School idol anime Love Live! is back – and while Love Live! Sunshine!! swaps out Honoka and co. for a brand new line-up of wannabe idols, there’s plenty in this sequel series that fans of the original will find familiar …for better or worse.
Set in a seaside town out in the sticks, Sunshine!! stars school idol-smitten 16-year-old Chika Takami, who teams up with her energetic friend You and a new neighbour, talented pianist Riko, to form a school idol group of their own: Aqours (pronounced ‘Aqua’). Also in the picture are student council president Dia – who, like her counterpart in the original Love Live!, initially disapproves of the school idol club – and her fellow third years, the athletic Kanan and bubbly half-Italian/American blonde Mari.
Completing Sunshine!!’s nine-strong central cast are old-fashioned, book-loving Hanamaru, her shy best friend (and Dia’s little sister) Ruby, and Yoshiko, a chūnibyō who fantasises about being a fallen angel named Yohane.
Having hit the jackpot with the first two seasons of Love Live!, studio Sunrise sticks to the same winning formula with Sunshine!!. Veterans of the franchise will have a feeling of déjà vu when it comes to many of the story beats – we even see a return of the whole ‘become successful idols to save our school from closing’ shtick.
But while some Love Live! fans will understandably bemoan such similarities, Sunshine!! is also pleasingly self-aware when it comes to acknowledging and subverting them. For example, Chika and her friends are explicitly attempting to follow in μ’s footsteps – Chika’s initial motivation to found Aqours isn’t the threat of school closure, but a desire to emulate her heroines.
The series also plays on the differences between the two groups’ circumstances, contrasting the opportunities available to the Tokyo-based μ’s with Aqours’ drowsy little seaside town. With the exception of Tokyo native Riko, Aqours are a bunch of country girls and they know it; there’s a funny (and surprisingly touching) scene where they turn up for a trip to Tokyo dolled up in what they fondly believe to be the latest big city fashions.
So yes, Love Live! Sunshine!! does resemble its predecessor in many ways – to a self-indulgent degree at times – but it riffs on those similarities to forge its own distinct narrative and atmosphere. Ginger-haired protagonist Chika may superficially resemble Honoka, but their personalities are actually pretty different; Aqours may admire μ’s and aspire to be like them, but they’re no mere photocopies of their idols.
Put a gun to our heads and force us to pick a favourite, and we’re going with the original Love Live! Even so, we’d still recommend Sunshine!! to fans of the franchise …and we’re certainly eager to see how Aquors’ story further develops in its follow-up season.
Release: Out Now
From: All The Anime
Format: DVD & Blu-ray Collector’s Ed.
Age Rating: 12