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Love Live! School Idol Project Season 1 (Cert PG)

2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 297 minutes approx.

When K-ON! hit the anime scene a few years back, alongside the ascension of rock goddesses SCANDAL, it led to many Japanese schoolgirls picking up guitars and forming bands. Prior to this, the dominance in J-pop music was the province of the Idol groups, a multi-person collective of uniformed dancing cuties belting out bubblegum electro pap with beaming smiles and chaste delivery.

Of course Idol groups are just as popular with men (of all ages – stay classy Japan) as they are impressionable girls but it is the latter which is under scrutiny in this series from Sunrise, which is just one part of the Love Live! mass multimedia project, taking in CDs, video games, manga, music videos, a feature film, the whole works.

Honoka Kōsaka loves her school so the news that her beloved Otonokizaka Academy is about to be closed down due to lack of new pupil applicants comes as a huge blow to her. While brainstorming ideas to raise the school’s profile, Honoka happens upon a big academy in the city which has a successful and very popular Idol group called A-RISE, giving Honoka a brilliant idea. But will anyone else, particularly the school Chairwoman, be up for it?

While the K-ON! comparisons may seem superficial due to the music club theme, there is much shared DNA between the two which reveals itself once the story gets going. And it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to assume the ambition for Love Live! is to do for Idol groups what K-ON! did for female rock groups – not that there aren’t already enough Idol groups out there…

Over the thirteen episodes in this series we follow the ups and downs of Honoka’s tireless and earnest journey in forming the groups and saving the school. Early support comes from her best friends, shy Umi Sonoda and artistic Kotori Minami, who is also the chairwoman’s daughter, albeit with little sway over her mother. Getting others involved proves difficult, the only significant gesture being the anonymous suggestion of the group’s name of μ’s (from the Greek symbol for Mu, pronounced “muse” – a name obviously already taken).

In what is a refreshing if downbeat twist, the debut of μ’s – as a trio – is a disaster. Despite plenty of promotion and effort nobody shows up except for meek bespectacled Idol wannabe Hanayo Koizumi, yet Honoka insist they perform anyway and a few more faces arrive. As maudlin as this may sound it makes a change to see the path to success littered with more realistic hurdles to overcome, instead of the usual “first gig was a winner” route.

What should have been a major setback actually lights a fire under Honoka and she vows to continue, seeking out new members and more support from the school. While the Chairwoman stays oddly in the background it is Student Body President Eli Ayase who provides the most obstruction, secretly undermined by the Vice President Nozomi Tojo, who points Honoka in the direction of a helpful loophole or two.

Ordinarily I try to avoid spoilers but this series is intent on doing that itself by having the final nine member line-up of μ’s performing the opening song! This means any mystery as to whether Honoka can win over Eli or not, or if the snobbish musical prodigy Maki Nishikino and bolshie Idol worshipper Nico Yazawa will get onboard is null and void before that particular storyline even begins!

But to complain about this is a little spurious when much of the story is rather predictable anyway, right down to the obligatory beach episode and the last minute, lachrymose drama that threatens to ruin the entire existence of the group. Granted a few little swerves are thrown in to create some tension but on the whole this show is as cookie cutter as you could imagine.

It’s also best not to take it too seriously otherwise your brain will explode from the infuriating anomalies it contains – such as Umi complaining about wearing a short skirt on stage which is no shorter than her own school skirt, or the fact the group perform with no microphones, amplification or visible musical accompaniment! Worst of all, if Otonokizaka Academy is desperate to attract prospective students, shouldn’t the focus be on its academic achievements and standards and not whether their girls can sing and dance a bit?

Since this show is part of a larger multi-media franchise one can expect the songs to be of relatively high quality, from the themes tunes right down to the inset melodies. The formula doesn’t stray from the sounds emanating from the likes of Morning Musume, AKB48, Momoiro Clover et al, which may not offer anything new to the discerning listener, but will satiate the easy pleased.

The dance sequences however are exceptionally well animated, fluid in movement and choreography, although the switch between 2D and CGI is far too obvious to the trained eye, but again most viewers will be too caught up in the moment to care. Production values on the whole are perfectly acceptable, the colours vivid and the energy and pacing of the episodes always high.

One niggle which is down to the people behind the subtitles is the impractical positioning of the song subtitles at the bottom of the screen at the same time dialogue is being spoken. Rather than move them to the top of the screen and italicised, they are the same colour as the main text, leaving the viewer confused as to which of the muddle mess of lines we should be reading!

Love Live! School Idol Project is neither an innovative nor a memorable series but is totally inoffensive and like sugary confection, irritatingly infectious while it lasts. The songs won’t be to everyone’s tastes and the drama is lightweight at best, making this the anime equivalent of that bowl of ice cream you have after a heavy meal that you know you shouldn’t.

 

Extras:

Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles

 

Disc 2 Only:

Textless Opening

Textless Closing

Original TV Spots

Original Trailers

 

Rating – ***

Man In Black

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