The opening sequence to the original Love Live! School Idol Project still charms me to this day. It was made back when Love Live! was a budding multimedia adventure and not the successful franchise it is today, the time period of its latest iteration, Love Live! Superstar!!. It features a shot that’s actually rotated in a spinning motion like you would rotate a photograph in photoshop. It comparatively janky, clunky, and sets an odd tone of fourth-wall-breaking stage musical style that the series continues for the entire season, despite the fact that it never returns to this Episode 1 moment where protagonist Honoka Kousaka breaks out into song like a musical.
It’s perfect. Director Takahiko Kyougoku knows how staging works, which isn’t something every idol show gets. He’s aware not only of how to use the figurative camera to give idols a better stage that even the most competent music show wouldn’t be able to do. And most importantly, he intimately knows the liminal space between the reality of a stage show and what it’s trying to project onto an audience, something that myriad accomplished movie directors have failed at miserably when turning musicals into movies. The first episode of the original Love Live! not only features Honoka’s movie musical moment, but a fantastic sequence featuring established idol group A-Rise as they perform on a dark stage that quickly becomes a pocket space that they own before cutting back to a stunned audience, watching them on a large screen.
In the first episode of Love Live! Superstar!! we see this same exact understanding of staging. Kyougoku revisits his own franchise and uses similar staging to give Kanon Shibuya her own movie musical moment, all while presenting a world that’s both completely different from Love Live! School Idol Project and wholly familiar.
Unlike The Idolm@ster, which already had a legion of fans from the original arcade game prior to the anime’s 2011 debut or the 2012 series AKB0048, which drew on the pre-existing AKB48 fanbase, Love Live! was still a relatively new multimedia project when the anime aired in early 2013.
Love Live! has always operated on a few different conceits than other idol series, even back in its first season when it was this weird and corny thing with janky computer generated animation. The Idolm@ster poked a bit at the exhausting lifestyle of an idol and AKB0048 prodded at the creepiness of it all while both sold their respective products and tie-ins, banking on the fact that audiences would resonate with one or two girls — or in the peculiar case of AKB0048, support them because of their real-life counterparts.
Meanwhile, Love Live! wants to charm you from the get-go, in the same vein of a hammy musical production. The latest iteration of the series, Love Live! Sunshine, is no different.
“Matsuda, do you remember what I told you at the audition? About idols being a story? They’ve written tons of stories this past year, and today will become a new story. I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but these girls are idols.”
-Green Leaves President Junko Tange, Wake Up Girls!, episode 12
Where The Idolm@ster plays with traditional harem elements to captivate its audience, AKB0048 is the next evolution of Macross, and Love Live! is a high school musical, Wake Up, Girls! makes a compelling case for itself as more of a classic sports narrative. President Tange tells Matsuda – and by extension, frames the series for viewers – that idols are “a story.”
The story of Wake Up Girls! begins in a movie – one that I highly recommend you watch before beginning the television series – not in its first named episode. This sets a specific, cynical, framework through which to view the series, much like how The Idolm@ster‘s premiere episode was shot in the style of an idol interview, giving the show a specific tone. In spite of a harsh outlook on the idol industry, Wake Up Girls! doesn’t shine that same light on our would-be idols, similar to AKB0048‘s treatment of its progenies.
A few minutes in, our soon-to-be Producer of Green Leaves talent agency – who, in spite of bearing a strikingresemblance to Producer from The Idolm@ster, is also graced with a name, Kouhei Matsuda – watches company president Junko Tange yell at her own client like a deranged Anna Wintour. From that moment on, I knew that I was going to love this movie.