There’s a chill in the air at Nijigasaki High. Winter is creeping in, and upon its winds rides change. Anyone who’s watched an anime set in high school knows that winter is the harbinger of many things: cute scarves and other cold weather accessories for the cast, Christmas/New Years episodes, and most of all it means graduations are just around the corner. Entrance exams, club retirements, and the dreaded sakura blossoms of the new school year are barely months away, and unless your entire cast are 1st and 2nd years, it means you may have to say goodbye to some of your favorites sooner rather than later.
Love Live! is a franchise well aware of that inevitability – both of the previous TV series wrapped up right as their 3rd years graduated, and µ’s literally broke up when it came time for their eldest members to disappear into the world of adults. So it’s natural that anxiety about what comes next would be on the minds of characters and viewers alike, and that thoroughly colors these two episodes. Though they go about it in very different ways that inadvertently showcase both Nijigasaki‘s biggest strengths and weaknesses.
For the latter, the initial conflict about whether or not the Nijigasakids should become a formal idol group just doesn’t land. The show firmly established in its first story arc that the central goal of it all is for these characters to enjoy and express themselves as solo performers. While the move to units this season might have brought up the question of them turning into a full group, it never occurred to me, because that’s what makes this show unique within the Love Live! franchise. Why would they bother to change it so late in the game? And predictably the club members all decide they don’t need to, and are more than happy going along the way they have for the past 20 episodes. It’s an odd, limp choice for a conflict that gets resolved just slowly enough to take up half the episode, and I’m still scratching my head over why it was necessary.
Things do pick up a bit in the second half, as Karin gets moody and distant when impending graduation starts to dawn on her. Well, that and upcoming exams, because this entry’s Nozomi is actually kind of a dingus and is just way better at hiding it than Kasumi. But the more universal emotion at play here is the looming unknown of life beyond high school. Whether you loved, hated, or just kind of stopped thinking about it, leaving behind compulsory education is one of those coming-of-age moments nearly everyone has to go through in life, and it’s a time with a lot of change. Friends you once saw every day are suddenly gone to different towns or cities or countries. The entire structure of your life is fundamentally different. In the Love Liverse it seemingly means an end to any and all Idol aspirations. So Karin worrying about it as she senses this particular stage of her life her – and her her relatively short time her as a school idol – coming to an end is a solid emotional hook.
And the resolution, with her friends encouraging her to focus on making the best of what time is left, is a solid one. I just wish more screentime was spent fleshing it out – as-is we get Karin moping for a bit, then Kanata and Emma give her a pep talk before assembling their baker’s dozen idol collective for another of what feels like a hundred group cheer sessions. It’s another sequence where the sheer amount of characters – and the amount of screentime dedicated to conflicts that don’t amount to much – undercuts the otherwise effective writing of this season. It’s not ruined, but combined with a fairly non-committal “eh, just don’t worry about what comes next” moral, it feels like another half measure in a season with too many of them already.
Thankfully episode 12 takes that idea in a way more interesting direction, by actively encouraging Yu and Ayumu to think about their futures. Sure, they’re still second years and have a buffer before the specter of graduation spirits them away to the afterlife, but they’re also young people with their whole lives ahead of them, and for as much as their relationship is important to them , life can end up pulling you in a lot of different directions that aren’t compatible with staying right next to the people you knew at 16. And for as scary as that can be, it can be exhilarating and thrilling. So when the idea of Ayumu taking a short exchange trip to London of all places came up, I was actually really excited about it, and I’m glad that Yu (and Kanata, as well as the story itself) ends up encouraging her. Considering how Ayumu reacted to their perceived distance her in the previous season, it’s a sign of how much she’s grown to trust not only Yu, but herself.
I also really like the way we end up getting to that resolution. One of the aspects that made the first season of Nijigasaki stand out was how often it swerved from the hyperdramatic way of resolving conflict that we’ve come to expect from the franchise. So having an episode where characters are dealing with relatable, emotionally driven problems, and they solve them by having earnest conversations with trusted friends, is a welcome return. It’s also cool that Kanata of all characters gets to be the one to help them, and how her solution her comes about through wanting to encourage her own sister and all the other School Idols who have had cameos across this season. It’s a neat way to take the character work and meld it with something distinctively Love Live! without taking away from the (relatively) more subdued approach to drama this series has thrived on.
In a weird way that sort of makes these two episodes work well in concert. Despite a rocky start mired in the biggest problems that have hounded this season, in its 11th hour Nijigasaki manages to pick itself up and find its groove again. We’ve got one episode left, and I have no clue what it could entail, but hopefully it can continue this upward trajectory as the season wraps up.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.