We’re Living in the Now (Bokura wa Ima no Naka de) by μ’s
Our honest feelings bring us together
We’re serious, but inexperienced; our hearts clash
Even so, we want to achieve big dreams
It’s right here, and it’s only just begun
It won’t be all fun and games; we’ll face challenges
That those hardships are part of our future
If we come together, we’ll all become stronger
(For sure) We’ll keep changing (We’ll be stars!)
If we can do our best with what we love
A new (place) will be our goal
If we can all believe in what we love
We can (embrace) out hearts’ fluttering and move forward
(Throw away your fear) With your best smile
(Fly higher and higher) We’re living in the now
Waiting for the light to shine on us
This week’s Under Your Radar is Love Live! School Idol Project. Love Live! is a large multimedia production by Dengeki G’s Magazine (which is run by Kadokawa), music label Lantis (which is a subsidiary of Namco Bandai), and anime studio Sunrise (which is mostly known for Gundam, but Love Live! is handled by its eighth studio, whose other notable works include the anime adaptations of Accel World and Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere; it is also a subsidiary of Namco Bandai).
Being a multimedia project, parts of the franchise include short stories, a manga, fan-voted music videos (which determine things like the song’s lead singer and the names of the idol groups and sub-groups), other music CDs, an anime and even live performances, without even getting into miscellaneous merchandise. Of those, the manga and short stories are the only ones that cannot be accessed by English-speaking audiences (and only the anime can be viewed legally). As a result, this review will focus on the anime.
As its title suggests, Love Live! School Idol Project follows a group of schoolgirl idol singers. Specifically, the franchise’s plot is about an all-girls school named Otonokizaka Academy, which borders the three very different cities of Akibahara, Kanda and Jinbo, which are about as different from each other as you could imagine. This puts the school in a very precarious position, as they’ve been on a steady decline for years in terms of applicants (the anime goes as far as to say that there are only 3 senior classes, 2 junior classes and 1 freshman class, but I can’t confirm if that’s the case for the rest of the franchise). As such, barring a sudden spike in applicants, the school will close to new students for the next school year, and will close completely once its current set of freshmen graduate.
So second-year student Honoka Kōsaka immediately takes action, trying to find out what she can do to help save the school, and decides to form a 9-girl school idol group named μ’s (pronounced muse) in reference to the nine muses from Greek mythology. She ropes several students, including several of her childhood friends, into joining the group, so they can take the world by storm and attract more applicants.
The finer points of everything else depends whether or not you’re talking about the anime specifically, as the anime seems to be in an alternate continuity from everything else in the franchise and changes several major facts and character traits. For example, Eli, who’s billed as the second-most important character (for the record, the specific order is Honoka, Eli, Kotori, Umi, Rin, Maki, Nozomi, Hanayo, Nico), is one of Honoka’s childhood friends, a third-year student and the student council president unless you’re talking about the anime, where everything but the childhood friend part is true, so she spends the first seven episodes as an antagonist of sorts (a complete failure of one, but still one). Also, as perhaps the biggest change, the anime gives Nozomi more motherly traits, bumps her up from second year to third year, and makes her the vice-president of the student council. Given the major contradicting information, I will only refer to what is the case in the anime for the remainder of this review.
Love Live!‘s anime has two major aspects: the story and the music.
The music direction in the anime is nothing short of excellent. While the soundtrack itself, barring the songs sung by the protagonists, are nothing special, the direction gives the rather ordinary soundtrack a bit more punch, and makes it extremely effective at conveying the feelings they want you to feel in any given scene. I also found it rather amusing that the ending theme, Youth Will Surely Be Heard (Kitto Seishun ga Kikoeru), changes singers every episode (usually to the most important character(s) of said episode), which made it feel fresh.
However, given what type of show this is, most people’s attention in the music department would rightfully go to the songs the protagonists perform. In my honest opinion, the songs are a mixed bag with stuff like START:DASH!! being generally enjoyable and songs like Wonder zone not being nearly as good, though Wonder zone didn’t actually show any of its performance, which may have affected it somewhat.
Whether or not you like the performances is a matter of preference as well (though, really, how can you not enjoy seeing a character dance through moving traffic in the most cheesy way possible?), but there’s one positive fact and one negative fact that I want to bring to light about them, both of which only really matter if you’re paying close attention.
The sheer amount of detail they put into the anime’s performances is rather excellent. Early on, the recording quality of the voices are deliberately amateurish, though not enough so to divert your attention. In addition, the characters are just barely out of sync in places, and the production values of the stages they’re performing on are very low when compared to later, where practically everything looks pro-level. This level of detail is also used to convey feelings on occasion, which can be easily seen from the two times the group performs START:DASH!! – the first time feels justifiably lonely, but the second time is very happy (they also used different parts of the song, to capitalize on the difference in tone).
On the downside, however, they make rather liberal use of CG (which is also the case outside the anime), but mixed in with the 2D art. I’ve seen some people who were too creeped out by the CG to continue past the opening theme, but my main problem is that they switch between them so often. Don’t believe me? Let’s try a drinking game – scroll back up to the opening, watch it on full screen and take a drink every time it jumps between CG art and 2D art. If you actually do this, it will end one of 4 ways:
- You pause the video each time they switch so you can drink, and subsequently take quite a while to finish the video.
- You end up trying to drink too much at once and drown yourself to death.
- You decide to take sips instead of drinks to avoid results 1 and 2.
- You aren’t very attentive and don’t notice that there isn’t a single 10-second space during which they don’t switch between the two (usually more than once).
Some performances in the anime even have some characters in 2D and some in CG on the screen simultaneously, which I find ridiculous.
The story is very light-hearted, but manages to take itself somewhat seriously. μ’s doesn’t become the overnight success they wanted it to be – they have to work for it, and find this out the hard way when nobody shows up at their first performance. I rather liked how they put in several nods to the music videos, with them using the same song and dance from their first one, and then using the settings of most of the others throughout the remaining episodes.
The plot was also very clearly well-planned, with not a single wasted plot point present in the entire series – everything that’s brought to your attention is either immediately relevant or will be important later, sometimes both.
The character interactions are also rather well-thought out and tend to be rather funny, especially as more members join the mix instead of being off at the side and maybe interacting with one or two characters at a time. Honoka runs solely on how pushy she is, and this shows when she ends up being branded the leader behind her back when she just got everyone to agree that they didn’t need a leader, and just how quickly the entire group makes a complete shift in their opinions to agree with what she has to say. Umi and Kotori make it clear from the first episode that they actually enjoy Honoka dragging them to things they wouldn’t have otherwise done, and agreeing with everything Honoka wants is a rather central point in Kotori’s character specifically.
I worry about the message the story sends, however. I had a feeling when one character was literally dragged into the group, kicking and screaming, but the moral of the story seems to clearly be something along the lines of “be selfish and you’ll get everything you want”. Given that Love Live! deliberately avoid things like fanservice in an attempt to be a more wholesome series and capitalize on its large amount of different air times to reach all audiences (which worked – it’s outselling everything else from that anime season by miles), do we really want a TV show to teach that sort of thing to the audience?
I also want to criticize just how long they took to get all 9 members together. With character interactions running the show, it makes little sense to have the last two members join at the end of episode 8. That said, even though I really want to criticize it, I can’t, since putting the group together faster may have ruined the pacing. The series was very much paced in a manner that made you think it was in no rush, with some attributing the speed to that of a 26-episode anime, rather than the 13-episode one we got. This overall pacing structure worked to its favour, as it allowed them to maintain excellent pacing everywhere but the second half of the final episode, which moves too fast.
The final 2 episodes were rather irregular in comparison to the rest of the series, as well, being overly dramatic and have a resolution that made less sense than usual in exchange for ending happily. In some ways, it even makes me feel like the title was somewhat of a lie, and makes me want to punch whoever made the opening for being such a troll. I can’t explain exactly why without spoiling something big, but what I mean is clear as day if you watch the series.
The anime is licensed for North American release by NIS America (yes, the same NISA that handle the Disgaea and Neptunia games). They’re a bit different from normal licensors so I’ll explain how their releases work: They never dub anything, but their subtitles are well-researched (the translators check the entire franchise before starting). Their releases are also a bit more expensive than most, but they’re limited editions with several extras. Cheaper standard editions are then put out one year later. They haven’t announced how they intend to handle Love Live! yet, however. If you don’t want to deal with that, they sub-licensed simulcasting rights to Crunchyroll, so all episodes can be accessed there.
The final episodes aren’t enough to sink a series that was simply enjoyable throughout. For the most part, the series is believable and funny, plus the performances can be quite enjoyable if you don’t let the heavy use of CG bother you too much. These are still, however, issues with the series and I cannot blame anyone for refusing to watch it on the basis of those things. Still, had the final episodes not clashed with the rest of the series as much as they have, this may have become my favourite anime of all-time. Now, however, it’s merely one of my favourites.
Go here for a review of season 2.