have no nice way to lead into this. I did not like it.

In my review of Sunshine’s first season, you’ll notice that I actually did recommend it. That was a surprise to me when I reread that post a year later. But it did come with a condition. I wrote, “true fans” of the Love Live series would get something out of it. I could have worded that much better

To say anyone is a true fan doesn’t mean anything. My intention was to drive home the point that Sunshine was a complete rehash of the original series. It had the same setup, the same problem, and to a large extent, the same characters.

Aqours was a fine enough group. They were not the problem. Except that’s almost the only thing I have remembered about season one. And to be clear, I’ve only been remembering “Aquors” the name. This group has never gone on from being μ’s-light. Its nine members have left nothing.

The girls that made up Aquors are bland and forgettable. This ranged from their personalities to even their designs. If nothing else, the girls of μ’s were bright and vibrant. They stood out. They are what one would associate with Love Live. There have been instances where I have seen images of Aquors and it never occurred to me that they were Aquors. They came off as some knock-off attempt in the wake of Love Live’s success.

Unfortunately for Sunshine, that’s not too far from the truth.

There was something else that perplexed me about the Sunshine season one review. I claimed Yoshiko had risen to become my new favorite character of the franchise. That was an odd thing for me to say because that honor goes to either Umi Sonoda, Maki Nishikino, or Nico Yazawa. I haven’t the slightest idea of what I may have been referring to.

Whatever the reason may have been, I felt that was a necessary thing to write. I’m going to trust past Odyssey’s words, but I can tell you this now. Whatever I saw back then I did not see here. In fact, I don’t expect to remember anyone’s name from this side series long after this post goes up. But this only plays into one aspect of this season. What of the rest?

There is something I have to admit. Sunshine 1 was underwhelming. Thus, I didn’t have the highest of hopes going into Sunshine 2. That was a mindset I wanted to break before watching. It wouldn’t have been right to hold the mistakes of the first against its sequel. Especially before giving said sequel a proper chance to stand on its own merits. Besides, second seasons have surprised me before.

The best example of that came from the Hagani series. Its first season wasn’t the greatest thing. Its second season, Next, was pretty good, though. And by “pretty good”, it was solid and a lot of fun. This sequel had qualities its predecessor lacked.

When you get right down to it, I did enjoy the original Love Live. I didn’t want to go into Sunshine 2 expecting it to fail. So, despite the lackluster nature of the first season, how did its successor do?

I can say with confidence, I didn’t hate this. Then again, I didn’t hate last season either. I just didn’t like it. The original failed to bring me on board with the Sunshine series. This second season has only hardened that stance.

Love Live Sunshine Season Two ended up feeling like a waste of time.

Despite that, there are a handful of positive things to say about this season.

Changes and Differences

This wasn’t a carbon copy of the original Love Live. There were enough differences for Sunshine to claim it did its own thing.

Were there similarities? Absolutely, I’m not saying there weren’t, and this was kind of a huge problem. The areas where this season did the same as before stood out more. This story refused to travel away from its comfort zone. It kept coming back to the established formula and it would do so in heavy-handed ways.

Issues and everything, there were pockets of fresh air.

One detail I did enjoy about Sunshine 2 was that it didn’t rely on μ’s. The references to the former group toned down. Where they did exist, they made sense. Last time it seemed as though μ’s was on the verge of making a forced cameo. This season knew that Aquors was this series’ group. The focus needed to be on them. For better or worse.

Plus, if you can believe it, Sunshine 2 actually tried something new. It wasn’t big or anything, but it was very much appreciated. Aquors did a combined live with the group St. Snow. Thus, forming the brief entity known as St. Aquors Snow.

Simple, I know. Except you have to remember, not even μ’s did this and this gave Sunshine one of its best moments. And I don’t mean that in a comparative sense. This was a well-done segment.

I also need to point out, of the things I have remembered about the first season of Sunshine, St. Snow has been one of them. It was this duo, not Aquors, who gave the best performance from the last installment. It was great to see these two groups come together.

These are the kind of moments you should expect from a continuation.

Another thing and I can’t recall if this was true for the first season, but season two had a nice sense of humor. There were a number of background jokes and character quirks that got a chuckle out of me. There wasn’t enough to say this season was funny. Nor did those small quirks make up for the lack of personalities.

Nevertheless, when these tiny details appeared they were nice to see.

And last, there are two things Sunshine can claim as having the advantage in. Specifically, Sunshine 2.

The Animation

This is not a bad looking series. Actually, Sunshine has boasted some of the best animation of the entire franchise. Sunshine 2 is now the current benchmark for any future installments that may or may not come.

The background artwork was nothing short of stunning. As I wrote in the last review, Numazu is far more breathtaking than Tokyo will ever be. Sunshine has never devalued that. Sunsets on the beach in this series were a reoccurring setting. But you won’t hear me complaining.

Another thing Sunshine has excelled in has been the usage of color. Though not quite true with the character designs, it is true for every other aspect. This series has not been afraid to throw in every shade of the rainbow in large quantities. There were almost no greys or any kind of darkness in this season.

Yet what was most impressive, Sunshine 2 had examples of okay visual storytelling. Not a lot. Not a lot in the slightest. This was a rare occurrence. But when it did happen, it was good.

One moment that stuck out came right before a St. Snow performance.

Aquors and St. Snow had become close friends. Therefore, our nine traveled to support the duo at their Love Live qualifiers. As the groups were talking, Aquors’ Ruby noticed the younger half of St. Snow, Ria Kazuno (voiced by Hinata Satou) was acting strange. This was the first sign of hesitation from either member of Snow. Something was going on.

There was no dialogue. There was no exposition. This series showed something was up and let us fill in the rest.

While this may have been a strong instance of “show don’t tell”, normally I wouldn’t bring something this small up. I would much rather point out something grander. I’m making an exception here because this was the best Sunshine 2 managed.

This season had the tools and the quality to, how do I say this nicely, shut the hell up. I will get to this problem more in a second. But first I said there were two things this second season had the advantage in.

The Lives

The first performance Aquors had in season two came in episode three, Rainbow. I’m not going to lie, I was already checking out by that point. Many of Sunshine 2’s problems were already in full swing. But there was a small glimmer of potential.

The story had set itself up for Aquors to make a choice. They needed to decide whether to focus on the Love Live competition or a school event. To me, the option seemed obvious and why that was will become clear soon. That aside, to think there would be any kind of decision got my hopes up.

However, this season found a way to ruin that possibility. Except this is not what I want to focus on for now. It was during this episode where I remembered something. I remembered a reason why I enjoyed the original Love Live. It was the lives themselves.

When Aquors started their show, there was a feeling of excitement. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of this franchise, but it’s these kinds of moments that make Love Live, Love Live. This is where the effort has gone. This is the thing that has been the most memorable. Every aspect of this entire series has led to these points. Everything else was fluff. Although some fluff was better than others. Sunshine isn’t the better the version. Still, it was the lives that gave this season some entertainment value.

And do you know what it was that triggered this? To my shock, it was an aspect of this franchise that has bugged me since the beginning. Except here, in Sunshine of all places, Love Live finally got it right. Every live has used CGI. Up to this season, this was glaring since it had been a drastic change from the usual style. Here it worked, and it worked well.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still video game-ie. But at least it was a video game that had decent graphics.

In addition, there was more to why the lives were as good as they were.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The official acts of both μ’s and Aquors have never been stage performances. They have always been music videos. And you know what, that’s fine. Sunshine 2 embraced this reality and had some fun with it.

The camera movements were neat. The choreography was smooth. The direction complimented the songs and not the other way around. Heck, I even need to give credit to the costume designs. They looked good, what more can I say?

Every time a live was on the way, it would be a lie to say I didn’t a get little pumped. Sunshine 2’s best performances were the ones I’ve already mentioned in this review. The first was this season’s first, My Mai Tonight. The other was the St. Aquors Snow team up, Awaken the Power. Without any hint of sarcasm, I did enjoy these songs.

But if nothing else, the lives were great for a single reason. It was cool seeing the confidence Aquors had while they were performing. Though I feel no connection towards these girls for any other aspect, it was good to have this version of them.

Series Negatives

Where to start? Oh, how about this?

The two lives I mentioned, you know the ones I said were this season’s best? Neither were the performance Aquors gave at the Love Live finals. That live was forgettable. That’s not quite accurate. What I should have said was, “that live was almost miss-able.”

That’s right, one of the main goals of Love Live Sunshine, seasons one and two, you could skip by accident. It didn’t even register with me that the performance happened until the following episode.

“Wait, that after credits song was it?”

There was no real lead-in. There was zero fan fair. It was over and done with. Nothing about it was special. Why do that? Why would you waste this moment? It can’t be crazy to expect the titular event of this series should also be one of the most impactful.

Instead, a large amount of that focus went into the final episode. That in of itself is not bad. Except, the last episode of Sunshine 2 was the ultimate showcase of what was wrong with this series. Though this second season didn’t have as many copy-paste instances as its predecessor, season one had already done irreparable damage.

If you sat through Sunshine 1, you know where this story is going. It could only lead to one place. This was not an insurmountable barrier. As long as there’s a strong story, characters you care about, and a satisfying payoff, even the most predictable finales can work.

When those things don’t exist, as was the case with Sunshine, you’re stuck.

Plus, it didn’t help that long before the end came, this season was running on fumes. And it had been in that state almost since the beginning.

I had forgotten one critical detail from season one. I started season two assuming Aquors had succeeded in saving their school. Turns out that didn’t happen, and it took a while for that to click with me. Imagine my confusion in the meantime.

But this is how the season started. Episode one was adamant about the school closing being a done deal. It kept pushing this issue. Nothing could reverse the decision. Like it or not, this was happening. Except, oh crap, there were still twelve episodes to go. Can’t kill the dream here.

Of course, there was a way out. Despite the big hullabaloo about no other option, there was another option. Okay, we’re kicking this off in the laziest way possible, but that’s fine. As long as the next thing that happens isn't one of the most infuriating scenes of the entire franchise, I will let it go.

The very next thing that happened was Chika complaining that writing a song is hard.

Really? I mean, really? Are we going to do this? Are you kidding me? Aquors needed an act of God to give them even the slightest of chances. They got that. Somehow or other, they got that. Then the main character of Love Live Sunshine was whining like one would about studying for a test. And not even like an important test. It was more like she felt annoyed about preparing for some ten-point vocabulary quiz.

I’m neither here nor there about any of Sunshine’s characters. Except for Chika. I don’t like her. It was this scene that made me not like her. This season would have needed to work its ass off to redeem her from this. And you know what, it tried. Boy did it try. Guess what? It didn’t work. If anything, it made things worse.

The Dialogue

“Stop talking.”

This is what I kept saying through most of my Sunshine 2 watch. Almost every…single…word a character uttered was either nauseating, annoying, or maddening. Or all the above. This was one of those shows that thought everyone needed to say something in every scene they were in.

Don’t do that. Please, don’t do that. Especially you Sunshine. This season demonstrated many things. One of them being its inability to have compelling dialogue. Or even passable dialogue.

Aquors had nine members. Before anything could happen, each of them had to add in their two cents on everything. That wasn’t necessary. That was beyond unnecessary. Particularly since everyone spoke in motivational speeches. This was immediate too.

One of the first scenes of Sunshine 2 did this round-robin gimmick. If you get through this and think, “Hmm, that was awkward,” get used to it. This only spiraled out of control from there.

Earlier I said this season had the means to tell a decent visual story. I even gave an example of such an instance. Let’s talk about how Sunshine dumped on that idea.

When Aquors’ Ruby noticed the younger St. Snow looking troubled, she was on the mark. What Ria was thinking about was enough for her to lose focus during her performance. That lapse in attention led to a massive mistake. A mistake that resulted in destroying St. Snow’s chances of going to the Love Live finals.

This was a huge development. St. Snow was one of the shoo-in favorites to move on. When that didn’t happen, and how it happened was a wake-up call for Aquors. Even a group as experienced as St. Snow could crack. 

Unfortunately, Sunshine didn’t show any of this. Instead, we learned about the event after the fact. We didn’t get a St. Snow song. We never saw the mistake itself. We only got the character’s reaction to it. So, while it may have been a big deal to them, it meant nothing to us, the audience.

Every live in this whole franchise has played out fine. The closest this series ever got to an incident came in the original. μ’s Hinoka Kousaka collapsed after a performance due to exhaustion.

To have something happening during a live would have been unprecedented. It would have come out of nowhere. It would have been a shock. Sunshine had the opportunity to play with expectations.

Instead, we got the table scraps of what could have been a powerful scene.

By the way, how many powerful scenes were there in Sunshine 2? There were none. Why? It’s because this season never stopped trying to have one. This story drained any chance for any possible meaning way too fast. The strategy was to jam as many moving moments as possible to increase the chances of one of them landing.

When job hunting, it’s smart to flood the market with applications. But if you forget to add a resume to them all, you will only be wasting your time.

The School Closing

I don’t remember how I felt about this in Sunshine 1. I can say the same thing about the original series since, again, Sunshine couldn’t think of its own story. Here in the second season, though, I couldn’t care less about Aquors’ school closing.

More than that, I fail to see why this was an issue at all. The school shutting down was a moot point. It changed nothing. Closure or no, the third years would graduate and Aquors would be no more. And for the remaining members, it wasn’t as if they were going their separate ways.

Uranohoshi Academy would have merged with another school. Though they would have gone to a different place, they would have gone to a different place together.

I understand that locations hold sentimental value. The prospect of having to say goodbye to a place you care about is a scary thing, I get that. Had this been it, I would have let it go.

Except Sunshine took this to another level. This didn’t simply conflict with its main message of friendship and coming together. No, this story started saying something very unhelpful.

This season indicated that the main thing holding Aquors together was their school. If that went away, there would have been nothing. Not the hard work they put in. Not the struggles they had to overcome. Rather, if the school goes, they would go.

What bothers me the most, this isn’t some possible route that could have happened. This was exactly what happened.

There came a point where Aquors lost hope. There didn’t appear to be anything left they could do. To them, they had failed to achieve what they set out to do. This was right before the Love Live finales. The finish line was in their sight. But since the school to them was their drive and that was gone, why even bother? Right then and there, the girls were ready to quit.

All the training they did, pointless. The numerous competitions they were in, so what? The traveling, the bonding, all these things that did not happen at Uranohoshi, what did any of it matter?

It wasn’t until an option benefiting the school presented itself that Aquors found their drive again.

This legitimately upsets me. I’m not joking, I find this to be a tad offensive. And since this season had more than its fair share of sappy moments, here is one of my own. Though I say this in reference to Aquors, it applies to anyone who thinks they are in a similar situation.

Have some God damn respect for the time you spent together.

Memories don’t reside in physical locations. They reside in your head and in your heart. They reside with the people you made them with. Don’t attach what’s important to you to something as trivial as a building closing its doors. If a place needs to exist for you to remember something you say is precious to you, I’m sorry but that thing never was nothing special to begin with.

The original Love Live had the same plot point, save the school. But the final episode of that series was sad not because μ’s was saying goodbye to a location. They were saying goodbye to each other. They were saying goodbye to the unforgettable journey they had completed together.

Love Live Sunshine cannot claim the same.

Final Thoughts

That got way heavier than I wanted things to get. And it’s not like it’s going to mean anything a month or even a week from now.

Whenever I think about this series, it will be μ’s that comes to mind. Someone would need to go out of their way to mention Aquors for me to associate them with this franchise. This is a shame since this could have been so much more. The animation was strong. The songs were fun. Had this taken a risk and tried being its own thing I could at least respect the effort. But that’s not what happened.

With a season riddled with poor dialogue, never-ending exposition, and a misguided message, I’m happy to let this one go. Although, I can’t help to think we haven’t heard the last of Aquors.

But we will cross that bridge should we come to it. In the meantime, Love Live Sunshine Season Two is one you can skip.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise Love Live Sunshine Season Two? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you liked what you read, be sure to follow me on my social media sites so that you never miss a post or update. Also, please share this review across the internet to help add to the discussion.

I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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Others in the Love Live Series

Anime Hajime Review: Love Love the School Idol Project



Anime Eiga Review: Love Live the School Idol Movie



Anime Hajime Review: Love Live Sunshine



Anime Hajime Review: Love Live Sunshine Season Two

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