Recently, having started playing Love Live School Idol Festival again, and having dragged my sorry ass at last past the finish line of the original Love Live anime (only took about three years), I have taken to complaining to various people (who possessed various levels of giving a shit-ness) about what I found wanting in the LL anime. Imagine my surprise when I read the first few chapters of the Love Live manga and discovered that many of those complaints were answered by it.
The Love Live manga starts off with a similar premise to the anime, as Otonokizaka Academy is facing the prospect of closure in the face of falling enrollment. Unlike the anime, though, the story begins during Honoka’s first year as a high school student. Honoka here is a fourth-generation attendee of the school, and a kendo wiz, and her Otonokizaka is much more obviously decrepit and on a downward slide than the one of the anime. And while the school idol route is ultimately a solution Honoka hits upon for her school’s woes, she initially resolves to dominate at kendo to attract attention to the school.
This roughly covers the flux of the first volume – Honoka comes to the decision that school idols will help her school reverse its decline, and then takes the initial steps toward making it a reality by telling her friends, making recruitment attempts, and starting practices, as well as making the tentative overtures necessary for the whole thing to be school-sanctioned. In terms of overall direction, it doesn’t differ much from what the anime does for this part of the story, but the manga manages to develop its characters a lot more in these chapters than arguably the anime does over the course of its entire run (although it bears mention that some of the characterization differs from the anime). The manga also makes the threat of Otonokizaka’s closure a lot more substantial; students comment on the place being old and rundown, while even primary cast members are revealed to be willing to do just about anything to get into the fancy UTX Academy and out of their current school. Speaking of UTX, the stage is set early on for this institution (and its idol group) to act as a rival for μ’s (and their school) – UTX isn’t just a ritzy girls’ school with a popular school idol group, it’s part of the reason Otonokizaka is falling by the wayside in the first place, as its drawing prospective students away from the latter.
I mentioned that the characterization doesn’t necessarily fall in line with the personalities on display in the anime. Honoka is still more or less the designated genki girl, but she comes off as a lot more competent, capable, and focused here. Her commitment to saving the school also feels more grounded given her context. On the whole, most of the girls have had their personalities moderated – Nico is still a schemer, but she operates more within the bounds of reason, Hanayo isn’t as shy, Rin is less given to rabidity… Maki’s still prickly but also is revealed to be full of herself and not necessarily a prime candidate for being a team player. Nozomi hasn’t shown up yet, but Eli is a combination of anime!Eli and also anime!Nozomi, but Nozomi in her more innocuous moments rather than gropey ones (thank fuck). And the relationships are remixed a decent bit – our Honoka-Kotori-Umi friendship is pretty much intact, but Rin and Hanayo have both been friends for ages, and have also known HonoKotoUmi since well before high school, too. Eli has also known the second-years since they were small children, when she wowed a pre-school-aged Honoka during a festival…
You know, I may as well point out that if you like HonoEli, there is a decent bit of fodder to be had in this manga. More broadly, the yuri vibes are fairly overt, and certainly so compared with the anime. Other than a few moments of red meat being chucked to NicoMaki fans in the anime, the only ship that felt believable was NozoEli in that thing (ok, maybe a couple of scenes and happenings could at least raise a sail for RinHana). Reading this, I was having trouble keeping track of all the possibilities floated for pairings, although most of them did include Honoka.
Artwork is standard; it starts out a little bit rough, but it settles in before too long. Some of the characters in the early going bear more resemblance visually to the initial designs for the franchise (these, by the way, are the designs you’ll find in LLSIF for the original cool and pure R versions of the characters) than to the designs that were later standardized and used for the anime. I know I mixed up a couple of the girls at least once in the first few chapters because of this. Either way, you’re not really going to be reading this for the art. (By the way – she doesn’t do the art, but the author is Sakurako Kimino, which is horribly perfect, although she seems to be playing it fairly straight for once… uh, not in the sexual orientation way, mind you.)
Even feeling lukewarm on the art, I liked the first volume of the Love Live manga pretty decently, and I suspect fans of the franchise will, too… although maybe some folks will be bent out of shape over the difference in their characters from screen to page. The story has more muscle on its bones, and the characters get to stretch, breathe, and fill out in a manner there was never apparently time for in all the fluff that puffed up the anime to twenty-four episodes. For people who found the anime frustratingly lacking, I do genuinely recommend giving this a go; I was irritated at the flat characters and lack of competitive feeling to the show, and while the competitive angle hasn’t quite picked up yet, the material here gives plenty of reason to expect that it will. I’m looking forward to reading more.