Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 4
It seems Sunshine has been making a habit of surpassing itself with each episode; when you think it’s going to be “one more episode”, it outputs a fantastic story that makes me question how a formula I’m so familiar with can be made to feel so amazing again.
But it’s no wonder, given how effective Sunshine has been so far. This latest entry is about Hanamaru Kunikida and her friend Ruby Kurosawa. Originally a lonely girl whose sole hobby was reading, Zuramaru (this is the most adorable nickname ever hands now, thanks Yohane) found her first real friend in Ruby. This episode tells their story, and how their two trajectories come to intertwine thanks to Aqours (and µ’s).
Once again, µ’s are inescapable, starting with Ruby’s own background. She’s the sister of Dia Kurosawa, current student council president and staunch opponent to the formation of a school idol club; and yet, as Ruby tells Maru, some years ago they used to love µ’s together, imitating their singing and dancing. The flashback is sweet; it shows bonding between two sisters, and once again having them bond over µ’s, even showing them turning the pages of a magazine that extensively features them, is highly effective. It’s hard not to smile at Dia predictably claiming Eli’s her favorite member.
But now the situation’s slightly more complex. Due to unknown circumstances that seem to tie the third years together, Dia came to reject school idols… something Ruby couldn’t do. Hanamaru knows that, she sees Ruby’s eyes sparkling when talking about school idols; that’s why she pushes her to pursue her dreams. She’s aware that Ruby’s the type to put others before herself, so she wants to help her prioritize herself. She proposes that they both enter Aqours as temporary members. Hanamaru isn’t quite aware of her love of school idols yet, so she thinks not engaging themselves fully will make it easier for Ruby, while also leaving an exit door for herself. Ironically, her desire to help a friend leads to Hanamaru putting herself last, though her good sentiment comes right back at her and grants everyone a warm ending.
So Ruby’s enjoying herself, but Zuramaru soon abandons. She’s not good at sports; she wouldn’t be able to make it, she thinks; as long as Ruby’s happy, it’s okay to return to her books, she thinks; but she’s attracted to it, anyway. She sees Rin in her wedding dress, and admires the sheer beauty of the sight; and obviously picking Rin is no coincidence. Rin also thought she wasn’t cut out to be an idol, though unlike Maru, it was because her athleticism tied into a lack of femininity. Still, despite their problems being opposite, their situation was the same; and when Zuramaru learns that, it’s the trigger that makes her accept her own longing for that shining light. And Ruby wants it too; she wants to shine with her friend. Brilliance is, after, not anything you can gain on your own.
And so we get the heartwarming resolution we all wanted. A typically Love Live resolution in fact; it’s wonderfully warm, and the inspirational power of µ’s shines through once again. Zuramaru and Ruby’s attaching dynamic also helped make this perhaps the most emotional Sunshine episode as of yet.
It’s hard for me not to be impressed at how Sunshine has excelled as a character-based series so far. I can’t remember the first season of the original fleshing out its characters anywhere near as well; Nozomi, Rin, Nico… at the end of the first 13 episodes, they were very much strangers. But Sunshine, on the contrary, seems intent on going through everyone’s backstories pretty quickly; maybe it’ll leave some for a potential second season, but honestly at this rate I’m not sure what will be left… anyway, let’s leave speculation aside for now.
This episode also raised further questions on the 3rd years’ common past; you see Mari talking to Kanan and explaining that her sole reason for coming back was being a school idol, which seems to upset Kanan greatly. Furthermore, when she runs into Chika and friends and they explain they’re training as school idols, she turns away. We’ve already been shown extensively that all three third years have a painful past related to school idols; most likely they had formed their own club back in the day, but failed (that would certainly explain Dia’s bitterness in spite of her love of µ’s). It was really good seeing all that; I felt the desire to learn more about the third years, yet also walked away satisfied because of how Hanamaru and Ruby’s own story was handled.
So, once again, I have to tip my hat off to Sunshine. The way it’s been fleshing out its characters has been quite spectacular, it’s definitely faster paced than the original and I have no complaints because I’m already loving everyone in Aqours. This was a great episode, both raising questions to be answered later and presenting engaging backstories as well as a beautiful resolution that really makes me think “ah, this is what Love Live is about…” (I even ended the episode in tears, I’ll admit). Next episode is… Yohane time. Our much-awaited Yohane time. Time for the fallen angel to shine!