I had my hangups about Love Live, but one thing I actually do like is the Asako Nishida-signature character designs. In a word, I like it for being glittery. Nishida comes across to me as a good illustrator with an innate sense to express emotion through character artwork. In fact sometimes I prefer her fanart over the original character artwork for certain IPs. In her works I can see a wide variety of feeling expressed, even if a lot of it tends to be the usual, fujoshi-tilting, fanart-style stuff. It’s often girly but yet compiled in a way that has uni-sexual sensibilities and can appeal in the same way, say, how young, girl-next-door style idols can appeal both to girls and to guys.
I think it’s an interesting choice to go with that kind of sparkly, girly, shimmering style in Love Live, especially because of the 3D computer graphics necessary to render some of the dance scenes. Unless you are an American studio with millions of dollars of budget, cel-rendering tends to generate very flattened visuals. Watching the first three episodes of Love Live makes me appreciate the digital composition work in Fate/Zero a lot more–it’s not to say Love Live sucked, but there is clearly a difference and it makes you appreciate how difficult making that kind of glimmering pop in certain scenes, or simply trying to preserve that glitter when your 3D doll animation flaps around worse than Black Rock Shooter being attacked by macroons. Actually, that is another great example of 3D character animation in a fairly seamless way.
It’s also natural to want to keep comparing Love Live with The iDOLM@STER. I can’t really say which one is better on the technicals–the animation in Love Live has a lot more details than the more motive, more dynamic but also less complex animation we see in both iM@S the anime and in the latest games. On the flip side, it feels like the design and art direction has taken into account the nature of its computer and animation medium. It’s a real challenge to make that 3D ragdoll AVG visual without making them look too uncanny. If you’ve survived those early PS2 days when the medium made the jump, you know what I mean. The song and dance further accentuates the need for a certain look, but I think it’s less challenging as far as balancing visual realism with giving your characters visual oomph. Of course, the challenge in Love Live is that these are all high schoolers with about 3 years apart in age. That’s more restrictive than AKB48. iM@S has about 10 years between the youngest and oldest. There’s only so much characterization and design variations you can fling on to these ragdolls. It’s a bit of a handicap in terms of marketing.
But it’s also a lot to say that I prefer the look in iM@S’s dance engines over Love Live’s uncanny valley-hitting ragdolls. The animation, when it’s hand drawn, looks pretty good actually. But invariably it is hard to do that with more than 2 characters on the screen at the same time, for any TV anime. Doubly so when you don’t “cheat” (it’s not really cheating) out of the way and actually try to show the whole dance routine. The flattening is already more accentuated when we see the normally bright, cheerful, and glittering character animation before and after their dances. It’s even more problematic when it interweaves throughout the dance routine with decently animated 2D versions of the same.
I have mixed feelings about it–it’s a lot of hard work and pretty good animation, but the effect is middling. Love Live episode 3 also features a pretty neat plot twist, but surely that is the necessary beginning to a feel-good story (also see: Tari Tari). I think if you are still on board af this point, the rest of the ride should be pretty fun.
On that note, the concert scene interweaves 3D CG and 2D stuff, as I previously mentioned, but I think it superimposed the two on occasion, beyond the usual background/lighting composition stuff that’s all too typical for today. There was at least one cut where the back layer of character animation looks like it is the 3D stuff and the foreground character wasn’t. Kind of interesting.
PS. I guess there are some live concert to be watched?
PPS. I’m on a very small gdgd kick.