Love Live! School Idol Project (Season 2)
(Since this is season 2, assume there will be spoilers for the first season.)
Honoka and µ's have saved Otonokizaka Academy from closure, but at the cost of being able to participate in the first Love Live. However, the prospect of a second, even bigger Love Live tournament brings the girls together again, and with renewed focus and even closer bonds of friendship (and perhaps more), µ's faces both a potential for national stage - and what the future may hold once their seniors graduate from high school.
Before you go any farther - if you haven't seen any of this show, please refer to the reviews previously posted for the first season, the original by Stig and Tim, and the second opinion by Carlos.
Love Live found itself in quite a quandary in its first season, because it essentially demonstrates what happens to a yuri show when you've tried to strip as much romantic subtext out of it as possible: it becomes a weirdly mushy and barely passable melodrama.
Fortunately, once they greenlit the second season, director Takahiko Kyōgoku and writer Jukki Hanada must've had a little chat with concept creator Sakurako Kimino which, I imagine, involved her slapping them about the ears with a paper fan exhorting them to let the girls be as yuri as they want to be, backed up by an Utenaesque greek chorus of the nine voice actresses.
From the get-go, the second season of Love Live is unabashedly giddy about shipping the µ's girls, and while in Strawberry Panic this led to some pretty over-the-top melodrama, instead, the yuri comes off as mostly hilarious and adorable because nobody seems to have any reason to be stressed out about being anything but straight. The most obvious couple is Nico and Maki, who go from being indifferent in season one to practically hanging all over each other within just minutes of the second season's start, a transition that feels strange at first, but actually makes a lot of sense once we really get to know these characters' backstories (something that the second season fleshes out). (It has also been stated in public that the voice actresses for Nico (Sora Tokui) and Maki (Pile) ship the hell out of them, worth over 9000 points to Team NicoMaki.) The series also takes great pains to explain Nozomi's protectiveness of Eli (but also her rather extreme proclivity for cute girls - she's also much less "washi-washi" this season, thank goodness), as well as one diabeetus-inducing scene where Hanayo literally tells Rin exactly how cute she is. You are free to make your own conclusions about the Honoka, Kotori, and Umi scenario, but safe to say, once Love Live quite literally devolves into an adorable cuddle-puddle, you won't worry too much about the details.
It's not often that I will say that yuri overtones are ever absolutely necessary for a franchise, but when you've got relationships so blatant that they're subtitled in the game, then it goes without saying that those are also a necessary part of the anime, and their reintroduction in season two, as part of an overall commitment to character development, is actually a very welcome replacement of the sometimes-contrived melodrama of season one. If anything, understanding that a lot of these girls got interested in idols as a means of escape from extremely socially isolating situations (Nico's backstory being particularly crushing given her cutesy idol persona), and the depiction, however brief, of societal elements such as "tiger mom" overparenting and bullying makes this franchise feel far more relatable. There is one misstep involving a weight-gain episode played partially for melodrama but mostly for laughs - a broken Aesop compared to the game, which handles this same issue in a completely different, and frankly more realistic manner.
In addition, the animation quality actually gets a significant bump -- this is easily one of the best looking shows out of 2014, and even the dance sequences seem less awkwardly integrated. The music selection is also rather improved: "Snow Halation" is without a doubt my favorite piece in the "traditional" µ's oeuvre -- note that as of this writing, µ's has actually charted as high as #3 on the Oricon charts, which is essentially the equivalent of the Pitch Perfect Bellas hitting the Billboard Hot 100 (appropriate as Kotori's voice actress Aya Uchida is also the Japanese voice for the Bellas' Aubrey Posen). Still no "Cutie Panther" or "After School Navigators" - though there is a cheeky nod to heavy metal in one episode that feels like the world's greatest ever love letter to KISS. The comedic emphasis is a vast improvement, and while there is still drama (especially with Nico, Nozomi, and Eli graduating soon), it feels a lot more true to life, which is kind of strange to say given who created this in the first place (need I reiterate that this is supposed to be idol singer Strawberry Panic?).
Watching the second season of Love Live is something of an epiphany: suddenly, the popularity of the franchise actually makes sense and the character interactions make sense, and instead of struggling to feel original, Love Live gets to joyfully, playfully, gleefully be itself from minute one of its sophomore season, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Love Live is not going to change anyone's mind about the hinkiness of real-life idol singer culture, and it's not exactly a triumph of gender equality - though the assumption of one character's inheritance of a hospital, as opposed to being prepared for an arranged marriage, is certainly a sea-change in depiction of Japanese family and professional expectation compared to previous decades. What Love Live wants you to do is forget the troubles of our world for just a moment and warm your heart and put a smile on your face, and when it comes to feel-good anime, I've found very few that work as reliably or effectively as this one. For a jaded old anime reviewer like me, that counts for a lot.
Love Live breaks out of the limitations imposed on its too-safe first season and gets a real chance to shine here. If you're not into idols or idol pop, drop one or two stars; conversely, if you really, really like yuri or idol singers, you may just tack on that fiver and go find friends to do µ's cosplay with. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: While much the same overall as the first series, there is substantially more girl-on-girl romantic innuendo in the second season from the very first minute. Okay for teens and above.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Love Live! School Idol Project (Season 2) © 2014 Project Live Live
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