Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 13
Love Live Sunshine’s finale has already come to pass. While the curtain call is generally expected to be intense and climactic, this one is very serene, inspiring tranquility and optimism for the future; yet at the same time, it is as powerful and vibrant as the episodes that came before it.
I’d go as far as using the word “contemplative” to describe what we have here. The moment when Aqours get on the stage they thought was but a distant dream is also one of introspection. The moments of pure lighthearted fun come early and are short-lived, or at least feel short in the face of the emotional intensity contained in other parts, which form a reflection on the characters’ progress up until this point. It is telling of the greater picture that this first season would end like this: it is not yet time for anyone to explode in a firework of emotions that lights up the world: the episode’s calm tone is proof that the road to this moment is still long. But worry not: this wrap-up is far from unsatisfying, as we’ll see later on.
Although the opening scenes are rather insouciant, they support the view of this episode as an account of Aqours’ progression. One striking moment is when Chika’s mother pays her a visit during a nighttime discussion with Riko: the woman spontaneously describes the Tokyo transfer student as “beautiful” … and Riko herself is about to agree. While the scene is comedic, it means a lot to Riko: from a shy, withdrawn girl, she has become someone who’s able to take pride in who she is, good looks included. The amusing remark epitomizes Riko’s progression, and tells us where she currently stands in relation to herself.
Chika’s friends also get involved: they may be background characters, and their story is very understated, but it is very important nevertheless (and may hint at Sunshine eventually getting its own SUNNY DAY SONG).
Awed by Chika’s hard work and radiance, they express their desire to do something along with Aqours. They explain that thanks to them, all the students who had resigned themselves to the school’s closure have now decided to rise above: they all love the school, and it is Aqours who have inspired them to fight for it.
Seeing this, Chika cries, and for good reason. While it is true that Aqours represent a full realization of µ’s’ message, what the students of Uranohoshi show is another form of influence one can receive from µ’s and Aqours, a much simpler one, but also one that is likely closer to what a fan will have learnt from both groups. All these girls who populate this school, they had given up: having cast their gazes downwards, they had accepted to let the road they walk down be shaped for them. But Aqours taught them otherwise: they have to look upward again and let no one other than themselves shape the road ahead. They, too, have learnt a treasurable lesson, though they may not give it the scintillating shape Aqours have. The importance of such a display is undeniably great: these people are fans, are they too represent what we have learned thanks to µ’s and Aqours. They’re also the first occurrence of people being moved by Aqours: they, who had been inspired by µ’s, have in turned stirred the hearts of people around them for the first time.
Yet their desire to participate in the live seems to trouble Riko: and while Chika pushes her to work on the performance thinking everyone will join in, she eventually has to reveal that rules forbid such a thing. The usual members will be performing, but none of the girls who’ve come to Tokyo in support of Aqours take it too hard: they still plan to give them the greatest support imaginable, and it is up to the nine performers to answer these expectations.
The still air of an empty arena before a critical performance perfectly sets an introspective mood. All the girls getting ready for the big moment have their own distinct backstories and reasons for being here. The scenes are of a beautifully melancholic nature, and shows a rare side to these characters who always live their lives with such sparkling intensity. When is it that we can see Yoshiko, the flamboyant Fallen Angel, break into tears of gratitude for Ruby and Hanamaru? When is it that she is so utterly sincere? Perhaps this is the instant that epitomizes who she now is best: embracing her identity to the full, and yet also a normal girl who loves her friends and feels blessed to be here with them. Then we have the third years: they’ve come a longer way than most, and after having to reveal their deepest feelings to one another, their bond has only been strengthened. Mari thanks Kanan, Kanan thanks Mari: is there any greater proof that they’ve only come so far through their collective efforts? Dia’s position in this may be questioned: the main dynamic remains Kanan-Mari, and some will say Dia has been relegated to the role of third wheel in the process. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but all needs to be put in context: developing nine characters in thirteen episodes is near impossible, and with a second season ahead, there is still hope that her character will be given the treatment it deserves. Having said that, it does feel like her role in this trio is a more withdrawn one: she may not feel the need to make up for two lost years in the way Kanan and Mari do, and would perhaps rather watch over them as they recover what was lost (and isn’t “watching over them” the role she almost attributed Chika in episode nine?).
I needed to keep the best for last: the second years’ discussion, and specifically Chika’s words. One word comes up often in this series, and it is the verb “to shine”: but just what meaning does it have? And Chika finally has an answer: a simple, yet essential one. To shine means to appreciate life: and one can only truly appreciate life once they learn to accept suffering. They’ve reached this place precisely because they’ve experienced and accepted pain. Hurt is an essential part of life, but life is most definitely worth living: therefore, it is crucial that we accept our sorrows. Only then can we fine true joy in life; and joy is the source of glow in the truest sense of the term.
The moment is of the utmost importance: it means that all we’ve seen up until now, all the frustration Chika has experienced, she’s accepted all of it. Now she is standing there, she can look back on what has led her here and think to herself that all they’ve lived through is part of their story, that it’s helped shape them into who they are now. And I believe it is this acceptance that is the key to the musical-like summary they make of the events leading up to this concert.
Ever-interesting on Love Live, doujinshi artist Tsukamoto Tsukasa wrote a blog post in which he speaks negatively of numerous parts from the episode, including this “Kore Made no Love Live! Sunshine!!” part. He explains that despite understanding the intentions, he disliked the execution, and the way it seemingly tried to recreate a number of crucial scenes with an unbecomingly lighthearted tone. While I do understand his sentiment, and will admit to feeling a certain awkwardness watching the scene myself, I’ll have to disagree with him: for me, there is something cathartic about Aqours’ decision to do this which justifies the execution. As I previously said, Chika has now come to accept all these painful experiences as part of who she is. And don’t we say that we’ll one day be able to laugh back at all our past woes? To me, that’s part of why this musical needs to be so joyful: they may be reenacting utterly serious scenes, but all of these are now part of the past which has led them all the way to this grand stage. Doesn’t it make these experiences worth smiling at? And in order to affirm so, they have to do it in this unabashedly delighted way. (There’s also the practical aspect that it’s simply more effective in endearing the public to Aqours than a more dramatic presentation).
And obviously such a presentation makes it so unmistakably Love Live. It just has to be joyful, doesn’t it? There just has to be a positive spin to everything, isn’t there? If not, it wouldn’t be Love Live. And Love Live has always loved these musical-like moments, for their sheer liveliness invokes an unfiltered sense of joy. Accounting for all these elements, I can say this summary is not only very relevant to what this whole episode is, but also quite wonderfully done.
Then the time of the performance comes. It’s utterly beautiful (I too want a MIRAI TICKET now): energetic, forward-looking… and one has to admire Chika’s talents as an entertainer: she goes spontaneously goes off-script to give their live even more power, and it works as her uninhibitedness strengthens the sense of connection with the audience. The people of Uchiura get down and form a mosh pit: everyone is absolutely taken with Aqours’ sheer energy (and their appeal before the performance must have helped in that sense).
And then… finally… the zero becomes one. It may be just one person, and they may not even enroll Uranohoshi in the end: but someone out there was moved by Aqours’ plea, and decided they ought to take interest in their school. And so Chika has achieved the goal she had set for herself.
Running into the distance, she transitions into a beautifully calm ending: the performance may have been the sum of all the energy they’ve acquired on their journey so far, but. She explains why and how Aqours have come so far, and leaves us with the promise that, using the light that shines in their hearts, they will make their dream a reality. They line up, strike a pose, take a photo, and ask: “is your heart shining?”
I’m not going to give an in-depth conclusion about the series, as I plan to do so in a separate post (I also plan to use Chika’s final monologue there, which is why I’ve only gone over it quickly here). But I will say that I utterly loved the ending. It was certainly less climactic and more subdued than episode twelve, or what one may generally expect of a finale, but I believe the choice is entirely reasonable. We will get our supremely emotional climax in time: but as Chika’s promise indicates, the road ahead is still long. Such a powerful, conclusive finale would have come back to haunt the series on the long term: such moments ought to be rare treasures that occur only at very special points of any adventure. But, after episode twelve’s crucial realization, it wasn’t yet time for Aqours to have one more great experience. The next one should be when their story approaches its twilight, just as it was for µ’s. Furthermore, setting such high standards for the second season’s finale would have been unhealthy: we would’ve been left unsatisfied over the series’ inability to up the ante for its true conclusion, and called this one lackluster. Considering this, I know which one I’d rather have be “lackluster”. And then there’s the need for all of Aqours to look back how they’ve made their way to this stage, their individual progressions: we all, at some moment, need to give an account of our experiences. Aqours precisely stand at such a juncture, which is why I had no qualm with the episode’s reflective nature… laying all our pains and joys down, exteriorizing them and in order to better interiorize them: this is a needed step they’ve taken here. Some may feel it awkward, but I believe there could hardly be a better transition into Aqours’ next cycle.
This was a beautiful ending to a beautiful show that has yet more to give: and I hope we get to see the rest of Aqours’ journey sooner rather than later. But merely calling it “beautiful” would leave me unsatisfied, so let’s meet again for my concluding thoughts!