Impressions – Love Live! Sunshine!! Episode 9
Sunshine finally answered its fans’ long-held anxieties in this ninth episode: the keys to the great mystery linking the third years are finally handed, and the spectacle that unfolds before our eyes is one both saddening and joyous, and the result a wonderful one we can only stand in admiration of.
Early in the episode, we become the privileged witnesses of a most wonderful thing: Chika’s evolution. When faced with the choice of accepting or refusing an offer to perform during the area’s fireworks competition, its most spectated event, she calmly answers that she wants to accept: not with any of the overwhelming, innocent enthusiasm that defined her before, but simply as the result of a thought process which she collectedly explains: according to her, the one thing they can do is show the public their best performance, and if it is not deemed enough, try even harder, and repeat the process until it brings satisfactory results about. You and Riko both see this evolution positively, which it most definitely is: furthermore, it underscores what I had mentioned in the past: there is a lot of substance to Chika’s character which is brought out by the myriad of thoughts and feelings she holds underneath that petite, flower-like appearance of hers. This scene is a perfect example.
In fact, it is with worries that she introduces the episode’s major focus. As Kanan’s childhood friend, as someone perfectly aware of Kanan’s willpower and composed personality regardless of the difficulties rising before her, she questions the reasons behind her giving up on being a school idol. She senses the explanation can’t be quite as straightforward as Dia told the six of them. But Kanan won’t answer, either. And Ruby hardly knows more than any of her fellow members, except for having overheard an exchange between her sister and Mari in which the latter blamed Kanan for running away, a notion strongly argued against by Dia. But this story only makes the mystery more confused: as such, it is in search of answer that they undertake the perfectly serious, absolutely not reprehensible activity of tailing Kanan.
She wakes up earlier than most and opens the day with a long jog… and reaches the top of a hill: an intimate place in which she can abandon herself to being in harmony with nature, breathing the salty seaside air in, and… dancing (Mari is right in saying this is a manifestation of Kanan’s regrets). Chika is astonished by her friend’s elegance; but Mari has plans other than admiring a sight which she’s likely all too familiar with. She appears out of the blue, desiring to talk with Kanan over her return to school. At last she’s coming back; and, obviously, Mari hopes to use this as an opportunity to make a comeback under Aqours. But Kanan strictly rules the possibility out, and stabs blade-like words at Mari herself. A variety of visual hints tell us they’re both forcing themselves; that they’re both in a palpable state of suffering, but put an act of strength on for lack of a better choice.
It is the kind of moment in which I feel the build-up in virtually every preceding episode of the series has paid off. We’ve learnt how long-standing and deep-rooted the conflict is, and by all means it’s poisoned the once snow white feelings of affection between Kanan and Mari: as a result of the one-sided perspectives and beliefs they’ve built and refined as statues through the years, they’ve lost all choice but to act according to the mood of these constructions. Such a scene is the obvious, logical culmination of this.
It is a circus they continue when Kanan comes back to school: Mari welcomes her with a uniform from two years back, which Kanan promptly throws away (only to be saved by a fiercely passionate You); she then hugs her, determined to hold on until Kanan accepts to be a school idol again. This is her means: by repeating the acts of the past, by talking and moving as if nothing had ever really changed, by trying to erase developments she likely wants to think of as mere mishaps, she hopes that the past will indeed be altered, and that the third years will be able to pick up precisely where they left off. But Kanan is just as determined to honor her convictions: in opposition to Mari, she wants to think of their school idol period as a thing of the past, that ought to be hid in those photo albums we put away, never to be looked at again. She thinks that it is best for the three of them to do so. The past should be irremediable.
It’s amusing, because I had always opposed Mari, the carefree girl whose strong attitude will triumph, to Kanan, the poor girl in pain whose darkened heart shall be rescued by Mari’s light. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Both are quite as stubborn, and both profoundly misunderstand the other. Mari is by no means the Knight of Light who finds joy in knowing she is right; she’s someone in pain to who wears the mask of joy, who makes herself to believe that if she continues to act the same, her surroundings will have to adjust to the mask.
Kanan is little better: convinced that her choices and actions were in Mari’s best interest, she forces herself to believe that it would be wrong to go back on them, and remains oblivious to the consequences they might have brought about.
Perhaps all of this explains why the resolution is as it is: Kanan and Mari are, ultimately, but both sides of one same coin.
Quite as noteworthy is Dia’s position. She appears an outsider: she takes Kanan’s side because she’s aware of her circumstances, yet is unable to express any opinion on her own, not because she has none, but because she doesn’t agree with Kanan’s way of doing things as much as she purely sympathizes with it. She likely wishes for another, happier solution: but, as anyone would know by now, the heart of this conflict is the divide between Kanan and Mari: as such, they’re the only ones who can solve it. Dia cannot intervene, it wouldn’t be right for her to do so. Mari said Dia likes Kanan, but she’s wrong: Dia loves the two of them just as much, she simply has her hands tied, and her silence is interpreted as approval while it isn’t. She is but another victim of Circumstance. And it is high time they battled this monster.
Chika, with her natural determination and newly acquired maturity, faces the three of them in their own class, braving all social etiquette, and forces them to come to the clubroom in hopes of setting up a constructive discussion: but due to circumstances described above, no worthwhile talk takes place other than an animated exchange of darts between Kanan and Mari. As a result, Dia gets caught by Yohane, and coerced into telling Aqours and Mari all the truth.
As it turns out, the “truth” she had discussed in episode eight was as partial as we could’ve expected: in fact, it’s simply untrue. Kanan could have sang on the day of their Tokyo performance, but she decided against it in order to keep Mari from worsening an injury, perhaps even to prevent an accident from occurring. A smart girl, she found faking her trauma was a good way of keeping Mari safe: it was indeed a credible turn of events, and one Mari could only accept. But, of course, this begs the question: why did, as we saw in the episode’s opening flashback, both Kanan and Dia decide to put their activities to an end despite Mari having healed? This is something she never quite understood: they explained she should accept the offer she had received to study abroad, but she could never come to terms with this when she had very clearly stated that she had no interest in doing so. They claimed there was no point in continuing: she didn’t want to accept that, either. But it was Kanan who, in an umpteenth act of motherly care for her friend, thought their activities were keeping Mari from fulfilling the possibilities the future held for her, and it was her who decided to convince Dia and smooth Mari into accepting all of this. Because she one-sidedly thought it was all for Mari’s sake.
But here is what Kanan failed to foresee: by pretending to be carrying a great deal of psychological hurt and letting her friend believe it to be the reason of their disbandment, she had made Mari, who loved her deeply, even more reluctant to move away. Perhaps this is both their greatest failure: failing to realize how deeply they cared for one another.
None of Dia’s explanations, limpid as they may be, can calm the storm of feelings ravaging Mari’s heart: understanding as she may be that Kanan was always thinking of her, she can’t stand the realization that all along, she had been so far from the truth. She can’t stand that they hadn’t been honest with one another, and needs to replace lies with pure, undoubtable honesty. And so she runs in the rain, uncaring for the rain or how many times she has to fall, she runs to the place where they spent all those precious moments together, and where she and Kanan meet once again.
Their first meeting was a deeply candid one. As two innocent children, they met under the most banal circumstances the mind could fathom: but from this insignificant meeting, from one mundane hug, a powerful friendship was born. Here, they meet again. And perhaps this is their first true meeting. For the first time, they face one another, letting their hands and tears speak for themselves: within this instant, they finally destroy the statues they had spent years perfecting, those ugly statues which had the supreme flaw of expressing nothing of their true feelings. In this place, at this moment, Kanan and Mari meet for the first time: for the first time they learn just how deeply they love one another, and how endlessly they’ve suffered from the insincerity they’ve had to impose on themselves. Their tears are not only the result of years of accumulated pain: they’re also the embodiment of the deep joy they share in this very moment, the unique joy of meeting their childhood friend for the first time after all these years, a feeling further communicated by the warmth of their embrace.
We, distant spectators, bawl at the sight; but Dia smiles, ecstatic to see her friends having found their happiness, embarrassing as showing it to Chika may be. She puts both Kanan and Mari in Chika’s care; but at this point, is there any reason for her not to take care of them herself? And so Ruby gives Dia a warm sisterly welcome to Aqours.
But this isn’t quite the end: there’s a new song! And it’s wonderful! It’s called “Mijuku Dreamer”! It’s the first song they perform as nine, as part of the fireworks competition. Here’s hoping it brings about the success Yume de Yozora wo Terashitai did, and becomes Aqours’ true starting point. I, for one, am overjoyed about the prospect of cheering on Aqours as nine. Finally!
We end the episode on a most brilliant story. In their first year, when Mari, Dia and Kanan were school idols, their group was named… Aqours. Sad that they had to break up, a certain student council president, wishing to reunite with the past she cherished so much, hoping it would all come back to her, praying she could once again shine with her friends, walked to the beach, and, in the manner of Cupid, matched You, Riko and Chika with the name “Aqours”. So the story of Aqours all started with the faint, yet lovely hopes, of a surprisingly playful young girl. If this doesn’t put a silly smile on your face…
Let’s just forget that episode preview, with its terrible pun and crazily light mood which rain down on the fireworks of feelings this episode had barely finished eliciting.
That said… I have little idea what Sunshine can do but comedy, at this point. While it needs to lead into the second season, it has provided more than sufficient story progression and character building to wrap things up quietly. I wouldn’t mind a rest from the tearful parade the last few episodes have been: not that this first season of Sunshine has lacked fun, but it’d hardly get in the way of the story by now, and I think most of us would like to recover from the past two spectacles, an opportunity a “breather” episode would provide.
But while we wait, we have this. It hasn’t just reaffirmed Sunshine’s excellence as a successor to the original Love Live!, but deepened it: by handling the third-year drama so carefully, baiting us into wanting to learn more with each episode, by building it step-by-step until a truly magnificent resolution, by showing Mari and Kanan’s feelings so beautifully, it’s furthered the extent of its excellence and given us yet more reasons to fall in love with Aqours. I know I repeat this point a lot, but I strongly feel so: I could never have imagined I’d be loving Sunshine this much, and couldn’t think of a prouder successor to the original.