Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 7
Sunshine has come once again with its weekly blessing, and this latest entry’s probably closer to what I expected episode six to be; it’s got fairly little in the way of drama, but it’s a really fun episode that dedicates itself to advancing the story on way to the season finale.
And by “season finale”, I very obviously mean “third year conflict”. So the start of this episode has more build-up. As you were.
Aqours, who’re the fastest-growing school idol group and now ranked 99th nationwide, have been invited to a Tokyo event. Needing to keep their momentum going after the huge push Yume de Yozora wo Terashitai gave them, Chika enthusiastically accepts. And this worries Dia. She tells Ruby that she ought to do what she wants to without caring for what her sister thinks, and sends her off with words of encouragement; but in reality, she is quite worried, even barging into Mari’s house (just like Kanan did… those third years really are close, aren’t they?) to have discuss the matter.
The returnee has no problem seeing right through her childhood friend; as she says, Dia, while fearing the consequences of their trip to the capital in case it doesn’t go well, is anxious for them to cross the line the now-third years weren’t able to. Dia appears resentful of Mari’s unchanging behavior when the latter tells her that, no matter the consequences, Aqours have to face this challenge. My best guess is that Aqours’ progression forces Dia to face her painful past; she insists that she’s never ran away, but the reality seems a fair bit more complex.
That’s enough build-up for the week; the rest of the episode is dedicated to moving Aqours’ story forward. It really feels like we’ve entered the final phase of the season, steady story advancement replacing weekly character episodes. And that move feels right; only the third years’ ba ckstory is left, but as we can now guess it’ll form this first season’s climax, the story needs to move forward and reach a point where Kanan, Mari and Dia can reveal what they need to.
So the day arrives when Aqours have to leave for T・O・K・Y・O. Only Riko and You have the common sense to dress normally; for everyone else, it’s some kind of mind-shattering event that has to be met with the boldest fashion ever displayed in the series. Then again, isn’t this weird colorfulness part of the show’s charm? Somehow, I’m not sure Chika’s dress would be very popular among Ginza fashionistas… in fact, they go back to their normal outfits before departure. But hey, not that Chika’s outfit is any match for Yohane’s Fallen Angel costume, complete with chants and whatnot.
And so they get on the train… passing by the station where µ’s cried over their disbandment in the second season…
The moment I can look at the screen properly again, Aqours have reached µ’s’ holy ground! They, in fact, arrive at Akiba. The big city… with all its shops… catering all sorts of interests… I love these few minutes because they help catch some of the girls’ little quirks, such as You’s love of uniforms or Riko’s pure maiden tendencies. And then… they go to the shrine… yes… the one Nozomi used to take care of… on top of the stairs µ’s climbed so many times… oh, wait, why is the screen so blurry all of a sudden?
They run up the stairs, and (un)fortunately… Nozomi isn’t there, nor is any other familiar face. Instead, we have two sisters singing acapella; they’ll later reveal themselves to be a school idol group called Saint Snow. You’ll have guessed by now, but they’re Aqours’ rivals in the upcoming event. Most likely they’ll win, as they’re a presence somewhat similar to A-RISE’s, although I can’t help but sense more aggressiveness coming from them (A-RISE always appeared as a fair and friendly bunch; in fact you can always feel Tsubasa’s admiration for Honoka) despite the gentleness of their title, SELF CONTROL!! (as opposed to the glamorousness of, say, Shocking Party).
Saint Snow know of Aqours, proving their fame is indeed on the rise; yet the feeling that remains is one of awe for these sibling’s sheer presence. Aqours are now at the inn where they’re having fun, even ready to go along with Chika’s proposal of paying Otonokizaka a visit… except for Riko. And so they all go to sleep instead. And here comes my favorite part of every Sunshine episode, that is to say: Riko – Chika dialogue! I don’t want to repeat myself, but I seriously can’t get over how good the conversations between these two are. Whenever they’re alone, Chika calms down, speaks her deeper thoughts… only Riko brings that part of Chika out. It’s a dynamic I love, by far my favorite in the series.
Late at night, Riko reveals that her memories of Otonokizaka are bittersweet; as a school famous for music, a lot of expectations were placed on someone who had participated in a national tournament. She trained and trained every day (a flashback shows her in an Otonokizaka uniform, training in the music room, surely a nostalgic sight for any fan), but the results didn’t follow. Earlier classmates had given Chika snacks as an encouragement; although she doesn’t know what being on the receiving end of expectations is like, she then felt a similar kind of pressure for the first time. This might be a small thing, but Riko feels understood, and can finally go to sleep.
Chika wakes up first, and jogs to UTX… the place of her fateful meeting with µ’s. Soon the others join her, and as they get ready to move on, the school’s big screen displays the announcement for the next Love Live. Chika doesn’t hesitate one second; they have to participate, and, just like µ’s did, save their school, shine with all their might. Everyone is fired up, and six white birds fly above them, reminding us of this symbolism often associated with µ’s (the second season’s ED had each character holding one white feather).
But for now they have to focus on this Tokyoite event; its peculiarity is that it has a ranking decided by the public, making it a chance for Aqours to make a big breakthrough. They’re set to be the second performers, which is early, but they can’t be picky; knowing their position in comparison to the other participants, all they can do is make the biggest impression they can. Tension and motivation are concurrently growing when they discover that the two siblings from yesterday are Saint Snow, the event’s opening act.
The performances are left for next week, but the preview for episode eight seems to indicate that there will be some disappointment in for Aqours; it’s time their resolve was tested, after all. And this brings me back to the start, when Chika claimed their rapid emergence proved they had a shot at winning the Love Live. In the original, as A-RISE were right nearby, it was easy for µ’s to be aware of the competition’s fierceness; but Aqours live in Uchiura, they’re far remote from the biggest groups, and as a result perhaps Chika was getting ahead of herself. We know they won’t win the Love Live in this first season, in fact they might not even participate; whatever Chika says, we all know they don’t have a chance. Not just yet. Surely this event will see her face the harsh reality, whatever sadness that may bring. At any rate, we can expect the next episode to be an important turning point story-wise.
This episode was probably the least dramatic since the first (which speaks very highly of this first season in general, truth be told). In terms of pure story progression however, it did more than enough; while having lots of comedy, the balance with the more serious moments was superb. Plus, the µ’s references certainly got solid emotional response from me. It really made me think of how perfect Sunshine’s pacing has been; having been so effective at character building earlier, it’s now smoothly moved into another phase. The progression feels perfectly natural precisely because the pacing has been so effective. While this doesn’t rank among my favorite Sunshine episodes so far, it at least made impatient for the next!