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AKA: ラブライブ! School idol project (Japanese)
Genre: High school idol comedy / drama
Length: Television series, 13 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by Nippon Ichi Software America. Also available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Content Rating: 10+ (mild fan service)
Related Series: See note
Also Recommended: Chance Pop Session, The iDOLM@STER (of course)
Notes: Part of a multimedia series produced by ASCII Media Works, which includes a manga, video games, music CDs, and music videos.
Rating:
 

Love Live! School Idol Project

Synopsis

Honoka Kousaka is excited to start her day of high school. That is, until she hears the school will be shut down by the time she graduates due to low attendance numbers. Not wanting to see her school be shut down, Honoka decides to start a school idol group after seeing other schools doing it. She ropes in her best friends Umi and Kotori to join her, as well as six other girls over the course of the series.

Review

By their nature, television shows are there to sell you something, either in the show itself or through its sponsors. Sometimes a series can be a giant commercial, but still provide you with entertainment. Take the modern Gundam franchise, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the recent, well-received French cartoon Wakfu as examples. Or for a recent anime for us, Ixion Saga DT, a comedy anime based on a MMORPG that turned out to be quite fun. It's HOW you make your show that makes the difference.

Love Live! School Idol Project originally started as a multimedia project by ASCII Media Works, with the first media released being CD singles of the nine girls from the series singing songs. The singles were hits, and the Love Live! media eventually took off, with music videos, manga, and radio shows made. So unsurprisingly, an anime was made with the nine girls from the music group u's as the leads.

Tim: Although I like anime, and it has opened me up to Japanese culture as a whole over the years, I've never particularly been big on Japan's idol industry. Aside from the rare exception like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I typically avoid it much as possible. But I decided to swallow my pride and watch Love Live! School Idol Project anyway. After all, I did review a couple of years ago for THE iDOLM@STER, a show also about cute idol singers I quite liked. I figured that a big-name company like Sunrise could come up with a decent series, despite the blatant commercialism behind it all.

Stig: THE iDOLM@STER seems to be one of those shows that lingers right outside my reach, and I'm really curious about it, because it seems to be held in at least some amount of esteem among most of the people who has watched it. Like Tim, I'm not particularly big on idol music. I don't mind pop music as much, but I had a really bad experience with another idol show; Lovely Idol/LoveDol, a few years back, so it was not without some trepidation I went into Love Live.

Sadly, Love Live! School Idol Project isn't as fun as its cheerful leads make it out to be. It's plagued by stupid characters doing stupid things, wretched pacing, forced humor, and bad songs. Oh, and this creepy CG montage of the girls during a lot of their songs, which makes them look more like dolls than the ones in Rozen Maiden.

But why do we feel this way about it? Well, let us explain.

The characters aren't so much characters as they are walking stereotypes. Again, the Love Live! franchise was made with selling the concept (and presumably the albums) in mind first and anything else later, so we get a whole hodgepodge of calculated girls for marketing purposes. We have the energetic lead, the shy best friend, the young-looking senior, the bitchy student body president, the stoic pianist, the cutesy girl who adds "cute" suffixes at the end of her sentences, and of course the whispy-voiced shy girl with big breasts.

One of the few girls' names you really need to remember is the lead, Honoka. Our ditzy, nonsensical airhead of a lead. She is not so much a character as she is an initiator of what little plot the series have, an everyday genki girl who has absolutely no idea what she's doing. She also relies on everyone else to bring whatever talents they manage to scrounge up to the table. Despite this, she becomes the de-facto leader since she's...got drive? Or something? She also comes off as incredibly stupid and selfish throughout most of the series, forcing/nagging her best friends (and several strangers) into her idol group. Granted, at first it is for the benefit of the school. We get that. We don't begrudge her that, but it becomes increasingly clear that Honoka's mind simply doesn't stretch very far, which makes us think she's mostly doing this because she wants to be famous like her favorite idol groups. It's not necessarily wrong to want to be famous, but the combination of this and the school dilemma - the latter which eventually goes away - doesn't exactly make her a likable protagonist.

For other girls to know, one of them is Kotori, who serves as little more than the series' drama fuel. Twice. You will probably also notice Nozomi (I had to look her name up - Stig), who spends most of the first half delivering these self-important lines (mostly to her friend/bitchy council president Eri), and seems to be this overseer who seems dead set on standing in the background and watching everything fall into place with this all-knowing, smug grin on her face. We guess she could be considered one of the smarter characters among the lot, but that feels more like her trait rather than a part of her personality. There's little time to develop these characters when there's an idol group that needs forming.

And with that in mind, that's one of the things that fell flat to us on this series. Aside from Honoka herself, none of these girls actually intended to be idols, except maybe one secretly. (No, seriously. Just WAIT until you find out who it is, never mind why she wants to join.) The rest were picked up our plucky lead and went along with her with various amounts of resistance. Unlike some other idol shows, where the girls genuinely want to be idols or see it as something to at least do, Love Live! School Idol Project's cast are surprisingly ambivalent about it all. Some of the girls were of course easy to ask, like Nico (whose name we only remember due to her amazingly obnoxious cathphrase), while others seemed to go along with the idea only because they didn't want to see their school shut down. Heck, some of them are almost literally blackmailed to join, or subjected to Honoka's constant badgering about it! The whole thing comes off as a bit shallow and selfish on Honoka's end, despite her admittedly philanthropic reason. This becomes especially apparent in the finale, when drama finally rears its ugly head and does its best to separate the group. This leads to what has got to be the dumbest attempts at reconciliatory scenes, one following Honoka getting a well-deserved slap to her face and one...well, let's just say it involves good ol' "she was accepted in a college in America". Leading to one of the face-slappers that amazingly enough isn't Honoka's fault.

But to give credit where credit is due, Love Live! School Idol Project does have a couple of bright spots, mostly at the beginning before the idol stuff really take off. When the girls aren't creepy computer generated dolls as they dance, the animation is for the most part solid. We also appreciated the character Maki, who's sadly one of the only two girls (the other being Chihaya Kisaragi clone Umi) with something resembling a functional brain amongst the mostly bubbly airheads that make up the cast. Also, some of the non-idol scenes can lead to an occasional chuckle, most noticeably the beginning of episode 3. Or even better, the "dancing in traffic" sequence at the end of the first episode.

It's kind of irksome that the pragmatics of the group tends to end up being our favorite characters. Aside from Umi herself, Nozomi and Eri/Eli rounds off the three among the nine who brings the most to the table, and they're the only ones who seems to take their thoughts further than "OH EM GEE, like... Idols are just so totally awesome, right?" Because it's this adamant single-mindedness that irks us the most about the show. Everyone in the school and outside of it just loooove these idols, to the point where seemingly nothing else matters. If you like idols, you will "get" these people. If you don't, well...you probably secretly like them anyway. You just don't know it yet.

This snotty, even elitist attitude towards idols makes Love Live hard to watch, and definitely no less because the group seems to be lead by the dumbest among the nine. Her method of leading consists of having one of the girls say "I'm good at dancing", and her going, "OK, then you're in charge of that", while another goes "I'm good at catchphrases", and her going, "OK, then you're in charge of that". Maybe the two of us can buy that all the girls eventually buy into this idol thing and wants to see it succeed, but what exactly are we supposed to get from this? That it's OK to badger people into doing something they don't really want to do? Love Live isn't the only show to do this - boy, is it ever not - but it's definitely a contender.

The music is just obnoxious. It's not technically terrible -- it's simply too cleanly produced and calculatingly written with lots of swelling metaphors about flying and sunshine, all set to admittedly well-choreographed dance steps -- but you can almost see all the girls wearing T-shirts saying "I'm just a vehicle for all this crap!" emblazoned over their varied bust sizes. You have to put up with a lot of idol fluff to get to the good parts of the series, and even more before it ends. Love Live! School Idol Project isn't as bad as, say, Lovedol: Lovely Idol, but that's like saying sitting bare-assed on a block of ice is more pleasant than stage-diving straight on top of a bed of nails.

Tim: There's a season two of this series coming up, but I can't even pretend to care about it. One season of awful idol pop music was enough.

Stig: I think the end of the show really says it all; where the show put up these absurdly arbitrary reasons to try to break up the group and make us feel oh so bad about it. When you get to that point, I suggest watching the rest with a thick glove/mitten on your dominant hand as well as the thickest wool cap - or maybe a helmet - on your head. Believe me, your forehead and your palm will thank you for it.

Lame characters and awful music are barely salvaged by bright animation and the occasional amusing scene. Avoid unless you have a high tolerance for cheesy J-Pop songs.Stig Høgset and Tim Jones

Recommended Audience: Some mild fan service (namely in the obligatory beach episode and some of the girls' exaggerated chest sizes), but otherwise suitable for most audiences.



Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream from Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subtitles.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Love Live! School Idol Project © 2013 Love Live! Project