An English professor once explained why Shakespeare’s sonnets were still a fundamental part of the college curriculum: they are the quintessential model of triumph over form. Shackled by a structure of a rigid rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter, each of The Bard’s 154 sonnets absconds from the confines of composition, revealing an exquisiteness that grows even more dazzling when the reader considers the restrictions of each piece. In essence, the works reveal poetry that effortlessly transcends its own self-imposed parameters, rendering its own rules translucent.
Although the first season of LoveLive! School Idol Project doesn’t exhibit the narrative complexity as say, The Tempest or Macbeth, the anime does a remarkable job at ebbing away at the vexing confines of cliché. While THE iDOLM@STER, K-On!, and Lovedol ~Lovely Idol~ audiences may have plumbed similar pop-idol driven plotlines, Love Live’s effervescent energy, charming cast, and eleventh-hour tensions help to distinguish the series from its contemporaries. Likely, viewers will detect a number of the season’s virtues during the inaugural episode.
Following a bit of foreshadowing of the big musical number, we are introduced to Honoka Kōsaka, a second year student at the Otonokizaka Academy who makes up for her shortage of studiousness with steadfast determination and a boundless wellspring of enthusiasm and energy. When Honoka learns of the Academy’s pending closure due to a lack of incoming students, she decides to go on a reconnaissance mission to determine how neighboring schools are augmenting their enrollment. Unsurprisingly, Honoka finds that J-Pop idols are the key to each academy’s success, determining to start her own musical group in an effort to help save the school from being shuttered.
Naturally, opposition abounds. Honoka’s closest friends are initially reluctant to pursue their pop idol fates, forcing a bit of good-willed badgering before both Umi Sonoda and Kotori Minami concur. But the challenge of drafting group members is dwarfed by the resistance of school bureaucrats, who view the trio’s ambitions as little more than typical schoolgirl folly. Slowly, Honoka’s dogged persistence and the girl’s determination wears down the student council, who grudgingly allow the fledging group to use the campus facilities for practice sessions.
Whereas other anime has offered a fleeting glimpse of the formation and early progression of a pop idol group, LoveLive! School Idol Project does an outstanding job at expressing the myriad of difficulties in getting the group off the ground. Sure, some elements are woefully predictable. Each newly acquired member seems to have a talent that offers an uncanny fit for the group’s talent gaps, with additional recruits having a knack for song writing, customer design, and choreography. Although this miraculous assembly might stretch the limits of plausibility- in execution it’s largely a joy to observe, mirroring the satisfaction gleaned from placing the concluding pieces of a puzzle.
But once the group, known as μ’s (pronounced “muse”) solidify into a nine-member troupe, Love Live struggles to offer development for every character. Largely, Honoka, Umi, and Kotori receive the lion’s share of screen time, leaving the rest of the members as rather one-dimensional, static foils. Although this issue might be rectified with subsequent seasons focusing on the other girls, as it stands the maiden season can’t capitalize on the expected synergy between its members. Luckily, it’s a relatively pardonable transgression, with most viewers likely focused on the program’s unrelenting charm, upsurges of comic relief, or playful (but subtle) yuri elements. While LoveLive’s plotline might seem entrenched in trope, the season does extend a few unexpected twists which demonstrate the elusiveness of success amidst the concluding episodes.
Given that LoveLive started as an ambitious multimedia venture designed around the staggered release of manga, music, rhythm-based games, as well as anime, it’s not surprising that a few external elements help to elevate School Idol Project. While the series’ songs don’t deviate far from J-pop standards, most are exceedingly catchy and flaunt heightened production values. As such, when the anime builds toward a musical sequence crescendo, the payoff is especially gratifying, giving the quality of the songwriting. Regretfully, these moments are undermined by a glaring change in animation styles, where the series’ established hand-drawn aesthetic gives way to sterile-looking CG sequences.
While NIS America’s premium edition forgoes the inclusion of soundtrack, the deluxe set of School Idol Project does include two pleasing supplement: a μ’s card for Bushiroad’s Weiß Schwarz’ collectable card game as well as a promo code for the LoveLive! School Idol Festival mobile rhythm game. Mirroring the publisher’s previous anime releases, the series is houses in a study cardboard exterior, with two slimcases protecting the two Blu-ray disks inside. Image quality through the season’s thirteen episode, 307 minute runtime is immaculate, courtesy of a 1080p, MPEG-4 encoding.
Customary for the publisher’s premium editions, LoveLive! School Idol Project also ships with a 28-page hardcover book, designed to resemble a sticker-adorned student scrapbook. Inside, viewers will find a wealth of supplemental information, from an episode guide, character bios, art, as well as brief interviews with the anime’s voice talent, which helps to further delineate each member of the group.
Although LoveLive! School Idol Project isn’t going to dissuade idol detractors from changing their stance, anime aficionados who enjoy cheerful, lighthearted antics and the delight of meticulously choreographed song and dance numbers should give the series a try. Seemingly entrenched in tropes, School Idol Project does a remarkable job of rising above them, offering an enjoyable thirteen episode romp that is poised to leave viewers eager for more.