Back in October of 2020, I wrote a post where I gave my thoughts on the first episode of the NijiGaku anime: a show that followed the then-latest Love Live generation, the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club. Fast forward nine months later, and I genuinely didn’t expect myself to be writing another first impressions post on a Love Live anime, especially THIS soon lol
What exactly am I talking about, you may ask? Well if you didn’t know, over the past year and a half, the Love Live franchise has developed and introduced yet another group of school idols by the name of “Liella”. It was first revealed back in January 2020 that a brand new project (separate from the Nijigasaki group) was currently in development, with an accompanying TV series on the way. And over time, we gradually learned more and more about this ‘fourth generation’ (and I know calling Liella/Superstar the ‘fourth gen’ is a debatable concern but I don’t really care) including character introductions, the group and school name, its voice actresses, and probably the most notable piece of information was that the group would only include five members, making it the first time the franchise strayed away from the traditional nine member formula.
Consisting of a few Yuigaoka High School students in Shibuya Kanon, Arashi Chisato, Táng Kěkě, Heanna Sumire and Hazuki Ren, the creation of Liella gave Love Live fans yet another group to follow and get excited about. And while their start as a group has been a bit rocky at times due to some unfortunate circumstances, Liella wasted no time in showing off their specific charm and potential. So far, fans have gotten a taste of Liella’s vocal abilities and musical atmosphere with the release of their debut single, Hajimari wa Kimi no Sora, and of course, the Love Live! Superstar!! anime finally premiered on July 11th.
So yeah! Hopefully that quick rundown of Liella gave you a better idea about who this group is and how they came to be. Not gonna lie, having three Love Live groups be active at the same time can feel a bit overwhelming (even for an avid LL/seiyuu fan like me who has admittedly paid less and less attention towards Aqours as time went by) but in reality, I think the majority of the fanbase is happy to see a new generation of idols and talent grace this franchise.
That said, let’s just jump right into my review/thoughts on the Liella anime premiere!
Our stellar journey begins with Shibuya Kanon (voiced by Date Sayuri), a girl with an amazing voice and a strong passion for singing. However, her consistent case of stage fright/anxiety has always gotten the best of Kanon, especially when she ended up failing the exam for Yuigaoka High School’s prestigious music program.
After making the tough decision to just give up singing and enter high school as a regular ol’ student, Kanon runs into an interesting individual by the name of Tang Keke (Liyuu), a girl who moved from her native home of Shanghai, China to Japan, in hopes to become one of those famed ‘school idols’. After she happened to hear Kanon’s beautiful vocals, Keke tries to recruit the girl with the wonderful voice, as part of her plan to form a school idol group of her own. However due to her lost passion for singing, Kanon refuses Keke’s invite but was still willing to support her and her peculiar dream; especially after hearing the unfair judgement of school idols from Hazuki Ren (Aoyama Nagisa), the daughter of Yuigaoka’s founder and the school’s student council president.
And to much dismay, Kanon and Keke have trouble finding people who are willing and/or interested in school idols. But as their journey seemingly comes to an end, Keke insists that she genuinely wants to become school idols with someone like Kanon, giving Kanon the confidence she needed to overcome her fears. And thus, the story of Liella begins.
I haven’t written an anime-related review/first impressions post in about eight months so… I apologize in advance if the things I’m about to talk about are disorganized or even nonsensical 😛
Many longtime fans of the series have said that Superstar’s premiere had the best ‘first episode’ out of all the Love Live anime so far. And while I can’t give a confident ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that specific opinion, mainly because my memory is embarrassingly bad and I don’t remember much of SIP and Sunshine’s first episodes, I will agree that this was a pretty damn good introduction to a brand new, Love Live-related anime.
One common reason why people have said that is because this show already feels similar to the first two iterations of this animated series: School Idol Project (2013) and Sunshine (2016). Obviously it has the same premises and themes: an orange-haired girl finds out about school idols, has the desire to start a group, a mean person comes in and gets in the way of their aspirations, and eventually more people buy into the school idol phenomenon and join the orange-haired girl’s group. Business as usual. However, another similarity fans have noticed about Superstar is that the overall feel/atmosphere of this show reminds them of SIP/Sunshine’s. And I’d agree. Given that the original writer and director are both on this new project, many aspects definitely feel familiar such as the humor, the setting it takes place in and even the artstyle/animation. Especially with the jokes, seeing that chase scene or Sumire snapping at Kanon were pretty dang entertaining and those kinds of gags felt like stuff Honoka or Chika or any of the other μ’s/Aqours characters would do. Things like these certainly give off a nostalgia factor for longtime fans, and having that specific Love Live anime charm is nice to see after however many years since those two series ended. (And I can go on about how this new anime further shows how different Nijigasaki is compared to these other three groups/series but I’d rather not take away the spotlight from these Liella girls, at least for now)
And I can imagine that some people aren’t that thrilled about the recycled themes and plotlines that Superstar has already set up and/or hinted at. For example, the whole thing about how yet another student council president is, for some reason, strongly against school idols can feel a bit repetitive once you’ve experienced it three times already. And I’ll admit that I had those same thoughts when I first watched Sunshine and how it definitely felt like I was watching the same show as the previous one. However at this point, as a fan, I think you just gotta accept it. This specific storyline and conflict is Love Live’s bread-and-butter and while some (major) change would be a bit refreshing, it’s hard to imagine a show from this particular franchise veering off from its traditional storytelling routines. Instead, we should focus on how they express these general plotlines and conflicts.
And to be honest, with what we’ve seen so far, it has the potential to go down its own, interesting and unique path. And I feel like the characters play a huge role in that.
The way they introduced our main character/protagonist, Shibuya Kanon, was extremely well-done. I say that because she ended up being a refreshing and super relatable character. Unlike our prior, more genki leaders, Kanon is very laid-back and possesses a more mature personality. The fact that Kanon didn’t have any interest in school idols at first and wasn’t the one who wanted to start a group was kinda surprising, yet it felt really fresh compared to our first two main characters. But most importantly, we get to see her past and the hardships she had to go through, having a strong case of anxiety. And despite failing/giving up on her dreams, deep down inside, she still had a passion and interest for music and singing. Those aspects of Kanon, I’d say, really hit close to home with a lot of people and it just allowed her to easily become likable among the fanbase. For me, anxiety and having a lack of confidence in myself is something I’ve experienced and struggled with, so to see a main character in a series like Love Live’s go through those same exact troubles, I really enjoyed that.
Even the personality quirks that are more obvious and on-the-surface, the way Kanon lazily/casually dresses at home or how she gets annoyed by her nosy family, these small things also allow fans to have a decent or strong connection with her, and I think the writers and directors did a good job with showing off who Kanon is in the very first episode. Although one thing I wanted to mention is that Kanon’s general character development wrapped up pretty quickly, given that she regained her confidence for singing at the end of episode one. It would’ve been nice to see it be more ‘fleshed-out’, and while we still could see a bit more of a transformation within Kanon’s character later on, the quick resolution to her problems may make her feel a bit lacking in the end.
And of course, let’s talk about the other prominent character, Tang Keke. It’s fair to say that Keke is the ‘initiator’ character of this show, the person who ultimately pushes that ‘school idol agenda’ (similar to Honoka, Chika, Yuu). And I think her particular background and personality make her desires feel a lot more genuine. Obviously she’s supposed to be a character who’s more on the comedic side but Keke being a young, energetic and passionate girl who moved to a completely different country to chase her dreams of becoming a school idol; not only is that something we haven’t seen in this franchise yet but it’s also fun to see her determination, confidence and appreciation for this particular entertainment culture.
Which leads me to the character relationships. Kanon and Keke, right off the bat, seem like a great pair. Both compliment each other very, very well; one has the music talents while the other has the passion and credence. Heck, they even feel like a comedy duo at times, with how many chuckle-worthy jokes and gags they’ve made together. These writers really did not waste any time setting up and establishing the kinship between them, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their bond and leadership grow throughout this show. Although, one minor issue/fear I have is that some sort of ‘triangle’ will form between Kanon, Keke and Chisato (Kanon’s longtime friend) and we’ll get another Ayumu jealousy situation… God, I’m begging you. Do NOT let this happen. (however it seems like it’s too late since a very talented fan actually remade the NijiGaku episode 11 scene into one featuring Kanon and Chisato… sigh :P)
Even the other three who haven’t had a ton of screen time yet, it’s going to be really interesting to see how they end up joining this school idol group. I believe longtime, observant Liella fans including myself, can already imagine the individual backstories and struggles Chisato, Ren and Sumire have had (thanks to their debut single’s music video) so I’m looking forward to seeing how they expand upon their characters.
As for the artistic side of things, I’ll start with the art and animation. Like I said before, the overall art style and character design definitely look different but I think it still has the same feel as the first two iterations of the series. Especially compared to how the Nijigasaki characters and setting looked in that show, it honestly feels like Superstar channeled the original series a lot more when it came to the visuals. It’s really noticeable with the animation, since the CGI dance/choreography sequences basically look the same as what you’d see within the Sunshine TV series and movie. However, there were times where the animation felt a bit off and to be honest, it was almost like a ‘downgrade’, especially for someone who previously watched the NijiGaku anime with its absolutely refined looking dance CGI. But it’s not something to worry about too much, it still looks pretty good for what it is.
The OST/background music was very fitting. Like I said, the composer of the SIP and Sunshine shows is working on this project so it played into that nostalgia factor and made it feel like a true Love Live anime with its fun and appropriate-sounding BGM tracks. The opening and ending songs on the other hand; both are very very solid songs and after listening to these two, you’ll have a better idea on what kind of style and atmosphere Liella is going for with their music. The OP, “START!! True dreams” is very reminiscent of their debut single and it’s a nice track that’s filled with emotion, signifying the start of their new goals and aspirations. The ED, “Mirai no Kazenoyoni”, just feels like a comfy song to end off each episode and when you pair that with the cute music video of the girls dancing… it’s probably my favorite out of the two!
It also seems like they’ll feature insert/other songs throughout this anime, including ones where it’s only exclusive on the NHK broadcast (the main Japanese network that this anime will be shown on) such as episode one’s “Primary”. The whole NHK thing kinda sucks for international fans who only watch on streaming services but it’s cool that this group is already coming out with more and more music as the anime goes on.
And finally, the voice acting. I was really looking forward to talking about this.
Both Date Sayuri (voice of Kanon) and Liyuu (Keke) honestly impressed the hell out of me, even from the first episode. All five of the main seiyuu are complete rookies; they haven’t had any roles prior to being casted in the Liella group but even then, they genuinely sound like professionals already. Sayurin sounds natural when portraying Kanon (her singing vocals are incredible as well) and same can be said with Liyuu’s performance so far with playing Keke (despite some fans already saying that Keke’s voice is annoying :(). I think it’s obvious that they’re just gifted talents but after doing some research, it’s pretty cool to find out that Sayurin and Liyuu have A LOT in common with their fictional roles.
For example (as told by this helpful redditor), Sayurin can often be hard on herself, kinda like how Kanon acts when it comes to her passion for singing. Liyuu on the other hand, it’s almost uncanny how similar she is to Keke. Liyuu herself was born and raised in Shanghai, China and later found out about/fell in love with the idol and otaku cultures. She was so interested in Japanese entertainment that she moved to Japan to pursue a career in music/idol work/cosplay/anime voice acting… which is pretty much what Keke did. It’s insane how comparable Sayurin and Liyuu (as well as the other three) are to their fictional counterparts, and it’s a big possibility that those similarities allow both voice actresses to portray their characters in a super genuine and real fashion (it’s also a plus that these five seiyuu were already Love Live fans in the first place). And because of that, the LL staff might’ve just struck gold, diamond, platinum, every variation of that valuable gem idiom with these five voice actresses. Wow.
With that said, I think it is safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this first look at the Love Live Superstar anime.
It’s natural/expected for an avid LL fan like myself to adore whatever content this franchise puts out, but there were actually a lot of unique and fun things that stood out to me and other fans. The lovable characters and how they were set up, the familiar atmosphere, the amusing jokes, the music, the anticipated direction this story will go towards, etc etc; this show and this particular Love Live group have shown a ton of potential and I definitely believe that Liella’s story will be a good one to follow this season.
Especially with all the adversity this group has gone through lately such as not being able to perform their first live in front of people due to COVID, the whole IRL café situation, and even the anime currently being delayed a few weeks because of the Olympics… despite all that, there has been many positives about Liella and I’m really really really looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this already fantastic group.
Oh yeah, also if you’re wondering: Chisato’s my favorite. 😀
Thank you for reading this lengthy post; if you made it all the way to the end, you’re amazing. And if you’ve seen the first couple episodes of Superstar, definitely let me know your thoughts in the comments! I’m curious on what other people thought about this new show. 😀