It’s a guilty pleasure but a pleasure nonetheless.
The Tokyo Anime Award Festival is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate Love Live! The School Idol Movie’s nomination for Best Theatrical Film than to review it?
* This review will contain spoilers *
The Love Live film celebrates what μ’s essentially is, namely the school idol project. The idol group was formed as a way to save the girls’ school, Otonokizaka Academy, from having to close down. While μ’s mainly consists of the nine school idols, other Otonokizaka Academy students - as well as the principal - always offer their support when it comes to organising and promoting performances. However, as the third years graduate, the group comes to realise they cannot continue as school idols anymore and begin to fear that the end of μ’s will mark the end of their friendship.
Over the course of the film, the members of μ’s mature by accepting the inevitable end of their school idol project and by understanding what it means. The band members realise that their friendship is not bound by idoling and how a shared love of something can bring together different people. This, also understanding that, even when that thing is over, it won’t spell the end for their friendship. Love Live! The School Idol Movie celebrates μ’s and the friendship that binds them.
While the latter half of the film focuses more on Honoka, the screen-time the μ’s band members receive is very evenly distributed. All members get their chance to shine through songs and character moments, yet the film still always focuses on them as a group, be it a group of friends or an idol group. Additionally, the film features three insert songs sung by the third, second and first years, respectively, giving every year the opportunity to stand out. This shared focus on all of μ’s’ members further emphasises the theme of friendship, which ultimately takes centre stage.
Don’t misunderstand: The School Idol Movie is as innocent as it gets and the girls are never sexualised or objectified. The fanservice the film offers is filled with cute, humourous and heartfelt character moments. Sometimes these little instances of fanservice even have a deeper meaning, like when Nico and her siblings do the Nico-Nico-pose together. Given Nico’s relationship with her younger siblings, the moment is funny and heartwarming in equal measures. The fanservice doesn’t feel exploitive or forced either, as the characters remain true to their nature. Instead, every fanservice-y moment can be seen as a nod and “thank you” to the fans as most of them cannot even be seen as fanservice unless the viewer is familiar with the characters, like Hanayo’s love for white rice. To new viewers, Maki leaning in for a kiss might seem cute and nothing else but to those who know of Maki’s tsundere-ness it’s so much more. The innocent fanservice in the film does what Love Live does best: it makes the viewer smile and feel happy.
The camera work and directing by director Takahiko Kyogoku (the Love Live series, GATE) is where it’s most evident that this is a film and not just an episode of Love Live. The above shot, for instance, is from a pivotal moment in the film in which Honoka is unable to decide on whether to continue as an idol or not. The reflections of her in the glasses mirror the different paths she could choose, as well as her uncertainty, as each path is blurry or distorted. Apart from the more symbolic shots, The School Idol Movie also offers more than plenty gorgeously animated sequences. Bar the CG models, the animation - from the dance routines, to the backgrounds and the characters’ facial expressions - is top-notch. However, while the outward appearance tells of a feature film, the plot belies this intention.
The film consists of two parts: The first part finds μ’s going to New York in an attempt to make school idols more popular worldwide, and the second part deals with μ’s’ last performance as a group. One could even argue that the film serves as a great introduction to Love Live as it is exactly what fans have come to expect from this slice-of-life idol anime and doesn’t really offer anything new but a shiny exterior. To some viewers, exactly this may pose a problem since they have expected something bigger, especially plot-wise. The plot of the second part as well as the centre issue μ’s has to deal with in particular are rather problematic as they have already been done in the TV series, though in the film it is elaborated upon. However, Love Live is not beloved for it’s deep and meaningful plot. You watch it for its light-heartedness, its innocence, its catchy J-Pop and most importantly, its loveable characters with their contagious cheerfulness.
Love Live has often been criticised for its CG-models of the characters during their performances. The models in the series not only looked very uncanny and cheaply done, but the poor quality often also made the performances as a whole suffer. In The School Idol Movie, the CG-models are improved (though still not exactly good) and much less frequent. While the faces still tend to look lifeless and rigid, almost frozen, the CG-models don’t stand out as much as they did in the series. Furthermore, the insert songs don’t rely on CG at all. Instead, they are “performed” in cute and humorous sketch-like performances. That these were more memorable than the main performances, though, speaks volumes.
During their time in New York, the μ’s-girls get separated and Honoka ends up being lost in the big city. As she roams around, she meets an unnamed Japanese street singer who helps her get back to her hotel. Honoka’s meeting her serves to create a major plot point as the singer makes Honoka ponder on her and μ’s’ future - both, on a professional and personal level. And then she disappears just to appear later on in Japan and “guide” Honoka again by giving her the answer to the question the singer herself posed.
Fan theories run rampant as to whom the woman really is. Is she a future version of Honoka? Or is she the Tyler Durden to Honoka’s Edward Norton? Did I really just use a Fight Club reference to describe a character in Love Live? All those fan theories are based on hints found within the film, as this deus ex machina is never properly introduced and serves no purpose but to create some unnecessary tension. Coming of age is a common theme in slice-of-life anime, but the way it is handled here is forced and wastes precious Nico-Nico-time.
Love Live! The School Idol Movie is not profound, deep or very meaningful. But it’s delightfully light-hearted. It’s sweet and lovely, with an earnest message and filled with characters you can’t help but root for. It’s something everyone needs sometimes. Sometimes, we have to take a breath and indulge in blithe escapism. Love Live - the movie as well as the series - gives the viewer that. That’s the magic of Love Live. It takes one’s mind off of things and lets the viewer simply be happy.
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