Going into this season Liela! found themselves in an odd spot. Though they did admirably in their inaugural Love Live! contest, and garnered attention thanks to their connection with Sunny Passion, they don’t really have any bonafides to back that hype up. That’s already caused them nothing but trouble in finding new members, but it also leaves them in an awkward position of sky-high expectations in spite of their relative inexperience, and no solid proof that they can meet them. Which I guess makes Liella! the Joe Burrow of School Idols, and it remains to be seen if Kanon has ice in her veins. She could definitely rock this fit though. Maybe this metaphor’s gotten out of hand.
It’s an interesting and unique place to have our cast. Previous idol clubs were either consummate underdogs or totally disinterested in competition at all, and our girls are still definitely fighting uphill, but now with a way higher level of scrutiny and pressure to succeed. How will Kanon and the other senior members handle that pressure? Will they start to buy into their own hype or get complacent? Will they doubt themselves or start experiencing Idol Imposter Syndrome the way Kinako did? There are a ton of interesting angles to take from this setup, to the point where I’m almost disappointed this episode pulls the rug out and resolves this particular avenue so quickly.
The key word, though, is “almost”, because cutting off those hypothetical plot threads is a more than worthy tradeoff for introducing an honest-to-Honoka idol villain to steal the goddamn show. Sure, we had the Sunny-Pa girls as a source of competition for Liella! since last season, but they were more mentor characters in practice, and never truly felt like rivals considering we never actually saw them perform. Plus, they’re the old guard – losing to them wouldn’t really be anything new or disruptive to Liella!’s rising trajectory. No, if we’re going to throw these girls off their game, they need to be blindsided; to be taken off their feet in a blow they never saw coming. Which I guess makes our new girl the Von Miller of School Idols. Or maybe Aaron Donald? I guess you could say Matt Stafford but he was kind of a known quantity that everyone knew was being held back by playing for Detroit, so was him winning a ring with the NFL version of a superteam really that unexpec-*
Regardless, Wien Margarete (that…that can’t be her actual name, right?) absolutely steals the spotlight with every moment she’s on screen. A lot of that is just how hard the show goes into presenting her as a villain. She appears and disappears mysteriously to call Kanon out – even following her home just to deliver her declaration of war. Kanon sees a symbolic and/or spectral butterfly that draws her to the stage to watch Wien’s performance. And speaking of that performance: god damn does it deliver. It’s a single pipe organ away from a full-on villain song, an orchestral statement of idol supremacy that makes even Lanzhu’s musical ego seem quaint. Not to mention Wien’s gaudy and fantastic Swan Lake getup, complementing her apparent ballet skills and making the entire scene feel theatrical in a way I’ve never really seen in Love Live! before. A-Rise and Saint Snow seemed like talented, formidable performers, but still on the same level and vibe as our central idols. Wien is a force of nature that leaves our heroines staring on in awe, frustration, and despair. It’s fantastic.
It’s also necessary to really establish her as a contender. This is the second season of a Love Live! series – it’s all but carved in stone that our leads are going to win this time around. For anyone in the audience to credibly think otherwise, their competition needs to be genuinely capable of upstaging them, and Wien absolutely does that, so much so that even Liella!’s big celebratory performance at the end feels underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very sweet to see Kinako on stage with the others, and the song is a solid piece of power pop – it might be my favorite Liella! song since “Nonfiction” even. It’s a perfectly nice button to put on the group’s newfound determination and a charming recognition of the support the rest of the school has given them. But girls, you are going to have to do so, so much better than that if you’re going to beat Princess Kraehe.
And that’s a really exciting place to be with this competition. We’re likely to slide back over to recruiting the new girls next week, but now there’s a sense of real pressure to the cast’s struggles that adds much-needed urgency. If our girls want to win, they’re going to have to pull out all the stops and unlock their next level, and that’s going to be fantastic to watch.
*Editor’s Note: The rest of this tangent has been redacted for the health and safety of our readers. Anyone foolish enough to request the full text can subscribe to Nick’s “Sports Metaphors for Weebs” bi-monthly newsletter.