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Much like the previous series, Love Live!, Love Live! Sunshine!! features nine girls with a dream to be school idols–three freshmen, three sophomores, and three seniors (Japanese senior high schools are only three years long). Also much like the previous series, the girls are being faced with the closing of their school and hope to save it by gaining popularity with their new school idol group, Aqours. And also, much like the previous series again, the anime spends a good portion of the series with the girls slowly coming together until they finally form their full nine-person unit.

As far as comparisons go, Love Live! Sunshine!! feels like it’s walking in the tracks of the series that came before it. The original Love Live! was a smash hit, and as a sequel, it’s hard for Love Live! Sunshine!! to break away from the shadow of the original trend-setter without alienating fans. The only choice is to change the characters–and in this regard, Sunshine!! shines.

[Note: This article contains spoilers for Love Live! Sunshine!!

Of the nine protagonists, easily the most interesting are the seniors: Kanan Matsuura, Mari Ohara, and Dia Kurosawa. When word spreads of a new school idol group forming in the school, the three all respond differently. Dia is staunchly against it, Kanan takes the position of an observer, and Mari, upon her return to the school, supports it–so long as they prove up to the task.

It’s when the story of the three’s past is revealed that we come to understand why these obviously vital characters (they’re in the opening credits, after all) are acting the way they are: The three had already tried out being a school idol unit on their own when they were freshmen.

The three had dreamed of getting popular and eventually competing in the Love Live school idol competition. However, their dream was cut short. After a failure at a performance where the three were unable to sing, the group split up, although the two incidents aren’t exactly related. Mari transferred and Kanan took time off from school to help her family’s scuba diving shop when her father was injured, leaving Dia hurt and somewhat confused as to how things had gone so wrong.

This sort of veteran experience makes these three girls far more interesting than any of the characters in the previous series. These girls didn’t just already walk the path; they walked it and failed. Now that they find themselves once again on the path, they also carry the fear of failing again. There’s also the guilt they probably feel towards each other, not to mention the shame. All of this makes the three of them approach this newly budding group with a whole load of emotional baggage that adds a complexity to their characters that I can’t wait for the series to take advantage of.

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The group, Aqours, is finally complete with all nine members, but some of those members are damaged goods, burdened with the fear of repeating their past and the pressure of knowing they have less than a year until graduation. It’s going to be interesting watching them hopefully overcome their trauma.

Love Live! Sunshine!! can be viewed on FUNimation, Daisuki, AnimeLab (AU/ZN), Crunchyroll (UK), and Wakanim (EU).

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