[Editor’s Note: For further discussion about Love Live! Sunshine!!, check out Season 2 of Jared and AL Watch.]
Shows with large casts tend to have growing pains with introducing every single character. Love Live! Sunshine!! is no exception as it spends the first half of season one establishing all the main characters. That leads to some bits of drama, but nothing that is truly going to be a roadblock. When the six member version of Aqours is invited to Tokyo, everything changes. Aqours is finally met with true resistance against their plans to save Uranohoshi High, and we also begin to see the dynamic of the third years’ drama. It’s also where the show truly breaks out and has its defining moments that set the stage for the rest of the series.
Prior to the Tokyo trip, the third years of Dia, Mari, and Kanan have been defined by Kanan being indifferent, Dia as an adversary, and Mari wanting to support Aqours. However, here we begin to see an inverse of these traits as Dia and Mari essentially switch. Dia becomes worried after her sister Ruby asks her permission to go to Tokyo, but ultimately gives her blessing and then immediately confronts Mari. What you’d expect to see here is Dia being angry that Aqours is going to Tokyo and Mari reassuring her, but that’s not what happens.
What we learn over the course of this arc is that the third years were former school idols and that ties into why there is tensions between them. Their experience brings forth an ideological clash between Dia and Mari. Dia immediately knows Aqours is not ready for what this event is going to do to them as a group mentally. Mari on the other hand, believes they need to experience that to grow as a group or if they crumble here, they will never be able to succeed.
For someone who has tried to place barriers in the way of Chika and Aqours every step of the way, it’s strange and surprising to see Dia be this worried. Yet, throughout the series to this point, she hasn’t done anything to purposefully make them fail. If they’re going to fail, it’s going to because they give up or just aren’t trying hard enough. That’s what Dia wants to see. Her school idol experience and her knowledge of school idols also tells her that despite what Aqours has done thus far, they don’t know how other school idols operate, the pressures of big events, and how to face immense failure head on.
Mari, on the other hand, is fueled by this pettiness to get back at Dia and Kanan for how their school idol tenure ended. She does want to believe in them but thinks they need this type of failure to make them into an actual group. If they can’t come back from this, then they have no business being school idols. It will also show that they aren’t “running away” like Mari thinks Dia and Kanan did two years prior.
We finally see Mari’s true colors here. While she’s been nice and helpful, this isn’t purely just to help Aqours. She’s angry for how the original run of Aqours ended. Yet, this also ties into the idea that the third years haven’t communicated in a way that would be helpful since Mari left two years ago. Even though Dia and Kanan were trying to look out for Mari and allow her to have a more successful academic career, they don’t tell her that! Everything here would’ve been easily avoided if they had just communicated, but then you wouldn’t have the emotional reunion that happens later in the season.
As the third years clash over their ideological differences, Chika and Aqours head to Tokyo excited about this new prospect. Immediately, they are confronted with their rival group Saint Snow that shows them what a seasoned school idol group looks like. When they watch them perform, they’re blown away. It’s a whole new level of how school idols are supposed to be that Aqours is nowhere close to being. When they’re given the results of the event and see they got zero votes, the failure that Dia and Mari predicted came true.
This is point of the series that truly makes Chika as a character. As a leader, she feels as if she needs to be everyone’s rock. She has to be that beacon of hope and stability for the group or else it might fall apart. Here, she and everyone else are met with something they haven’t had to deal with before. Chika feels as if she still needs to be an energetic form of herself to make sure everyone feels okay while they’re still in Tokyo. It’s a facade, and she’s being fake, but it’s the only thing she knows how to be currently.
At one point, You talks about why she always asks Chika if she’s giving up and explains it keeps her motivated to not give up. It’s effectively reverse psychology. After Tokyo, that idea begins to change as You notices that Chika isn’t sure of herself and is putting on a mask to hide how she really feels. Again, You asks her this question, but it’s not intended to be motivation. It’s legitimate and also calling out Chika for not being honest with herself and everyone—which is what Chika needs at this point in time.
Losing so badly in any activity is incredibly frustrating. The other members of Aqours feel this as seen when they return home, and Ruby breaks down when she sees Dia. Chika has to feel this even more because she is their leader and has to wonder if what she’s done so far has failed them. She is taking this hard, but because everyone else is not feeling great, she feels she can’t let them see this side of her. This thinking is selfish and not at all what the other members of Aqours would want from Chika.
For Chika, it takes just dunking herself in the ocean to finally vent out her frustrations about what happened. Riko helps her understand that she doesn’t have to be unemotional and hold everything in for the sake of the group. Everyone is going to accept her if she gets mad when they lose and wants to do better. Chika is the epitome of ride or die for everyone, and this let’s her see that everyone is the same for her. This humanises her in a way that she hadn’t been before and makes her a better leader from here on out because she can count on everyone and not just herself to shoulder the emotional burdens.
The zero becomes the motivation for Aqours moving forward, even when they move to their full nine member unit. It allows them to prove to not only themselves, but to everyone else that they have been doubted and are going to show them why those that didn’t vote for them are wrong. They will succeed despite this zero. It will grow from a zero to a one. Without all of these trials and tribulations during the Tokyo arc, none of this would have happened, and the series would not be as strong. Aqours getting a zero is where the series truly pushes forward into becoming one of the best series of the last few years.