Chika stands on the stage, hand in hand with You and Riko. All of their hard work over the past few days, practicing together and inviting people across Numazu and Uchiura, has culminated in the moment that lies before them. If they’ve managed to fill Uranohoshi’s auditorium, then this moment will only be the first of many for the new school idol club; if not.. well, none of the girls want to think about that yet. For all they’ve done to reach that goal, they still just want to have fun together and put on a great performance for anyone in attendance. Chika’s even said it herself: “Putting smiles on peoples’ faces is what a school idol is about.” This chance to sing and dance together and to share their feelings with everyone in attendance is an incredible opportunity; and no matter the result of their show, Chika and the others agree that they want to shine with everything they’ve got.
Finally, the curtain rises. Chika lifts her eyes to see who’s in the crowd, and sees..
..that this will be Aqours’ first and only performance together.
In the small crowd gathered for their performance are familiar faces smiling up at the stage: Mari, beaming with pride for how hard the three girls on stage have worked to reach this point; Ruby and Hanamaru, standing at the door excited to watch Aqours take their first step; many of their classmates, happy for their friends on stage. Despite Aqours’ failed attempt to meet Mari’s goal, there’s not a hint of disappointment on any of the faces in the crowd – this opportunity to see Aqours on stage in what may be their only live performance is enough for them. Aqours has already brought smiles to their faces through all of their efforts to stand before them in this moment.
But the distance between them and the three on stage is wide. The empty space that lays before Chika, You, and Riko may as well be an ocean, stranding them far away from those who’ve come to offer their support. They never knew whether they’d manage to fill that auditorium, but.. all their hard work in promoting their show only managed to draw about 15 people? Even though they never stated their expectations, to fall so far short after putting so much effort into their dream is a crushing blow for all three girls. All of their work was for so little gain.
But even as that disappointment threatens to engulf her, Chika steps forward to bridge that gap. “The brilliance, the will to not give up, the power to believe are what we look up to. That’s why we became school idols.” This may not be the outcome that Aqours wanted, but they won’t let this opportunity to shine go to waste, no matter how short it is. Their sadness of not meeting Mari’s goal isn’t going to stop them from giving the best performance they can with those in attendance.
And so they share their hearts with the small crowd watching in words and in voice and in dance. Despite the sorrow building up within them, they press on and delight in their passion for school idols, and it shows in the smiles worn on their faces. The joy of being school idols, of standing in the light together, pushes all of their despair to the side. “I noticed the new thrill in my heart because of you, standing there in front of me!” Chika’s lyrics become more than just her own as Aqours performs: everyone in attendance, from those already in love with idols to those more skeptical of them, from those wanting to find that shine for themselves again to those who thought they left it behind for good, are united by that thrill standing there in front of them.
And so for a brief moment, Chika’s dream is fully realized on that stage. The radiant joy of being a school idol is in her grasp.
And then the darkness steals it all away.
What cruel fate is this? Aqours may have lost their chance to continue as a group after this concert, but they still had the light of the stage and a song to sing. Their future performances may have been fading away, but this one, here and now, was still allowing them to share their passion with the small crowd in attendance. But with the power out, with the lights gone and the music stopped, even that part of their dream has been taken from them. Their performance can’t continue without a foundation to stand upon; they can’t shine bright like this.
But Chika doesn’t want to give up. Chika doesn’t want to see her dream die here in darkness. Chika doesn’t want to lose this chance without having chased after it with everything she’s got. Voice wavering as her heart threatens to give out, Chika presses on and tries to keep singing, even without music or light brightening up the stage. She’ll bring a smile to peoples’ faces like a school idol is supposed to do, no matter what it takes. “I think our feelings will connect!” she sings, desperately trying to believe that this isn’t the end, that her dream wasn’t destined to be crushed in such an unfair way.
But even with You and Riko joining in, Chika doesn’t get far before the weight of everything is simply too much. “I’ll make sure we’re equally pumped up someday… I’m feeling fine… gonna keep a good attitude…” How can Chika bring herself to sing these words when her dream has been crushed by the reality before her? They can’t be equally pumped up when they’re standing in darkness; there’s no way they could feel fine when all their efforts have been for naught. Chika’s voice finally trails off into sobs as the sad end to their concert draws near. In the painful silence, Aqours can only mournfully reflect on what this moment will mean for their group.
Is this it for Aqours?
Is their chance to become school idols ending before it even started?
Was it ever worth dreaming together in the first place, if this was the outcome they were destined to face?
Will Chika ever be allowed to shine as bright as everyone around her?
“Do you think the concert will go smoothly?”
“Yeah, I hope so.”
“Everybody here is warmhearted.”
“I really am stupid Chika.” Amidst everything they had been doing to prepare for the concert, Chika had forgotten what it was like to simply be another fan in the crowd, what it felt like to look up and watch school idols on stage. That passion she felt back then was the same one she just felt on stage; everyone is united by that shared joy and love of school idols, whether they’re performing on stage or watching from the crowd. “I think our feelings will connect!” Just as the school idols bring a smile to others’ faces, so too does the support they receive bring a smile to their own faces in return.
Aqours had lost almost everything: their chance to continue forward as the school idol club, their opportunity to perform on stage, their dream of shining together as school idols. But in spite of losing those things, they never gave up on their desire to bring smiles to peoples’ faces. All of their efforts in inviting Uchiura and Numazu to their concert, performing with a smile despite their disappointment over the small crowd, continuing to sing even when everything else had faded around them – the spirit of what it means to be a school idol never left them even as darkness threatened to overtake them. And so the town responded in kind, giving the Aqours trio a warm embrace for their efforts and their hard work.
The goal Mari set wasn’t just to see if they could gather enough support to continue as idols, but so that they would see how crucial that support was for school idols. And as Mari watches Aqours resume their performance from the crowd, she looks on and smiles proudly, knowing that Aqours has realized this point for themselves and can press onward with a brighter passion as a result.
Chika, You, and Riko all know that they’ve managed to get to this point not just by their own efforts, but from the support of others as well. It is something that motivates them, that comforts them, that allows them to continue pressing forward with their dream. Aqours finally takes their first step forward, knowing that they’ll always have support behind them that feels the same passion that they do on stage.
“As long as I’ve got love, I’ll be ok!”