Image source: Lantis Channel on YouTube

The Love Live! franchise looks like a cute franchise about high school girls participating in an idol competition. But, in reality it’s far closer to the sports anime from yesteryear.

In Love Live!, a girl named Honoka Kosaka wants to prevent her school for shutting down. She gets the brilliant idea of starting an idol group to bring in more students to the school. So, she enlists the help from two of her friends, three upperclassmen, and three underclassmen. The group is able to overcome the odds and bring more interest to their school. But, their final goal is win the national “school idol” competition call Love Live.

Love Live! Sunshine!! is the sequel series to Love Live! A girl named Chika Takami wants to prevent her school from closing. She remembers what the girls in the previous series did and enlists the help from her two of her friends, three upperclassmen, and two underclassmen to from the idol group Aquos. Unfortunately, their idol group has trouble bringing interest to their school. Now, it’s up to Chika and her friends to do well in Love Live so they can, at the very least, say they did their best.

One of the key idea to the Love Live! franchise is the girls saving their school for closing down. But, rather than go about conventional means, the girls in both series use the notion of pop idols to bring interest to their school. This gives the franchise a veneer of cute and comical as the girls do their best to achieve their goal. However, the inclusion of the idol competition Love Live turns the franchise into something completely different. It turns it into a sports anime. And not just any old sports anime, but the kind of sports anime seen in the late 1960s and early 70s. The type of sports anime where the main character dedicated their life to their sport of choice, giving their blood, sweat, tears, and youth to mastering it.

This principle of dedicating one’s all to a sport in fiction is the backbone of older series like 1966s Kyojin no Hoshi or Attack No. 1. In both of these series, we see the main characters give their entire lives to baseball (in the former) and volleyball (in the later). They figuratively sacrifice their youth for one purpose: Be number one. But, how does this relate to the Love Live! franchise and more importantly to Love Live! Sunshine!!? It’s just a series about girls wanting to keep their school open by entering a school idol competition, right?

That’s just it, though, the girls in Love Live! Sunshine!! are putting their all into one task. Now, that task isn’t necessarily being the top school idol group in Japan. But, they’re working towards a singular goal: keeping their school running. In other words, the characters are putting their blood, sweat, tears, and youth into that one task and the Love Live competition is just one more excuse to motivate them. Love Live! Sunshine!! takes this classic sports anime trope one step further, though, by having the deck stacked against Chika and her friends.

Their school isn’t popular and Aquos isn’t the best school idol group. So, to even out the odds, they practice hard and find new and creative ways to increase their fan base. And we see this all throughout the series from their exercise routines, dance practices, and the meetings they have at Chika’s house. This is similar to classic sports anime as the girls are giving their blood, sweat, and tears to keeping their school open. What’s radically different, though, is where the drama lies. Where the classic sports anime use drama that involves resentment towards the sport, in Love Live! Sunshine!! we get the similar drama through the interpersonal relationships of the characters.

Image source: Lantis Channel on YouTube

For instance, in the latest episode, we see that one member of Aquos named Ruby Kurosawa is saddened by the fact she only has a few more months to perform with her older sister, Dia. It’s brought on by seeing a rival school idol duo almost disband. What we see here is the very principle of the character dedicating so much of their youth to idoling that it begins to seep into every facet of their lives.

Ruby and Dia will still be sisters no matter what happens to Aquos. Yet, we want to see the drama within Ruby and how that affects her perception of the idol group. It’s the moment in a classic sports anime where the main character resents the sport so much he or she wants to give up, but can’t and they need to find the will to continue on. In Ruby’s case, it’s not that she wants to give up or resents her sister, she’s just sad about the change to Aquas. So, the episode becomes a moment of personal growth for Ruby and she achieves it by making a new song dedicated to her sister.

However, even in classic sports anime series, the training and drama aren’t the emphasis. The culmination of main characters’ work is. That’s why, in a series like Kyojin no Hoshi, we want to see the main character face his rival to see what his efforts yielded. The same is true with Love Live! Sunshine!! But, in the place of a sports game, the culmination of Aquos’ efforts are their performances. These are the bits we can’t wait to see since the girls are showing off what they’ve set out to accomplish in a story arc and the resolution to the interpersonal drama. One great example of this is in the third episode of the second season.

In the episode the girls of Aquos prepare an open-house live event for their school to attract prospective students. Unfortunately, due to road construction the event lands on the same day as the Love Live regional qualifications. So, we see the girls plot and scheme to make both events. While it’s exciting seeing the girls plan how to make the events, the real payoff is seeing their performance. Is it short? Yes. However, episode stays with the performance just long enough for us to truly appreciate and marvel at the girl’s efforts. It’s the same effect when the characters in a classic sports series manage to pull off the play for they’ve been practicing for the first time in a game. It holds on the moment just long enough so we can take it all in and then deliver the final blow to release all the built up tension.

While the Love Live! franchise and Love Live! Sunshine!! have the veneer of a cute comedy or drama series, it’s a sports series at heart. It’s just the sport the girls are participating in is competitive idoling and keeping their school open.

Love Live Sunshine!! Second Season is currently streaming on Crunchyroll with subtitle and on FUNimation dubbed.

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