The Curious Case of Love Live! – μ’s, and the interpellation of 2.5D idols

*I started writing this in April, with the intent of putting it up within a week at most after μ’s’ final live. But, due to RL stuff that needed my undivided attention, I ended up forestalling this here piece until a later date. I was about a third of a way done with it at the time, so I thought I might as well put this out eventually, despite how untimely it’d be by then/now.


Music… start!!

In my most scholarly looking blog post yet, I will be talking about the very interesting phenomenon that was Love Live!. I say was because this fun idol ride is invariably, nearing its end has ended. I had the privilege of watching μ’s’ final live (through the official live stream at a local cinema), and after seeing all 18 of them bare their emotions on stage for “possibly” the last time, it couldn’t be helped – I must say a proper farewell, which is what I hope this post will become as.

A “good bye”, as well as a “thank you”.


I haven’t really had the opportunity to express how much of a fan I am of LoveLive!, but that’s mainly because I’m really only a casual one at best. If it wasn’t for my Uni friend chiding me into watching the anime, I probably wouldn’t have even touched the franchise. But I did. And while I’m not as big of a fan as he is, or any number of you right now who are reading this for that matter, do know that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the 9 women and the 9 girls of μ’s, as well as the project they’ve taken part of.

Now, if my amateur wordplay has kicked in for you guys (or you’re starting to realize that I may be trippin’ or just have a couple of typos here and there), you mostly likely have noticed my not-so-subtle allusions towards counting μ’s as 18 people. A short pause would be enough for you to deduce that its because I’m counting μ’s the actual unit, and the μ’s that play as them; or, conversely, I’m counting μ’s, the actual unit, and the μ’s that they portray.

There is no right or wrong way to interpret this juxtaposition of roles, I would think. Incidentally, this will be our subject matter for the next couple of minutes – in what many consider (or disregard) as the 2.5 viewing dimension of LoveLive!.


μ’s have, on multiple occasions, referred to themselves as being made up of 18 people, so that wasn’t really something original on my end. The same goes for the idea of 2.5D. This is just me trying to enmesh these concepts with other ideas, in order to make sense of Love Live! fascination, which (in my opinion) is something way different than any form of anime-related fascination we’ve had in the past.

The main point that I hope to get across here is that the success of Love Live! directly stems from the peculiar mix and interplay of anime viewing culture and idol viewing culture.

We have a lot of bases to cover here, but in keeping with the tradition of being “as laid-back as can be”, I won’t go too far off the deep-end, so don’t worry about info-dump or things of the sort. Just know that if you’re a fan of LL! (or anime/idol in general), you have absolutely experienced these things, one way or another, and you’re good.


The History of LoveLive! 
idol before anime — idol anime, not anime about idols

If you’re a bigger fan of LL! than me (a very possible scenario), than you probably know more about the project’s inception than I do (and if that’s actually the case, I apologize in advance lol). But yeah. To the best of my knowledge/Internet searching prowess, the Love Live! School Idol Project started way back in 2010 through ASCII Media Works’ Dengeki G’s Magazine – a publication known for its extensive readership interaction by way of fan polls and such.

In collaboration with Lantis and Sunrise (which provided avenues for both music and animation respectively), the super group of sorts comprise the multimedia venture that was Love Live!, with Dengeki G’s acting as a portal for the project’s inception.


The quaint and frequently overlooked thing here is that the image was immediately aimed towards the 2D/anime audience. The varied cast of singers, seiyuus, gravure idols and what have you, were being groomed to be μ’s at pretty much the same time, with the first single coming out only two months after the announcement of the School Idol Project.

Granted, the idol μ’s would not have had enough traction to take-off right then and there, but Love Live! (to me at least) as a whole seems to be a package meant to deliver the concept of “idol” directly and specifically towards the anime fan-base, as opposed to making it something just tacked on in an anime feature.

In that regard, Love Live! is not so much an anime about idols, but rather idols in an anime – if that makes sense.


Anime Viewing Culture and Idol Viewing Culture
Which makes watching Love Live! as a whole a fairly unique viewing experience. You see, traditional anime viewing culture (and TV viewing culture in general) lends itself to the transmission of the image, through the screen, to the viewer – with the screen acting as the gateway of sorts to a strictly 2D narrative.


I’d assume we all are very much familiar with the nature of these narratives, but all the same, it doesn’t take much to understand that there is very little (if any at all) interaction between the image and the person. What this implies is that the experience is usually closed, distant, and (using my gate metaphor) always on the outside. Meaning to say we can only ever really relate to anime to that extent.

Idol viewing culture, on the other hand, is a bit different. It hinges a great deal on fan perception and reception. Idols are meant to be representations of a collective ideal for its intended audience. For female Japanese idols in particular (at least in the contemporary setting), it is the image of a pure and innocent youth that want nothing more than their fans’ warm affection.


Their very existence can be seen as connected to, if not rooted completely, in “creating” smiles – making people happy. And the narrative of idols is dependent on these smiles. That is to say, the audience plays a big part in the idol viewing experience, almost integral to the idol’s being.

Idol fascination lends itself to a sense of familiarity for the viewer; wherein the more a person is exposed to these idols, the closer he/she feels to them. Something akin to a codependent bond is formed – a fan shows his/her love and support for an idol, and the idol in turn makes him/her smile – makes him happy.


In a way, you could see idol fascination as an ideology; or a system of beliefs that gives reason to order and how things work. Louis Althusser was one of the first to write about and discuss ideology, and to him, ideology is not really something we outright choose for ourselves. Althusser argues that we are hailed to be the subjects of a particular ideology in a process he called interpellation. The relationship between ourselves and the different societal roles we interact with on a daily basis serve as channels through which ideology works, but it’s only until we are addressed by an ideology do we become subjected to it.

To illustrate how interpellation functions in the context of ideology Althousser used the example of the policeman who shouts “Hey, you there!” At least one individual will turn around (most likely the right one) to “answer” that call. At this moment, when one realizes that the call is for oneself, one becomes a subject relative to the ideology of law and crime.

I believe that the Love Live! phenomenon worked more or less the same way.

cap_[FFF] Love Live! - 01 [BD][720p-AAC][175CDDAD]_00_00_43_01

From this point on, we became subjects of the ideology behind idol fascination. We were hailed, as an anime-viewing audience to subsequently become an idol-viewing audience. But, how exactly did it happen?


μ’s in comparison to contemporary idols

Well, for starters the way μ’s exists for us as an audience provides multiple avenues for that “sense of familiarity” we talked about earlier.


One of the ways contemporary Japanese media corporations bring their idols “closer” to their audience is by using promotional segments that feature the idols’ every day life – walking the same streets as their fans, eating at family restaurants, shopping at malls, etc. The point of these promos is to ground the existence of idols to reality; so that they may be seen as people who are reachable, despite their status as idols.

With that in mind, try to imagine Love Live! as one big promotional segment – with each episode of the anime being a 24 minute spot showing the everyday life of the girls of μ’s. With each episode we get to know a little bit more about each and every one of these girls; we get to be familiar with them individually. But, no real bond can be formed so long as they’re on that side of the screen.


However, they’re not only on that side of the screen, as μ’s also exists on our side – the real-life μ’s. The bond becomes possible, as their existence is grounded in our reality. We see the idol Nitta Emi, and at the same time we see the idol Kousaka Honoka. Of course, they’re not “one” solitary existence, but they are the “same” existence. They are 2.5D. They co-exist. Idol fascination becomes possible because of the way μ’s is depicted – as something that borders both fiction and reality; a grand illusion.

It is for that reason that Sonoda Umi is the idol Suzuko Mimori, and while Suzuko Mimori is not just the idol Sonoda Umi, the relative permanence of Sonoda Umi as part of a 2.5D existence completes the juxtaposition.


Idol fascination in Anime
I believe this to be the reason towards fans’ attachment to μ’s. In a medium as versatile as anime, idol culture became accessible and had thus been inculcated in the viewing culture of anime fans consciously or inadvertently through the viewing of Love Live!. As fan-consumers of the anime Love Live! we were hailed to be fans of μ’s, a 2.5D existence. The act instantaneously made us fan-consumers of its idol dimension.


This is where most of the backlash towards 2.5D lies. As I said earlier, some fans do disregard this aspect of the franchise, as idol fascination is viewed by many as only being a hair’s breadth away from idol fanaticism. While yes, each and every fan is free to like what they like, it is in my opinion a bit nonsensical to only look at Love Live! in the anime dimension, or vice versa. One cannot exist without the other.


The stigma of idol fanaticism is strong for sure, but one must also consider the fact that idol culture finds itself deep-seated in the roots of Japan’s centuries-old history with idols and idolatry, which places that stigma in greater context for them than those looking-in from the outside (aka us). Are we exempt from extreme idol worship? Not really – I mean, we’re all human after all.

But how far fascination is to fanaticism is really up to the viewer. What will remain regardless is that if you’re a fan of μ’s, then you’re a fan of μ’s.


All this talk of how Love Live! essentially tricked us into being idol fans relies quite heavily on a theoretical perception of our individual agency, or our willingness to succumb to ideology in the first place. Keyword here is theory. Most likely, what’s actually going on with the Love Live! phenomenon (if there even is one), is a bit simpler than the 2000 or so words we just had (lol, sorry about that).


Regardless, Love Live! will still go down as a hallmark of anime viewing culture as one that enraptured its fans with a taste of idol viewing culture – a dangerously effective blend that we’re sure to see more of in the future inb4 LL! Sunshine. I mean, think about it – anime idols are effectively “immortal”, and would thus forever have that “pure and innocent youth” (but that’s a topic for another time).

Before we look towards the future, we look to the present (well, recent past, by the time this goes up) and see μ’s off first. The nine of them are sure to succeed in their own ways, coming off of one of if not the biggest multi-media project in recent memory, but it will most likely be in their own ways. The anime μ’s will continue to exist, but idol μ’s, at least from this point on, will not —

μ’s are no longer grounded in our reality. The grand illusion is now, effectively, severed.

But hey, that’s just a theory – an anime theory!
*props to whoever gets the reference*

With that, I’m seeing the 9 women of μ’s off in to the sunset, as I did with the 9 girls of μ’s when their show ended.

I sincerely hope to see them flourish as their own.

*Random LL!-related tidbits
– Rin is best girl nyaaaa~
– But, as much as I do like Rippi and Shikaco (and JolNo, and Ucchi..), Soramaru DaiSensei is too awesome
– Favorite all μ’s song, it’s a toss-up between No Brand Girls!! and Loneliest Baby
– Favorite Printemps song, torn between Unabalanced Love and Love Marginal
– Favorite lily white song, Shiranai Love Oshiete Love
– Favorite BiBi song, Cutie Panther
– Favorite solo song, Hanayo’s Kodoku na Heaven

8 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Love Live! – μ’s, and the interpellation of 2.5D idols

  1. Man this post kinda reminds me of the Honoka seiyuu incident. As I’m more attached to (strictly) anime idols than the real idols/seiyuu, I can’t say I understand the fan’s pain, but still feel it’s a bit exaggerated (I mean, I see pictures people tearing their Honoko poster in half, stabbing the poster with a knife, etc…)

    • Yep, that incident is nothing short of a tragedy really; as it would likely go down in the record books regardless of whether or not it’s true (inb4 the Aya Hirano incident). It’s been cleared that Honoka’s seiyuu, Niita Emi, was not an AV star (lol), but yeah, I agree that the outcry was definitely a bit exaggerated, I feel bad for the seiyuu though, as it’s always gonna be something that would be used against her.

      In line with the main idea of the post, this just goes to show blurred the line had become (for some fans) between real idols and anime idols, wherein tarnishing the idol “purity” of her anime counterpart caused rage against the actress that only played the part.

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