Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 12
So Sunshine had a relatively disappointing episode last week, having fallen just short of its usual (high) standards when attempting to develop You’s character. Yet that was far from enough to hurt my excitement: nine essentially perfect episodes justified continued confidence, and my thoughts were filled with questions as to how the series was going to handle Aqours’ possible failure in the Love Live preliminaries and the ensuing drama. But if there’s one thing I couldn’t have possibly been prepared for, it is what this episode precisely ended up being. So… let’s go ahead, shall we?
The time has come for the preliminary winners to be announced… phones are being intensely stared at, habits are resorted to, and magical rituals have been prepared: shocking as it is, stress is in the air. While they all fearfully go through the results, Mari can’t wait: she musters her courage… only to find out that… Aqours have made it! They’ve overcome the preliminaries, and will progress on to the next stage! Two weeks ago, I had theorized that their adventure would come to a premature end, thinking the staff would uphold Sunshine’s structural similarities to the original by turning defeat into a bridge to the second season and Aqours’ second shot at the Love Live: but it turns out I was mistaken.
This is most definitely an interesting development, one that raises immediate questions: just how far will they go in their first run? And depending on this, what will the second season center itself on? I don’t doubt that the Love Live is a much larger and longer competition now than it was five years ago, but does it constitute sufficient material for thirteen more episodes, assuming this season’s final episode doesn’t stop Aqours right in their tracks? If not, then color me curious as to what focus the second season may have: because after this episode, I can imagine the finale and a movie sufficing.
The question of Aqours’ performance in the Love Live is especially relevant knowing later parts of the episode indicate that their purpose may not be becoming number one, and as such that failure may not necessarily warrant a new attempt; but I’ll come back to this later.
Now, if one thought this was all it took for the girls to see life through rose-tinted glasses, they were gravely mistaken. In fact, they can barely take any time to bask in victory before having to find out that the school’s situation remains dire: no one has expressed any interest in applying for Uranohoshi. The number zero is still there, a terrifying black hole at the center of their world: and they have to face the truth: µ’s had already saved their school at the stage where Aqours now are, and this is in great part because they were in Tokyo. While Otonokizaka was in need of more applicants, these were always likely to come when the school gained repute: Tokyo is, after all, host to a large number of potential students: meanwhile, Uchiura is a small seaside town, meaning most Aqours fans likely do not live in the area. Surely moving away to attend your favorite group’s school is unthinkable (especially as kids can’t exactly go on their own). And knowing they’re probably local stars by now, it’s hard to see students of the area suddenly flowing into Uranohoshi, either: at this point, I can hardly fathom how the school will be saved (though it will likely happen one way or another: perhaps this is the uphill battle that will constitute the core of the second season, and not the Love Live?).
Chika takes this reappearance of the dreaded zero harder than anyone: but more than anyone else, she has a talent for turning frustration into constructive thoughts. She channels her headache into one crucial question: why were µ’s able to produce a miracle? Just what made them so special, so incredible? It is time for Aqours to go in search of an answer to this spiny problem.
And so begins an intense, stirring trip through the past, the present, the future of Love Live, one that will take us all the way to the total apprehension of µ’s’ significance.
We’re brought into the ride smoothly: Riko welcomes the girls to Tokyo, barely managing to hide her ridiculous pile of otome-oriented doujinshi, while Dia displays a silly wariness of Tokyo after a traumatic experience in her childhood days (aka she got lost once. I’m sure no one can imagine how that must feel). But don’t be mistaken: this is a trap solely designed to make sure seeing Aqours revisiting the original series’ most iconic sceneries hits us all the harder.
The first warning comes when we’re led to believe Nozomi may appear right before our very eyes… before, much to Ruby, Dia, and essentially every fan’s disappointment, Saint Snow greet Aqours. The discussion they have, however, is of the highest importance in shaping Aqours’ approach to being school idols. Saint Snow state their reason for participating in the Love Live: winning. They’ve thought about µ’s and A-RISE’s exploits themselves, and this is the answer they’ve arrived at: winning is what made them stand out. Even when talking about the upcoming Love Live, they display a fiercely competitive attitude. Aqours seem somewhat put off by this stance, as later scenes confirm.
From here comes my questioning of the direction this story is about to take: the seeming insistence that their rivals are mistaken in believing winning is all that matters, or that A-RISE and µ’s stood out solely thanks to their successes, makes it possible that the message Sunshine wishes to convey could work out even if Aqours failed at the last hurdle. And this is, to me at least, a fascinating possibility: while I do believe they will win, and will celebrate when that time comes, I’d be genuinely interested in seeing these characters attempt to find joy and fulfillment even through loss: they’d have to dig deeper than µ’s, whose happiness came naturally when they fulfilled their dream, and this strikes me as intriguing, to say the least.
But let’s leave speculation aside for now: the Love Live finals have been announced… many Aqours members seem shocked at the reality that, so soon, they’ll be thrown into a huge arena to fight for their ultimate goal. And in order to do so, they need to answer Chika’s greatest question. Riko, understanding this, decides it finally is time for her to pay Otonokizaka a visit. Senses are on alert, emotions spinning out of control, and the episode starts moving into its spellbinding climax.
I believe there is most definitely a touch of brilliance in the way Sunshine reexplores the original. There are, obviously, the volatile feels evoked by these nostalgic sights. But they are no more than an outlet for something far greater: the full realization of µ’s’ meaning.
At Otonokizaka, they are met by a mysterious student who explains µ’s have left no physical trace of their passage. And isn’t it just like them? “Our hearts are connected”, they said. There’s no need for any material proof: the school ought to move on, the students to live their lives, and the aspiring school idols to create their own story. µ’s have had their time, their tale, and what they’ve achieved will never disappear from anyone’s minds: but it cannot be a burden for the people who will come to Otonokizaka and be inspired by their successes. For Chika, this is a first step toward a conclusion.
And then we reach a scene that I simply have to talk about, if only because of how personal it is to me.
Those who know me will surely know of my love for Honoka; those who are unacquainted with me now know… so let me talk about this child with an uncanny resemblance to my favorite character.
There is one thing about her that I found striking: she is a child. Her appearance is evidently symbolical, and in this context, I believe the choice is utterly powerful.
What makes Honoka so special? Isn’t it her absolute freedom; her constant trust in her feelings; her limitless belief in herself and others; her unbending positivity? Aren’t these the aspects that make her who she is? If we admit so, then a child energetically moving around, an unwavering smile plastered all over her face, being the embodiment of what Honoka stands for makes perfect sense, for what makes Honoka special is precisely the idea we have of the untainted radiance only a child has the luxury of. What constitutes Honoka’s genius is her ability to protect these things we normally drop as we walk out of childhood. Kids are not bound by any of the things that slowly enchain us as we grow older: but Honoka, growing up, had never once looked at the symbolical gutter, for nothing could divert her gaze from the stars. She retained this precious childishness, and turned it into the prodigious energy that gathered µ’s together and led them on way to the miracle they would eventually produce. This is why the symbol fits so well: seeing this child so reminiscent of Honoka in both appearance and demeanor, the true import of µ’s dawns on Chika. Because, in her absence, only a child’s smile can reveal the world Honoka saw.
And so their day ends… but not without stopping at the beach where µ’s famously announced their disbandment. The choice is innocent on Chika’s part, but potent nonetheless, and a perfect example of how this episode reinvests old sceneries with new meanings. The beach; the sunset; the city as a background: the stage is exactly the same. But the place is not merely an object of admiration: it is given a new purpose by becoming Aqours’ own starting line.
I used to believe Chika had already understood µ’s’ message to its full extent, but this was a mistake. She needed to take one final step before doing so. Before, she was still a fangirl who hoped to catch up to the object of her admiration: but this isn’t what µ’s would want, nor is it what they tried to convey.
To realize one’s brilliance perfectly, to make one’s every dream come true: such is the sense behind µ’s’ story. But to do so, one first needs to move on from µ’s; one can’t be caught up in the fantasy of emulating one’s idols. I couldn’t help but find it amusing (amazing an idea as it may be) that an idol show would propose that we should… move on from idols. Chika won’t stop loving µ’s: but, after interiorizing their meaning, it is time for her to turn the page, and move to the next stage, one solely focused on her and her friends. This is what µ’s have taught her. And who can embody this spirit better than Honoka? It all ties in — Honoka holds the key, as represented by the child at Otonokizaka, and it is by walking through the sceneries µ’s had already traversed and painting them with their own colors that Aqours can come to the most complete realization of µ’s’ significance, thus unlocking the door to their dreams.
And here we arrive at the moment when she says it all. Where, in front of everyone, she waves µ’s goodbye. Finally, she has taken the last needed step, giving µ’s’ story its concluding note. Perhaps this is why µ’s were mentioned so often in the past: their tale couldn’t be entirely over before giving birth to a brand new dream.
The episode ends on a monologue by Chika… one addressed to none other than Honoka Kousaka. There, she explains her love of µ’s, what she has come to understand thanks to them, and what she plans to do in the future… and shows the resolution she has come to with the strongest of actions: taking off the µ’s poster in her room. It is the summation of all her experiences thus far, all µ’s have taught her: but doubtlessly she’ll have many more discoveries of her own in the future, all of which we’ll gladly oversee.
And so Aqours’ story starts in the truest sense: by reexamining, deconstructing, and moving on from their idols.
After all this, there is one point I feel compelled to mention. We have been – and still are – talking about the ways in which Sunshine surpasses the original. We go on about how superior the writing is, how more attaching the characters are: but by repeating this cycle of subtle negativity, we also happen to brilliantly fail at understanding the whole point of Sunshine, which this twelfth episode does magnificently to show. I feel no hesitation is claiming this now: Sunshine makes the original better. It is an essential part of one greater message that can only come to light by putting both series side by side and looking at them through one same lens: the original’s signification is now complete and visible for all to appreciate, but this is only true thanks to Sunshine. And next time I watch the original, I am sure to appreciate it even more in light of the awareness that Aqours have come to revisit this first story and complete its meaningfulness. SUNNY DAY SONG had prefaced Aqours, but only they could write the epilogue to µ’s’ story. The nine girls of Otonokizaka have now achieved their ultimate goal, the final consequence of any truly beautiful thing: giving birth to another beautiful thing. The original series is more meaningful than it ever could have been before Sunshine.
I had already screamed energetically at previous episodes of Sunshine, but this one left me well and truly speechless. Much like the rest of the series, it far exceeded my expectations. Perhaps the aspect that shocked me the most was the vigor with which it told the fans to move on from µ’s: at the very least, it speaks to me very personally.
I had been thinking along these lines for a while now: all beautiful things, in order to realize their full meaning and purpose, have to be moved on from. When one has learned from them, they must carry on, the lessons acquired close to their hearts, but without ever being held back. Beautiful things can never become prisons, otherwise they wouldn’t be of any beauty.
I had also seen my relation to µ’s change: as Sunshine started, and Aqours’ importance to me started to grow, I felt them becoming more spiritual: the vaguer their physical presence grew, the stronger I appreciated the special place their message had carved for itself within my heart. I thought this was µ’s’ true purpose, and welcomed this shift as a positive one.
Therefore, it was a sense of joyed that filled me when I saw Chika’s approach to µ’s: she was close to my ideal of a µ’s fan. But never did I expect Sunshine to go as far as it has; it originally shook me, but now I can only stand in admiration of this story’s beauty. In unimaginative terms, I suppose one could say Love Live’s (and especially Sunshine’s) great quality is its self-awareness: few shows have such a clear idea of what they strive to be, and are so straightforward in shaping this identity.
But let’s leave the dull observations of the critic behind, for it is as a fan that I write. Although on a different scale altogether, the feelings this episode inspired remind me of what I felt watching the movie. The key to the experience lies within the number of emotions it manages to invoke at the same time. Sadness and nostalgia danced with ecstasy and hope, the contrast creating a most disconcerting, but immensely powerful mélange.
The difficulty to pick all these sensations apart is what makes this sentiment so potent: quite in the manner of an impressionist painting, its many small strokes of contrasted hues come together to form a picture of astonishing colorfulness. It is a rare experience, but one to be cherished: this episode is one I’m sure to remember for a long time. The way it portrayed µ’s’ message, Chika’s final words and decision, the meaningful use of old scenery, and the appearance of a Honoka-like child as a perfect embodiment of all my most beloved character stands for… it was a picture-perfect twenty-four minutes. Thank you, Sunshine!