A new Love Live! anime is out this season, and it has a lot of firsts for the franchise. Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club emphasizes the importance of individual differences over previous series’ focus on teamwork and unity. It’s helmed by a different character designer, trading the familiar “glossy” designs of series past for ones that feel a little more “matte.” And with a plot derived from a mobile game, this new show features an audience stand-in—the blank-slate player character adapted for a different medium. To my pleasant surprise, the transformation of this character has been quite successful, and the girl we now know as “Yu Takasaki” strikes the right balance for her role.
In order to bring Yu to life, they had to make something out of virtually nothing. Before, she had neither an official name nor an official character design, as she was meant to be your first-person perspective into their world—the vessel through which you use your Japanese iTunes cards. However, the challenge of bringing her into the anime isn't merely about giving her a unique appearance, as she can neither stand out too much or too little in order to work effectively.
Yu is not a harem lead, and she’s not a visual novel protagonist either. The story does not center around her. Love Live! is about the school idols, and Yu is not an idol, instead taking a supportive role. At the same time, she also can’t be too plain, as she would recede into the background and feel pointless as a prominent character. Moreover, her status as the idols’ classmate and peer means she does not have a clear difference in age, status, or gender to delineate her from the other girls, unlike the Producer character in The iDOLM@STER, for example. Love Live! does not deal in generic characters for its central cast—overly safe, perhaps, but never generic.
In this respect, two things stand out to me about Yu. First, she has a fairly assertive personality that contrasts well with the gentler and meeker Ayumu Uehara, this generation’s actual Love Live! heroine. While it might have theoretically been possible to pull this anime off without Yu’s presence, it would potentially mean changing other characters’ carefully crafted personalities. Ayumu in particular would likely come out different and unfamiliar to her fans.
Second, they gave Yu twintails that gradually fade into a lighter color at the tips. It might not seem all that significant, until you realize that no other Love Live! character—be they μ’s, Aqours, Nijigasaki, or even A-Rise or Saint Snow—has hair like this. Instantly, it differentiates Yu from the rest of them and gives the sense that she’s somehow special. At the same time, the fact that it’s also attached to an otherwise very subdued design means she doesn’t steal the spotlight from the actual stars. This is such a smart choice because it really brings Yu’s character together from a visual perspective and solidifies her purpose in the story.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is off to a strong start, and the love and attention they put to bringing even the player character to life is nothing short of impressive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Yu Takasaki grow her own fanbase as the series continues.