Love Live! – Review

YOU CAN’T STOP THESE IDOLS. Yep, I reviewed Love Live! for ANN, and it turns out Love Live! is totally great. I’d watched this series back over the spring/summer as well, but I actually enjoyed it even more watching it this second time. I think even just that recently, I was kind of holding stuff that didn’t fall within my usual genre wheelhouse at arm’s length – “yeah, it’s pretty good, but it’s still a silly idol show.” Nah, that’s dumb. Love Live! has really sharp storytelling and production, and is just a relentlessly enjoyable show in general. It’s funny and endearing and crazy polished, and I’m looking forward to hopefully reviewing the second season too.

My full review is available over at ANN. My clearly indispensable episodic notes are all below!

Love Live!

Episode 1

Bursts out the gate with energy and self-awareness from the first scenes. The energetic direction, manipulation of timing, tongue-in-cheek bounciness of it all

The dramatic piano keys to deflate her drama are great. This show has a great bounce to it early on

Hanako actually starts depressed because if their school closes, she’ll have to take a test to go to a different one

The comedic timing is great. Hanako’s bouncing between dumb tragedy and dumb happiness is wonderful

You can see how she’d be both enthusiastic and dumb enough to think making an idol unit is a good idea

And Eli tries to take the whole thing onto herself. The characters are established in their immediate antagonism and conflicts, which creates drama while developing personality

Kotori is such a dull character. “Earnest” is about all she is, and earnest is like the least interesting idol characteristic

A world where having a popular school idol team could somehow drive up admittance to the point where your school doesn’t close

The character designs are sharp and consistent

Hanako’s childishness is very humanizing. A good lead choice

Hanako’s random school pride is understandable precisely because she’s kinda dim

Umi’s personality is largely “sigh,” which is actually great

Kotori’s mom is the school director

The show’s nostalgia about high school is a very anime thing

This show has the shiniest goddamn eyes. Serial killer eyes

A-RISE, the powerful rivals!

Nico being Nico

And then we see Hanayo and Rin. The show introduces its cast very naturally across a number of episodes, with all of them having their own little narratives until they come together

A-RISE’s performance has some nice animation

Hanako dramatically dropping her pamphlet and then being literally blown back by the power of A-RISE is great

Friggin’ chipmunk faces

Nice upbeat horn and drum track here

Cutting Eli and Nozomi’s efforts against Hanako’s enthusiasm

The comedic timing is still great. Umi just already being out of the room when Hanako finishes her sentence

“Someone doing this out of sheer whimsy like you will never succeed.”

Nozomi already spying on Hanako?

The soft lighting in Maki’s introduction is great

Right, Maki has the piano knowledge. She’s the songwriter

Hanako’s silly faces are great – they aren’t superdeformed, they’re just really full of personality

Umi collapsing with the vapors over her idol fantasies

Them falling out of a tree as kids. Great stuff

The storytelling is obvious, but it’s well constructed. The show has the fundamentals, and the way it weaves the various characters coming together is very graceful

Yeah, Kotori’s basically just “Hanako’s friend”

And Umi’s in!

Nozomi steers them towards their next challenge

Eli’s about as classic student council president as you can get

Lovely cherry blossoms here

Haha, the “what should we do” song intro. We musical theater now

Oh god, the transition to CG is AWFUL

The actually animated parts are pretty nice, though. Just kinda makes the difference worse

Episode 2

The show definitely has fun with its own drama

Hanako planning crazily ahead, of course

Nozomi’s tarot cards. Lol

Hanako advertising their first concert before they’ve even started training

“These long objects here…” “Those are legs.” Oh Umi.

“Umi-chan, your legs aren’t that beefy.” Thanks Honkers

Good ol’ Hanayo. “Timid, loves rice”

Honoka and Kotori forget their diet in about six hours

Umi writes lyrics, right

Forcing Umi to write lovey-dovey idol songs is pretty great

Silly piano trills for comedy effect. And then a nice jaunty piano tune to finish the scene. It’s a pretty fully composed production

Time for some training abuse

Right, Nozomi’s also a shrine maiden. She’s got the “spiritual one” thing down, complete with her random wisdom

Recruiting Maki! Aaand she refuses. Everyone refuses, of course

“Maybe this won’t be as simple as I thought.” Way to go, Honkers

The support of fans gives her strength!

Hanayo leads them back to Maki

Forcing Maki to do the pushups while smiling too

There’s a pretty great chemistry between many of the individual members of the group. And Hanako’s general enthusiasm and bluntness works well to tie them together

Nozomi pushing Maki into helping

The show uses music well in general. The insert idol songs are well-placed

Episode 3

Maki too tsun

Everyone’s so embarrassed to be enthusiastic, but Hanako drags them all along

Umi’s got stage fright, of course

Not all the gags work, but the important thing is the show doesn’t belabor them – it burns through gags with solid timing

The girls being cute/embarrassed/etc is definitely a big part of the intended appeal

Camaraderie is pretty big. They build each other up

They build this scene when they’re behind the curtain so well. So much anticipation no music at all, and then the silent, empty auditorium. Light piano keys. Huge, wide-open shots that emphasize them in the empty space

Such a good moment. Even if the rest of the show isn’t spectacular, this is a scene

“The world isn’t that convenient.” But she can’t hold her enthusiasm

And then Hanayo stumbles in. “We’re gonna sing.”

Man, this show can be pretty heartwarming. Really demonstrates how good totally earnest things can be if they sell you through execution

The whole gang sneaking into the performance. Good stuff

“I want to believe in this feeling.” I WANT TO BELIEVE IN THIS FEELING

So now Hanako is doing it because she loves it. Nice

Man, the lighting in some of these shots is great. The show never looks flat, outside of the CG scenes – there’s always a warmth to the shots. Soft edges, warm lighting, expressive faces and motion

Episode 4

Hanayo is really adorable

Right, Kotori likes alpacas. I guess that’s her personality

So this is Hanayo’s episode. With the first performance done, the show’s focusing on a few recruitments at a time

Rin thinks she’s not feminine enough

Nice low-key guitar track for this sequence

Hanayo goes to recruit Maki? Man, that’s gonna be an awkward conversation

And right, Maki’s supposed to become a doctor

Oh Maki. Too tsun

Yep, now they’re embarrassing Hanayo. Everybody gotta get embarrassed

Hanayo being Fierce about idols is great

Lots of good shots in this show. There’s a lot more energy to the framing then you get in many such shows

Maki and Rin fighting over Hanayo. This show’s pretty gay

And both of them try to live vicariously through Hanayo, but then get dragged in themselves. It’s a nice device

Nice closeup on her eyes for the moment of decision

Maki even being tsun about them calling her Maki


Episode 5

The jump cuts are really great. The show’s fast-paced jump cuts and generally top-speed comedic timing are its secret weapon

Diversity of shot framing and the really great little musical cues are also great

Wow, really randomly great animation on that Rin cut

Wow, some good faces in this episode. I wonder who directed this one

Nico’s just as transparent as Maki in her own way

Oh wow, Nico slowly putting the burger back is hilarious. Great comedy in this episode

The subs are adding a bit of looseness to Nozomi’s lines – she’s more casual, apparently

Hanayo geeking out over idol stuff

Kotori’s got a secret, apparently

“Have you created characters for yourselves?” Nico truly is the idol nerd – she loves the “lore” of idoldom

And there’s Nico-Nico-Nii

“They all quit.” Again, the ways a group builds each other up is key

“How specific of you.” Aw Umi

All of them have some childhood hangup they need to solve, in the simplest possible form

Great shot framing, shadows, and music in the sequence depicting Nico’s loneliness

Episode 6

Framing shots through Rin and Nozomi taking a video of the group

So many shining eyes

Taking secret footage of Honkers being a derp

Nico’s invented “candid” personality is great

“It appears as though you’re all lazy and enjoy goofing off.”

Is Kotori’s dad the one man we’ve ever seen? And we only see the back of his head, waving

“I eat, watch TV, stare at other idols and think about how amazing they are.”

“Honoka, why are you the leader of u’s?” Pretty obvious question, if you’ve been watching until now. She’s the unflappable heart of the group

Honkers is also great because she doesn’t really have any ego about this

“Kotori seems more like a ‘secondary leader.’” Even the other characters point out she’s basically one of Honoka’s limbs

Nico’s schemes. “Monstrous little sirens.”

Hanako suggests they rotate the center position, demonstrating her leadership again

This episode’s ending song really demonstrates the disconnect between the CG and the 2D

Episode 7

Love Live is coming up!

Commenting on Hanayo’s personality switch

“Idols live in a harsh world, almost like a caste system!” lol

Nico takes being the butt of every joke pretty gracefully

They can enter Love Live, but only if none of them fail any exams. And of course Rin, Nico, and Honkers are idiots

Umi runs into Eri’s sister

So this episode distracts most characters with exams in order to have the Umi-Eri scene

“All school idols are nothing but kids acting big.” COLD AS ICE ERI

Nozomi’s running groping joke is not the best

Wow, the scene transitions in this episode are really good. Eri dancing across the screen, Nozomi slamming books down on the previous one

The subs go with “Eli,” but that’s kind of hard to get used to now

All kinds of personality in the characters running around

One of the subs at the end there isn’t quite synced right

Episode 8

Again with the active scene transitions – closing a door on a prior scene

This split screen for the phone conversation is great. The show’s visual energy is so consistently high

The plots are more contrived, but they get the job done. Eli’s opposition kind of stretches credulity

Eli can’t help but be boring as hell. It’s pretty great

And Eli agrees to help. Time for hell drills

Eli’s obsessed with the “right way” to do things, reflected in her feelings on both u’s and the way she should save the school

Dramatic lighting and soft lines again for Eli’s big internal conflict moment

“How I wish all my problems could be solved by only doing the things I want! I know I’m an awkward mess, but…” aw Eli

Yeah, the songs always feel so removed from everything else

Choreography’s pretty nice, though

Episode 9

They’re going to wait longer to decide whether to close the school or not

And now we’re into the random maid cafe episode

Kotori’s the legendary Akihabara maid, Minalinsky-san?!?

“We grow little by little, inspired to try harder by seeing those around us growing.” Eli’s pretty deep

Hanako not being able to see any of her own strengths is extremely natural character work

Alright Eli, that’s enough half-baked philosophy out of you

The show generally knows just how long to let a joke be held for, too. It’s not just fast timing, it’s generally intelligent

And now we’ve got an excuse to put the cast in maid outfits, I guess

I guess Kotori’s personality could be “insecure”? There’s still not really anything to it

This episode’s still such a random digression, though

“I’ve been thinking about how long we can all be together like this.” ono Kotori

Episode 10

Eli banning “-senpai” honorifics. A very specific issue, but certainly a more understandable one than Kotori’s maid cafe

Man, this show is just merciless to Nico. But that’s kind of reflective of how well-defined her personality is

Maki’s rich as fuck, and so gets to share embarassment duties this episode as everyone marvels at her summer home

Aaand Hanayo is scared of big rooms. Ganbatte on giving Hanayo a personality, Love Live

It’s hard to assess how thoroughly Love Live is invested in its many obviously gay couples

I like how Nico is a natural bad influence on Honkers

Kind of a fanservice episode, oddly enough

Nozomi very naturally fits the group mother role. Dealing with all the insecurities of these silly love lives

“I just can’t leave you alone. I know someone very like you.” Nozomi talking about her lover to Maki

Yeah, now that the group’s together, the show just lacks the focus it had before

I guess the show is at its most slice of life now

The humor’s strained too thin in this episode. Just not that sharply composed

It’s nice that this episode is also about Nozomi

And then they all hold hands to sing the christmas song. This show sure can be maudlin at times

Eli sure is leaning on the Khorosho this episode. Sort of reflective of how characters become their tropes once they’ve stopped being their conflict – they need their conflict to give them dynamicism

Episode 11

Talkin’ bout autographs, derpy stuff

And ono, ominous shot of Kotori!

Oh my god, Nico’s too good. Breaking down over Love Live

Ahaha, the drama of them watching the lottery for their festival spot

The way they’re vamping the drama here is great. The whole team has great chemistry now

Hanako’s normal solution is “I’ll just try harder! I’ll push myself more!” It’s nice that the show finally demonstrates the weaknesses of that, and that it doesn’t necessarily make her the best leader

She’s too enthusiastic and wrapped up in her own drama to see Kotori’s dealing with her own problems

“It’ll work out if we do our very best!” Eli’s now kind of weak to Hanako’s attitude, which is a nice shift

Wow, the framing of this shot actually pushes Kotori out of the image, blocked by Hanako. Nice trick

“You always push yourself too hard.” Her sister notices

Ono Honkers you’re sick

Performance direction is always really energetic

And then she collapses. Drama tiiime

The drama is actually a lot less bad than I remembered, though. The show in general is a lot better than I remembered – maybe I’m just more used to appreciating things outside my usual genres now

Episode 12

Nice transition from storm clouds to the perky OP. Love the silly incongruous ones

It’s good that the Honkers health drama doesn’t last more than an episode. Someone that dumb can’t stay sick for long

u’s has withdrawn from the Love Live running. Sad day

u’s poster getting pasted over by A-Rise. lol

“We should do our best not to wear ourselves out, too.” Dang, Honkers

“My surroundings? Huh, where’s Kotori-chan?” suuubtle

The school is saved!

Hanako’s accident leads her to being more aware of her surroundings, thus seguing to the Kotori conflict. It’s actually pretty nice work

“The cards had been telling me that u’s needed nine members – no more, no less.”

Umi announces for Kotori, and again the show removes Hanako’s face from all of the shots. Nice work

“What have I been wasting my time with?” ono Honkers don’t


Aaaand she quits


And cue ending music. Wonderful

Yeah, this episode couldn’t quite carry its own weight. Honoka just went too far

Episode 13

Oh my god, the transition into this episode’s OP is the best thing. Following Umi’s arrow right into the song start

Honkers rediscovering her love of idoldom through DDR


“This time, I want to do something that won’t make anybody sad.”

“Does such a thing actually exist?”

Nico loves idols so goddamn much

“You taught me the courage to plow ahead, unafraid of change.” Honkers’ greatest strength!

Her battle gear!

And Honoka returns to the auditorium. WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Honoka learns to accept who she is

Big ol’ final performance

5 thoughts on “Love Live! – Review

  1. I was so pissed about the Kotori-as-a-maid storyline. She really is personality-less, and I thought that her being a legendary maid would indicate that she was the best two-faced idol ever, but no. Still blander than flour-water paste.

    S1 was a nice warm-up, but I feel like S2 is really where they up and nail their comedy game. Umi finally breaks from being a K-ON expy and became one of my favorites. Hope you do watch and review it!

    • That episode was such a flailing thing – easily the series’ low point. It’s like they figured just giving Kotori more screentime would translate into a personality, but NOPE.

      And yeah, I’ve heard S2 is an improvement over S1. I’d watch it now, but it seems pretty likely I’m Love Live dude at ANN now, so I’ll hold out for now.

  2. Glad to hear you liked the show, Bob. I’m curious what you’ll think of the second season because I feel like it fixes a lot of the issues you had with the first season. The CG is markedly improved probably from additional experience and possibly also more money thanks to the success of the first session. It also felt like the story in season two is what they wanted to tell in the final third of the first season before they ran out of time and had to awkwardly back out of the actual love live competition.

  3. I actually quite enjoyed the last third of the show, but I suspect it’s mainly because I felt Honoka really resonated with me. I would have probably done the same, had I been in her situation. I guess I found the dramatic scenes more effective because of that, because I feel I’m a lot like her.

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