After the success of the first School Idol Festival, the girls of the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club quickly move to plan their second event, producing a lavish promotional video to get the word out. Yet they soon find themselves in a spot of bother when their trailer debut goes wrong, and they accidentally play the blooper reel! Enter Zhong Lanzhu, a transfer student and school idol from Hong Kong who swoops in to save the day with a blistering performance. Despite giving the girls a hand, she’s not interested in joining the club, as she sees the girls’ close friendships as frivolous and unnecessary, instead going her own way and marking them as rivals. If the girls want Lanzhu to join them, they’re going to have to impress her on the stage!
At first glance, Season 2 of Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is a nice step up from Season 1, as we are plunged into a bombastic opening episode. It’s stylish, funny, and immediately sets the direction for where this season wants to go. As it starts with a fully established main cast, dropping in Lanzhu really helps to shake things up as she not only gives the girls an antagonistic rival to fight against, but points out the things that have been holding all of them back. This opens the story up to exploring how the girls can improve and find their footing with this rough and ready upstart, and honestly starts with some great ambition in how it goes about doing that.
While Season 1 was very episodic in its character vignette approach, Season 2 tries to evolve this to tell a more cohesive storyline by connecting the characters’ viewpoints to this dilemma of trying to persuade Lanzhu to join their group, while also wrapping in additional plot threads, such as Yuu taking her first steps to become a composer. While this seems a good approach on paper, it doesn’t always work out in execution.
While each of its plot threads are strong and could stand all by themselves if they were their own series, it really struggles to balance them out and give each of them the depth and time they deserve. This is a particular bugbear when they are being used to help bring new characters into the fold, like Mia Taylor, who is a more experienced rival for Yuu who inspires her and drives her forward, and Shioriko Mifune, who is teed up as the next student council president from early on. It’s like it doesn’t really know what to focus on; for example, Yuu’s story is really compelling, but it gets lost when the show pitches more towards Lanzhu, which I thought was a shame. Some of the lighter plot threads fare better and feel more integrated into the show, like Nana’s double life as student council president and school idol Yuki Setsuna, but it’s often because these were already established from the first season.
The main plot moves forward by tying the girls closer together in their established friendships and uses this as an opportunity to introduce the group’s sub-units to go against Lanzhu’s denial that she doesn’t need any friends. This is actually a great idea as with so many characters now in the group, it’s difficult to allow them all to breathe in the same space, and by grouping them together you can get some good character development as certain characters bounce off each other. It still struggles to find space for everyone, however, and it falters on developing certain characters or showing particular established relationships. Ayumu and Yuu for example feel more distant than they should right from the off which makes it less impactful as they move in different directions through the series.
It also doesn’t help that the script often isn’t nuanced or deep enough to really push the story it is trying to tell. Scenes are sometimes played too flat, where either the dialogue or on-screen action is unconvincing in what they are trying to get across, while it’s hard to grasp the emotions of the characters. There’s also the occasional joke that doesn’t quite land when translated into English.
It’s also a bit weird in that the climax of the story is actually in Episodes 8 and 9 as we see the second School Idol Festival play out, but I think the writing starts to improve here as it differentiates itself from Season 1, homing in on the unfolding drama between Lanzhu and the members of the School Idol Club. The outcome is predictable, but it does play to each of the character’s strengths, and I enjoyed seeing how far each of them have come since taking their first steps at the beginning of the show.
The remaining few episodes of the series are both playful and thoughtful, as the show divides its key moments between cute slice-of-life hijinks and deciding on how the group moves forward as each of them have key decisions to make for their futures. Ultimately it reflects on the fact that the girls can be individuals and be part of a team at the same time, and I think at the last gasp it finally gets this across as the main point of this season.
The ending isn’t quite as much of a big bang as the first season, but we do get a lovely celebration as the final episode recreates the group’s real life first concert in anime form. While being some nice fanservice, it also brings the music to the forefront, which until this moment has oddly flip-flopped between a series highlight and a missed opportunity. The selection of music that we get from the group’s repertoire is fantastic and often hits at the right moment, like Lanzhu’s “Eutopia” or Mia Taylor’s “stars we chase”, but some performances are cut short or happen off-screen to keep up the show’s quite rapid pacing. This does hurt the story in particular moments (like Lanzhu’s performance of “Queendom”), as it is difficult to see what makes someone an amazing singer if we don’t see them perform. The music video style performance sequences also don’t work quite as well here in comparison to the first season. As this season is more story-driven, it doesn’t quite make sense to lose the in-the-moment feeling of a performance in front of a crowd, and I felt that some of the impact from these scenes was lost as a result.
Animation for the series continues to be handled by Sunrise, now under the Bandai Namco Filmworks banner. The show doesn’t look quite as good as some of the other entries in the franchise and has a lower budget feel, particularly when held up against the more recent Love Live! Superstar!. There are quite a lot of still frames and montages used, and it overall just feels like it is lacking some lustre. It does however continue to make great use of its setting, showing off not just Odaiba but also other areas of Japan, such as Kamakura, with a surprising level of detail.
The character designs are still great, and each of the new members of the cast stand out nicely, each offering something unique and different, whether that’s Lanzhu’s striking red colour theme, Shioriko’s more reserved, mature aura, or Mia’s long, sweeping fringe. For their voices I still prefer the Japanese voice actors, as they really fit the characters well, while with this being a music show, I prefer not having any awkward switch going into the songs. That said, the English voice cast isn’t bad, and I think I’ve grown to like them more than I did in the first season as they feel more comfortable with their characters. They are as close a match to the Japanese voice actors as you’re going to get, so I would say it’s just personal preference as to which language to watch the series in.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club Season 2 is brought to us by Anime Limited in a lovely collector’s edition package complete with a 32-page booklet and a set of 9 art cards featuring art from the Japanese Blu-ray volumes. On the discs you’ll find all 13 episodes of the series in both English and Japanese and English subtitles, along with promotional videos, trailers and clean opening and ending. I think the presentation here is a bit lacking and bare bones, particularly with its bland menu design, although I have seen this with a few different titles recently. It’s lacking some extras and the more playful touch that the Japanese Blu-rays have.
Overall, the second season of Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is an enjoyable, if flawed, sequel. The show suffers technically with its blunt writing, awkward execution, and lower budget feel, yet gives us a more focused story than its first season with some strong character moments and fantastic musical numbers that fans will love. You do get the sense that there is something great here that is trying to get out, and with more budget and attention this could have been a diamond in the rough, but as it stands, I don’t think what Nijigasaki offers gives it enough to stand out from the competition.