When I began viewing Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, Love Live!'s third adventure in the world of singing/dancing girls, I had misgivings whether it would just ape the previous versions, my main gripe of the franchise. Sunshine! was patterned too closely to SIP that it was nothing more than an exercise in déjà vu all over again. I set out three rules which I felt would be good markers whether I could enjoy Nijigasaki:
1) No stock characters, girls looking sooo much like that other girl.
2) No repeated premise. No all-girl academies are to be harmed in the production.
3) Personalities before performance. I got to have to feel I'm getting to meet somebody new and different.
Thankfully, Nijigasaki powered through all these demanding provisions. There is something unique about the third production in the Love Live! series. But, not all unique is equally good. Nijigasaki does break the mold, and that is good for starters.
The characters are memorable. And they need not have eccentric qualities that jump at you, vocal tics, or other over the wall traits, though you will find some pleasant ones in Nijigasaki. Ai Miyashita is the sweet girl who supports those fearful and uncertain types in the group; having a sweet tooth helps. Kasumi Nakasu is a pint-sized megalomaniac who feels it is up to her to save the day and shine on stage. Kanata Konoe is a narcoleptic girl who can take a snooze anywhere, and this scares her little sister into having her own school idol dreams cut short. Rina Tennoji is a girl who cannot express emotions beyond what is on her somber face, but her techno skills allow her to perform behind a mecha-mask which flashes the cutest smiles. Setsuna Yuki leads a double life, one a school council president who cracks down on school idol groups, one the premier school idol in the club (rather a Jekyll and Hyde type) Karin Asaka already has the stage presence as a model, but she must push hard to become as adept on the stage as an idol. Emma Verde is a Swiss transfer student who brings her own sense of optimism to the group. Quick time out on characters, while I move to Nijigasaki's spin on main characters.
The first two Love Live! series involved the trio of second-years who are instrumental in creating the idol group. The formula was: two established friends find the new transfer student and these three charge forward to find the first-years, then the third-years. 3+3+3=9. Nijigasaki tosses that. Two girls are the linchpin to the storyline, and they first meet each other in episode one. Ayumu Uehara is the klutzy girl who has the zeal to perform on stage; Yu Takasaki is the girl who will support her dream (green-tinged pigtail? quaint character design). As the episodes proceed, you sense a touch of yuri to this relationship, but nothing serious develops other than a desire to be at each other's side in the challenge of being the new school idol group in the world of school idols.
There are uniques that are not as cool. The mission of Nijigasaki School Idol Club (the only thing in the series that was in danger of folding) was to give its members the experience of singing on stage ... as solo idols. This helped give us great back stories for all the girls, but it lost on the feel for choreography. Worse, when the final episode gave this team a chance to perform together, the animation method was still shots of the performance. No sweeping position changes as seen in SIP and Sunshine! Plus, the added mystery. The Nijigasaki school idol group that performed for the School Idol Festival then were nine in number, but in the opening theme sequence, you watch ten girls dance on stage. You might ask what is up with Yu, the supposed hold out? A second season will hold the answer, I suppose.
The music was tailored for each girl in the group, and this could reflect the personality. Ayumu's song of aspirations was more memorable than Kanata's brisk number which I could have slept through. Kasumi's reflected her lively, though a touch conceited nature. Rina's was upstaged by her mask and video graphics. The animation was less developed than SIP and Sunshine! The drawings were simpler, and the routines of the solo idols were less integrated, almost placid in comparison with the first two versions.
But the best thing about Nijigasaki is its difference. Its look and feel were nothing like the first two editions of the Love Live! franchise, and the further development of this school idol group and the challenges beyond the School Idol Festival hold great promise. It will be like nothing I've seen before, I'm sure.