Concluding Thoughts – Love Live! Sunshine!!
How amusing. As Sunshine was airing, I would watch every episode time and time again and write about them led by a single desire; that of exhausting the series. I endeavored to find all the beautiful meanings I could until not a single idea would come out of my mind. But as I write this, I have yet to watch the final two episodes more than once. It is precisely the feeling that had driven me up until now which I now flee: I’m afraid that Sunshine will have nothing more to give me. Exhausting one episode in the comfort of knowing a new one will come in less than a week is a fine thing, but doing so when unsure of whether the series will bring me more beautiful things to dive into is somewhat terrifying. I want to renew this feeling of immersing myself in the series absolutely, and am now agonizing over the prospect of being unable to do so.
I need to acknowledge that I’m partly writing this because I do not want the series to end: so long as I haven’t completed my duty of refining and deepening my thoughts on it, I can avoid saying it has ended for me in the true sense of the term.
Thankfully a second season seems more than likely: as excruciating as the wait will be, I can convince myself to rest easy in the knowledge that I will be able to perform this task again in the near future. Having written about each episode extensively, I do not believe this piece will be exceedingly long; yet I felt the need to summarize a variety of general thoughts Sunshine left me with, as well as turn toward the series’ future.
And the first concerns the cast, specifically two characters who have truly enchanted me: Chika and Riko. I had already rhapsodized about the two’s relationship, but hadn’t touched on the ways in which this dynamic raised my appreciation for the two of them individually.
I do not read much on Sunshine, but the last time I did, here it was again, the dreadful comparison between Honoka and Chika. Now, I do not want to turn this piece into mere vituperation, but I believe it can provide an interesting starting point in analyzing Chika’s character.
I can confidently claim few cherish Honoka as much as I do, and in spite of my obsession for her, I simply cannot see Chika under the same light. I believe most forget something absolutely essential about Chika: the number of realizations she makes throughout the series. It even starts with one, as she discovers the radiance and happiness she can achieve by being a school idol. This is something she can put into words, because for her, a banal girl who had been carried by the waves of life, it is an intellectual process as much as an emotional one. But Honoka has no revelations whatsoever: she always expresses her nature perfectly and absolutely, as if it were a God-given gift. As such, she has no traditional development, much unlike Chika who grows step by step. Honoka cannot quite give the brilliance of school idols its full worded expression, either: she most definitely senses it, but it never leaves the realm of the immediate for her. She never goes through the process Chika does.
Such are the fundamental differences between the two, the reason why they cannot be compared. They are, in fact, near-opposites. Chika really is a normal girl who finds a way of realizing her perfection and pours her all into getting there, while Honoka reached this place as naturally as she buys bread.
And who better than Riko to let Chika see the full power of school idols?
Out of all the characters, she’s the most emotionally troubled: she’s lost her one greatest source of joy, and finds herself unable to move forward in life. By saving her, Chika turns her belief into a visible reality.
As a result, Riko herself grows a lot. If I had to say, she’s probably the character for whom my liking was the most improved by the anime. From someone who couldn’t find the door of her dreams, she became someone who found it and opened it with all her might, the bright smile that defines true joy lighting up her face; from someone who used to look down on the ground, she became someone who firmly looks forward; from a plain, timid girl, she became someone who can describe herself as “beautiful”.
In episode eight, she becomes the person on whose shoulder Chika can cry the tears she needs to; she had risen to the point of being able to give something in return. And by the end of episode ten, she’s found true joy in life, a way of facing all hardships while always keeping the splendor beaming in her heart. Her progression is magnificent. I feel genuinely proud of her.
Riko and Chika push one another forward, and in my eyes have the best growth of any character in this first season as well as the best relationship.
Then comes the time when I must talk about the show in its globality. And I need to start with something has been dismaying me since episode two: I believe Sunshine contains an interpretational mistake. Now, one may ask: “How can a work interpret itself wrongly? Surely you’re the one missing the mark?”, and they may be correct; nevertheless, this is a point I cannot afford to give up on.
In the (in)famous veranda scene, Chika reaches out to Riko and tells her that “school idols are supposed to make people smile”. And it is my belief that, at least in the context of the Love Live anime, she is incorrect; for school idols aren’t meant to put a smile on the face of anyone other than themselves. Our smiles are but joyful consequences of seeing these girls achieving their dreams, realizing their perfection; our happiness is born from the characters finding their own happiness. I do not take the slightest joy in thinking that girls not even remotely aware of my existence may somehow work for my well-being; but finding joy in the absolute, perfect felicity that these girls achieve is a sentiment I find profoundly elevating. It is for these reasons that I need to say it: I believe Chika is wrong. Some may find fault with this individualistic interpretation, but it is mine nevertheless, and nothing I ever intend to change.
I could go on for hours about what I found exceptional about Sunshine, but I believe a certain quote summarizes what I want to say quite well:
The supreme object of life is to live. Few people live. It is true life only to realize one’s own perfection, to make one’s every dream a reality.
– Oscar Wilde
Now, I had said I would discuss Chika’s closing monologue in this post. It ends on the question: “Is your heart shining?”, which is ironically a good place to start for all it implies. Let me first demystify it: while it sounds fancy, after reading the quotation above, it is easily reworded as: “Are you living?”. For such is Love Live: it takes the Romantic idea of the exaltation of the self and effectively achieves a utopia. For one’s heart to shine is to live, for in the series, living is precisely that: realizing one’s nature perfectly, achieving one’s every dream, or in other words: chasing after the light that shines in one’s heart. Having understood all of this, it is important to mention that it is a question Aqours can ask us, viewers, because they know one thing for sure: their heart is most definitely shining. No one would doubt it, either. They know the light is there, shining brightly within them, and this is why Chika can so certainly say they will make their dreams come true; a stark change from the beginning of the speech which expresses sheer uncertainty amidst the desperate desire to escape the dreadful zero. And so now is the time for us to inherit this question, and do the necessary introspection to find our own answer to this question. Finally, the speech’s constant focus on intangibles is notable, for such moments are always revealing of a work’s true nature. It makes us realize to which extent winning the Love Live and saving their school are but means: it is, in fact, what they become through these things that is the real achievement. As such, it is this, and nothing else, that is at the center of this scene. µ’s set out to make these things come true, but by the end of their voyage they had, perhaps to their own surprise, earned something far too important to have a physical shape. It is what made their story beautiful, what gave it meaning, and what made them legends. Aqours understand this profoundly (it is, after all, the source of Chika’s love of them), and as a result, are able give µ’s the total expression of their meaning. So is the nature of this final speech: a beautifully expressive epitome of Love Live’s thematic focus from the one who knows it best: Chika (and it is such moments that make for a great deal of my admiration for her).
Having said all this, I believe it would be better to further interpret this message that forms the core of Love Live in a separate piece looking at both series; part of why I believe so I’d like to explain in the paragraph below.
I maintain my idea that, beyond being superior to the original, Sunshine improves it. Sunshine takes place in the same universe a mere five years later: the two share a close relation. If Love Live is the franchise’s origin, Sunshine proposes the ultimate conclusion to the tale of the nine Otonokizaka girls who miraculously gathered and made their greatest dream a reality; it gives the sentiments µ’s bore their fullest expression. As a sequel, it must be seen in a dynamic relation with the original: what the first Love Live gave birth to, Sunshine celebrates and completes. Aqours realize µ’s’ wish, and by exploring their true meaning, ultimately making the necessary discovery of the need to move on from the things we love the most, they are able to realize true happiness. This is what µ’s really wanted to convey; and what we see is Aqours finding this out (which also happens to be a wonderful lesson to all those who claimed they’d quit the fandom when µ’s disbanded), thus completing the original story’s meaning. Put together, the two form a far more wonderful story than they could ever hope to be on their own. As such, I find it very dull to only relate the original to Sunshine so as to bring out the clash between the antiquated and flawed predecessor in opposition to the new and shiny, more polished continuation.
All in all, Sunshine was a pretty wonderful series. Having worked on the original obviously helped: the series’ identity felt clearer than ever, and the strength with which Sunshine ran to the very core of this message made it an extremely impactful experience for me as a fan.
I’ll end this on a couple of notes, the first of which concerns the few misgivings I had about the first season, minor as they may be. First of all, I’m somewhat disappointed by the treatment reserved to the first years: while episodes four and five were certainly very pleasant, I would’ve liked to see Yohane, Ruby and Hanamaru involved in more serious situations past these. They were fleshed out satisfyingly then, but are mostly used for comedy afterwards, which was a shame. A similar complaint regards You and her lack of development: maybe her fellow second years simply set the bar too high, but I was slightly disappointed at how little I knew about You herself by the end of this first season: the chunk of her development is in relation to Chika, which is fine, but I found myself wanting to know about You beyond her condition as Chika’s childhood friend.
Finally, I’d like to quickly go over my expectations for the second season. Beyond more screen time for the characters mentioned above, I’m unsure I have any precise wish other than “more of the same”. I simply wonder what the focus will be, and if it will truly shift away from the Love Live.
My only worry is that, after fleshing out its characters so satisfyingly in the first season, Sunshine may run out of steam. While the original had a lot of comedy in its first half, thus letting the second season handle most of the meaningful content, Sunshine is in a very different situation. Therefore, I need to question: just what kind of drama will it have? How will the characters develop? Surely Sunshine having a lackluster second season would undo much of the good it did in its first. The second part will form the core of the story and, in all likelihood, provide a conclusion to Aqours’ story: it needs to build up to that moment at least as well as the original’s second season did, and that can only happen through compelling character drama, a lot of which is already behind us (though, as mentioned above, I absolutely do believe there is yet work to be done: I simply wonder if, having technically fleshed out its whole cast, Sunshine won’t be tempted to rest on its laurels). I’m not excessively anxious, especially knowing Sunshine is much better planned than its predecessor, but part of me questions, and hopes all his worries are unfounded.
I have little to add beyond this point. Each of my episodic pieces represent the evolution of my thoughts as the series aired, and seen as a whole, are likely to express my thoughts in greater detail than I can write in a single piece. Furthermore, while I’d have liked to write at greater lengths about the core message of the series, I don’t believe this is a place, or even the moment for it.
And with this, my work on the first season of Love Live! Sunshine!! comes to a close. If, by chance, you find yourself reading this, I hope you’ve enjoyed these writings of mine, ridiculously emotional as they may be; and, if so, I hope we can meet again when the second season starts.