As you may or may not have heard, μ’s, the idol group that has stood in the spotlight of the Love Live! franchise, will be performing their final concert on March 31 and April 1 of 2016 before breaking up to pave the way for the franchise successors, Aquors. For some, this is just the natural flow of the entertainment industry—but for others, including myself, the ending of μ’s feels like a loss more profound than your ordinary pop stars fading away.
Although a new chapter of Love Live! is beginning, somehow I think this ending will ring bitter for a while to come…
The weirdest thing for me about this sudden wave of melancholy that came with the announcement of μ’s retirement is that I don’t even really consider myself a huge or diehard Love Live! fan. I enjoyed both seasons of the show when I watched them, but I wouldn’t consider either of them an all-time favorite anime of mine. Of course, that doesn’t preclude emotional attachment of a certain degree—but I guess I consider the emotions I’m experience in relation to the news of the departure of μ’s to be somewhat disproportional to my own perceived investment in the show.
Perhaps this is weird, but I think this is because Love Live! has become a franchise that’s about more than just a show. Certainly, the anime is where everything begins and ends—without the watching Honoka and co. go from saving Otonokizaka to winning the Love Live, I don’t think anything else about the franchise would matter. But (and, to a degree, this is by design) Love Live! transcends being simply a show. From the close association of the characters’ seiyuu with the project to the dangerously playable mobile rhythm game, Love Live! doesn’t only demand your loyalty to the show, but to the entire multimedia package.
It’s a brand of loyalty that’s not been demanded of my much as of late, but with taps playing on the days of μ’s I’m finding that I’m not quite ready to let go.
Although Love Live! certainly has inspired its fair share of haters, detractors, and nasty intra-fandom spats, I think the heart of the franchise leans into an underlying “cult of positivity.” As Shinmaru of The Cart Driver in one of his 12 Days of Anime posts and Pontifus in his concluding thoughts on Love Live!‘s second season (and hopefully I’m not about to misrepresent them) note, there’s a commercial aspect to this—limitless positivity and warmth sell well, it seems. The entire Love Live! franchise is coded for ease of entry, especially for those already invested in the culture out of which it arose.
The thing is, unlike some of the other popular base media components out there in the world (violence, demeaning sexuality, etc, etc.), the stuff Love Live! trades in is… actually pretty good? While it’s valid to complain about the commodification of the Love Live!‘s “chase your dreams!” and “friendship!” and whatever other optimistic core subtextual elements the show contains, just consider the alternatives—if fans are going to be spending ridiculous sums of cash on a media property, having it be one as innocuous and (even) as genuinely nice as Love Live! is a good thing.
But, wow, I’m majorly off topic. Back to μ’s.
I’ve chattered on here about commercialization, rambled at length elsewhere about the fandom experience of Love Live!, and even written a short review-type thing on the second season, but now I think it’s time to drill down to the one most important thing about Love Live!, the part of the show that actually incarnates all these big ideas of positivity, joy, and commercialized niceness: the characters.
I don’t think Love Live!‘s characters are particularly compelling, but I love them all anyways. I think Love Live!‘s characters are based on easily accessible archetypes for the purpose of making them easily lovable, and I’m willing to buy into the trick. I think Love Live!‘s characters are the critical mass that invites the fanbase in, holds them, and professes its love to them in the most honest, genuine way possible.
Yes, I think Love Live!‘s characters, fictional though they may be, live love—and that’s why, no matter how delightful the girls of Aquors may turn out to me, μ’s will always be the all-important origin. The genesis of love alive.
That may be overselling it just a bit, but I think you merely have to take a look at a few episodes in the second season of the show to understand the kernel of truth that sits underneath the easy hyperbole. I’m thinking primarily of episode 9, in which the entire school turns out to shovel a path Across An Entire City Just TO MAKE SURE HONOKA & CO. CAN GET TO THE LOVE LIVE.
As far as I’m concerned, the “Snow Halation” performance and the scenes immediately prior are the logical philosophical extension of everything that Love Live! is about—if you believe in the goodness of humanity without reservation, you will believe and every member of a school will come out in the middle of a blizzard to help a trio of girls run across a city. All this would merely be theory, though, if not for what Honoka says to the Otonokizaka girls immediately after they arrive:
And, through their performance of “Snow Halation” and their thoughts right before they began the sing, the rest of the characters buy into this and are coded into a formula that takes gratitude and turns it into love. It’s closest Love Live! ever comes to being as purely distilled idoldom as AKB0048. It’s a response, and…
…and I’m off topic again.
Hopefully, these digressions into these topics tangentially related to the characters are starting to make a greater sense in their own way. The fact that it’s apparently impossible for me to talk about the members of μ’s divorced from the larger topics, themes, and ideas related to them ought to demonstrate just how big and expansive these characters have become to me. There’s just so much that can be said of the way these nine school idols have flooded my corner of the fandom and of all the things they represent about community and communal enthusiasm.
So, yeah, I’m going to miss Honoka (the best Love Live!). I’m going to miss Umi and her amusing stiffness. I’m going to miss Kotori’s hair. I’m going to miss Rin’s nyaas and the way her genki spirit complements Honoka. I’m going to miss Hanayo’s voice (which is still unbelievable to me). I’m going to miss Maki’s infinite ability to be shipped (with Rin) and her tsundere charm. I’m going to miss Eli’s singing voice. I’m going to miss how Nico was a half-step too far up the obnoxiousness ladder to knock Honoka out of the title of queen of μ’s. I’ll even maybe miss Nozomi a bit.
Whether it’s in their show, in their rhythm game, in their fanart, in their shipping battles, or in their memes (honk honk), I’m going to miss having μ’s around. They were fun, they were easy to love, and they made my communities better. I’m going to miss their ubiquitous presence as a force in my anime life. Aquors will come, and be lovely. But it’ll be different.
So, I guess all I really want to say is thanks—and goodbye—to μ’s and to the voice actresses who brought them to life. It was fun. Thanks for everything you gave to us, for all the joy and inspiration you brought to people. In the end, Love Live! may never be remembered as one of the masterpieces of the modern century, but I don’t think that diminishes the merits of simply making people happy for a little while. It’s a small thing, but it’s also a big thing because Love Live!‘s brand of facilitating happiness is one that seems to inspire generosity of love. Not a self-absorbed, inward looking love, but one that calls people out of themselves, into community, into friendship. Into joy.
I hope no one ever takes it for granted.