“Idols” function as the Japanese equivalent to pop stars or boy bands, scouted to sing and dance on stage and create parasocial relationships with their fans. They’ve been growing as a means of content for decades and are more popular than they have ever been, with AKB48’s 90-member group being one of the highest-earning musical acts in Japan. As a result, idol anime have been steadily releasing since the late 2000s. AKB48 even has their own exclusive anime, titled “AKB0048.”
When “Love Live! School Idol Project” came into being in 2007, idols in anime were still incredibly niche. However, in the 15 years since, “Love Live!” has grown into the premiere idol anime franchise in circulation today. “School Idol Project” became a sensation in Japan, and it wasn’t until the second series, “Love Live! Sunshine!!” that the franchise recognized the overseas community in the form of multiple live concerts at Anime Expo, one of which I was fortunate enough to attend. “Love Live!” has propelled voice acting and musical careers for members who had gotten their start with them. Saito Shuka has released multiple solo albums since her work in “Sunshine!!,” and Mimori Suzuko has become a regular voice actress in seasonal anime.
“Love Live! Superstar!!” was the newest anime series to be added to the franchise back in the summer of 2021, and it promised a serious change to the formula. Up until the recent entries, all three previous franchise animes had nine members (however, the second season of the third series introduced three more, giving them a grand total of 12 members). Meanwhile, the reveal of the members of Superstar’s “Liella!” only mentioned five names. This was a controversial decision but it addressed one of my main concerns with the rest of “Love Live!”: despite two seasons and 24 episodes, there were always a couple of characters who were left out to dry in terms of character development. Koizumi Hanayo from the first series and Kunikida Hanamaru from the second are both prime examples of flat and superficial characters that suffered this fate.
Sure enough, the ability to better dive into the characters is what made “Love Live! Superstar!!” my favorite entry in the franchise to date. By the end of the 12 episodes, every character was near and dear to both me, the viewer, and to each other in the story. It was done in a way that the other groups in previous franchise entries simply couldn’t do. Every member of the group had distinct obstacles to overcome and the other members were there to help:
- Shibuya Kanon’s crippling stage fright led to her abandoning music entirely despite being incredibly vocally gifted.
- Keke Tang moved to Japan from Shanghai for the express purpose of forming a school idol club.
- Heanna Sumire had to confront her insecurities after being unable to find the spotlight her entire life.
- Arashi Chisato wanted to prove herself on her own so she could prove her usefulness to Kanon.
- Hazuki Ren faced a responsibility far too great for a high schooler to handle and did everything she could to not crumble underneath it.
What’s more, the aesthetics are probably the best they’ve ever been in the franchise. The music stands out from anything they’ve done so far, and having fewer members again serves as an improvement because each of the five stand out on an individual level despite the songs being a group effort. The opening, set to the song “START!! True dreams” is a peak example of how good the CGI sequences have become since 2012. The art in the anime is fantastic and I have over 100 screenshots as proof. Everything works well together to create an environment that isn’t as urban as “School Idol Project!” or as rural as “Sunshine!!,” and feels rather nice and relaxing.
Idol shows carry a certain stigma that might turn off your standard anime viewer, which I understand. They almost exclusively feature groups of high school girls doing cute things and singing songs, which isn’t for everybody. However, the way the group can clash but eventually work things out and be there for one another as they overcome every obstacle in their way perfectly encapsulates the spirit of “Love Live!” There’s nothing quite like it, and despite being an anime fan for several years, “Love Live!” remains one of the only shows that can make me feel as strongly as it does.