Whether her fans come to know her through the music, the anime, or the mobile game, one look at Rin Hoshizora establishes firmly her role in Love Live! as “the energetic tomboy.” Rin has the boyish looks and the athleticism, and her performance outfits often incorporate pants instead of skirts. Being a tomboy also means often getting addled with certain narratives. For example, characters of this archetype often have a moment where they discover or are able to indulge in their more feminine side, and in this respect Rin is no exception. Yet, I find her story to be something more special. When Rin embraces her feminine side, it's not so much about a girl rejecting masculinity as it is about self-reflection, confidence, and believing in both oneself and one’s friends.
Hoshizora Rin is a 1st-year high school student and best friends with fellow μ’s (“Muse”) member Koizumi Hanayo. Her voice comes out in songs clearly; you can never mistake her for anyone else. Filled with boundless enthusiasm, a love of ramen, and the tendency to talk like a cat, she encourages the hopelessly shy Hanayo to become a school idol, and in turn becomes one herself. Rin is always eager to motivate others, but as it turns out she does not believe in herself.
In episode 5 of Love Live! School Idol Project season 2, Rin is chosen to be the center for a performance, a position that would put her in the direct spotlight. On top of that, she’s asked to wear a skirt, but refuses to do so. It’s here that Rin reveals that she avoids skirts (other than her mandated school uniform) because, like the character Eri from the manga Fujoshissu! (not to be confused with Love Live!’s Ayase Eli), Rin does not believe herself to be beautiful. Instead, she thinks that she either has to compensate for her lack of femininity, or accept that she’s not as cute as Hanayo,as stylish as Maki, or as overall charismatic as the others.
Believing that her best qualities come in spite of her looks, Rin is so devoted to her friends that she concentrates her energy on helping the others, possibly at the expense of her wellbeing. This can be seen in the fact that, when she sees Hanayo in a dress for their upcoming live show, she can’t help but shower praises on her timid best friend. At the same time, Rin is so resigned to being the unfeminine one that she denies herself the possibility that others might think the same of her.
While Love Live! is not the kind of series that would revel in a character’s self destruction (unless for comedic reasons like with Nico), I think there are a lot of similarities between how Rin tries to ignore her own feelings and how men in Japanese society (and elsewhere!) are trained to hide their emotions, their wants, and their desires from the outside world. In a sense, that might be in fact her most “masculine” feature, even more than her short hair or physical prowess. To Rin, her lack of beauty is a done deal not worth arguing about, and she would be better off providing backup for those better than her.
This is why I find Rin finally wearing the dress at the end of episode to not simply be yet another tale of a tomboy who discovers her femininity. Just as she has helped Hanayo and the others to believe in themselves, Rin gets the support she needs to understand that, not only does it not matter if people think you’re a tomboy or can’t look good in a skirt, but there’s actually no dividing line that says a more “masculine” person cannot also be “feminine” all the same. Rin does not stop being herself when she puts on a dress, and that’s someone who’s beautiful in her own right.
Having a more serious concern in an otherwise jovial personality is not uncommon among Love Live! characters, but I find Rin’s story to be possibly the most magnetic. She’s a fun-loving girl who sometimes forgets that she needs the support of others as well. She struggles with her self-perception, but her encouragement is perhaps second to none, and is overall just a very human character (who also behaves like a cat).