It's been a long, long time since I last blogged on anime. And when I last blogged it was over at Rabbit Poets, but that site has been relatively inactive in general for quite some time now, which is why I've decided to resume blogging here. And what has inspired me to start blogging again? Quite fittingly, it's that most inspirational anime show of all, Love Live!
There's been a lot of discussion about A-Rise taking on a much larger role in the Love Live! anime with Season 2, Episode 3. They are now, at last, interacting directly with the nine singing goddesses of Muse. Many, including myself, suspected foul-play, since hey, it's kind of a trope for underdog upstarts like Muse to be on the receiving end of foul-play from the empowered established elite rival, which definitely describes A-Rise.
And so in focusing on possible villainy, I think I missed something paradoxically both obvious and subtle. It's subtle in that each instance of it is easy to dismiss or chalk up to a different interpretation. But it's obvious in that when you add these instances altogether, it points towards yuri as telling as Akemi Homura interacting for any more than a minute with Kaname Madoka.
And what does Love Live! Season 2 Episode 3 tell when you're not actively on the lookout for megalomaniacal villainy? It tells of how Honoka Kousaka has actually managed to have a celebrity star fall hard for her. And that celebrity is Tsubasa of A-Rise. Before continuing, I want to familiarize my readers (and myself) with the names of the three A-Rise members, because they aren't exactly common knowledge given A-Rise's cameo-esque presence in Season 1.
The tall purple-haired girl on the left is Erina Toudou.
The girl with hat taste to match Tari Tari's Sawa is Tsubasa Kira. She's the main point of discussion for this post as far as A-Rise is concerned.
The Mikuru Asahina-esque girl on the right is Anju Yuuki.
Try to keep these all straight, because I will be referencing each of these characters by name throughout much of the rest of the post. Now then, back to my argument, which will involve a step-by-step evaluation of the 2nd half of LL! 2nd Season Episode 3.
Honoka Kousaka is enthusiastically greeted by Tsubasa while Honoka was ironically caught up in watching an A-Rise promo video. Tsubasa then grabbed Honoka by the arm and raced off with her, leading her inside UTX Academy. Not long after we see this...
"UTX Academy" is clearly a front for a Jail Scaglietti-ran research facility. I mean, just look at that student uniform - It's like a cross between a business suit and a scientist's lab coat. All you need is a clipboard in Anju's hand and a stethoscope around Erina's neck, and the impression would be complete!
But putting that aside, it's time to start reading body language. And the body language here is cool and confident, but also warm and inviting (such is the amazingly awesome A-Rise that they can simultaneously be cool and warm!) It's very clear that A-Rise is trying to make a good impression here... which is interesting, because the people they're talking to are almost completely star-struck.
Looking at each girl individually, Erina is holding a fairly standard pose of friendly social confidence, while Tsubasa is similarly confident but also appearing quite earnest. Most interestingly is Anju, who looks like a lovestruck girl while holding a clenched hand over her chest. This is a gesture you sometimes see from an anime girl in romantic tension. It's an odd expression coming from a popular celebrity addressing a few of her fans. So what could it mean?
I have a theory here - Anju knows how important this meeting with Honoka is for her good friend and team-mate Tsubasa. So she's excited for her friend. She might be the sort of girl that loves seeing her friends do well romantically. Now, this is admittedly an awful lot to read into one screenshot, definitely. But I wouldn't do it if not for what I see in many other screenshots. The next of which being...
Here we see Anju playing with her hair in that "Shy girl thinking about romance" sort of way. Meanwhile, this is where Tsubasa really starts letting out subtle (and not so subtle) hints to Honoka. "Make yourself at home" is a classic lead-in seduction line. Tsubasa is trying to make her guests comfortable and relaxed. She especially wants Honoka comfortable and relaxed, for the pitch-perfect pick-up lines coming soon...
Everything in romance has to be done properly you see. ;)
Two key points on this screenshot.
1. Just look at Tsubasa's face. The sensuous cat-eyes, the sharp grin. This is a girl making her move, able to taste the delicious opportunity before her. And she knows this moment is key.
2. Anju is looking a bit nervously over at her friend Tsubasa. Anju also knows that this moment is key, and so she's paying close attention to Tsubasa, hoping Tsubasa doesn't mess it up. Thankfully, Anju's next facial expression makes it clear that Tsubasa is doing well.
Such is Tsubasa's fondness for Honoka that she's able to instantly pick Honoka's face out from a crowd. Anju knows that this is an effectively executed piece of sincere flattery, and so she can now rest blissfully at ease, confident that Tsubasa's aims here will be successful. Anju's face says "Aaahhh... isn't young romance so wonderful?"
"You're far more captivating in real life than on screen."
We have a word for this sort of line. That word is "flirting". ;)
So this is the money line, right here. Accentuated by Tsubasa shaking her hair, revealing her electrified excitement at having Honoka finally in her presence. This line is a clear-cut pick-up line. If a girl said this to a guy, or a guy said this to a girl, there would be no doubt whatsoever about that. So I think that even within a girl-to-girl context, it's still pretty suggestive. This line is the main thing that tipped me off to this romantic theory that I've since developed.
But Tsubasa's line is quickly followed up by Erina making a very professional-sounding evaluation of Honoka's strengths, perhaps masking what is really motivating Tsubasa here.
After A-Rise is done its conversation with Muse, they throw down the proverbial gauntlet, declaring how they will not lose to Muse. It's a somewhat strange end given how friendly and cordial and mutually complimentary their discussion has been. However, it's fairly reflective to similar scenes in sports anime shows between competing
players/schools/teams. It's usually a way of saying "I respect you, and so I'm going to do my best against you, and I fully intend to win. I hope you feel the same about me, and about what you're aiming for yourself. We should both give it our best!"
Now, I'd think this was all this was, except...
Just look at that face. That's almost orgasmic level of satisfaction! This is a person very, very pleased with how things just went down. Which again shows just how important this meeting was to her. It's amazing to write this about a celebrity like Tsubasa, but I think she was very emotionally invested in giving a good impression to Muse (especially Honoka). At this point, Tsubasa knows she nailed it, marvelously well. So that previous bit of "We're not going to lose" grandstanding?
I think its entirely sincere, and that A-Rise really are confident they will win, but I also think Tsubasa wanted to look cool to Honoka. And I think I know why she wanted to... ;)
A-Rise is then stunned by Honoka pulling off one of her Captain America moments, and with a stoic face that would make the Hitler-puncher himself proud, Honoka declared that Muse would not lose. This prompted Tsubasa to chuckle, and say to Honoka "You sure are interesting."
Yes... interesting... ;)
This is a key moment for Tsubasa. What was a crush based on seeing a person in a video has now turned into something more serious. In other words, Tsubasa's interest in Honoka has grown due to Honoka's show of strength and determination even in the face of a celebrity that causes much of Honoka's own team to fangirl like crazy. With her interest rising, Tsubasa makes an offer to Honoka - An offer to use A-Rise's live stage as Muse's owns stage as well. And just look at how happy Tsubasa is while making this offer?
Tsubasa has clearly come to like Honoka a lot. Consider that this is obviously impromptu. It was not part of the plan. A-Rise was walking away, conversation presumably ended, when Honoka unexpectedly stood up and threw the gauntlet right back at them.Tsubasa was so impressed by Honoka's reply that she on the spot decided to offer to share her stage with Muse.This was not part of the A-Rise plan, as it is a very emotional reaction to what Honoka did. And I think it says a lot.
Two weeks later...
The dialogue and facial expressions here are both very telling. A-Rise's facial expressions are very warm and friendly now. Some of the coolness of "Welcome to UTX" has actually faded under the bright light of this amazingly inspirational girl named Honoka Kousaka. The look in A-Rise's eyes/faces as they look at Honoka is decidedly intense - They're all sincerely impressed by Honoka, and they really truly are happy to be performing with her. The fact that Tsubasa says "so happy" instead of just "happy" is also telling, I think. It takes this beyond simple friendliness and formal politeness.This really does mean a lot to Tsubasa. Honoka has become a very important person to Tsubasa.
"Compliment each other's lives"? What, you mean like a married couple? So wait... ;)
In all seriousness, I initially just took this to mean that Tsubasa was hoping that A-Rise and Muse could both learn some things about being good School Idols from each other. And that probably is part of it, at least. Still, the wording is suggestive here. Why not say "compliment each other's performances" or "compliment each other's growths as school idols"? "Compliment each other's lives" is taking it to a more generalized but also higher level.
At a bare minimum, it strongly suggests that Tsubasa wants Honoka to remain a part of her life.
A couple ideas worth considering at this point...
1. If Tsubasa is in fact romantically interested in Honoka, then it makes added sense for her to want to share the same stage with Honoka. It gives Tsubasa a chance to show off directly and in person to Honoka. Trying to show off for the person you're interested in is a very common thing in romantic courtship.
2. Additionally, Tsubasa would want to watch Honoka live and in person. And she does so, and this is how she looks during Honoka/Muse's live performance at the A-Rise stage...
That's a surprisingly vulnerable look for Tsubasa. I mean, the slightly awed look on her face, and the gingerly holding of her arm with one hand.
Then there's how Anju and Erina are both keying in on Tsubasa here. They're either struck by Tsubasa's reaction to the Muse performance, or they just want to see what her reaction is, or both.
This could suggest that this is all especially important to Tsubasa, and the other two A-Rise members know it. So they focus on her. Is it like two girls focusing on their friend watching a guy that their friend as a crush on? ;) Well, I don't know about you, but this face makes me think of Sayaka Miki being awed by Kyousuke Kamijo...
To be fair, my arguments depend a lot on reading body language and very accurate subs (so if anybody is aware of an issue with any of these sub lines, please tell me). And as I wrote before, each individual instance/screenshot is easily open to multiple interpretations. But when you put them altogether, I do think they make for an interesting yuri argument. Am I wearing goggles here? Perhaps. And it is just one episode of course. But I definitely think there might be more to this than villain!Rival or even honest!Rival. It'll be interesting to see how future Love Live! episodes portray Tsubasa, particularly her interactions with Honoka.
Well, I've presented my case in this blog post. I'd love to know what my fellow Love Live! fans think. ;)