Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 8
Sunshine’s eighth episode proved wonderful as expected. This turning point turned out dramatic beyond my projections, but that only made it more emotionally powerful without ever encumbering the story’s progression.
Saint Snow’s performance opens the spectacle; and I have to apologize. In my episode seven impressions, I described SELF CONTROL!! as “gentle”. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. It’s a tune both intense and glamorous, far from the genial melodies of Aqours. Quite like A-RISE’s songs, there’s an air of maturity to it; although the sisters are high school students, you wouldn’t be shocked to see this performed by twenty-or-so year old professionals. It effectively underlines why Aqours can’t win; their approach is indeed endearing, but simply comes off as lacking in the face of more seasoned artists that output far more impactful performances, like Saint Snow. However, I will insist on this point once again, the shock is simply huge for a bunch of countryside girls that had never seen top level school idols before. This is, in fact, a point both You and Ruby will bring up: the sheer shock of the experience. As I thought, this is a harsh return to reality for Chika who thought they had a shot at winning the Love Live.
The results are… quite unexpected, truth be told. Saint Snow… didn’t win, unlike I had predicted. In fact, they come 9th; which might seem unimpressive, but it is in context, as Aqours… finished 30th, that is to say last, with the grand total of zero votes.
This is where the episode surprised me; though µ’s did experience frustrations of their own, I’m not sure they ever suffered such a humongous setback. The sight is most interesting, as the series subsequently touches on the flip side of µ’s success. So far, Sunshine had only mentioned the beauty of µ’s; they’re inspirational, legendary… and now we’re told that the result of this is the explosion in popularity of school idols, and the subsequent rise in competitiveness. It slaps the reality this unforgiving reality on Aqours’ collective face.
The post-defeat episode is divided in two parts which are elegantly joined together later on: the first concerns Aqours in the aftermath of their failure, and the second the third years. I’m going to treat them separately.
In times like these, Chika takes her role of leader to heart. She acts energetic, and even when You faces her with the most brutal question – “Aren’t you mad?” – she answers that, while the feeling is somewhat present, she predominantly retains the joy of standing on stage together with her five friends, exhausting themselves as one to make this their best performance to date. She underscores this aspect when classmates welcome them back, giving a typically vague answer when asked about the Love Live. She knows the reality just as well as anyone; with this kind of result, there’s no way they can win such a competition. There’s no way they can hope to emulate µ’s.
In times when our reality is shaken, we look for signs of the comfortable past. You asks Chika if she’s going to stop being a school idol, hoping for the trademark “I won’t!” response. She hears nothing back. Riko walks to her balcony, awaiting to see the Chika that took her hand and set her into motion. Large windows and the darkness that lies beyond them greet her. Chika, laying down on her bed, lets her lethargic body fall to the ground. Right above her is a poster of µ’s. She tries to reach out for this shining star, this wonderful dream; but images of Saint Snow and the dreaded “0” flash in her mind, abruptly pushing her arm back to the ground.
The light they so innocently chased seems farther away than ever, and everyone’s perception of the road ahead has been irreversibly altered. Chika seems stuck in a tunnel without any light ahead, and others are looking back at the entry point through which the sunlight is still peeking. But they’re stuck in the middle, where no light reaches; a place through which one can only stagger, which is exactly what Aqours are struggling with at the moment.
The pain isn’t exclusive to those who participated in this event. It’s also deeply engraved in the hearts of the third years. Dia explains their story to Aqours. Two years ago rumors of a fusion with Numazu were already alive, and the three friends set out to become school idols as a result. Flashbacks of a mirthful trio are shown; including the sighting of a happy Kanan… which almost made me doubt my eyes. We also see that Mari had to be convinced to join, an unexpected truth considering the current state of affairs.
Just like Aqours, they’d been invited to this Tokyo event. But nothing had prepared them for what they saw there; the big stage, and the formidableness of the other groups… they froze, and walked away without having performed.
The story in and of itself is unsurprising, but it’s still crucial story-wise for Aqours to finally learn the story. And it helps us understand one of my favorite scenes from this episode.
Kanan and Mari meet up seaside. In their discussion, Kanan firmly goes against Mari, expressing her opposition to the continuation of Aqours. She explains that they ought to disband before they deepen their scars trying to accomplish a hopeless goal. Mari keeps her usual attitude in that moment. She’s still the cheerful girl who’ll wear a bright smile while telling everyone to look forward and face the difficulties head on. She opens her arms, ready to accept Kanan and her pain. After all, if we look at the show so far, it’s Kanan who’s suffering the most, right? It’s her who’s still struggling with the past, isn’t it?
Yet she passes Mari by. She rejects falling into Mari’s arms, no matter the pain. She can’t accept her friend’s proposal. And this is where we see the true Mari. There’s a flip side to her usual cheerfulness, one of sadness. Stupefied to see herself getting rejected, she turns to Kanan’s back and cries. She wants to take it back, she shouts. The moment that was her greatest treasure, the moment that she has lost; the moment that Dia and Kanan, too, have lost. It seems Aqours are not the only ones looking to a beautiful past, and this is where both stories meet. In an instant, Mari is deeply humanized; beyond the usual façade as a clownesque student-cum-director, there is a girl more desperate than anyone to take her lost joy back. It’s a truly beautiful moment.
Painful as her reality might make such a simple act, Chika still has to rise along with the sun. In the first episode she tried to stop Riko from jumping into the sea, but now she finds herself doing the very same foolishness. Riko catches her silhouette on the beach and hurries, hoping her friend hasn’t done anything rash. Thankfully she hasn’t. In case you haven’t noticed by now, yes this is the start of one of my favorite weekly parts of Sunshine: Chika – Riko dialogue.
In episode two, it was Chika who helped Riko move forward. It was Chika whom Riko could open up to. It’s time for Riko to give something back by allowing Chika to speak of the emotions she had buried beneath the forced hyperactivity and strength of character she thought the role of “leader” to inevitably imply. She finally lets out the tears she hadn’t before; she speaks of the frustration to give her all to something, see her friends do the same, all to end up with a perfect 0. But she also claims that she can’t see what’s ahead. So she needs to continue. She needs to find out: will they remain stuck at the bottom, or will the 0 evolve into something else?
And Riko is there for Chika when she breaks into tears. She’s relieved to see her friend finally being true to herself, but also brands her foolish when she says that she wanted to keep smiling for fear others whom she dragged into this might be disillusioned. It is, after all, something they all decided of their own will; not only Riko herself, but also the four standing by the beach. It might be Chika who induced Riko to move forward, it might be her who showed her the door to her dreams; but it is Riko herself, and no one else, who decided to act on it. She’s in no way doing it for Chika’s sake, but rather for her own. To find the radiance lying dormant within her. Finally, she, too, wants to know what the future may hold. She wouldn’t be disheartened because Chika’s (naturally) depressed. It’s Chika who learns a lesson; she needs to speak her mind, ungracious as it may be.
In a way Riko completes a circle of her own with this; after Chika allowed her to move on from her torpid state, she allows Chika to come to terms with their failure. This scene represents Riko’s evolution, one Chika started. It’s also a big moment for Chika herself; she was always going to saturate, being who she is, and now she’s finally learned to be true to her emotions. But I won’t expound on why I love the Chika – Riko dynamic so much, having done so quite a bit already.
And now, the mikan-head is surrounded by her friends. The clouds clear up, allowing their leader look at the sun. They will continue as school idols; they even hang the result sheet in their club room as a constant reminder of where they stand. It’s another take on the “starting from zero” phrase, and yet another heartwarming conclusion; albeit one that paves the difficult road ahead. It opens a new phase in Aqours’ story.
What a beautiful episode this was; definitely the most emotional so far, it worked for one good reason: Sunshine had been an excellent character-based drama up until now. Every moment is deeply compelling because the series had spent six episodes nurturing our attachment to this cast, making the ongoing progression feel entirely natural. Even during this episode, seeing everyone facing defeat and their different ways of handling it (such as Yoshiko’s forced Fallen Angel antics) helped further the sense that the characters are “alive”, which only made them more attaching.
This episode was certainly a major turning point, but it also delivered far more by being insightful on school idols as a whole post-µ’s, and on the 3rd years’ past. Now that Aqours know the story, though, color me curious as to how Mari, Kanan and Dia are going to join the group. Will Chika take their hands? Or will it be the work of someone else? And what of Aqours’ activities in the meantime? What of their wish to get into the Love Live? The end of the season promises to be interesting, to say the least. At this point I have a hard time doubting this series, it having already surpassed all my hopes and crushed all my doubts; I can only hope the second season doesn’t keep me waiting much.