How would you rate episode 1 of Love Live! Sunshine!! (TV 2) ? With all the students of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School gathered for...

How would you rate episode 1 of
Love Live! Sunshine!! (TV 2) ?

With all the students of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School gathered for an assembly, Mari proudly declares that they’re ready for their “second season,” a wink-nudge at its audience that even in a small seaside high school, everything is showbiz. As she and Dia talk about their placement results at the last Love Live!, it turns into an odd kind of pep rally, where the entire school is expected to care about the follies of their homegrown idol troupe. But their efforts have somewhat paid off—since their strong showing at regionals, ten more prospective students have shown an interest in attending Uranohoshi. Then again, with a laughably small student count of 65, three teachers, and a disproportionately large facility, it’s hard not to acknowledge that maybe the school ought to be shut down. Or at the very least consider admitting male students.

The tenuous future of the school consumes the rest of the episode. As Aqours carries on with their training regiment, bemoaning their small town’s bus schedule and finding a new practice space, they learn that their efforts up until now may have been for naught. Despite a new surge of interest in Uranohoshi, the administration is pulling the plug on recruitment efforts and cancelling the school open house.

This segues to one of the more salient parts of the episode, when the girls are wracked with guilt. If we had won at the regional prelims, maybe the future would’ve been different. It’s a heavy mantle to wear and an unfair burden to place on one’s conscience. It’s a good through line from the first season, which dealt a lot with expectations, responsibility, and guilt.

It’s also a bit of a narrative conceit, of course. There is no reasonable way that a group of nine girls could be tasked with saving a rural school that even the administration has written off. But this expectation is planted in everything they do and all their surroundings. It gives the story something to head toward, but it also draws a parallel between their predicament and that of µ’s, as well as the blind hope that can sometimes drive our actions. Admittedly, I was fairly annoyed when the “Save our school!” narrative popped up in the first season, but as time went on, I was able to accept it as more than just a plot copy. There’s almost an air of desperation in Aqours’ actions. They cling to the belief that if it worked for their role models, it might work for them, because it has to work for them.

There’s sort of a Boxcar Children quality to their efforts—the well-tread fantasy that kids can save the day in a world where adults rarely make an appearance. Even their fellow classmates are written to embrace this. At one point, one of them says, “This problem is out of our league. If something could be done, Chika and the others would’ve done it already.” Would they have? Maybe Mari could with her family connections, but surely not Chika and the rest of her idol group. No wonder their expectations weigh so heavily on them.

But the writers are aware of their own machinations, so they do allow the girls some respite. The emotional turning point of the episode has Riko growling at Chika, declaring herself to be a “normal monster.” It’s a sweet callback to the first season and all its conversations about normalcy. After all, the girls are all just normal. It’s what makes “school idols” great in the first place, the idea that normal, everyday, not-special girls could become idols and accomplish the impossible.

It’s not the most exciting of first episodes, and in fact some stretches are so dull that the writers felt the need to throw in several incongruous dog reaction shots. But it’s a reasonable start to a new season, which will hopefully pick up steam once the singing and dancing moves back to the forefront.

Rating: B-

Love Live! Sunshine!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Bamboo resides in Southern California, and she’s an unabashed idol fan. Follow her on Twitter.