Love Live! Sunshine!! is one of the best shows airing this season, but what makes it click so well with so many people?
Polish and Presentation
This is a fairly straightforward one which is immediately recognisable, but I think I should elaborate a bit on what makes the fundamentals behind Sunshine so solid. To begin with, for a show about idols, it’s key to have vibrant and memorable characters.
The character designs in Love Live are not only sharp and vibrant, but they are pretty distinctive from that of other anime, making them instantly recognisable as characters from Love Live, and not just any other show; this is super important for Sunshine to maintain, as a sequel that introduces a whole new cast of characters to an existing universe.
The malleable round faces and wide, beaming smiles are very animation-friendly, allowing for a lot of leeway for exaggerated movements and larger-than-life emotions. But these endearing, goofy faces are just one aspect of what brings the show to life…
Comedy. To keep Sunshine a consistently engaging and enjoyable experience, the humour must not simply be the connective tissue to fill in downtime between key events, it has got to rise above that to also serve the desired ambitions and goals of the work. Love Live goes above and beyond in making its comedic moments land, there are a lot of aspects that go into this, from the potential for amusing character acting that I alluded to before, to the directorial execution, and timing of, the gags and punchlines.
In addition to competent delivery and visual flair, there has to be a degree of specificity to the humour that makes unique to these sets of characters in this situation, and what it says about them and the atmosphere the show is trying to create at any given moment. For example, the first episode draws a lot of humour out of Chika’s eagerness in recruiting people for her Idol club, this is expressed with her overbearing intrusion into other people’s personal space and the crooked, creepy smile she makes when trying to pitch to them. This physical comedy isn’t simply funny because of slapstick, but in how it both establishes (and in subsequent instances, affirms) what we know about Chika, she’s brash, lacks self-awareness and is prone to tunnel visioning to the point she hinders her own goals.
The other aspect of importance, is in how Love Live Sunshine‘s brand of humour can inform its atmosphere, and even solidify thematic statements of the story, and that’s where we come to how the story likes to evoke the emotions in the audience that it wants, through its mix of comedy and drama…
A Somewhat Lucid Reality
I’ve heard people say that the feeling they get when watching Love Live is similar to that they might receive from a sitcom. I’d specify further, that the type of anime that Love Live aims to be, is that of a Dramedy. Think of something like Glee, which is a close parallel. Instead of being focused on raucous comedy and a consistently light tone in which episode plots can safely return to a status quo, Love Live can take the best of both entertainment approaches to create an experience that is both accessible and that can lend itself towards deeper investment.
But it isn’t about an unwillingness to ask more from the viewer by abandoning sincerity, it’s in order to create a rising and falling tone, a fully balanced range of emotions. Thusly, the series can remain pleasant while still demanding the viewers full empathy in the moments the story displays the characters at their most earnest, passionate and emotional moments.
To round up, I think there is another key ingredient of success that Love Live has, that immeasurably strengthens the reception of all the above factors I’ve talked about above. This is something that fascinates me most about the series, in how it really has struck lightning as a media property.
Here’s a little history to think about: The original cast of Love Live! School Idol Project was revealed in 2010, more than two years before the anime went on to air in early 2013. Not only were there arrays of multi-media goods released between then and the airing, but reader participation and surveys were integral to shaping the identity of what we now know to be as of μ’s. So before the anime even aired, the fans already knew a lot about the characters, their appearance, their traits, their songs, and their voices**. So much so that when watching the show it wasn’t like suddenly having nine characters thrust in your face, but getting to meet a bunch of friends. Well, similarly with Love Live Sunshine and Aquors, we’ve known about the cast for more than a year before the show went to air, and I’d hazard a guess that you knew most of their names before you even saw the first episode.
The lines between creator and fan have narrowed, and that’s a whole topic in and of itself, but how does this apply to you and me? Perhaps (or most likely as a western fan) you weren’t involved in that long vetting process (let’s call it an open beta), but you watched the show a while after it came out. Even then, you’d be somewhat familiar with the cast, the main characters from Love Live are not popular among fans, but they possess a wider recognition and shared interpretation that exists even outside viewers of the show. The characters possess a set of easily understood variables and are very easy to reinterpret, extrapolate, and make not-so-inside jokes about.
The ability for a show to have a widely accepted fan-created canon of meme mythology makes the barrier for personal investment very small, it’s so easy to imagine the characters in a variety of situations and predict how they might react, idolise their key characteristics and ultimately end up finding the characters enjoyable to watch, and likable as people in their own right. I cannot overstate the impact this can have on a media property, one only needs to have a look at Overwatch to see the effect in practise.
All in all, I hope this post has summarised the sprawling map of thoughts I have in regard to why I find Love Live!! Sunshine! an extremely rewarding (in the immediate sense) and fascinating (in the intellectual sense) show to be watching.
While this post is actually quite bite-sized in comparison to some of my more detailed analyses, it was actually a question of how best to express these thoughts in coherent chunks of thought without breaking the flow in order to provide example, clarification and backup for everything I bring up, like I might do in an episodic post (sometimes relying instead on images to bring up a visual touchstone for an idea).
As such, this post required a lot of time spent in thought and experimentation before I was happy to release it. I am extremely extremely eager for feedback on it, I’d like to know both your thoughts on my form of expression and your opinion on what I’ve had to say. Thank you for reading!