For all my weeaboo tendencies, the one thing that I never really understood was the whole J-Pop Idol scene. So when things like Love Live! and Idolm@ster burst on to the scene in the last few years and started making big waves I was suitably confused. What was the appeal? Why is this idol anime stuff such and unstoppably popular juggernaut? I figured it was time to find out.
Love Live! follows students of Otonokizaka Academy. Due to a low number of prospective students in the coming years it is looking likley that the school will be closing its doors in three years once the current students are finished. Second year student Honoka Kosaka is determined to do something – ANYTHING – to save her beloved school, and after learning about the rising popularity of School Idol Groups and a particular trio known as A-Rise from nearby UTX Highschool, Honoka sets out to rope her childhood friends and fellow second year sudents the voice-of-reason Umi Sonoda and airhead Kotori Minami into becoming School Idols with her so they can raise the profile of their floundering school.
The series is largely a slice of life comedy as Honoka and her friends establish their fledgling pop group, learn to sing and dance and overcome their problems associated with wanting to be idols. They need songs. They need music. But first and foremost they need a name. When the only name they pull from a suggestion box they placed in the hallway is μ’s (pronounced Muse) they roll with it, and the second year trio set out to put on their first live show. The initial setup introduces us to the other six students who will eventually form the full nine members of μ’s, and that’s not much of a spoiler – they’re all right there on the front of the DVD case.
Over the course of the season the group expands to contain three first year students – Songwriter and rich girl Maki Nishikino, ultra cheerful Rin Hoshizora and the shy idol (and rice) aficionado Hanayo Koizumi. Rounding out the nine are the third year students – Idol super-fan and president of the Idol Study Club Nico Yazawa (odds are you’ve heard of her catchphrase “Nico-nico-ni!”), Student Council President Eli Ayase and Vice-President and serial breast-groper Nozomi Tojo.
The show does a pretty great job of giving each of the nine girls enough time to establish their personality and what it is that brings them into the fold of μ’s. Some are more receptive to the idea than others of course, and various personalities clash along the way as the group learn, train and climb the ranks as local idols with the goal of competing in an Idol tournament called the Love Live in order to raise the profile of their school. There wasn’t a character I didn’t like among the cast, and their interactions feel genuine. It’s all quite well written and handled. The character designs are lovely and each girl has her own distinct style and personality, so there’s a lot to like.
When it comes to the performances, they don’t dominate the show like some kind of Disney spontaneous song and dance explosion. They’ve shown a bit of restraint and live performances are kept for the special occasions when the girls are ready to perform after working their way towards it. The songs are all quite catchy and the animation for the costumed performances switches almost seamlessly between traditional 2D and a cel-shaded 3D which, aside from the odd janky movement, is some of the best use of 3D I’ve seen in anime for a while and keeps a nice consistent look to the dance numbers. Sunrise have done a top-notch job of animating this, and I’d expect no less from them.
This release from Madman is presented with subtitles only, but the formatting really leaves something to be desired. As there is often dialogue and background music with singing at the same time, both are subtitled but there is nothing to differentiate the two, they are both just presented one on top of the other in yellow text at the bottom of the screen, and since the two sets are moving at a different pace you might end up with three or four lines of text jumping around with nothing to tell you what is dialogue and what isn’t, making it incredibly difficult to follow these scenes without reaching for the pause button. Something as simple as a dash at the start of the line, white text or italicising the lyrics would go a long way to clearing up that confusion. This particular Collector’s Edition release also came with a ‘μ’s Scrapbook’ which runs through the characters and episodes. A cool little addition to the DVD which is all wrapped up in a nice slipcase package.
I went in to this having no idea what the appeal was and came out the other side understanding completely. Love Live! has great characters, some good laughs interspersed with moments of drama and is all wonderfully paced. The songs are cute and catchy, and most importantly the whole thing is just a hell of a lot of fun. There’s a lot to like about this show, and I’m now hanging out for Season 2 and the Movie to be released locally. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sink more time into the Love Live! mobile phone rhythm game…
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review