The debut of Love Live! Superstar!! is a bright new start for a delightful franchise. One reason why that’s the case is Kanon. She’s our new main character and she’s highlighted through contrast. We see her singing peacefully and confidently versus her being scared to death during a performance. There’s more variance when she wears glasses and is irritated by her family. The contrast of her different states highlights their stark differences, thus Kanon switching between them sticks out more. She’s energetic, but determined to hide it from the outside world and closes the world off by wearing headphones. By doing that she amplifies the sound of her inner worries but also that of her own singing voice. Feeling alone in an empty alleyway helps her bring her inner light out. After all, there’s no need to please menacing shadows that don’t show any support. She doesn’t have to see them either with her eyes closed. If they had lights of their own, it could be easier to sing to them. She also doesn’t feel like she looks good in her uniform. It’s not what she’s supposed to be wearing; she should be an awesome person wearing the music uniform instead. This highlights Kanon’s alienation from the position she thinks she belongs in.
Moreover, Kanon says that she doesn’t have the talent to sing. This stems from her distinction of singing “when it matters” versus when it doesn’t. On the way to school, we see people playing instruments on the street and putting smiles on people’s faces. We know that *that* matters as well, for putting smiles on peoples’ faces is part of what being a school idol is about. Kanon has done it herself, proven by other people’s reactions to her singing and the wishes from them to keep doing it. Kanon shows us how mental hangups can hide us from the truth of the situation.
Ultimately, Kanon’s fear of her own stage fright sabotages herself from being on top of the world. Her story is about fighting a natural reaction to awaken an inner power, which is pretty powerful. She regrets and can’t deal with her failures, which is a terrible feeling for any human to experience. So is feeling like you’ve let others and especially yourself down, which I’ve felt before. These circumstances distinguish her from the franchise’s previous protagonists. That’s not to say that the others weren’t relatable, for I definitely connected with Yuu in Love Live! Nijigasaki’s first episode.
There are also *cute charms* that draw me to Kanon. One of her favourite foods is tomatoes, which is my personal favourite. Her birthday is May 1st, which is easy for me to remember since that’s the date I started watching this franchise more than half a decade ago. She’s cute in glasses and can play guitar while singing, which the other protagonists don’t do. She appreciates her *family*, shown by her buying a treat for them. On the subject of her family, I like the comedy derived from her interactions with them. But it’s also interesting that Kanon loves singing from the get-go. That’s because Honoka in Love Live! School Idol Project (SIP) reaches the conclusion that she loves singing later on in her story. Here it’s already a given, which switches things up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writer Jukki Hanada was specifically aware of it, because he *wrote* SIP. For the record, he also wrote Love Live! Sunshine!!.
The one who chiefly convinces Kanon to continue chasing her dream is Keke. She channels her mania into a more forceful wish for Kanon to sing compared to the other characters. It doesn’t come from nowhere, because she’s clearly done her homework. She knows that anyone can become a school idol and believes that Kanon can be one too. *We* carry the same knowledge from watching any of the previous series. Thus Keke’s efforts reinforce our own desire to see Kanon succeed and this in turn deepens our connection with Keke. Later on, Keke stops Kanon from closing her world again by singing from her balcony. We know that it’s her if we watched the first music video featuring the main characters, which was released before the anime began. The scene accentuates how serious Keke is and how Kanon is intrigued by the singing of others as well. This all subtly adds character depth, and the inclusion of elements from outside the anime rewards us for interacting with more parts of the franchise.
Keke speaking Chinese breathes life into the scenes it’s featured in. That’s due to how it contrasts with the Japanese and how it highlights Keke’s eccentricity. It helps that Keke’s voice actress Liyuu is herself Chinese. That makes it different from the Engrish that Mari from Sunshine speaks for example, and it makes Superstar feel even fresher. Keke also plays into the dramatic nature of the franchise. She breathes in before posing the big question to Kanon of if her singing is truly over yet. This builds narrative tension and also shows that she recognises the topic’s sensitivity.
Kanon and Keke are the main focus of the episode. This lets us process their characters more slowly and carefully. That’s not to say that other character inclusions aren’t welcome. For example, there’s Ren. She re-introduces the trope of school idols not being allowed by the student council president, and Superstar puts its own neat twist on this. We’ve seen it before, so we want to get to the core of the problem and *Kanon* tries to do so immediately. This is great because we share Kanon’s drive and we’re not satisfied with any of Ren’s answers either. Kanon continuously digs deeper to try to break through all the dumb excuses. The scene also shows how Kanon can be determined in other areas, especially when standing up for someone. Nevertheless, Ren retorting with a question that Kanon can’t answer redirects focus back to Kanon and Keke.
Ren makes an interesting point though about not wanting Kanon and Keke to get in the way of other students. Chisato gives reasons on why that might be. Part of it is how people might perceive school idols, which is also a theme in previous series. She gives some information on the school and how it functions. The setting is developed through the information being part of a natural conversation. Chisato laughing at Kanon’s Ren impression lends earnesty to her relationship with Kanon, and the duo also make fun of the trope that Ren invokes. We can infer that Ren wants to enforce tradition from her privileged position. We can also deduce that the school itself focuses on creating superstars, for only the music programme is a specific one. This differs from Nijigasaki, because the school in that series has a broader selection of programmes.
But enough with the differences. The presence of similarities with previous Love Live! series also makes the episode special. We of course don’t see the protagonist’s dad yet. Even if we do see him later on, we might not ever see his face. We’ve got “My name is Shibuya Kanon!” after the first scene; Kanon’s *specific* high jump in her morning song; and the spotlight on the feet running towards the school entrance. Honoka triggers similar beats in SIP. That’s no surprise either, because both SIP and Superstar are directed by Takahiko Kyougoku. There’s also the symbolism of the feather, which has been covered in-depth elsewhere. These familiar elements remind us of the franchise’s journey up until now, and it honestly makes me appreciate the differences even more.
In general, there are a lot of evocative shots in the episode. The sensual first scene emphasises Kanon’s delicate and honest song. This is done by deliberating on her lips and her hair blowing in the wind. In addition, we even have an image from one of the first teaser images for the series, and Kanon failing to grasp her guitar underlines her dismayed spirit. The episode’s climax is also great. We see Kanon’s frustration in her tears and clenched fists. She also *stops* walking away from Keke right before passing the school gates, for to cross them would mean to leave school idols behind forever. There’s the bright lighting that accompanies the dramatic run back and Kanon reveals herself to a brand *new* world by removing her headphones then. The scene captures Kanon’s desperation and also a point of no return, turning the gears of the upcoming adventure.
Speaking of the details of certain scenes, there’s some great art and animation. Though that’s not true for the entirety of the episode. There are shots where the character designs are of lower quality, especially when they’re far away. The zoom-in after Keke’s breath-holding question to Kanon also feels weak and the low-quality models kill the scene’s impact. Yet the rest of the episode is good, especially the character animation. Kanon skips and spins around joyfully, which also elevates her singing. Her smashing against the door and then crawling away from Keke is fun, and so is Keke sliding around her when they talk outside. In addition, the facial expressions which Love Live! always succeeds at are plentiful. My favourite one is Kanon’s look of shock after Sumire angrily rejects her. Kanon panicking when she’s a little kid is also cute in a way. These grand expressions reflect the joyous art of communicating emotions.
Furthermore, good shots and movements are in the musical number at the end. It starts with Kanon grabbing and tossing her weak soul aside in order to launch her voice into the sky. Her hands later trace a tall wall, but she defies its height by breaking right through it like a titan. A neat piece of cinematography is Keke pushing Kanon forward despite them being in completely different locations. The best part though is the camera rotating around each girl as they spread their light across the whole universe. This concept is used previously on a smaller scale when Keke sees Kanon singing in the morning. In a continuous sequence starting from Keke, we have Sumire, Ren and Kanon’s arms swinging in sync. We cut to each of them in turn as it happens and it showcases the beautiful harmony necessary to create a powerful idol performance. What’s more, the camera doesn’t stop when it circles back to Keke. It goes a bit *farther* than that to show momentum and that the spreading of joy won’t stop any time soon. There’s nothing better to end it all than with Kanon tripping, but then gritting her teeth to recover before unleashing a last hurrah. “Hallelujah” is a vivid lyric partly because of its religious origin. It’s as if the song is a gospel of healing. The lyrics *overall* capture the personal freedom that I associate the series with and demonstrate part of the series’ appeal.
The CG is very good and Love Live! only gets better at it the more time passes. It’s also intriguing that all the main characters are singing a song together this early, except that Love Live! has always appreciated metaphor and we know that they’re not actually a group yet. There’s also the transition *out* of metaphor with the reveal that Kanon just sang some part of the song to a live audience. That’s much like in Nijigasaki and our emotional bond with Kanon is deepened as *we* feel her surprise. Another curiosity is hearing Kanon singing in the background before she actually joins the song. That’s her inner feelings swelling up before being sung aloud.
The bass in the big song is pretty good, and it’s not just the song that’s a blast. The background music throughout the episode is amazing and matches every scene. This is especially true in the confrontation with Ren. The music accounts for the changing perspectives and levels of tension. It also pays attention to when the characters start and stop speaking. Even the butterflies are under its influence! These all elevate the fanciness of Ren and the whimsy of the whole argument. The soundtrack is composed by none other than Yoshiaki Fujisawa. He also composed for — you guessed it — SIP. Background music is also used effectively to represent scenes in Sunshine, which was composed by Tatsuya Katou. His usage of the track “Carrot & Stick” in episode 2 is a great example of that. Another notable segment is when Kanon and the city begin their morning march. Keke asking Kanon to be a school idol with her one last time is also significant. The music rises in anticipation for Keke’s request and leaves room for it to be said, thus increasing its importance. It then changes to a somberful tone as Kanon is reminded of her past. But in the end, we see that Kanon eventually seizes the opportunity to grow!
Finally, Kanon stands tall and her voice is heard. Kanon realises that you can always get back up again even if you fail repeatedly at doing something you love. It’s the unknown feeling she was yet to fully process. Your teenage years are a perfect time to start pursuing something seriously and *Kanon* reclaims the song of her heart. The catharsis of Kanon’s realisation is made potent by a lot of what I’ve said up until now. Becoming a superstar may be a daunting task and there will be challenges we’ve yet to face along the way. But the girls will hold hands and awaken each other’s shine in the cosmos by turning weakness into strength.
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