Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking Back: Love Live! School Idol Project (and School Idol Festival)

I'm back to blogging! And what better way to return than to look back at a series that I had enjoyed quite a lot over its first run, but only truly came to love after experiencing it through other media?

Love Live! School Idol Project is less of an anime series and more of a multimedia phenomenon. It first appeared as a series of music videos in 2010, and has since spawned an anime adaptation across the last two years, plus some video games and other media. Of course, being a music-driven franchise, there are lots of music CDs to go with it all.

I first experienced this franchise through the anime, the first season of which aired early in 2013, and the second of which aired in spring of this year. Having already been a fan of music-based shows, including other idol-related shows like The IDOLM@STER, the Love Live! anime quickly became, if not a top-tier favorite, certainly an enjoyable part of my viewing slate. It has its rough spots; the music didn't really stand out at first outside of a few numbers, the drama could get a bit heavy-handed, there was one particularly unpleasant episode in season 2 involving a dieting attempt, and while it's not too bad, I still would have preferred the CG dancing to be smoother. But to make up for all that, you had a lovable cast that was very strong overall and an overwhelming sense of positivism that worked well in the show's favor as it made the most of being an inspirational show about working toward a goal together. (Having a rival team that was actually respectable and likable for once helped a lot.) My final score for the anime is an 8.8/10.0, which is a really good score in my book; I can't say why without going into spoilers, but the ending was absolutely fantastic, to say the least.

And yet, while I had fond memories of the franchise going out of it, it never did quite cross the line into becoming a truly beloved franchise, one that I would spend a good amount of time--and money--seeking out things beyond its anime adaptation, until this September. Then, I discovered School Idol Festival, a rhythm game on iOS (and Android) based on the Love Live! franchise.

I thought I would give it a try; why not, considering it's a rhythm game (always one of my favorite genres), and it's an anime-based game, which only rarely get localized in the US (I'm going to pretend those overpriced IDOLM@STER Shiny Festa games don't exist). Worst case scenario, I get bored with it and it goes into the pile of other rhythm games on the iPad that I've tried and couldn't keep with. However, once I got past the obligatory tutorials and Easy mode stages, I found what was actually a rather robust and enjoyable rhythm game (one that could get decently challenging too, at least when I feel like playing Expert charts), and with an addicting card-collecting element as well.

But more importantly, the game gave me a different way to experience the Love Live! franchise. Because it's a rhythm game, I started to connect with the music more. Suddenly, what was once one of the show's small faults--the not-very-standout music--turned into one of its greatest strengths, as a number of the franchise's songs, including those I had not paid much attention to, became great songs to listen to and play. The additional story chapters the game provides are great too, as it gave me more time to spend with the franchise's great overall cast. (It also has a much better "dieting" storyline than the anime, amusingly enough.)

With the extra time with the cast and a greater appreciation for the songs, I went back to rewatch both seasons of the anime and enjoyed it a lot more. It's pretty cool how these sorts of multimedia experiences can really improve my enjoyment of a series, and now I am definitely a big fan of the Love Live! franchise. (I don't know if I'd rate the show any higher yet, because I'm saving re-rates of this year's shows for the end of the year to better evaluate them.)

I might revisit Love Live! on this blog later to look over some of my favorite songs, characters, and moments from the franchise.

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