I like Love Live!. Admittedly I regard idols as vapid media pondlife, but that doesn't have to be true of all idol anime. (Just some of them.) The Idolmaster is great, for instance. Love Live!, though, isn't about professional idols at all and is instead about schoolgirls entering a national competition to save their school.
Sunshine!! season 1 followed the template of its parent show. It was pretty much the same story with slightly different characters. I enjoyed both versions. Season 2, though, puts so much distance between itself and its idol storyline that it eventually seems to have forgotten that it's Love Live!. The competition and its stage performances happen by stealth. You're almost surprised to be reminded of them. The show's much more about the girls' relationship with their school. This is quite an interesting development, but it's also a plot-ectomy. The season's second half can barely be said to have an ongoing storyline. It has episodic mini-arcs and character development, but the Love Live! formula has been effectively discarded. Will the girls reach the finals? Will they win? If you're bursting to learn the answers to those questions, you're watching the wrong show! This makes the show interesting and likeable, but not rich in narrative momentum.
It's also surprisingly mature. Unlike its parent show, Sunshine!! makes failure an option. No one has plot immunity and there's no such thing as a guaranteed result. This makes it a harsher, more realistic series, while also sharing its parent's eventual theme of facing up to the fact that your time is limited. Everything ends. A schoolgirl idol group can't continue forever. Its members will graduate, go to college and say goodbye. It's symbolised in the final episode by Chika launching a paper plane towards the sea while yelling "go!" and "fly!" Her Chika-esque enthusiasm and passion aren't in doubt, but you wouldn't give much for that plane's life expectancy.
The season's early episodes have a ton of comedy. Aqours really are a bunch of goofballs. Yoshiko is very funny. (One-note, perhaps, but it's such a funny note that I didn't mind.) Mari's Engrish accent eventually annoyed me, though. Riko will be challenged by her dog issues, Ruby will explore her Big Sister Worship, etc. It's all charming and lovable, although to be honest the girls are sufficiently numerous and generic that I struggled to remember who's who a lot of the time. I didn't find that a problem, mind you. Besides, even if it had been, I could have just rewatched Season 1.
Later episodes see more seriousness. Ep.6 has Chika half-killing herself with non-stop practice of a viciously difficult dance routine, even in the middle of the night. That's Chika. Her friends call her the Normal Monster. Unexpected things happen. The show almost becomes an examination of responses to failure. Firstly, you've got to pick yourself up. Can you? Secondly, what do you do next?
To be honest, I'm not sure this is strong enough to recommend. It's interesting in all sorts of ways, but the season's second half seems to lose track of where it's ostensibly going. However the girls are always charming (apart from Mari's accent) and I approve of the show being brave enough to make unexpected choices. This isn't just another remake-as-sequel, despite appearances for a while. I'd definitely watch more, if the franchise continued.