Perhaps to the surprise of very few, it wasn’t too long ago that I sat down and finished Love Live!’s second incarnation, Love Live! Sunshine!!. For all intents and purposes, Sunshine is exactly the same plot as the first Love Live!: a group of three second-year high school girls working hard to become school idols, eventually recruiting three first-years and winning over the skeptical group of three third-years to round out their final group. While a good portion of the Love Live! fanbase and tenets the show is built on are problematic due to their sexualization of young girls, the show itself is typically not any worse than any other anime you may have seen. Unfortunately, though the first season gave me a wealth of girls supporting girls and legitimately touching moments, Sunshine never quite got its feet off the ground. Much of this can be attributed to protagonist Chika’s lack of personality or drive, but the aspect that truly ruined the whole season beyond redemption was the gaslighting of Mari by the two friends she trusted the most, and the show does nothing to show how what they did was wrong.
Spoilers if you haven’t watched past Episode 8 of Sunshine.
One of the main conflicts in Sunshine comes from the third-year girls: Dia, Mari, and Kanan. In the first half of the season, Dia refuses to allow Chika and crew to pursue the school idol dream despite adoring idols; however, Mari (acting as school principal because adults only exist in the world of Love Live! when they need to reassure the audience the girls actually have families) allows the girls to truly show that they want to be idols, going directly against Dia. As the younger girls work harder and harder, the underlying conflict between the three third-year girls grows greater, especially as Kanan (who is also good friends with Chika) grows colder and distances herself from everyone. To the surprise of the younger girls, Dia reveals that she, Mari, and Kanan used to be in a school idol group with just the three of them, but they broke up after they couldn’t sing the first time they got on stage, causing the three to drift apart.
Or that was the cover story.
After Chika gets tired of dealing with this drama and confronts all three third-years, Dia reveals that it’s not that they got stage fright and couldn’t sing, she and Kanan didn’t sing because Mari had injured her leg and performing the dance moves would have hurt it further. To which Chika and Mari both state the obvious—that they didn’t have to break up because of that. But in Kanan’s mind, they did. All because Mari decided that she’d rather stay at this school and be a school idol rather than pursuing studies overseas. In Kanan’s mind, she was helping Mari make a decision that would open more opportunities later on in her life by shutting down their idol group.
What shifts this from Kanan being a shitty friend with shitty communication but good intentions, to gaslighting, is the way that Mari is made to feel. Mari is never told about anything that Kanan has tried to, and seemingly is still trying, to do. She was never let in on the other two’s fears that Mari might have injured herself even more badly if the show continued on as planned; she never knew that the two girls did not, in fact, have stage fright; this even extends so far as to her not being allowed to know that the two girls still like school idols and don’t hate her, as Kanan pretty much avoids Mari (one of her best friends, need I remind you) for what can be assumed to be almost an entire school year. And yet when Mari shows her intense hurt and anguish over all of this and rightfully says that Kanan never told her why she was acting the way she did, Dia replies:
The horrifying thing about this is that Mari immediately rewrites her pain to blame herself for not noticing what was never said. Dramatically running in the rain, she convinces herself that Kanan saying things like “even if we’re apart… I won’t forget about you” is a decent enough replacement for actually talking about their worries. When Mari is finally able to confront Kanan about her feelings, somehow Kanan turns it back on her by saying that Mari should have talked openly about her feelings as well. This may be true—no one is great at communicating here—but what this does is shift the burden of blame from Kanan to Mari, which is entirely unfair. Mari made the decision to go on stage with her injured foot knowing what could happen to her. Mari, who had no interest studying overseas, made the decision for herself during a meeting with a teacher that Kanan wasn’t even supposed to hear. The truth of the matter here is that Kanan always had more information about what was going on than Mari ever had a chance to, and the fact that Mari never even gets an apology for what happened—a hug doesn’t count—is really despicable.
This could very well be another cultural difference, but it will never sit right with me that Mari was made to feel like she did something wrong twice over for something she really had no control over. It’s difficult to communicate with friends sometimes, especially if you feel that they’re doing something that will ultimately harm them, but don’t want to make it seem like you’re running their life. However, the worst thing you could do in a situation like this is not talk about things. The worst-worst thing you could do in a situation like this is turn it all back on your friend and say that you’ve always cared and they just ignored it when you didn’t say or do a damned thing. Love Live! is a show about young girls supporting each other and working toward their dreams. There will always be conflicts in such stories, but these conflicts shouldn’t come at the cost of psychologically fucking with one girl in order to build the character of another.