Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 10
Let me start by stating that I feel truly blessed to be watching Sunshine on a weekly basis. This series has been a source of great joy for me, to the point where I found myself unable to contain my excitement at the mere idea of watching a breather episode. Did I say “breather episode”? Well, scratch that, because sometimes series don’t quite live up to our expectations; perhaps often for the worse, but in this case, most definitely for the better.
Because if you thought the episode was going to be all fun and games… well you were more wrong than the first and second years (except Ruby) trying to guess what summer is all about. In the middle of a playful exchange of texts with Chika, Riko receives a mail warning her of the approaching deadline to register her participation in an upcoming piano contest. She’s clearly thrown aback, but decides to put the question aside for now: but at least we know what this week’s drama is going to be about. That was a good surprise right off the bat, as I genuinely expected the episode to be entirely focused on comedy, starting with them setting up a summer camp; which is the next thing they do.
And of course this offers plenty of comedy… the episode truly makes the most of Aqours now being nine: Dia’s being a huge idol nerd, finally showing the full extent of her bond with her sister in the process (what had been broken has now been repaired: they revel in their mutual love of idols, which brings them closer than ever), but no one’s quite as enthusiastic about reproducing µ’s hellish training schedule: Chika uses having to help with her family’s seaside restaurant as an excuse. The solution she and Mari find is to all stay at the Takami inn for a “summer camp” (minus the exoticness the activity generally entails), tucking the training at either end of the day. So we get to see all the fun they have during the day!
The beachside restaurant they need to help run is in a truly sad state, and they have to clean it before throwing themselves in a desperate attempt to compete with the nearby diner… which is far more attractive as its activity proves. Dia leads the operation, assigning everyone to precise roles: as the ending of last episode had already gone to show, she’s surprisingly playful… and even cunning in this case, as she decides to use Kanan’s charms for the sake of promotion. Not that it serves any purpose: the first customers to come are friends invited by Chika herself. Behind the scenes, You, Mari and Yoshiko are cooking, but only You’s food looks actually edible and therefore sells: as a result, they have to eat Mari’s “Shiny!” and Yohane’s “Fallen Angel Teardrops” leftovers after a truly exhausting training session… not the most pleasing prospect. The first dish is crazy expensive but tastes good, while the second almost kills Ruby due to its spiciness. A true fallen angel Yoshiko is!
There’s evidently plenty of amusing moments here, and all the girls are involved, which makes it a very pleasant episode in that regard alone: it is, after all, the first time we can appreciate the whole of this amazing cast simply having fun together. And I want to say, “finally!”: after all the drama, there’s a honest sense of reward in seeing everyone like this.
It is in the middle of this fun evening together that Chika hears of the upcoming piano contest by accident. Curious, she looks it up at night and finds out it’s taking place on the same day as the Love Live preliminaries. She immediately wakes Riko up to ask about it. It’s in a decisive tone that she tells Chika she will participate in the Love Live: her eyes shine as she speaks of Aqours’ importance to her life, and how much she values every moment spent with everyone, and how it’s more important to her than the piano: “it’s where I belong”, she says. She seems sincere; yet Chika leaves with a distinctly saddened look on her face. And I definitely felt somewhat irked by her brushing aside of the piano’s importance; it gave me the distinct impression that she forced the words out of her mouth so as to further convince herself that it was true, despite her heart screaming otherwise. Aqours may be important, but she can’t so readily throw away the thing that had been her support and joy for the majority of her life. And Chika probably felt the same.
Her worries are all but confirmed when the two of them have a reunion about the next song with Kanan. Chika states that the theme of her lyrics is “things that are important to them”: upon reading the text, Riko instinctively directs a troubled gaze to a music sheet she had left on her desk unattended. Chika knows that it’s not any music sheet, but the one Riko herself put her all into creating for her piano contest. She knows: that Riko is still hesitating, that she’s aching to once again play the instrument she was so sad to have failed. She wants to reunite with the lost joy of playing the piano. But she won’t become so sincere of her own accord: she’s too conscious of her surroundings, too desiring to live up to her friends’ hopes, and too afraid to let them down when everyone is hoping to give their best and make it to the finals as Aqours, a group of nine: no fewer, no more. There is, after all, a reason why, in the episode’s wondrous ending, she asks Chika the following: “don’t you want to be [at the Love Live preliminaries] with me?”. She’s prey to many worries: she wants to meet everyone’s expectations, and fears rejections. Having just found where she belongs, she’ll be assaulted by fear at the first hint that others may not feel she actually belongs here. Perhaps that’s why she had decided to give up on the piano: to show herself and the others that this is most definitely where she ought to be. Chika helped her move forward, but she’s yet fragile.
That’s why, at night, she wakes her up once again, and takes her to their school’s music room: she wants her to play the song she’s prepared, so the both of them can reaffirm the piano’s importance to Riko. When the performance ends and the two of them sit in front of the beach, dawn has already come. A dawn like any other, but one with definite symbolical implications for Riko.
In episode two, it was Chika who encouraged Riko to become a school idol: so that Riko could move on, change, and eventually be able to face the instrument she holds so dear once again. It is time for the two of them to complete this cycle they started back then. Riko, whose heart had been enveloped and healed by the untainted energy Chika had conveyed to her, is now ready to be released into the world once again. The two of them sense this just as well. But it’s up to Chika to take the cocoon off. She exhorts Riko to participate in the piano contest, swearing that she’ll remain right here, waiting for her; that she’d like to be with her, but that it’s time to realize the meaning of the words she had told her back then. It’s a teary-eyed Riko that answers Chika’s hand with a warmest hug, ending on two memorable lines I believe speak for themselves:
“You really are a weird one.
I love you.”
(As a quick note, I don’t ship any of the characters, and therefore don’t find anything romantic about Riko’s words: I simply see them as the beautifully sincere expression of her overflowing affection and gratefulness toward Chika).
Last episode had the first true meeting between Kanan and Mari. Maybe this final scene is the first dawn of the rest of Riko’s life: the moment where she sets out to face herself and what she loves, her eyes always facing forward and her heart always warm.
This scene exemplifies and elevates what has made me love the dynamic between Chika and Riko from the very beginning. They both spring the other forward. When Riko couldn’t move on, it was Chika that helped her face forward again. When Chika was holding back, it was Riko that pushed her to speak her mind. It’s always to Riko that Chika opens up about her worries and negative emotions. And now, it’s Chika who gives Riko the final push she needs to truly live in joy. They both provide something precious the other needs, and are always there to give it. They support and complete one another. It’s a relationship that I feel of stupendous beauty, and also entirely unique in Sunshine: it has provided many of the series’ most touching moments and dialogues. This episode not only proved it, but also took their friendship to the next level. Knowing it has always been one of my favorite aspects of the series, you can imagine how I felt at this last scene!
I’ve seen some people criticize Chika’s decision to push Riko, and I have to say: I don’t understand why anyone would think so. There’s something annoyingly utilitarian about arguing that she should’ve thought of everyone and their chances of getting into the finals of the Love Live. These people seem to underestimate the extent to which Chika “gets” µ’s, and represents a kind of ideal µ’s fan. Yes, she probably put Aqours’ chances of passing the preliminaries to bed: but it’s not, and never should be, what matters the most. The most important thing is that Riko realizes herself. It is my belief that a significant part of what makes Love Live such a profoundly moving and inspirational story to its fans is precisely this element of self-realization. By pushing Riko to face herself, she gives shape to this essential beauty behind µ’s. She, by all means, did the right thing, whatever consequences it may bring. There’s something much more essential to Love Live’s message than winning a competition, something which Chika understands, and puts to practice here. And to me, this makes the scene all but magnificent.
It is with this wonderfully heartwarming scene that the episode closes. While it may not stay in everyone’s memories due to following the explosion of feelings that was last week’s episode, I still loved it to pieces: it provided the comedy I expected, and was as amusing as I’d liked in those moments, but still managed to explore Riko’s character more (something I honestly wasn’t betting on, at least in this first season), providing us with a wonderful bit of character progression. The way Chika and Riko’s relationship seemed to come full circle made my heart melt, too. Surely this ends all chances of Aqours passing the Love Live preliminaries: there’s no way they’re meant to go so far without being complete, and there is a second season ahead. But I don’t mind, if only because there was so much beauty in what Chika did; and, as it turns out, I’m glad we’ll have more of this wonderful series. Though the closer to the end we come, the more lost I become as to what I’ll do once this series ends… it’ll likely leave a big gap behind, and I can’t expect any show to fill Love Live!’s shoes for me. (Not that I’ve watched any anime except Sunshine and the second part of the Kizumonogatari trilogy of movies in a month or so, anyway). But, let’s think about the future later: for now, we have three episodes left to enjoy! (yes, I know that’s a depressingly small number…).