The finale for the second season of Love Live! Sunshine!! is a touching conclusion. It relies on the emotional groundwork that has been established over the last few episodes and it also provides a degree of closure while remaining open-ended.
What shouldn’t be overlooked, however, is the importance of Chika’s last-minute speech in which she finally claims to have found the radiance that belongs to Aqours. In her own words, “Everything we did, every step we took, all the time we spent. All of that was our radiance. That was the radiance I was searching for this whole time.” In other words, their struggles and their efforts were what allowed Aqours to shine.
This is important because being radiant and finding out exactly what that entails has always been one of Chika’s goals and one of the major themes in Love Live! Sunshine!! You can see that for yourself. Just look up some lyrics and see how often the words “shining” and “light” come up in their songs. It’s even in the title of the series and is clearly evident during the first season.
Take the very first episode, for example, in which Chika tells Riko that she considers herself to be plain and normal because she lacks a direction in life. But by then she had already convinced herself that imitating μ’s would allow her and her friends to shine. In Chika’s mind, the girls in μ’s were also plain but still lovely. In Chika’s mind, she can become a radiant school idol because μ’s pulled it off first.
She holds onto that belief for the majority of the first season, which can be seen when she gets excited over superficial similarities between her group and μ’s.
This includes running up and down stairs to train to learning how Uranohoshi Girls’ High School is scheduled to be shut down. But by episode 12, she and the other girls have realized that chasing after μ’s is not guaranteed to make them shine. They realize that μ’s shined because they were openly passionate about what they loved and were unafraid to show that on-stage. In other words, Aqours figured out they needed to form their own separate identity and embrace their true feelings and selves.
The next episode has Chika acknowledging that some of the upcoming things in their future may be difficult. “But,” she says, “I want to enjoy it. I want to enjoy it all, with everyone, and get through it together. That’s what it means to shine!” Essentially, what Chika is saying here is that sharing and overcoming struggles together is what makes the group radiant. She has figured out the destination and has declared the journey itself to have merit by making the destination meaningful.
Yet despite her words in episode 12, Chika is unable to see herself as anything more than just a normal girl for many more episodes. She continues to make vague statements regarding what it means to shine as seen in episode 1 of season 2. She also remains convinced that she doesn’t shine and that everyone else is much more amazing than her as seen in episode 6 of season 2. Chika only realizes that she and the others were, by following their hearts, radiant from the start once everything is over.
Said moment of realization is placed during the middle of their last performance in order to make sure the audience remembers the show’s original focus back in season 1. After all, the second season chose to focus more on the inevitable graduation for the third years, the transient nature of school idols, and the status of their high school. The theme regarding what it means to shine was accordingly pushed to the side.
The graduation and the ensuing feelings dominate the majority of the final episode, but the last moments are dedicated to Chika’s speech on radiance and their final performance as Aqours. Said song, “Wonderful Stories,” drives this point home through its lyrics. The visuals which accompany this performance also portrays the group’s journey by revisiting almost every scene and venue in which the girls performed across both seasons. This, combined with how the characters pondered and mused over what it means to move on in the previous episodes, establishes a sense of nostalgia and finality that leaves a much stronger impression than the tepid season one finale in which they narrated their life story on-stage.
And in the end, their hearts were shining.