Teaser video for Love Live! Virtual School Idol promises a shakeup to the hit anime/game’s formula.

Narrative-wise, the Love Live! anime/video game series has firmly established its formula for success. In each branch of the franchise, a group of plucky schoolgirls band together and form an idol unit in order to drum up publicity and save their school/school club from being shut down. It’s basically the Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo of anime, if Breakin’ 2 had gone on to become a mint-making pop cultural juggernaut.

But Love Live! is now gearing up to launch a new arc, and it looks like it’s going to be shaking up that formula in a significant way, as shown in the project’s teaser video.

As it opens, everything seems pretty standard: wistful piano music plays as cherry blossoms flutter in the breeze, serving as a visual metaphor for the spring start of the Japanese school year, and the friendships the new batch of idols will form. But then the camera zooms out, and we see that even within the scene we’re looking at a camera, specifically the camera of a smartphone.

After some onscreen text saying this will be a story “drawn spending 365 days with school idols,” it’s revealed the project is called Virtual School Idol.

Some online commenters are speculating that this might mean the new Love Live! characters won’t be aspiring to become traditional idols, but VTubers/virtual YouTubers, streaming entertainers who use an avatar when on-camera instead of showing their actual face. Thematically, though, that doesn’t feel like it would fit with Love Live! since an unabashed willingness to be a symbol of school pride has been the franchise’s hallmark so far. The series of outdoor locations shown in the teaser video also don’t give off much of a virtual YouTuber feel, since the technology for making VTuber avatars tends to work best in an enclosed studio environment.

▼ It also looks like Love Live! is going back to a more rural setting, after spending its last two series, Nijigasaki High School Idol Club and Superstar, in Tokyo.

The more likely explanation is that “Virtual School Idol” is a reference to the increased prevalence of online classes during the pandemic. While Japan hasn’t seen anywhere near the level of pushback against coronavirus countermeasures as many other countries have, one topic that does frequently come up in discussions is how online learning may be affecting students’ social development, especially since Japanese society puts so much emphasis on the group-building effects of extracurricular activities and school events, most of which have gone on indefinite hiatus during the pandemic.

With “save the school by building camaraderie” being the boilerplate Love Live! plot, it feels like a natural evolution for the franchise to deal with questions of how to create a sense of community when people can’t actually share the same physical space, as well as to what comparative extents a school is defined by its location, traditions, and students. Because of that, shifting the story’s focus from the characters getting ready for in-person concerts to how they coordinate for online performances while still infusing them with local color is probably what’s going to happen.

▼ Or maybe it’s just going to be a 13-episode PSA on the importance of filming in portrait mode.

Where the line gets blurry, though, is that the Love Live! Virtual School Idol project is, like the other branches of the franchise, a multi-media project, with animation, video games, music releases, and live events all in the works. So, theoretically, we could end up with YouTube videos starring the new characters doing VTuber-type things, but not technically qualifying as VTubers because they’re appearing as themselves, even though they’re not actual people.

If all that is making your brain hurt, you can just sit back and relax until autumn 2022, when the Love Live! Virtual School Idol project is scheduled to start in earnest.

Source: Love Live! Virtual School Idol official website via Jin
Top image: Love Live! Virtual School Idol official website
Insert images: YouTube/(Love Live! series)ラブライブ!シリーズ公式チャンネル
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