As I usually say on my less formal social media accounts: HERE WE GOOOOOOOOOOO
I rarely have done reviews of individual anime episodes (heck, I’ve stopped reviewing anime in general this past year or so), simply because I don’t think I’d have a lot to say for each and every episode of a new show I watch. It’s just not my style of blogging, if I’m being blunt. However due to this one anime in the Fall 2020 season being very, very meaningful to me, I immediately felt like I had to talk about, at least, the first episode.
If you’ve been following the blog for a while now, you would know that I, as an avid fan of the popular Love Live franchise, have been following the third generation of school idols, the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club. Everything from the characters to the music to, of course, the voice actresses; seeing this school idol group develop over the past three years has been an absolutely fun experience and a great pleasure.
So… when they announced that there would be an anime series revolving around the NijiGaku idol club, you know I was hyped. And on October 3rd, 2020, the day finally came when episode one aired.
I have no idea how this episode review is gonna work/be formatted so if I just go freestyle from this point on, I hope everything makes sense in the end 😛
Our story starts with two close friends, Takasaki Yu (voiced by Yano Hinaki) and Uehara Ayumu (Oonishi Aguri), who both attend Odaiba’s Nijigasaki High School. As they live their lives as young students, they stumble upon a small concert near their school, featuring what is known to be a ‘school idol’. While watching this random performance, Yu immediately becomes entranced by the high energy and passion of the performer and song, to the point where she suddenly gains an interest in the ‘school idol’ phenomenon. But when Yu and Ayumu try to find more information about an actual school idol club at their academy, they quickly discover that it has been disbanded and may never come back.
However because Yu and Ayumu have such a fond appreciation for school idols, they become determined to revive the club and bring the joy of idols back into their high school.
Man… where to start.
Because the Nijigasaki group already had a narrative in place when the mobile game, Love Live School Idol Festival ALL STARS, came out, naturally I kind of expected this anime to ‘mirror’ the story from the game. However… it didn’t take long for me to lose interest in SIF (mainly because I have never been a mobile game kind of person) so I have no idea if this show will replicate whatever’s been shown in ALL STARS. But from a person who isn’t at all familiar with the plotline of NijiGaku, I think the story of these nine ladies can go towards many interesting directions.
Of course, as is the recurring theme of the Love Live anime series, the show starts off with the predicament of a school (or in this case, a club) shutting down and the protagonist(s) having the desire to save it with the power of school idols. While I did groan when the first season of Love Live Sunshine ended up being very similar to the original series (although it sort of made up for that later on), I feel like Nijigasaki’s story will be displayed much differently. Because their situation isn’t as serious as the entire school shutting down like with the previous groups, I would imagine that the process of Yu and Ayumu gathering members and bringing the club back up again could be shown in a more light-hearted and personal way.
From my limited knowledge about the mobile game and the story, Yu doesn’t actually become a school idol but rather the manager/song composer of the NijiGaku club. That being said, Yu reminded me a lot of the IDOLM@STER anime and how there was a character, Producer, who was able to bond and create actual relationships with the idols in his company. So with Yu seemingly having that role where she just supports the group, I have a feeling that we’re going to see more character-centered episodes where we get to learn the backstories of everyone while Yu (and possibly Ayumu) befriends and tries to convince these other students to join their club. Obviously those kinds of episodes were shown in the previous anime series but if I can recall correctly, the majority of the first seasons of School Idol Project and Sunshine focused on the ticking time bomb of their schools closing. So because there isn’t any intense threat against Yu and Ayumu, I hope that means the story progression can slow down and take some time into introducing all of these new characters.
Which actually kind of makes sense because the Nijigasaki Idol Club was introduced to us as a club and not an actual idol group. There was the intention of individuality and competition among the nine members; that’s why you’ll see that most of their already released music are solo songs. So having episodes that are centered around each and every one of them and presenting their individual backgrounds and talents would be a great way of showing off this particular group.
Speaking of characters, the first episode gave us an interesting glimpse at the relationship between Yu and Ayumu. They’re close childhood friends but when they both expressed their love for school idols, something just felt off. Yu was fascinated by this culture from the start but it was clearly shown that Ayumu was hesitant about getting into that kind of stuff (as seen in many instances such as her not wanting to act cutesy anymore or simply being too busy with schoolwork). However towards the end, she seemed to have changed her mind completely and agreed to go along with Yu’s interest. But that’s the thing, it feels like Ayumu is doing all of this just because her best friend enjoys it. We didn’t get much context on why Ayumu changed her mind so it didn’t exactly feel natural. This could come back into play later on in the story but I’m just a bit worried that studio Sunrise may make some plotlines fall flat throughout the show.
Anyhow, I think the one thing about episode one that really impressed everyone was the visuals. The art looked outstanding; everything from the characters to the scenery to the lighting were all so detailed and polished, to the point where it felt like a completely different anime compared to the prior art-style of School Idol Project and Sunshine. And the animation… wow. Obviously the music video sections were done incredibly well and Sunrise in recent times have definitely improved on the CGI aspect of this franchise. It looks super smooth and with the inclusion of flashy special effects and backgrounds, it’s like they’re showing off at this point (lol). And not only does it look great during the parts with music but even when showing simple stuff like splitting a piece of bread in half… I’m really happy Sunrise is putting a lot of effort (and of course, money) into this anime.
And on the topic of music, I’m certainly expecting to hear a lot more solo songs throughout this show. Given that “CHASE!”, a song from their first album, and Ayumu’s new solo track, “Dream with You”, were shown, I’d imagine the other characters will get the same treatment of performing previous or even brand new solo songs throughout the anime, which, again, makes sense. But going back to what we heard in the first episode, Ayumu’s song was so good and may be her best solo track yet. And because all nine of them have improved since their first go-around with NijiGaku’s solo music, I’m absolutely excited to see what else they have in store for us. Also the ending, “NEO SKY, NEO MAP!”, was really nice too.
One final thing I want to mention is the voice acting. I’m not going to get into how the original nine voice actresses did, simply because most of their characters didn’t get enough screen time in this episode but I do want to talk about Yu’s seiyuu, Yano Hinaki. I thought she did a fantastic job in episode one and she definitely helped bring Yu come to life with her voice and acting skills. I always perceived Yu to be an emotionless person, given that’s how she was introduced to us at first, but now that she has an actual voice, I’m happy that Hinya made her sound like a more fun and lovable character. Also fun fact: Hinya is under the same artist management company, Sony Music Artists, as Kusunoki Tomori (voice of NijiGaku’s Yuki Setsuna) and Inami Anju (Aqours’ Takami Chika)!
All in all, I really, really, really enjoyed the first episode of the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club anime. It gave us a great impression on what this show is gonna be like and while there are already some issues here and there, I’m confident that Sunrise will still do a splendid job with the story.
Funny enough, while I was skimming through the episode again to gather screenshots, I suddenly became emotional. I definitely didn’t expect myself to tear up at that moment but given that Nijigasaki has meant so much to me these past few years is probably the reason why I did. Being able to follow the group since their introduction back in 2017 and watching all of them grow into what they are now has truly been an amazing experience. While I do have the same respect for μ’s and Aqours, I think the fact that I got to witness the development and shenanigans from the seiyuu these past three years just makes this anime premiere so, so much sweeter. I know how much work and effort these nine ladies have put into this franchise, and I’m just incredibly proud that they finally got to this point.
Alright, enough of me being sentimental. I can’t wait to see the rest of this show!!! 😀
If you’ve seen the first episode of the NijiGaku anime, I’d love to know your thoughts on it! Definitely leave it in the comments 🙂
Thanks for reading and if you didn’t know, I actually have an Instagram account where I post a lot of photos of the Nijigasaki seiyuu and you may see me talk about future episodes there. Follow @shukadaily if you’re interested!