2nd Year high school student Honoka Kousaka loves her school. That’s why she is shocked to find out that the school she adores, Otonokizaka High, is being threatened with closure due to a lack of new students. Determined to keep her school open and attract more students, Honoka, along with her two closest friends Umi Sonoda and Kotori Minami, decide to form a school idol group named μ’s. However, the road to becoming a school idol is a tough one, as not only does it involve rigorous training, the group also encounters adversity along with way from school council president Eli Ayase, who is determined to put an end to the group. Against all odds, Honoka must act diligently and quickly to pull together an idol group and save her school before it’s too late.
Since its launch in 2010, Love Live has been an absolute phenomenon. With chart-topping songs, sell-out concerts and a mobile game with millions of downloads, just to name a few of the facets of the Love Live brand, calling the project a success would be an understatement. Whilst I’m not as far into it as some people are, I’d certainly say I’m a fan of Love Live, and upon revisiting the first season of Sunrise’s Love Live School Idol Project, it isn’t hard to see why the franchise has been so popular.
I’m probably not breaking any new ground when I say there isn’t too much of a story here. Sure, there’s the initial setup of the high school closing down, but that only serves to set things in motion and isn’t the driving force of the show and certainly isn’t the main reason to watch it, as that would certainly be its characters. There are nine leads in Love Live, which sounds like a lot on the surface, but they are all introduced at a reasonable pace, with μ’s not getting all its members until about two thirds of the way in. This is the positive side to not having much of a story happening; it allows plenty of time to get to know everyone and see the dynamics within the group. With there being nine characters, there are a whole bunch of different personalities in there, including the hyper-energetic lead Honoka, the shy and reserved Hanayo, and the aggressive and downright narcissistic Nico and watching how all these vastly different girls get along and react to each other is the main appeal and is fun and gives Love Live a lot of charm. This leads to a lot of great character drama in the last handful of episodes that injects some much needed tension into the finale. As well as showing the girls interacting, Love Live also devotes a fair amount of time to fleshing out a portion of its cast but I feel that I could have used a few more moments like this as only a few of the girls, such as Kotori, Honoka and Eli really get this kind of treatment. All that said, there are nine characters and only thirteen episodes, so expecting everyone to get a bunch of development from the get-go is a little unrealistic and since they are now all established, it lays a good foundation for the second season to further develop those who are lacking.
The biggest new addition to this second release of Love Live School Idol Project, as well as making its Blu-ray debut, is the English dub. I had already seen the show before in Japanese and I think that the English cast do an absolutely phenomenal job and are on a par with the Japanese cast, with some of the cast sounding almost identical to their Japanese counterparts. The big standout, that will come as no surprise to anyone, is Cristina Vee as Kotori. Vee is one of the most recognizable names in anime dubs at the moment, having roles in a fair amount of popular anime such as Homura in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Azusa in K-On! and Sakura in Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works just to name a few, and is always phenomenal. Despite this, I was quite unsure when I heard about her casting, with the characters she normally plays being quite different to Kotori, but she managed to absolutely nail the role and sounds almost identical to Kotori’s seiyuu, Aya Uchida. I thought another cast highlight was Marieve Herington, a very new voice actress, only having one previous role in The Seven Deadly Sins, as Honoka, and who gives a fantastic performance that is every bit as over the top and energetic as the character needs to be. There are a fair number of emotional moments towards the climax, and she knocks it right out the park. Honestly, every one of the actresses here does a good job and there isn’t a weak link in the cast. Love Live purists may be happy to know that the songs are not dubbed, and remain in their native language on both tracks, which I’m personally happy with. People who aren’t fans of dubs will be pleased to know that the Japanese voice cast is great too, and I could happily recommend either.
Of course, you can’t talk about Love Live without discussing the music. The music is very much at the heart of the experience and it could be what makes or breaks things for many people. Anyone on the fence should definitely check out a selection of songs by μ’s before jumping in to see if it’s their kind of thing, as if you don’t like that kind of music, you might not be too keen on the show. Personally, I absolutely love the music here, as the songs are all relentlessly energetic and catchy and a fair amount of the music from Love Live has made its way into my regular music rotation. One such example of this is the OP, “Bokura wa Ima no Naka de”, which is one of my favourite μ’s songs. This OP is one of my personal favourite OPs ever, mostly due to the significance it has after the second season that I won’t spoil here. The ED “Kitto Seishun ga Kikoeru” is solid as well, having a few variations throughout, with different combinations of μ’s performing it. As well as the insert songs performed by μ’s, the original soundtrack by Yoshiaki Fujisawa is superb.
Love Live School Idol Project is animated by Sunrise, a company that should need no introduction to anime fans, having produced anime since the 70s, largely known for the mammoth Mobile Suit Gundam franchise as well as the ever popular Gintama series. I was impressed with the animation on the whole; with its high energy and and colourful palette, it looks a treat. Something I especially liked was the variety of exaggerated and often hilarious facial expressions throughout the series. My only real complaint is that, during the idol performance sequences, some stiff-looking CGI models are sometimes used in place of traditional animation and look quite jarring and out of place. Apart from that though, Love Live looks very nice.
MVM’s new release of Love Live School Idol Project includes both English and Japanese audio tracks as well as the clean opening, clean closing, TV spots and trailers.
A large cast of varied and fun characters and as well as fantastic music, animation and voice acting make Love Live an absolute joy to watch.