At first glance, Umi Sonoda from Love Live! School Idol Project and Love Live! School Idol Festival is not an unusual character. Serious to a fault, one can even draw parallels between Umi and her fellow blue-haired idol, Kisaragi Chihaya, from the rival idol series The iDOLM@STER. However, what Umi offers isn’t Chihaya’s sense of quiet tragedy or the joy of overcoming one’s past. Rather, when it comes to the dynamic equation known as Love Live!, Umi’s appeal is in her dual roles as both “big sister” and “little sister.”
A second year high school student and a founding member of the School Idol group μ’s (“Muse”), Umi is terrified of the idea of going on stage. If she could erect a brick wall between her and the audience, she would do so in a heartbeat. Umi is frightened of popularity, and as μ’s goes from unknowns to household names this never goes away. Most notably, in Love Live: The School Idol Movie, when Umi is confronted by fans at the airport and asked for her autograph, she immediately denies being herself and walks away, not because she hates her fans but because the very idea of having fans in the first place makes her shiver.
However, Umi knows how important μ’s is to herself and her fellow members, so she’s able to drive herself forward, pushing past the stress and awkwardness through dedicated practice. She is cool under pressure, as long as she’s not the center of attention. Being a school idol is more than a game to her: it involves hard work, discipline, and the overcoming of limitations, all for the sake of a dream to bring μ’s as far as it can go. It’s fun precisely because it’s not just “playtime.” Although all of the members of μ’s are dedicated to accomplishing their goals, it is Umi as a “big sister” type who will create practice regimens, rein in the slackers, and maintain discipline, all because she of all people needs it the most.
A cool yet intense demeanor and perseverance despite a fear of the spotlight also manifest in Umi’s personal weaknesses, and this is where the “little sister” aspect of her character comes in. Umi is notoriously bad at cards because the idea of a poker face is intrinsically foreign to her very being. Umi is straightforward; approaching things with earnestness and grace. She is an archer both literally and figuratively, always poised to shoot ahead, and this is why she can also crash and burn so spectacularly. When Umi is in dire need of some good-humored silliness, it is Honoka and the other girls who are there to pry away at her rigidness and to soften her edges before she accidentally cuts herself on her tireless work ethic.Umi is a “big sister” because she’ll give the proverbial kick to the butt when others need motivation, whether they like it or not. She’s also a “little sister” because her serious demeanor can crack under pressure, and in those times Umi needs the encouragement of her friends. Umi supports while being supported herself, showing in her actions the power of friendship that permeates Love Live!