Aikatsu: Brilliant Jewel is the definition of a disappointing sequel season.
Like always, this is where Aikatsu shines. Every character manages to be full of personality, albeit a little too trope filled sometimes, while still managing to be surprising.
The originals duos return, and actually grow up, which I hadn't been expecting. Reflect Moon's growth arc made them much more likeable, and had them grow up in a realistic and relatable way, while showing Love Me Tear as relaxed equals instead of mentors made them seem much more likable. Pure Palette continued to evolve in unexpected ways, which I won't spoil! Honey Cat doesn't have nearly enough screen time, but the group mixing episode was hysterical, and reminded me why I fell in love with the Friends units in the first place.
This season introduces 3 characters- an older Friends pair, with flaming hot Hibiki who wants to reunite with her former friend Alicia, and lovable soloist Wakaba who auditioned to be trained by Karen. They aren't quite as unique as the others, and do at times feel a little like recycled characters from the first Aikatsu series, but they mesh in a believable way with the existing cast despite the age gap.
And this is where this season fails. The story is driven by characters we care little about, in order to achieve a highly chiche goal via very deus ex machina methods. Wakaba's solo success feels like it undermine everything season 1 was meant to prove about friendship.
While the series as a whole has always revolved around more slice-of-life storytelling - and it's in those episodes that the season excels - the attempt at a large arc is frankly painful to watch at times, being mostly talk and not a whole lot of productive action.
I love Aikatsu's dresses and cards. They far exceed any of the mediocre to downright atrocities seen on Pripara. While the CGI has improved a hundredfold since the first Aikatsu, it still needs work. For the most part the 2d animation is incredibly inconsistent, to the point that any spectacular parts are soon overshadowed by atrociously crooked faces with super wideset eyes. Then there's the fact that dozens of rare and premium cards that exist within the game were never used, in favor of repeating the same ones over and over again.
Aikatsu always nails the music, and this is no exception. The ED is fantastic even for an instrumental- an unusual choice for an idol show - and the insert songs are all catchy and unique. I particularly loved the addition of a gothic, cool-flavoured ballad by the new character Alicia, which have been absent from Idol shows lately.
My only major qualms are the OP (I don't know why I don't like it, to be honest, I just DON'T,) and the fact they played the same songs more times than was necessary - to the point where each character only really got 1 new song this season, which was disappointing. But quality over quantity, I suppose.