Once again, it’s time to write about one of my favorite subjects: Love Live! The summer 2021 anime season brings with it the fourth generation, Love Live! Superstar!!, and from the first few episodes I find it to be the most exciting series so far.
The Superstar Difference
Love Live! has a lot going for it in general: entertaining music, charismatic idol girls, and a generally positive energy. The fundamental premise of school idols—high school girls who are both idols and school mascots—is fun and just a bit fantastical. When adapted into anime, their stories are streamlined into an easier-to-digest format that I appreciate. But as good as previous iterations have been (and Hanayo will forever be my #1), Love Live! Superstar!! has something special: a real sense of conflict that feels raw and personal.
Conflict #1: Kanon Shibuya vs. Herself
The main girl of Superstar!! is Kanon Shibuya, an immensely talented singer who suffers from extreme performance anxiety, and who fails to get into the music program of her dreams. It’s only after she meets Keke Tang, a transfer student from Shanghai who wants to start a school idol club, that Kanon begins to find the courage to overcome her stage fright. I find Kanon’s plight and her path to overcoming it to be a much more compelling narrative than the motivations of past heroines, whether it’s Honoka’s quest to save her school or Chika’s desire to surpass her self-perceived mediocrity. Kanon has had her dreams shattered before, and the potential comeback is what gives her story a greater sense of impact.
Conflict #2: Culture vs. Pop Culture
While there are instances of characters being opposed to school idol clubs and friction between girls due to differing beliefs or priorities in older series, Superstar!! is the first time that the fight has been over whether something like idols have their own innate merit or are a lesser facsimile to more refined music and performance. Kanon’s school, Yuigaoka Private Girls High School, is home to both the general academic program she attends and the music program that she failed to get into. Moreover, their school is against the formation of a school idol club because they see their students as representative of the prestige that comes with the Yuigaoka name, and the frivolity of school idols as a potential blemish. It’s a deeply relatable problem familiar to anyone who’s ever had their taste in music questioned.
Given the premise of Love Live! Superstar!!, it’s pretty clear that these conflicts will be resolved in a way that ends up with a happy Kanon and a ringing endorsement for school idols. The student council president who opposes Kanon and Keke, Ren Hazuki, is even shown in the opening as a member of the core group. However, one thing that opening also makes clear is that Ren and one other girl, Kanon’s friend Chisato Arashi, are both going to have to give up being in Yuigaoka’s renowned music program to become school idols—their change in school uniforms signaling this sacrifice. While I’ve yet to see just where Love Live! Superstar!! goes, these profound conflicts, both internal and external, keep me riveted—and we’ve only just met the fifth girl, Sumire Heanna! The way things are going, this is shaping up to be the best Love Live! anime.