Whether it’s her sharp, elegant features or her beautiful singing voice, Maki Nishikino tends to be among the most popular Love Live! School Idol Project and School Idol Festival characters. One of the frequently sought after qualities for an idol, real or fictional, is a sense of transition between innocence and adulthood, where the fiery passion burning within a girl can be interpreted as having both a product of purity and an increasing awareness of the temptations of the world. In this respect, there’s probably no one who toes that line better than Maki.
Maki is the multi-talented daughter of a wealthy family. A skilled pianist who also aspires to be a doctor, she contributes to μ’s (Muse), her school idol group, as a songwriter. Though only in her first year of high school, Maki is generally mature, observant, and wise beyond her years. Physically, she’s depicted as being very attractive, and her voice has a kind of sultriness to it that comes out in both her popular catch phrases, (“Imi wakannai!” or “I don’t get what you mean”), and her singing, such as in the song “Cutie Panther” (personally my second favorite Love Live! song).
However, Maki also exhibits an innocence which, while not entirely surprising given how young and sheltered she can be, stands out because of how it contrasts with her normal, level-headed self. Typically the more naïve side of Maki comes out in how easily embarrassed she is when other characters cut through her cool exterior, but at times Maki even shows her other side without realizing it.
One of my favorite Maki scenes in the Love Live! School Idol Project anime series exemplifies her innocence. In Season 2 Episode 2, when the girls go to Maki’s family’s vacation home to train, she tells them that they’re not allowed to use the fireplace because it would be inconvenient for “Santa-san.” Though they choose to let the mention of St. Nick slide, unsure of what Maki means, one look at her face and the pure expression coming from her eyes makes it clear: Maki, for all of her reservation and skepticism, still thinks Santa Claus is real.
Maki the Cooldere
A character of Maki’s type, who possesses a cold exterior at first but is revealed to have a loving and caring side, is called a “cooldere.” It summarizes her pretty well, but I think it also doesn’t quite capture every facet of Maki’s personality. The fact that she possesses the similar yet different contrasts of mature/immature and cool/hot means that there’s a great deal of space within those two ranges, and it’s within that gap that Maki’s personality and presence are fleshed out more. There, her interactions with the other Love Live! characters shine.
Of those other characters, there’s no one who navigates the gaps in Maki’s personality better than Yazawa Nico. It’s why I think the Nico x Maki pairing is so popular, because Nico and Maki are, by virtue of their conflicting personalities and character types, most prone to pushing each other’s buttons and opening each other up. Yazawa Nico looks young (despite being one of the oldest) and acts like a brat most of the time, but shows occasional flashes of maturity, awareness, and responsibility. Maki looks and acts older than she is, but also shows hints of a child-like personality. When together (and the anime puts them together rather often), magic happens.
Maki: Continuing the Anime Idol Tradition
When looking at anime’s first major idol, Creamy Mami, a noticeable shift in that character’s impact came with the release of the song “Love Sarigenaku.” Whereas Creamy Mami had previously been mostly a symbol of innocence and purity, that particular song conveyed something more mature, perhaps even forbidden. Nishikino Maki is “Love Sarigenaku.” She’s attractive, both incredibly adult yet equally naïve, and possesses one of the best voices among all of the members of μ’s. She makes a strong initial impression which is then built upon through an endearing personality and attitude that makes her difficult to compete with.