Ask anyone what my goal with Doki Press is and why I’m here and you’ll always hear me say the same thing. “I want to make Japanese Idol culture as accessible to a mainstream audience as possible.” So as someone who is both heavily involved in Japanese Idol culture as well as an anime fan, the “Love Live!” series was a very interesting phenomenon to observe. While other anime series had featured idols on it before- the “Love Live!” franchise for me felt like it truly sought to capture all the thing that I loved about “school idols and package it into an easily digested two season anime series. To this day I’m still mad that I didn’t think of it myself.

Around the time we started the Doki Press project, another project was announced, a new series in the “Love Live!” franchise titled, “Love Live! Sunshine!!” featuring a new group of school idols called “Aqours” and an all-new cast to portray them in anime and on stage. Interestingly enough we both made our big debut at last year’s Anime Expo in 2016. Six of the nine members of Aquors made their way to Los Angeles to introduce themselves as well as debut the new anime series. While I was able to attend their panel as a fan- the rest of the time was spent trying to scrounge together what content we could with little to no name or reputation behind us.

Fast forward a year later and Aqours has legitimized themselves as an international powerhouse with several CD releases and their two-day 1st Live Concert event was streamed at several locations worldwide. The hype boiled over completely when it was announced that Aqours would be returning to Anime Expo this year but instead of doing just a talk panel like last year, they would be performing at the ANISONG WORLD MATSURI ~JAPAN KAWAII LIVE~ on Day 0. Meanwhile, the Doki Press project continued to grow in its own way, albeit not as dramatically. Within that year we managed to procure several interviews with various Japanese performers and people in the industry. The cherry to top it all off was that during this year’s Anime Expo we were invited to attend a small press junket with the girls of Aqours themselves.

During the middle of Day 1 I scrambled all the self-control I could muster, put on my professional face, and entered a small press room with a handful of other news outlets to sit together and talk with the girls of Aqours; Anju Inami, Rikako Aida, Shuka Saito, Nanaka Suwa, Arisa Komiya, Aina Suzuki, Aika Kobayashi, Kanako Takatsuki, and Ai Furihata.

 

-Please introduce “Love Live! Sunshine!!”

Inami: Love Live! Sunshine!! takes place in a small town surrounded by nature called Uchiura in Shizuoka prefecture. The series centers around nine girls from Uranohoshi Girls’ High School chasing their dreams and the various memories and stories along the way to becoming school idols. I voice Chika Takami. While she is the leader of the group and very energetic, she can be a bit all over the place and can also be childish at times but she’s the kind of girl that always wants to show a smiling face.

Aida: Hello, I’m Rikako Aida. I voice Riko Sakurauchi. Riko Sakurauchi is a very adult-like careful girl who gives her all playing piano. Despite all of that she also has a childish side to her, being bad with dogs for example.

Suwa: I voice Kanan Matsuura. She loves exercise, as the daughter of a diving shop naturally she goes diving but she also goes running every day. If you were to summarize the members one by one, she is a third-year student who pulls along the other members of the group. She really likes dancing so she tries to help and pull up the other members when it comes to dancing. She is very considerate of her friends and is always thinking of them.

Komiya: The member I voice is Dia Kurosawa, the Student Council President of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School. While she wants the other students to think she is a very formal and strict and as Ruby’s older sister wants to appear capable, she can also be a bit childish. While she tries to hide it at first, the truth is she really loves school idols. Once she becomes a member of Aqours she becomes very attached towards the members and works hard to improve her singing and dancing.

Saito: I voice You Watanabe. She is a tomboyish capable girl though the truth she can be very awkward. In a sense she has a side that’s more maidenly than anyone else.

Kobayashi: I voice Yoshiko Tsushima, an unlucky girl who has experienced a lot of bad luck in her life. So much so that she starts to call herself the fallen angel, Yohane. She is somewhat of a chuunibyou (a Japanese slang term generally used to describe overly dramatic young people who can’t separate fantasy from reality) with an innocent side to her so to me she’s both an angel and a fallen angel.

Takatsuki: I voice Hanamaru Kunikida, a scholarly girl who loves books. She is the daughter of a temple and due to her dialect, often ends up using “Zura!” in speech.

Suzuki: I voice Mari Ohara, a bright, cheerful, “shiny!” girl. As the Director of Uranohoshi Girl’s High School, she is a very kind hearted considerate person who does what she can for others.

Furihata: I voice Ruby Kurosawa, the younger sister of Dia Kurosawa. She is a very shy girl who often ends up shouting “pigii!” She loves school idols, and when she joined Aqours with Hanamaru, she worked hard to improve her singing and dancing.


-This is your first time being in Los Angeles with all 9 members, how do you feel being in Los Angeles with everyone?

Inami: I’m very happy that we were able to come with all 9 members. There are a lot of things we can do here that we can’t in Japan so I want to spend more time together with everyone.

Suwa: Last year there were only six of us able to come but this year we were able to come with all 9 members. With everyone we were able to perform together at the Anisong World Matsuri live last night. This time was our first time performing overseas. It was so much fun being able to experience that with everyone and the fans.

Kobayashi: This was my first time coming to America, so naturally for me it was my first time coming and performing in Los Angeles. There was a lot of firsts for me overall so I was nervous at first but after yesterday’s Kawaii Live, I was able to see the guests shining in such a wonderful place for us 9 members. From here on I want to be able to shine brightly for everyone as well.

Suzuki:  It was my first time coming to LA and America. I was happy that everyone was so warm and got excited cheering for us. It really made me think I want to experience and know more about Los Angeles.

-How was the Anisong World Matsuri yesterday? How do you feel seeing the response from American “Love Live! Sunshine!!” fans?

Aida: Last year we were able to do a talk show with 6 of the members and even then the fan response was so large I was surprised. I was so happy and glad that we were able to receive another large reception this year during last night’s live.

Komiya: Being able to come overseas and perform for the first time with the 9 members I was both excited and nervous at the same time. Once we stood up on the stage I saw that music was beyond borders and everyone got excited for us it was so much fun. We had so much fun and I was so glad that we were able to come as all 9 members of Aqours.

Saito: This was also my first time coming to Los Angeles, and my first time coming with all 9 so I was so happy to be able to perform live as well. When I first came out in front of everyone, everyone was smiling so much it made me so happy. I remember being so happy at that moment that tears were about to come out. Before we performed “Aozora Jumping Heart” and we had our backs turned towards the audience I was so happy I was really about to cry. Everyone had so much fun and even did the calls for us. I had so much fun for my first LA trip and I want to come back with the 9 members again.

Takatsuki: Naturally America and Japan are different and as it was our first live overseas I was wondering what to expect and how the fans would cheer. Seeing everyone during the live I couldn’t help but think how similar it was and that Japanese Anisong culture had really come over to America. We’ve been lucky to be allowed to perform in Japan and now in America so I want to be able to perform more places overseas.

Furihata: I was able to see a lot of people wearing the outfits from “Love Live! Sunshine!!” which made me very happy. I was surprised to see how good people were at speaking Japanese and had a lot of people say “Ganbaruby!” to me. It really gave me a lot of energy and power and I hope I was able to put out a great performance.

At this point in the interview we all enjoy a few chuckles trying to figure out how best to translate “Ganbaruby” to which Furihata promptly informs us it is indeed, “Rubesty.”

-Which scene from the first season of “Love Live! Sunshine!!” is the most memorable to you?

Inami: There’s a lot but for me it would be when the members one by one all join Aqours, for example Yohane, Riko, You, or the kouhai members. The scenes just before they join Aqours really left an impression on me as during those scenes they really convey their feelings and thoughts.

Aida: The most memorable for me would be the scene where you really sympathize with Riko where all of a sudden, she takes off her school uniform and is in her swimsuit and jumps into the ocean. It really left an impact with me and it was also her first meeting with Chika which was important and had a lot of meaning for her.

Suwa: For me there’s it’s a scene from episode 9 of the TV anime. Up until then Kanan never really showed her smile and was always closed off. After she and Mari resolve their drama however Kanan finally starts to truly smile so it left a strong impression for me.

Komiya: There’s a scene where Dia writes the name “Aqours” in the sand but then when she realized the 2nd years, Chika, Riko, and You were coming quickly runs away. It really showed how much she wanted to be a school idol.

Saito: For me it was in episode 11 of the anime series when You cried. That scene really left an impression on me.

Kobayashi: I really encourage you to watch all the scenes with Yohane, but for me it would be in episode 8 when Chika finally able to honestly admit her frustration. It’s a scene where everyone is moved to tears and Yohane is the only one standing there in profile amused (laughs). I thought it was very Yohane-like and added a lot of spice to a tearful scene. I really love that scene.

Takatsuki: For Hanamaru it has be episode 5. Being a daughter of a temple has very different sensibilities from other high school students her generation, for example she’s bad with technology.  That was the first time the anime really showed that side of her so it was pretty  surprising.

Suzuki: For me its episode 10, “We’ve Got Stewshine!” In that episode, they make stew with only high-grade expensive ingredients so it ends up costing 100,000 yen a bowl. It was so surprising that I still remember it now.

Furihata: For me, the scene when Dia joins Aqours was the most memorable. Up until then, Dia was unable to be honest with herself even though she was always watching over Aquors. Dia and Ruby both really love school idols and are close sisters so it was very meaningful when Ruby was able to welcome Dia into Aqours.  That’s why it’s my favorite scene.

-What is your favorite song from Love Live! Sunshine!! and why?

Saitou: My favorite song is definitely “Koini Naritai AQUARIUM” it’s a very important song for You so I really love it.

Suwa: For me its “HAPPY PARTY TRAIN” as not only is it our newest single but Kanan is the center for it as well. It’s a song with a lot of importance for me and Kanan as well.

Kobayashi: As for me there’s a song by the 1st year students called “Waku-Waku-Week”. When I listen to the song it really gets me waku-waku (excited). When you listen to it you can really picture the 1st year students getting together and happily planning a celebration together. I really love “Waku-Waku-Week

-Fans around the world voted and decided on the “Love Live! Sunshine!!” World Poster Girls. Mari is in charge of USA. How do you feel being voted for as the ambassador for USA and why do you think you were selected?

Suzuki: Mari is a half Italian half American girl so there is a strong relation there. I was very happy to be chosen and I want to bring more “shiny” to everyone in America.

-There are a lot of users of the rhythm game, “Love Live! School Idol Festival” in the US. We heard Suwa-san is really good at this game. Could please give a message for all the game players in the US?

Suwa: There are a lot of song from “Love Live!” and “Love Live! Sunshine!!” that you can play as well as an original story line and cards with cute outfits not in the anime you can earn so I encourage your all to please give it a try.

-We’re already half way through 2017, what has been your most memorable activity thus far?

Aida: It would definitely be our first live at Yokohama Arena with the nine members.

Komiya: Of course, for me our first live would be up there but also suddenly being able to come here to do our first overseas live concert. It was a great memory and I’m glad we could do it.

Furihata: For me the first live was also full of memories. We were able to perform two days so there were a lot of things that happened. There was a moment I’ll always remember when were about to perform “Aozora Jumping Heart” where we look back at the audience and it was a view that only us 9 members were able to see. That memory has become a treasure for me.

-Are you excited for the Love Live! Sunshine!! Aqours 2nd Love Live! HAPPY PARTY TRAIN TOUR? What kind of live would you like it to be?

Inami: This will be Aquors first tour so we’re all very happy we get to perform at multiple locations this time. We want each stop to be have a performance that can only be done there and we hope to create an exciting atmosphere and memories for everyone.

Takatsuki: This time we will be able to go and meet the fans so we’re very happy. After our first live we were able to come out and perform overseas just like we do in Japan. Being able to do our 2nd live now you can really see our courage and how lucky we’ve been.

Suzuki: We were able to perform on such a large stage at Yokohama Arena for our first live. Now for the second live we’ll be doing a tour where we can come out to everyone so I want to convey our happiness to everyone who will come out to see us.

-A 2nd season of the TV series will start this Autumn. What can fans anticipate for the 2nd season?

Inami: Last year’s show really left you with a feeling of waiting so we want everyone to get excited and look forward to this new season.

-Any words to your American fans?

Inami: First I just want to express my gratitude to everyone who supported us. It would be nice if some day we could come back and perform in America with just Aqours. We’ll keep moving forward as best we can towards that dream so please continue to support us.

From here the junket opened up to allow the individual press groups to ask Aqours their own questions.

From Fandom Post:

-“Love Live! Sunshine!!” has had a massive amount of interest on the international level. As you’ve probably already noticed, there are a lot of fans of Love Live! here in the US. In fact, tickets for the live viewing in a lot of theaters across the US were sold out or near capacity to see your 1st Live concert in Yokohama Arena. Did you expect Love Live! to have this amount of reach worldwide as it has?

Inami: We would have been happy if the fans internationally even knew of us just a little bit but I was surprised to know we had so much support worldwide.  I’m so grateful for everyone’s support.

-Please describe the feeling each of you had on stage looking at the audience present to cheer you on at the 1st Live concert in Yokohama Arena.

Aida: Being able to see all the fans and the great number of people who had come out to support us really eased my nerves, I wasn’t afraid of anything because everyone was so warm accepting.

-“Love Live! Sunshine!!” takes place in the town of Numazu and Uchiura, known for its coast line with great views of Mt. Fuji and they attract a lot of tourists. I’ve actually had the opportunity to travel to this area myself a few times and really enjoyed Awashima Island. Please name one spot you would recommend?

Saitou: Certainly, Numazu and Uchiura have a lot of great places its honestly hard to pick one. If I had to pick one for you to visit it would have to be Izu-Mito Sea Paradise. At Izu-Mito Sea Paradise there’s a cute mascot character named Uchicchi, and it would make happy if you could come visit him.

From My Anime List:

-For Furihata-san, what do you like about Hanamaru-chan?

Furihata: Hanamaru is Ruby’s best friend. Despite having very different hobbies they get along well. Hanamaru always properly listens to the things Ruby wants to talk about. She makes Ruby feel at ease and afterwards always eats her left overs (laughs).

-For Takatsuki-san, what do you like about Ruby-chan?

Takatsuki: I think Ruby is seriously cute (laughs). Very cute. You could say she is “the girl.”

From Doki Press:

-In the first season of the anime, what challenges does your member overcome and how did it help the members develop?

Suwa: For Kanan the most important thing was overcoming the 3rd year student’s past. All of the 3rd year members were thinking too much about the other’s feelings that they couldn’t see eye to eye. Finally after two years they were able to express their feelings to each other.

Suzuki: Mari is actually kind of awkward girl so she can’t really express what she wants very well. Because she is unable to express her true feelings about wanting to stay school idols together with Kanan and Dia the three of them end up falling out. When she is able to convey what she really felt they were all able to grow and move forward.

From Anime Herald:

-Have you ever been surprised by your member in the first season of the anime?

Kobayashi: From before the start of the series, Yohane always talked about being the fallen angel, Yohane which leads you to think she’s a strong girl. However, during the course of the anime, she really comes to understands herself. She also has a side to her where she’s actually very observant of her surroundings and is a really good, kind girl.

Jimmy Pham

Equal parts powerlifter, equal parts lover of all things j-idol related, a dash of gaming and anime, shake well with ice and pour into a large huggable body, finally garnish with YouTube content creation. Jimmy aka Swoletaku aims to bring Japanese pop culture to the masses.