Episode 8 – Yohane the Parhelion -SUNSHINE in the MIRROR

You know, I figured that the Summer Festival performance would be how we ended the season, capping off the story with a big, celebratory concert that finally puts the entire Aqours cast on stage together. Instead, it arrives immediately, with “Sea Breeze” being more or less an immediate continuation from last week’s sleepover, throwing in more group shenanigans and slapstick during the festival before concluding with the big ol’ musical number. On the one hand, that leaves a lot of room for the last 1/3 of this season to dig into that whole Calamity plotline. Conversely, it leaves this particular episode feeling more like a victory lap than a full installment.

Granted, I’m a mark, so I enjoyed the continued antics. It’s what Love Live! has always been most successful at and where either version of these new characters is most comfortable. Whether it’s Chika nearly blowing her “secret” identity to the others and ninja-running through the town’s alleyways or just little details like Ruby munching on a piece of cotton candy as big as her, there are some good goofs here. It’s also pretty funny that, without the flimsy justification of a School Idol club, we’ve just defaulted to using magic to explain how everyone can get matching outfits and learn complex choreography with practically no on-screen preparation. Really, a magic staff is a more believable explanation for how a group of teenage amateurs could craft handmade, original outfits for nine people anyway. Though speaking of that staff, that’s where some of my problems with this episode start to crop up.

Obviously, something was going to happen to endanger Yohane’s performance, and accidentally misplacing her staff amid the excitement of the festival is a solid enough wrinkle to throw in. It also makes sense that losing it would send Yohane spiraling – while she’s gained self-confidence thanks to her new relationships, she’s not quite ready to stand on her own. Her staff and its supposedly related destiny of fighting the Calamity is a psychological crutch, proof that she’s “special” and destined not just for important things but to succeed at those tasks through some divine ordination. Without that totem on hand and all the pressure now firmly on her shoulders, it’s no wonder she’d start to quake.

The obvious moral – as Lailaps comes very close to just stating in this episode – is that the staff isn’t the source of Yohane’s abilities, and she’ll eventually learn to have faith in herself rather than any external tools or prophecies. However, that gets cut short here when the group finds the staff just in time, and we hit pause on that particular aspect of Yohane’s arc for a more familiar power-of-friendship resolution. Sure, it’s nice that Yohane can depend on her friends in a time of need, but that particular lesson feels like something she’s already internalized pretty well. Repeating it here so we can cap it off with the big group performance sticks Yohane’s development in a loop for another week and waters down the overall impact it’s going for. It leaves the episodes feeling insubstantial, as if we were just killing time and spinning wheels before we could get to the big performance at the end.

Though I will say, “Wonder Sea Breeze” stills packs a punch, if only for how much it stands out against the original *Sunshine!!* MVs. Part of it is the shift in art style, allowing for a much more seamless transition between traditional and CG animation, but the franchise has also been improving on its 3D work for the past six(!) years. They’re now able to achieve far more expressive, lively, and playful movement out of these models, and it makes for a much more cohesive whole compared to even what the Over the Rainbow movie put out back in 2019. Perhaps because Sunshine in the Mirror has been so restrained with its music, I also liked the song as a return to the big, peppy idol songs of yore. Plus, it was pretty nostalgic to see all of Aqours up on stage together again (sans Hatsune Miku, of course), with some welcome nods to both the new configuration and old pairings of the cast.

All of the lighter moments and franchise fanservice can keep this episode afloat. Still, it never fully shakes the feeling that it’s here to fill time before we start digging into the larger story that Lailaps keeps ominously hinting at. It’s not filler, per se, but it’s slight and repetitive enough to make me hope the show can shape up moving forward.


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