Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 11
After ten episodes of being around but never in the spotlight, it was high time Sunshine gave You Watanabe the focus she deserves. And while I was unanimously enamored with the past episodes, I can’t quite bring myself to say the same of this episode: let me explain why.
Participating in the preliminaries without Riko means Aqours need to fill the gap left by their composer if they want to bring a visually satisfying experience to their audience. Their decision is to have You play Riko’s part, which just so happens to be right next to Chika: it is, beyond a dance, the perfection representation of You’s emotional struggles.
When everyone came to see Riko off, Chika was the last one standing in place, her gaze fixed toward her friend’s fading figure. When she started practicing together with You, she struggled to adapt because she was so used to dancing with Riko. When Riko called Chika in the middle of supplementary practice, the only who was kept from interacting with her was You. Despite her easygoing appearances, she is this nerdy girl who wears thick glasses and is obsessed with uniforms. She’s quite fragile, and her decision to reproduce Riko’s dance instead of pursuing her own is revealing in that sense.
When the angst became easily foreseeable, I thought of it as a good platform for You to finally reveal herself: when Mari exclaims she thought Chika and Riko were the group’s founders, and Dia replies believing so is no surprise looking at the current situation, they’re echoing most viewers’ thoughts. Riko and Chika share something that is quite unique despite having known each other for but a short time, and You’s feelings are by no means strange.
Mari understands her situation very well, and decides to make her talk. This is a part I found interesting: Mari knows what regretful consequences a lack of honesty between friends; seeing the second years slowly but surely heading down a similar road, she takes it upon herself to keep them from going through such a sad process. It is the first time we see Mari in a serious situation that doesn’t involve scars of her own: and it is most striking to observe her behave quite like an elder sister would to her younger siblings: she jokes a little to lighten the mood, makes relevant physical contact (the infamous washi-washi that introduces the scene excluded) to show she cares, and addresses You gentle words and faces so as to give her the light push she needs. There has always been a Mari behind the extravagant façade: before it used to be someone in deep pain, but thankfully now it is a wondrously loving and delicate youth.
It is precisely this behavior that is needed for You to get over the original embarrassment of having her darkest emotions revealed. She tells Mari that she’d wanted to endeavor in something with Chika for her whole life: as such, she was ecstatic when, after having seen her offers turned down for many years, she was invited to a school idol group by her friend: “finally I’ll be able to achieve this wish of mine”, she thought. But her reputation as a shrewd girl (truly an undeserved reputation: there is simply no way such a girl would hold the worries You does) came back to haunt her Riko quickly joined and started creating songs with Chika, followed by everyone else. “Does Chika not want to be together with such a girl?”: she started doubting, and jealousy came into the mix, creating the complex emotional situation she now finds herself in.
Mari reprimands her for letting such thoughts consume her: letting them do the rounds in her head is useless, she needs to confront Chika. You is impacted by the words and decides to do as Mari says: but before she can come to a conclusion, here is everyone, happily showing off scrunchies they got as presents from Riko. There’s one for You, obviously: but once again she can’t help but notice how Riko, even from Tokyo, seems to stand at the center of the group, leaving her at the periphery in spite of her long-standing friendship with Chika. She’s stumped and no conclusion in sight as the night sky spreads itself above her.
In fact, she’s reached the stage of despair where she all she can do imagine what are essentially love confessions (and, hey, the girl sure knows her anime tropes, doesn’t she?). If anything, her sheer incapability to muster a remotely smart approach shows how far from “shrewd” she is.
And, ironically, it’s in such a time that Riko calls. For someone in You’s situation, there’s something almost heart-rending about Riko’s near-limitless calmness and empathy: in fact, there’s no surprise in seeing her breaking into a fit of teary-eyed self-deprecation: she tells Riko that she’s the one who should be at Chika’s side, that it’s her with whom Chika has the most fun, and that, after all, Chika stated she’d work hard for her sake.
But stormy emotions can never win against collectedness, and it is Riko’s mood that solves it all: she calmly explains the truth to You… it would have little immediate consequences if not for Chika’s climactic appearance: she’s bicycled all the way to You’s house for the sole sake of practicing their dance from scratch. Chika has understood that You needs to be herself on stage, free from any obligation to imitate someone else (an idea which vaguely reminds me of episode five whose morale was that school idols could show themselves and their passions without fear on stage). It is then that we hear what Riko had to say, and that You herself comprehends the full extent of her words. Chika had confessed that, far from desiring to distance herself from You, she felt sorry for having turned down so many of her dear friend’s invitations over the years, and that now they had the chance of achieving a common goal, it was of the utmost importance for her to stick with You until the bitter end. The words ringing in her head, and Chika’s wet clothes coming as a form of physical confirmation of this powerfully sweet truth, You cries, hugging Chika with all her might, allowing the episode to move into its marvelous ending.
But, before, I’d like to say that while this scene absolutely did make me emotional and was wonderful, I was disappointed to see things end there. You is indeed developed, a variety of her traits and behaviors expanded on, but most of this development is solely in relation to Chika: I was hoping for her to talk about herself more beyond her affection for her childhood friend and their shared past. It did raise my appreciation of You, but not as much as other episodes did with other characters, and in this sense I do believe this episode fell short of living up to the preceding entries’ standards.
Additionally, I’ve heard some complain about the perceived cheapness of having Riko solve everything with a simple phone call instead of frank face-to-face talk between Chika and You. I absolutely can sympathize with the sentiment that this would’ve been a more satisfying alternative: yet, after some thinking, I can see relevance in making Riko solve things. Any emotion needs something or someone to attach itself to: and in this case, it’s fair to guess that You’s jealousy would attach itself to Riko: it is, after all, Riko to whom Chika had gotten close at the speed of light. Had Chika and You talked it out, the latter’s main trouble may have been solved, but some hostility toward “the girl who was about to take her best friend away from her” may have lingered: but Riko, by helping bring the good ending about, clears herself of any potential bitterness You may have kept toward her otherwise.
Back to the ending: everyone is standing backstage, going through the ritual minutes of intense stress as they expect their names to be called on at any moment. They’re not all about to step onto the same stage: yet, regardless of the distance, they wear the scrunchies that symbolize their union, and Riko too raises her right arm: they may be away, but these are the things that make them connected, and conveys warmth and strength between them at all times. The strength of the bonds between Aqours are felt deeply, and this alone is fantastic. Then, as they all step toward the stage where, we hear a final exchange between You and Riko. Finally the latter can say she understands why Chika wanted to start a school idol group: and the both of them share the truth. Although µ’s are not mentioned, isn’t their ability to convey the very heart of the glow Chika first found in school idols the greatest tribute to their inspirational power? µ’s taught Chika something dear: and although Chika is no Honoka, the power of what she learned was so strong, and she understood it so deeply, she was able to herself transmit it to others. This is why, now, apart as they may be, the nine of them can stand on stage, ready to face their hopes and dreams, about to pour their hearts into performances that will ultimately lead to the achievement of one big dream.
This scene forms the perfect conclusion to You’s own difficulties, and once again a Love Live episode is elevated thanks to a wonderful new song and performance by Aqours; Omoi yo Hitotsu ni Nare is the perfect song to wrap things up, representing the episode’s theme well and powerfully condensing it into one tune. They’re eight, but as the show alternates between Aqours and Riko, we most definitely feel they’re one and complete: and while we only see the public’s positive reaction to Riko’s performance, her mother’s moved smile at seeing her daughter finally realize herself, and Riko’s outstretched hand that almost seems to wrap itself around Chika’s, we can only hope Aqours’ performance will be received with the same enthusiasm.
So, what’s the takeaway from this episode? Well, just like anything out of Sunshine, it was great… just not quite as much as the rest. You’s development was present, but not to the extent I had wished for, and as such it’s hard for me to scream my enthusiasm as I had for the episodes that came before. Still, it was more than enough to ensure my continued enthusiasm for Sunshine (which can hardly be harmed after all the good it has done), and I’m still terribly excited for the final episodes, sad as I may feel when it all comes to an end. Here’s to more excellence in the time we have left in this first season!