*that it may be day a where we can all laugh together; like what the raindrops bathing in the sunlight yearn for (warai aeru hidearu you ni negau amatsubu you no hikari o abite) is a reference to a line in the song “alive”
When news broke that Kusunoki Tomori would retire from her role as both voice of Yuki Setsuna, as well beloved member of the cast of characters from the Nijigasaki Gakuen School Idol Doukokai series under the massively popular Love Live! franchise, I was hit with a vague melancholy. What do I mean by that? Well see, while I am very much privy to “NijiGaku” as it’s affectionately called, Yuki Setsuna herself admittedly isn’t my personal favorite character from the series. In that sense I’m sure a lot of others actually have stronger feelings about that side of the equation so to speak than me. Just that, in the years since I’ve started following the aforementioned series, I instead found myself gradually becoming an admirer of Kusunoki Tomori and her work *outside* of this project more than anything else.
After thinking about it for some time, I realized that it wasn’t so much that I was saddened that she would no longer be able to reprise her role as Yuki Setsuna than I was just sad *for* her seeing how much this means for her and how the circumstances surrounding it are largely beyond her control. I would like to think that there is a difference there. At the very least, it wasn’t until I was able to delineate it like this that I was able to figure out what I wanted to write about. That’s mostly where I’ll be coming from here, so this post might be a little different from what you expected. This is also just my own way of processing it all too so this one’s a bit more self-satisfactory in all honesty but my appreciation goes out to those who’ll take the time to read through this and basically witness me sort out my own feelings on the matter.
As you might already know by now, Kusunoki Tomori and her management’s decision to step away from Love Live! is due to her having been officially diagnosed with a chronic degenerative disease of the joints. This illness, of which there is no cure, has plagued her with pains caused by strenuous physical activity such as dancing and performing on stage. An official statement from her management regarding a limitation of her activities due to a potential diagnosis would come on September 2021, but the disease itself would not be identified until November of the following year. Something to note about all this is that, we actually know she was already performing in a limited capacity as early as December 2020 for her “MELTWIST” Birthday Celebration Live where she spent most of the duration of the concert sitting down.
Of course, at the time I didn’t think much of it (and I’m sure a lot other people didn’t as well) and just chalked it up to it being a very subdued live event. There wasn’t a live audiece, and the concert itself was acoustic in nature, so her singing while being seated didn’t seem too out of place. It was only after I saw that Love Live! would eventually do the same for her in subsequent live appearances by providing her a seat on stage for her to sit on during breaks in the performances that I was able to connect the dots. This would then be followed by her spending as little time on stage as possible to ultimately where we find ourselves now with her leaving the franchise. The point that I’m trying to make by showing you a rough timeline here is that “Tomoriru” has more than likely been dealing with this disease for much longer than we might all think.
Suffice for it to say, despite all that, she still chose to perform until she feasibly couldn’t anymore (if at least in an idol setting specifically). It’s admirable what she’s doing, that’s for certain, but knowing what we know now about her circumstances does make it feel bittersweet at times whenever I watch her sing and there’s a chair on the stage waiting for her. I had the same feeling come to me fairly recently when I went and watched her “RINGLEAM” Birthday Celebration Live just this past year. However, midway through watching the concert, something happened that made it all clear for me; why I felt the way that I did and why I shouldn’t be feeling that way in the first place. In particular, it was when Tomoriru went and sang the first half of her song “Sankayou” completely in A cappella at one point during the live.
I knew I wanted to talk about a song (if not a couple of songs) by Tomoriru and while Yuki Setsuna’s songs would seem to be the more fitting ones for the occassion as it were, the latter’s fiery and passionate songs of chasing after your dreams full throttle didn’t really feel… appropriate, given the situation. After her rendition of “Sankayou” from the aforementioned live I went back and listened to her Yarazu no Ame EP which, to be perfectly honest with you might have been my least liked release of hers, but after listening to it again with the sort of emotions I had (and continue to have) with me, it felt as though I couldn’t talk about anything other than the songs (or, most of the songs at least) on it, namely; “Yarazu no Ame”, “Sankayou”, and “Alive”. So that’s what we’ll be doing for the next couple of minutes or so.
What stands out immediately to me about “Yarazu no Ame”, relative to both her prior releases and as well as the imagery you’d associate with Tomoriru (at least for those privy to her work) was the overarching theme of the EP, which is that of ‘rain’. You see, something I noticed when I first got into her music was that Tomoriru is particularly fond of candles and candlelight. There’s a lot of things that support this: from actual candles being promotional goods for her live shows; the process of “melting” being a recurring theme in her earlier songs; even her monthly web-radio program is literally named “Tomoriru Candle“. In a way it’s actually a bit coincidental that Yuki Setsuna has a relatively similar, neighboring imagery associated with her in that of a blazing fire, to of course reflect her fiery and passionate on-stage performance.
Rain, in that sense, feels very much contrasting in that regard. In interviews for the release of Yarazu no Ame, Tomoriru talks about her recent fascination with the rain and how she wanted to try having that as a theme for an EP seeing as she’d never done it before. Although acknowledging the generally negative connotations associated with the rain, she asserts that she doesn’t dislike the rain as a lot of others might. She talks about listening to specific songs and them being more enjoyable to listen to while its raining, if at least for her personally. She wanted to create songs that would evoke the same feeling, which serves as the main driving force behind Yarazu no Ame, with all of the songs in it having some consideration with regard to the idea of rain; whether it’s in the arrangement of the tracks and/or the lyrics she wrote for them.
Tomoriru has always struck me as someone who puts not only a ton of thought but also a large amount of emotional investment when it comes to her songwriting. At the very least, her opting to have recurring themes in her songs in the manner that she does tells me that she cares a lot about the words she uses in order for her to convey her feelings to her listeners. I bring all of this up because I do think it’s important for us to view these specific songs through this particular lens, more so because of how timely and relevant the messages behind them are (in my opinion) to what’s going on right now. I won’t go over every line of each song as this post is already trending lenghtier than I thought it would, but I’ll go over the gist of what’s being sung so as to give you a general idea of they’re about.
We’ll go over only three of the four songs off the EP as I mentioned, starting with the title track “Yarazu no Ame”. In an interview with LisAni!, Tomoriru talks about how in previous songs she would use her own pains and struggles as her basis for writing, but in conceptualizing this release, she muses how no one ever really talks about the feelings of those who try to support people in pain and are struggling but are shut away – like someone not being let inside a house in the middle of an unrelenting rain (yarazu no ame). Tomoriru admits that she herself is the type to get sucked in by her own sadness, but she also recognizes full well that there are times when people who offer a helping hand might get dragged down along with her. The song is thus in acknowledgment of those saddened by someone else’s sadness.
I mentioned earlier that it was actually Tomoriru’s A cappella rendition “Sankayou” that made me revisit the EP as, because she delivered it in the manner with which she did, I was able to concentrate more on the words being said. The line Sayonara no yuuki wa nakatta (lit. “I did not have the courage to say goodbye”) in particular gave me pause considering her specific circumstances, that in turn made me look more into the song itself. The Sankayou, or the “Skeleton Flower” as it’s so called, has a unique characteristic of turning near-transparent when exposed to water; like, for instance, if it gets wet by the rain. In this state it is often looked at as a frail, ephemeral beauty. In the same LisAni interview Tomoriru mentions that this song is a kind and gentle reassurance. That things will be okay, staying by their side even as the rain falls.
The last song off the EP is “Alive” which, relative to the rest of the songs is definitively the shortest in terms of track length, evoking a very outro-y feel. Thematically though, perhaps fittingly enough in that sense, the song talks about moments after the rain. Tomoriru talks about how the song is actually a metaphor for the scenery she saw for her one of her live concerts (alive = “a live”). Particularly that of seeing the audience waving their penlights again for the first time in a while after a period wherein live shows were prohibited; like a garden adorned with glittering raindrops bathing in the warm light of the sun after an unrelenting rain. Happiness after the hardhips. What she aims to depict here is not only an invitation to bask in the sunlight, but also a want for everyone to live and ‘be alive’ that we may all meet again.
The Yarazu no Ame EP came out months ahead of the official statement regarding Tomoriru’s condition. We do not know the extent to which her and her management knew about the prognosis of her particular ailment during that time, but what we do know is that she had been dealing with its symptoms for quite a while already as we talked about earlier. Perhaps she already had an idea. Maybe not the cause exactly, but just the possibility of what might lie in her immediate future. At the very least, that’s what I feel when I listen to these songs, where it seems as though Tomoriru herself had already come to terms with everything well in advance compared to everyone else. Of course, it makes sense that she would’ve, given that the person who would be most concerned about her health would be herself.
I say that because, and I guess to sum this all up, this EP and the songs we went over almost feels like its addressing her situation directly. Perhaps this was Tomoriru’s own unrelenting rain. One that she has been weathering, possibly longer than we might all think. Despite that she offers up; a song of acknowledgement and recognition to those who saw her struggles and were saddened by it; a song of gentle reassurance that even though frailty may show amidst the downpour, a flower still remains; and a song that represents a promise to meet once more in that glittering garden – that it may be day a where we can all laugh together; like what the raindrops bathing in the sunlight yearn for. Maybe, in her own way, she was already preparing those troubled by it all in telling them that there’s still happiness to be had after the hardships.
Now, at the end of the day, this is a very convenient interpretation of Yarazu no Ame and (most) of the songs in the EP, so do take what I say here with a grain of salt. Like I said in the very beginning, this is also just my way of sorting out my own thoughts and feelings regarding the matter. While I may not be the biggest Yuki Setsuna fan as I mentioned, I do understand the significance of separating from one’s character in this space (something that I once thought of to be impossible) especially one so intertwined with her identity thus far. That being said, it’s also not as if she’s stepping away from the spotlight for good either. Her voice acting career appears to be in full swing now more than ever (with casting announcements coming left and right), and in just a couple of months she’s set to release her first full album.
This all doesn’t take away from the fact that Kusunoki Tomori’s Yuki Setsuna will be no more. That fact remains true. Of course, if there’s anyone who’s going to feel frustrated by that the most, surely it’s Tomoriru herself. However, if she’s also out here being the one offering solace despite the person most affected by it all, then we can only respect her own wishes on the matter. By the time this post comes out, she will have already made her last appearance as Yuki Setsuna, and for what its worth she has been a consummate professional all throughout this whole thing. I imagine she will continue to do so till the very end. For that, and for everything within these past five years, it’s been a job well done. I believe I can speak for the rest of us when I say that I wish her well in all of her future endeavors moving forward.