As Love Live! has grown from Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE to Bokutachi wa Hitotsu no Hikari, µ’s look and their animation has changed dramatically, and with Love Live! Sunshine! knocking on the Love Live! door, it’s a great time to look back at how the girls we know and love came to be. 

µ’s as a group started in 2010, then just named ‘Love Live!’, as a joint project between Dengeki Magazine, the music label Lantis, and animation studio Sunrise, and their braintrust, famous for a little known mecha series called Gundam. Polls were held to decide the group’s name, the leader of the group, and the centres for all of µ’s songs over the coming months to have µ’s become the µ’s we know today.

With that was the release of the first song and it’s music video at Summer Comiket in 2010, Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE. Directed by series director, Takahiko Kyogoku, who went on to direct µ’s animated life. This was the first time we saw the idols come to life animated, and well, as you can see, it wasn’t that great. Murota Yuuhei did all the character designs for the Love Live! franchise since its inception, and it’s interesting to see where the designs were at 3 years before the anime formalised them.

You could easily compare Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE’s music video version and the TV version of the song which updated the character designs, changed some of the scenes and the CG as well.

The CG is probably the weakest link in Love Live!, but being that Sunrise’s Studio 8 is largely known for it’s cute girl mecha series, it’s no surprise they’d use what they know and apply it to Love Live!.

Even though the CG didn’t start off that great, with the robotic movements of the first Start:Dash being a prime example, gradually, as the anime went on, the use of CG and its enhancements of a dance number, rather than being used in place of traditional animation worked well, for example, in Kira Kira Sensation where, as you can see, Umi dancing in the foreground is traditionally animated with Maki & Hanayo being CG in the background.

The updated use of CG is shown best when looking at the music video and TV version of Snow Halation side by side. Not only are the shots updated to a more modern look with more expression and colour, but the CG is relegated to wide sweeping shots of µ’s, and the fast pans that hide the CG quite well. In some shots, where in the music video there’s a wide shot of the girls dancing in CG, the TV version updates it to a mid shot of three girls traditionally animated. Looks really nice. Though the TV version does get rid of Kyogoku’s favourite type of close up.

The close up must be a favourite technique of Kyogoku, and one that I really like. You can see it when he singles out each girl and gives them each their own little cut of character animation in front of a bright background. You can see the technique being used in it’s infancy in Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE, expanded in Music S.T.A.R.T., and then again in film’s last song, Bokutachi wa Hitotsu no Hikari, with a bunch of flowers behind the girls in place of plain colour. Funnily enough, in the first non-Kyogoku directed Love Live! anything, Aqours music video, Kimi no Kokoro wa Kagayaiteru kai?, director Sakai Kazuo used the same technique to introduce us to all the new girls using the same creative beats familiar to us from Muse.

The character designs for the franchise, done by Murota Yuuhei, were normalised by the TV series, but the progression, that started with the first animated live, and cumulated with the finale of the film, is very interesting.

As I said before, you can see in Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE’s music video that the character designs were very basic, and not at all close to the TV version of the song. But if you look at the second live, Snow Halation, you’ll notice that the designs are slowly morphing into the anime versions we know and love, but they still feel that little bit off, kinda feels like you’re watching a very early Simpsons sketch. The characters we love are there, just not all the way there yet. This stands out in the hair colours, in Nozomi’s design, and Kotori’s parrot-like hair. The designs also feel a lot more adult than in the anime.

Dancing forward into Natsuiro Egao de 1,2,Jump!, while not much has changed in CG side of things in the 9 months between this and Snow Halation – they still have their spaghetti legs, which makes µ’s look like CLAMP characters -, in the traditional side of things, Nozomi has filled out a lot more, and they’re playing more with blushes to add colour to the faces of the girls along with light reflections on the face.

Kyogoku played around a lot in the direction of Mogyutto “love” de Sekkin Chuu!, where not only did they update the CG to finally gives the girls some thigh, though Nico is still a little lacking, as per usual for her, it seems she’s the last character to be fully formalised by this point. Kyogoku played around with the concept of traditional animation in the foreground with the CG in the background out of focus. They also finally made the transition of the blush being on the CG designs in the entire time, and focus a lot in making the traditional close ups as pretty as they can be. Here is where, at least traditionally, µ’s looks a lot like µ’s from the series, except Nico.

The last music video before season one was Wonderful Rush, which looks indiscernible from the show itself in terms of character designs and CG. The music video was most likely used as a testing piece for the animators of Sunrise’s Studio 8 to finalise techniques before moving onto the full series. The biggest difference between Wonderful Rush and season one though, is the lighting.

While each song in the series has it’s own set of colours, motifs, and the like, typically they have softer-line art than the rest of episodes and have softer lighting, to mimic that of a real show, as seen in Bokura wa Ima no Naka de and Start:Dash. Though let’s not talk about how robotic the three member Start:Dash was.

As the season progressed, there was sections where the CG and traditional animation mixed well, like Korekara no Someday, but it was still plainly obvious when the team switched from one to the other. Like, the full member version of Start:Dash, while looking amazing when traditionally animated, with the lighting effects and character animation, it still looked that little bit … off. Of course this is something not easily fixed, but Sunrise’s Studio 8 was getting better by season 2.

When season 2 rolled around, it was clear that, at least traditionally, the character designs were perfect, and that all that needed to be done was playing around with effects, lighting, and all that jazz, all the stuff that’s done in post rather than in the animation stage. What changed was the lighting on the CG animation and the line art, to make both more in line with what the traditional animation was doing in the same song. Yume no Tobira and Snow Halation does this quite well with the colder colours used not only on µ’s, but in the lighting too.

The film is much of the same that we see in Season 2, but with a darker colour pallet in all the scenes but Sunny Day Song. This is most obvious in Rin’s hair which is bright orange through most of the anime, but a darker shade here bordering on light brown, even though the film picks up exactly where season 2 left off. There’s also much more detail in all the girls features as you’d expect from something meant to be watched on a big screen, and more emphasis on lighting to distinguish Japan from New York. Also the best in Yuri-baiting.

What does stand out though is the lineart in the final song from µ’s. In most of the series, the girls have a black outline, as most anime do, but in Bokutachi wa Hitotsu no Hikari, only the skin of the girls and their accessories have the black lineart, while the outfits have pink lineart to complement the light pink dresses, both in traditional and CG. While the CG still doesn’t have the softer look that the traditional animation has, it’s definitely the best it’s looked in Love Live! up to this point.

I say up to this point, because Love Live! Sunshine!! comes storming in and boy does it change it up, but that’s for another time.

So what do you think the best µ’s song is in Love Live! in terms of animation and design? Let me know down below. Personally I love Snow Halation and Bokutachi wa Hitotsu no Hikari, both are beautiful songs with gorgeous animation, and I just love them to bits!

Posted by Daryl Harding

A 20-something who has nothing better to do than watch anime, talk about anime, and play with my totally not sexual anime figurines.

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