In the Extended Love Live! Universal Canon, Nijigasaki is a bit of an odd duck. It’s got a much more laidback vibe, for one. The cast explicitly do not want to compete in the titular Love Live! Idol competition, and its senses of humor and drama are decidedly more restrained than its heart-on-sleeve, brain-lost-at-sea peers. While I enjoyed the first season as its own beast, it definitely had some flaws that kept it from being it best self. Chiefly, the choice of a dedicated character episode for every girl meant there was little time for any actual story or larger character development – so when the promo material showed we’d be adding at least three more idols to this stew, I was worried we ‘d be reaching Critical Idol Capacity, especially after Superstar did so well with just five.
But so far, the new introductions have actually done quite a lot to address some of Nijigasaki‘s biggest weaknesses. Lanzhu of course made a hell of an entrance in the season opener, and I’m eager to learn more about what her deal is, but her philosophical opposition to the friends-and-happiness school idol club has also spurred some surprising changes in our established cast, which is always what you want from this kind of rival character. In this season’s first story arc, we’ve already gotten more interaction between Kasumi, Emma, Rina, and Kanata (hereby called QU4RTZ) than they ever had in the previous season.
That at first seemed a bit odd, since these characters didn’t really have much in common before now, but that turns out to be the point. Rather than resting on the pairs or friend trios that S1 established, Nijigasaki is now trying to build stronger bonds between its many disparate idols, and it’s had some surprisingly strong results so far. The swingset sequence in episode two is a blunt metaphor, but also a well-directed moment that really does get you caught up in these four girls teaming up to send a message to Lanzhu about why they work best together. And the resolution – where they’re each able to highlight qualities that each girl couldn’t see in herself – is a thoughtful way to incorporate Love Live!‘s eternal dedication to the power of friendship. It posits that working together isn’t just some vague Good Thing, but a way to bring in different perspectives and broaden your self-image beyond what you can see from the inside.
It’s also prime territory for some curveball shipteasing, because this is still Love Live! dammit I don’t know how many people were out there writing KasumixKanata fanfic, but that crackship contingent is feasting this week. I also like that it’s Emma who first decides to reach out to Lanzhu, seeing a kindred spirit as part of the growing list of girls who moved to Japan to become School Idols. Emma was honestly my least favorite of season one, just because her gimmick of wanting to hold hands with the world was too vague and bland, so letting her interact with a fellow foreigner and having her be the most active character in all this went a long way in making me like her.
Music-wise, we’re off to a good start so far. Nothing has grabbed me quite like Setsuna’s rock ballads yet, but I absolutely have to give props to Lanzhu’s “Eutopia” number. How could I not? Imagine if Toxic-era Britney Spears just stormed into your high school and performed a fully-choreographed song about how she’s cooler than you’ll ever be. It would be a massive act of arrogance if she weren’t, in fact, just that fuckin’ cool. QU4RTZ’s “Enjoy It!” is a more typical pop song, but damn if I’m not a sucker for handclaps. Plus after hearing these characters sing individually it really is a treat to hear them together outside of the credits. Really, I have to give credit to both for how good they look. I promise I’ll stop harping on it one day, but it still blows my mind how this franchise‘s music videos went from internet punchlines to arguably the best CG animation on television. That’s prime character development.
Speaking of, Nijigasaki‘s resident harem protagonist has been getting some development of her own. Yu’s transferred to the music course, but hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it all yet. Inspiration struck her at the end of the last season, but it’s difficult to sustain that beyond a single song, especially when you’re also studying the actual ins-and-outs of composition. But just as QU4RTZ were there for each other, Yu’s nine girlfriends are there to support her and offer an outside perspective that helps her along. Mia’s also there, and while we haven’t gotten into her character much, it’s interesting that we have another composer for Yu to bounce off of. Plus, her “Baby-chan” nickname for Yu all but guarantees she’s going to be GIRLFRIEND #10 before long.
We’re still in the early goings of this season, and there’s plenty of pressing questions about our new arrivals (I’m still not sure why Shioriko is here, and I keep waiting for her to reveal she’s seen through Setsuna’s student president disguise) , but so far we’re off to a solid start. With our cast firmly established there’s a lot of room for new interactions and we’ve already gotten some endearing development from characters who most needed it. If Nijigasaki can keep that up moving forward, I think we’re in for a good time.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.