Random Review: Love Live! School Idol Project
I have descended into a very special hell.
Title: Love Live! School Idol Project (TV)
Animation Company: SUNRISE
Genres: Music, Slice of Life, Drama, Comedy
Aired: Winter 2013
Number of episodes: 13
Streaming Available: Crunchyroll and Hulu (both only in the US)
To save her school, Otonokizaka Academy, from shutting down, Honoka Kosaka decides to start a School Idol group to revive the school, and is joined by 8 other girls who eventually form the group “μ’s”.
I think a little explanation for the sudden plunge into idol hell is in order: I’m not new to μ’s. I’ve been a very active player on the franchise’s hit mobile game Love Live School Idol Festival (LLSIF for short) for a few months now; even playing competitively in events and whatnot. Given how much time I spend on the game, I decided to just check out the anime to determine who BEST IDOL is for myself. That’s it, that’s my stupid reasoning. You may laugh at me now.
To be honest, I can’t say I hated this series. In fact, I’d say it’s quite fun. But first I think it’s important to address what you should expect going into the series. This is no Idolm@ster or Wake Up! Girls – there is no real in-depth exploration of the idol industry and the problems it may bring people working in that industry. It’s in the title really – the girls aren’t real idols, they’re School Idols. They’re non-professional, school-affiliated, basically after school celebrities. You’ll be seeing 9 girls being friendly and having fun making music and dancing with each other while trying to ‘save their school’. I frankly would not say that is the kind of series I tend to enjoy, but Love Live does have its positives that make it an overall worthwhile watch in my opinion. Of course, I also say this as a seasoned LLSIF player already attached with the girls.
Let’s move on to the positives.
First off, the cast is pretty big for a 13 episode series. It’s truth in advertising really, all 9 girls get to share time in the spotlight, and while there are definitely characters that get more focus than the others (Nico, Honoka and Eli come to mind) none of the characters are forgettable. Some characters like Rin and Kotori are really just there to add to the series’ adorable factor (and yes, it is really adorable), but the series handles their characterizations well, simple as they may be.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the series builds on a really solid narrative in the first half – the characters focused on introducing the characters one by one worked to the series’ favor, and it manages to effectively endear you to the entire cast (by the time you reach the later episodes, anyway). It also greatly helps that the series has a really goofy sense of humor – my personal favourite parts of the series are all its funniest bits. This is basically Funny Faces: The Anime. The girls are adorable, but also funny in a way that does seem rather genuine – I wouldn’t go so far to say that their conversations felt naturalistic, even in the stronger first half of the series, but it still does enough to convince me as a viewer that the 9 girls had genuine chemistry and got along as real friends.
It’s also a rather visually polished series. Aside from the gorgeous character designs, there’s also some really nicely done character animation interspersed throughout a rather well-animated 13 episode run. The directing is also surprisingly competent – it never feels flat, and reflects events and conversations on screen better than I expected, honestly. In particular, the series is really good at timing and using very lovely close-up shots and isn’t afraid to go with bolder choices in framing every once in awhile. The only part about the visuals that was quite the letdown was the 3DCG dance sequences – they just didn’t mesh well with the 2D animation and looked incredibly odd (think the uncanny valley in Knights of Sidonia, but slightly worse). It definitely could’ve used more polish and consistency, but for the most part it looked more than serviceable.
The music is also quite alright, with some nice and catchy tracks here and there. As a big LLSIF fan I was already familiar (and probably attached) to the songs in the series, so I can’t say I disliked them, but the choreography and accompanying visuals are always Disney Channel levels of cringe worthy. I still can’t really get over how cheesy the first song in the series (a Honoka solo if I recall) was – a complete turnoff which really soured my initial impressions of the series. The VAs of the girls are largely good at singing – in particular Maki, Umi, Eli and Honoka’s voice actresses really stand out with lovely clear voices that are great to listen to.
Here’s where the problem comes in though – it has a very weak final stretch. It definitely tries too hard to reach certain….narrative heights it’s just not cut out for. Drama is definitely not the series’ strong suit – the writing in the supposedly more serious moments are EXTREMELY cringe-worthy (except for one scene near the beginning of the series), coming off really forced and…manufactured. The ending is rather anti-climatic that in my opinion goes against quite a bit of the buildup in the earlier episodes. There was also something about the way the biggest conflict in the series revolving around Honoka (and another member I won’t spoil) was handled that didn’t sit right with me, and was something I frankly could not agree with.
This is another smaller issue, but the handling of the character Nozomi Tojo (one of the LL girls) was something I wasn’t too impressed with either. She would have honestly been one of the strongest additions to the cast, but someone in the writing team decided to make her a breast grabber. It’s just not funny, it’s quite disturbing.
However, even with a poor homestretch, Love Live is far from a bad series by any means (bad attempted drama aside) – the characters are for the most part simple but very likable, and it impresses both visually and musically. It can come off a bit too sugary-sweet at times, but I always found it to be a part of its charm, and it is plenty charming. If you’re looking for a fast, light watch that can give you a couple of laughs along the way Love Live is probably something you should check out. I’ll emphasize again that it definitely is not for everyone, but if it sounds like your cup of tea I suggest you take the plunge (and join me in idol hell).
Also, since I did watch this anime to determine who DA BEST IDORU IS: Nico’s the best. Followed by Honkers and Kayochin. Nozomi and Rin are great too.
Alternative Recommendations: Idolm@ster (the original), AKB0048 if you’re feeling
a bit very adventurous