To that I mean that “The Curious Case of Love Live!” from being what was supposedly a tribute post to the end of μ’s, has now become an outlet through which I churn out thoughts and ideas about the successful idol phenomenon in anime (“the Grand LL!usion” , if you will), the more immersed I become with the franchise.
So far we’ve tackled “interpellation”, in what I viewed as the subversive inclusion of idol viewing culture into anime viewing culture, consequently homogenizing the two as a singular 2.5D viewing experience; and we also went into the concept of “spectacle” in the idol performances of Love Live! and how that translates to the aforementioned 2.5D nature of the franchise.
I figured I should dial it down a bit for the next one of these lest I lose sight of what I initially intended this series to be — that is to make sense of the ever-growing phenomenon that is Love Live!. While it is fun (for me at least) to go over different academic theories and try to relate ’em to semi-fictional school idols of all things, sometimes the simpler connections end up offering more clarity; and where better to find them than in the medium itself, anime.
The title gives away my main point for this iteration of Curious Case, but all the same (and for the sake of clear direction), for the next couple of minutes or so I posit that Love Live! is a sports anime. …I mean, c’mon, not in the sense that there’s an actual sport inovolved, but rather I contend that at its very core Love Live! presents itself as a story of working hard towards a very clear goal, which mirrors the key narrative of most, if not all, sports-themed anime.
It’s no secret that one of the main drives of Love Live! Sunshine!! and the idol group Aqours, compared to its predecessor the original Love Live! School Idol Project and μ’s, is that it manages to (arguably) better portray the struggle towards something much larger than themselves. Its main theme revolves around “starting from 0”; making something out of nothing through the unified will and determination of nine people. Students coming together in the spring-time of their youth to “achieve their dreams” as they aim for the grandest stage allowed to them; to pull-off nothing short of a miracle.
While these themes collectively do already contribute to the vagaries of its correlation to sports anime in general, what really tipped me over the edge with this idea was this scene from the first episode of the second season of Love Live! Sunshine!! (minor spoilers ahead).
Upon seeing one used in Love Live!, I couldn’t help but remember one scene from Big Windup! (the clip above), where the captain of Tosei High School gives a thousand cranes, that was originally offered to them by their supporters in wishing them good luck in the national tournament, to the Nishiura High School Baseball Team . Tosei, upon losing the qualifiers in a close game to Nishiura, passes on the thousand cranes (and the sentiment that comes with it) to Nishiura in a rather moving scene that arguably serves as the denouement for the entire season of Big Windup!.
The two scenes ran parallel in my mind for some time until I realized what I truly felt for both. Both Chika and the Nishiura boys were able to stand anew through a similar gesture shared between them; and although that gesture may not be mutually exclusive to sports anime alone, the purpose it served was more or less the same. “Good luck”, “Do your best”, “Aim for it”.
It is here that I would argue that Love Live!’s approach towards school idols is very much in the vein of shounen sports anime. Which, is partly amusing for me to say because the Love Live! franchise is notorious for not having a single male character appear on screen ever (but that’s another topic altogether). For now, let this go to show that being “shounen” does not always necessitate having young men showcasing myriads of powers in battle, as the vibe of stories dubbed as shounen generally highlight the hard work that the titular shounen character/s go through in attaining said powers — or in the case of shounen sports anime in particular, how they get to the level of skill they’re at over the course of some period of time.
Love Live! is “the Koshien” of school idols (as far as the universe within the story is concerned). I offer you this perspective.