The second season of Love Live! School Idol Project opens in the wake of the failure of our heroines to make it to the Love Live, but with the future bright as their beloved school’s been saved. Things are looking even brighter, though, when it is announced that there will be a second Love Live held during the school year. Despite some initial doubt, the girls soon plunge into preparations, knowing that with a change to the rules they’re up against the formidable A-RISE if they even want to qualify for the finals.
For the most part, the second season of Love Live exacerbates the first season’s problems, in that it is largely about the bland adventures of some generically cute high school girls rather than about the idol competition it’s named for. Despite introducing a more clearly defined competitive structure, the overall focus is weaker, with time set aside for dire material like dieting. And while characters sometimes acted in ways that didn’t quite add up in the first season, here they become frequently unmoored from anything approaching believable behavior in service of the particular fetishes of viewers. Previously level-headed people like Honoka’s mother and sister behave like there’s a cancer diagnosis when Honoka gains a few pounds, while we learn in another episode that sixteen year old, elite student Maki still believes in Santa Claus.
It’s odd, then, that among all the dreck we get, are the two best episodes in the series. The latter of these is an episode which features one of the idol performances, something which is nearly derailed by bad weather. While intellectually there’s never any doubt that they’ll overcome the obstacles, the show does manage to infuse some sense of tension. It also finally integrates the idol group into the broader school community in the course of resolving the tension, as their schoolmates pitch in to help get the girls to the performance venue on-time.
The other is focused around Nico, who is turns out has been leading a life of rampant lies at home so that her younger siblings think that she’s a very famous solo idol. This has involved Nico resorting to amateur photo-manipulation, and claiming that the other girls are all back-up dancers. While the show takes pains to have it all end with a smile, the whole situation is a bit creepy and works to demonstrate just ultimately how damaging Nico’s flaws are.
But, this leaves us with eleven episodes otherwise. For the most part, they’re merely dull, but there are also sequences, even entire episodes, which are simply horrible. I made reference to dieting previously, and an entire episode is devoted to this when Honoka gains roughly four and a half (invisible) pounds. There’s also the girl who believes in Santa Claus, and a girl who nearly faints when the other girls start discussing their lack of romantic experience and who covers her faces and shrieks when there’s kissing in a movie.
Speaking of which, while the visual fanservice is fairly low, this sort of foolishness in which high school girls were apparently raised in a hermetically sealed, eternally-pre-1950 environment is rampant. And that *is* fanservice, as the target audience is made up of men who demand that their idols, fictional and not, be unworldly and eternally virginal, tainted not even by a passing interest in boys, even as the lyrics they sing often are romantic (when one of the girls suggests writing a love song, everyone gets indignant and claims that they’ve never done a love song before – which is blatantly false – and that it isn’t true to the group).
However… something interesting happened when this franchise made it into English-language fandom. While the usual suspects clamored, a lot of women and girls got into Love Live, including ones who hadn’t previously been into anime. And, of these women and girls, a lot of them are queer. And… I’m one of them! I think the TV anime for the franchise is terrible, but I love the queer fandom surrounding it and the other bits of the franchise like the mobile game. Fans invest a lot of time into creating vibrant personal works that imbue the cast with depth they never are granted in the official canon, and full of expansive possibilities; for me, that’s what makes Love Live worth it.
Yuri for this season is… well. I want to say “higher”, but that isn’t quite it. None of these girls are kissing, none of them are declaring their love, none of them are coming out of the closet… Shipbait is happily provided for those who would ship, but it’s a lot of clattering over gestures that don’t read as particularly queer if you take off the Yuri goggles. I was a high school girl myself not too terribly long ago, and I can tell you that gushing at a friend about their cuteness while trying to encourage them is, if anything, more common among straight girls (an established heterosexual identity means not typically having to personally worry about homophobia, after all). So, sure, this season delivers potato-sharing, declarations of cuteness, happy tackling, etc., but it’s all still firmly in the land of suggestion rather than confirmation.
Art – 8 (the animation gets a slight kick up)
Story – 3
Characters – 6
Yuri – 2
Service – 6 (primarily it’s the pandering to fetishes about purity and ignorance I complained about)
Overall – 4 (but worse than the first season)
Erica here: Well thank you Day, and I agree with you completely that the hermetically sealed virginal idol is irrefutably a form of fanservice. I also agree with Mariko that sex and sexiness are not always service.
In my definition, service is catering to fandom fetishes – like making a the redhead, twin-tailed girl passive-aggressive, when the story would fare as well with her merely being competent and uninterested (and would include less shouting.) It’s “service” in the sense that it ticks off a checklist item for fans and is a form of “just add water” character development for lazy writers. Bouncing boobs aren’t the only form of service in anime.