Far From a Live I’ve Loved

One of the posters for Love Live! The School Idol Movie.

One of the posters for Love Live! The School Idol Movie.

All these years I thought the idol in a Japanese school was the girl everyone thought was the Madonna. Turns out they’re actually Japanese idol groups.

I’ve watched many anime films in my life and while I won’t attest to every one being a masterpiece, there are a fair share that are worthy of the title “classic.” Many of the Studio Ghibli films would probably fit this description, especially considering four have been nominated for American Academy Awards and Spirited Away won Best Animated Feature Film in 2003. However, since the mid-2000s several other anime production companies have increased the number of feature films they produce. Granted, companies like Toei and Sunrise have released a steady stream of animated features since at least the 1980s, and it can be said the quality of these films has slowly improved as the popularity of and an interest in the industry has increased. Of course, not every animated film has a high production value. There are certainly large swaths that have a vague semblance of a story but incorporate great action sequences, while others lack an interesting conflict but have fun characters. And yet, I’ve found some of the most uninteresting anime films are based on extremely popular franchises. One such film was 2015’s Love Live! The School Idol Movie (ラブライブ! et al.). Much like the TV series, the strength of the film lies in the fun characters and the song and dance numbers. Yet, where the characters and songs were entertaining, the conflict wasn’t all that appealing since it was one that had already been resolved in the TV series. However, the largest issue I had with the film was that very little of it was memorable.

To be completely honest, I’ve seen both seasons of the TV series Love Live! School Idol Project and never quite understood the appeal of it. That’s not to say the series was poorly constructed, but rather I never latched onto the franchise in the same way so many others have. The melodrama of high school girls was never all that appealing to me and after a while all the characters seemed to blend together, making very few of them really stand out. Though I’ve tried to understand the popularity of the franchise, I still can’t place my finger on what made people so engrossed with it. Perhaps it has to do with how a certain subset of Japanese people enjoy idol groups and this was just another outlet for those fans. But, I honestly can’t say for sure. Nonetheless, suffice it to say, in a certain respect what I have to say about Love Live! The School Idol Movie also applies to Love Live! School Idol Project.

Any great piece of fiction has a number of aspects to it that make it memorable, be it the narrative, characters, dialog (particularly one-liners), setting, and action, among others things. These are what ingrain a work into our collective minds and cement them as momentous. Yet, there are works that may not be the highest quality but resonate with people in such a way as to keep it popular among a niche audience. Great examples of these types of films would be the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Army of Darkness. While I can’t say what keeps these two films exceptionally popular within certain groups, I believe part of it has to do with the memorable cast of characters. It’s often the charismatic personalities that drive audiences to stay to the conclusion of a work and I felt this was certainly the case with Love Live! The School Idol Movie.

All nine girls performing Angelic Angel.

All nine girls performing Angelic Angel.

While I stated above the nine main characters seemed to blend together into an indistinguishable whole in the TV series, this doesn’t mean they weren’t amusing in any way, shape, or form in the film. Much of the character dynamics resulted from the humor inherent in the film, but there were a handful of interpersonal moments between the different girls that stood out as well. Looking at an interpersonal aspect first, there were a number of scenes that allowed for one or two of the different girl’s personalities come through. For example, in the first third of the film when the girls were in New York City, the protagonist, Honoka Kosaka, gave Umi Sonoda the wrong directions to their hotel. This one act not only created humor from the anger Umi had towards Honoka, but it also allowed the audience to see just how easygoing Honoka was compared to Umi’s timid nature. Of course, fans of the Love Live! franchise should have an idea of the characters’ personalities. Therefore, these small moments helped inform new audience members about the characters while also creating humor for the fans.

In fact, one of the shortest scenes in the film comically illustrated a small facet of Hanayo “Kayo” Koizumi’s personality, which was astonishing considering how the film focused on nine characters. All it did was simply show how she was a connoisseur of white rice, but it was presented in an amusing and understandable way for the Japanese audience. This requires an understanding of Japanese dietary habits, but simply put there are some Japanese people who enjoy eating white rice three times a day and if they don’t, such as when they travel abroad, they can become anxious. I’ve personally witnessed this with a very close friend of mine, making this one scene stand out more so than some of the others. More importantly, though, it illuminated in a concise way the personality of one of the characters while still being inherently humorous.

Naturally, though, the pièce de rèsistance of Love Live! The School Idol Movie were the song and dance numbers. This shouldn’t mitigate the fun characters in the film, but the franchise is predicated on the music of the fictional—though that is a dubious attribution, as the voice actresses have done live performances—idol group μ’s, read as Muse. So, unsurprisingly the highlights of the film were the seven musical numbers. I should point out one song was a cover of the 1931 piece “As Time Goes By” by Herman Hupfeld and did not involve the whole group. However, I included it because it lasted for more than a minute, played a significant role in the film, and was quite beautifully performed by Minami Takayama. It was the other six that audiences were probably most excited about and it’s no wonder why either. When watching and listening to the performances, we saw the amount of time and energy placed into the choreography, production, song writing, animation, cinematography, and other facets of film production. For instance, in considering the routine for “Angelic Angel” we saw the level of animation production that made the two minute and twenty-two second number so spectacular, resulting in it being the unquestionable crown jewel of the film.

That’s not to say the other five numbers were lacking, but rather they had a lower level of production. Yes, the final two pieces, “Sunny Day Song” and “Bokutachi ha Hitotsu no Hikari” were very much in the style of “Angelic Angel,” as in they felt more like promotional videos, but they lacked the same polished nature of the latter. However, this same phenomenon was much more pronounced with the three sets of songs, “Hello, Hoshi wo Kazoete,” “?←Heartbeat,” and “Future Style.” Though wonderful numbers, they clearly lacked the exceptional production value of “Angelic Angel.” Yet, what they lacked in production value was compensated for in their unique feel. Looking at “?←Heartbeat” as an example, we saw three characters, Nico Yazawa, Eli Ayase, and Nozomi Tojo, trying to avoid being seen by fans of μ’s while they sang the song. It’s very much in the style of a musical such as Labyrinth with the characters breaking out into song and dance numbers. While it isn’t as sharp as “Angelic Angel,” it’s entertaining to say the least. The other two songs were very similar to this and watching these musical moments was quite rewarding.

Hanayo “Kayo” Koizumi worried about skipping a meal without white rice.

Hanayo “Kayo” Koizumi worried about skipping a meal without white rice.

As much as I may praise Love Live! The School Idol Movie, it wasn’t without its flaws. The shortcomings of the film largely stemmed from the conflict over whether or not the graduating students should continue being members of μ’s. Though this was interesting to a degree, I felt it had been resolved in the TV series, thus making the point somewhat moot. Yes, the production team tried to fuel the conflict by having the characters reflect upon why they chose to be school idols and the ramifications for the fictional school idol competition “Love Live” if they didn’t remain a unit. While I admit each character’s answer to their soul searching was noteworthy, I have to reiterate the girls had made their decision in the second season of the TV series. This was very similar to the 2011 film K-on! Movie in that the conflict that was presented in Love Live! The School Idol Movie had very little bearing on the growth of the characters. Thus, what conflict there was lacked the tension one would expect from a franchise that explored adolescent girls bonding over the high school experience and instead chose to mull over the same plot point from the TV series, making the narrative of Love Live! The School Idol Movie rather bland.

This was possibly the largest qualm I had with the film. To a certain degree I can forgive the film for ruminating over the same plot point again as it approached it from a different angle, but because it came very late in the film, viewers had to wade through material that was unremarkable to get there. While this seems to contradict my statements about the humor and the song and dance numbers, both the humor and the songs were spread too far apart from each other, thus creating lulls in the story. I would even go as far as to say the examples I mentioned above with Honoka, Umi, and Kayo fell into the mediocre sections of the film and the only reason they stood out to me was because there was an earnestness to them. Ultimately, though, many sections of the film were far less memorable than the “Angelic Angel” scene and resulted in much of the film being, regrettably, forgettable.

There were certainly commendable aspects of Love Live! The School Idol Movie, but in the end I felt the flaws stood out the most. This by no means made it a bad film, just one that blends in with the ocean of other anime films. However, I have to acknowledge the film delivered on some wonderful song and dance numbers at even enough intervals to keep me nominally interested in the narrative. While the best characteristics of all nine girls may not have been on full display here, what we were treated to was sufficient. Personally, I would like to have seen more of Nico Yazawa’s perspective on the conflict, as I feel she is the most interesting character in the franchise, but using her as a sort of comic relief was probably for the best. I still don’t see the appeal of the Love Live! franchise after watching this film, but I can appreciate the hard work the anime production company Sunrise, the manga publishing company Kadogawa, and the music publishing company Lantis Records invested in the franchise. That being said, unless you are an ardent fan of the Love Live! franchise, you may want forgo watching Love Live! The School Idol Movie.

Work Info
Title:
Love Live! The School Idol Movie (ラブライブ! et al.)
Under: Sunrise, Kadogawa, Lantis Records
Official Site: http://www.lovelive-anime.jp/otonokizaka/
More Info: https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ラブライブ!The_School_Idol_Movie

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