I give this anime about a group of girls becoming school idols...an 82/100?!
(This is my 400th completed anime!!!)
Whoa. I...I was honestly not expecting this anime to be this good. Hell, I never expected to even watch it, let alone complete it! Now, originally, I hadn't planned to go anywhere near this, as I mentioned previously that I never liked the Love Live franchise. It just felt too cheesy and overly saccharine for my tastes, and the first two seasons, Love Live: School Idol Project and Love Live Sunshine, have a certain thing that I have a very visceral hatred for, which is characters grabbing other peoples' boobs without their consent and playing the sexual harassment for comedy. Yeah...no. I can't stand that in any way, shape, or form, and yes, I know the Love Live franchise has much more to offer than that, but those elements are a HUGE turn off for me, and I stay the hell away from any anime that has that trope in it. That's the reason why I'll never go near shows such as Haruhi Suzumiya, Nagi no Asukara, Seven Deadly Sins, Adachi and Shimamura, Strike Witches, and many others. But hey, if you like the other Love Live seasons, cool! More power to you! They may not be for me, but the Love Live franchise has become massively popular since the first anime aired in 2013, and there's no fighting big successes. That being said, two more Love Live seasons were announced, this one included, and assuming that this one was going to have those creepy elements as well, I wasn't going to go anywhere near it, and I had planned to watch other shows.
So how did I wind up watching Love Live: Nijigasaki High School Idol Club in its entirety? Well, two things: One, boredom, and two, I dropped several shows I had intended to watch, one of which had a really annoying main character who did nothing but whine, screech, and act like a brat and just got on my nerves every time she appeared on screen (The Day I Became a God), and the other one started going in really questionable directions and apparently never recovered (Wandering Witch). Then I started hearing that the Love Live Nijigasaki anime was turning out to be really good, so I was bored, and I thought "What the hell? I might as well try it out and give it a fair shot." So I watched the first episode. Then another. Then another. And before I knew it, I saw the entire show, and to my MASSIVE relief, this show doesn't have a SINGLE instance of boob groping or sexual harassment played for comedy. THANK GOD!! This is what I've been waiting for!! I still have no intention of watching the original SIP or Sunshine, but I did feel somewhat guilty about not getting into the franchise, as several friends and people I know really love the franchise, flaws and all. Now, any guilt I once had is now assuaged, as not only have I finally completed a Love Live anime series in its entirety, I found one I actually love!
Alright, enough of my personal history with it. Let's talk about what this iteration is about, shall we? Two best friends, Yu Takasaki and Ayumu Uehara, have recently become fans of school idols after seeing one, Setsuna Yuki, perform live. They see if they can find the school idol club in their school...only to find that it's been shut down. Undeterred, the duo decide to start their own school idol club themselves, and through trial and error, even recruit the previous members of the old school idol club, who had broken up due to a falling out. But rather than form one big group and enter competitions, the girls pursue their own individual paths as school idols, learning the ins and outs of the entertainment industry such as making promotional videos, holding concerts, putting themselves out there, practicing singing and dancing, and so on. Every day brings something new as the girls become school idols to have fun and see what it's all about. Unlike the previous Love Live series, there's no dramatic plot to save the school from being closed nor are the girls participating in any competitions, so the stakes are much lower and more grounded this time around.
Now, if you're a hardcore Love Live fan, you'll notice that the animation and art style is different from previous Love Live anime. You're not seeing things, and there's a reason for that. Unlike SIP and Sunshine, Love Live Nijigasaki (I'm calling it that rather than its much longer original title for the sake of convenience) is directed, written, scripted, and animated by a completely different group of people. Yes, Sunrise still does the animation, but a different set of animators were brought on to animate this particular season. You'll notice that the character designs are simpler, slightly less refined, and with less emphasis on things like the color in their cheeks or the detail in their eyes. But the simpler character designs also allow for more fluidity and making the character movement feel much more dynamic. It also helps that the animators always slip in little easter eggs that reference the cell phone game, the backgrounds are still bright and colorful, though slightly more muted compared to its parent series, and it makes good use of dynamic camera angles and lighting during particularly important scenes. One thing that Love Live fans in general feel that this series vastly improved on compared to the original two seasons is the CGI. These days, most anime companies prefer to render characters in computer generated images whenever they're dancing rather than actually animating them themselves due to cutting costs and wanting to make things easier. But early idol shows had really bad CGI that had really wonky movements and made the characters look more like plastic knockoff barbie dolls, complete with weird faces. None of this is present here. Not only are the CGI models of the girls much more dynamic, they actually actually blend surprisingly well with the 2D scenery for once and the models actually resemble the characters.
Of course, with this being a music anime, the soundtrack has to carry the show, because of it doesn't, it'll bring the show down. The background music is pretty versatile, with plenty of sweeping orchestras and heavy usage of instruments like oboes, flutes, pianos, electric guitars, and so on. I admit I'm kind of a sucker for orchestras. That being said, I liked many of the songs okay, as they're mostly well sung and fit the characters well, but taste is subjective, and while I like them just fine, others will likely dismiss them as just generic bubblegum girl pop numbers. Though if you ask me, I'd much rather listen to the Love Live Nijigasaki songs over, say, anything Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry sings these days.
While I admit to not having seen SIP or Sunshine beyond their first episodes, one thing I've noticed upon researching these seasons is that they often had problems with focusing too much on certain characters while not focusing enough on others that really needed proper character development. With large ensemble casts, it can be hard to find that balance where you need to develop every character and show what they're like in order to make your audience care about them. Thankfully, while not without its own issues, the Nijigasaki cast is free of this. Every character gets their own focus episode, along with an insert song as the cherry on top, and all of them get nicely fleshed out, receiving healthy amounts of development that make them feel like they're more than just a single archetype. Ironically, the mobile game that this series is based on is notorious for not really bothering to flesh out the Nijigasaki cast in any meaningful way. The staff on the anime seemed to realize that this was a problem and rectified it ten fold. I admit to not having played the game, but after being impressed by the levels of characterization the girls received here, I can only imagine what the mobile game's handling of them must have been like. Nevertheless, the show has a great cast of characters, and while many may still consider them generic moeblobs compared to other shows, considering that most moe shows these days are actually trying to put more effort into giving their characters more depth than just one personality trait, I have to give kudos to the staff here for at least bothering to care about what they do. Also, IMHO, Rina is my best girl, with Kanata coming a VERY close second.
Another thing I really respect about the Nijigasaki anime is its writing. Previous seasons often wanted drama a little too badly, bordering on melodramatic at times. I know the original SIP had characters singing rain storms away, shouting their feelings whenever they experience hardship, a huge deal being made of main characters wanting to quit after getting sick once, school idols being considered more important than studying abroad, characters being needlessly mean and wanting to stop school idol clubs from being formed for asinine reasons, and so on. Since the Nijigasaki anime doesn't really have a central conflict like saving their school from being shut down, the stakes are much lower this time around, and I think this was for the better. The Nijigasaki anime shows a lot more restraint when it comes to its drama. For one, whenever the characters have a problem, they actually talk to each other about it and work to resolve it like mature people rather than dragging it out needlessly or throwing hissyfits like toddlers. Nothing is ever blown out of proportion or made into a bigger deal than it is, and the characters behave and act realistically, which is something I really wish more anime would do these days. One reason this anime has a much more subdued atmosphere is that one of the scriptwriters, Jin Tanaka, also worked on shows like Laid-Back Camp and various Pretty Cure series. Tomoyuki Kawamura, who directed the show, previously directed Mitsuboshi Colors and Kamigami no Asobi, and did storyboards for shows like Anne-Happy and the last Gintama movie. Sometimes change can be for the better, and in this case, it was absolutely needed and it worked out perfectly!
That said, as much as I want to lavish with show with all the praise, it's not a perfect show, as it's often held back by its own formula. Every episode goes like this: Character goes about their day, character has a problem, the others help out in some way, character has an epiphany, random song number, end. Granted, execution is everything, and there's really no original spin on anything anymore. Plus, the show does expect you to really stretch your willing suspension of disbelief at certain points. Early on, the characters go into random choreographed, PV-esque musical numbers, complete with colorful visuals and new outfits, even though these music video setpieces make no effort to really tie into what's actually happening, so it makes the transition from regular stuff to music feel very jarring. Later episodes rectify this with having characters actually perform in concerts where they can actually make use of special effects and show them in costume, but I can totally understand feeling very thrown off by it initially. Plus, a later plot point has the girls attempt to hold this super huge festival, managing to put together everything from venues to equipment and costumes perfectly even though the show never explains how they even manage to put together the possibly huge amounts of money to do so.
However, Love Live Nijigasaki's positives more than outweigh its negatives. I'm glad I got to watch this, as now, I finally have a Love Live season that I both actually watched in its entirety, but can proudly say I actually love! If you want to watch any Love Live season at all, but feel put off by some of the decisions the first two seasons made, don't hesitate to check out Love Live: Nijigasaki High School Idol Club if you can. It's a sweet show about girls having fun, and considering how crappy 2020 has been, we could use a bit of subdued sweetness right now.