Honoka has actually risen considerably in my ranking of Love Live characters over the past year, just because I've come to agree that yeah, she's one of the best executed genki girl types out there. Nozomi and Eli are still my favourites though.
BTW, the Love Live cover group at the event I was at last weekend had a fantastic Honoka - her performance had a very theatrical quality to it. Will post photos when I get the chance.
Speaking of animal ears, have you seen episode 3 of Utawarerumono 2 yet? Much as I think Kuon is the far more interesting character, Rurutie is adorable.
BTW, last night I had a drunken cyclist yell an extremely slurred "excuse me" at me twice before he nearly run down my girlfriend and I (plus some nearby seniors) from behind. It felt like some sort of surreal comedy sketch about "polite Canadian" stereotypes.
I came across this image on a pixiv image search earlier today. It instantly made me think of you. "Here's a pic that might give 0utf0xZer0 a deeper appreciation of Honoka Kousaka!" I thought to myself.
I'm not sure Kuon is going to be my favourite character in the show as Rurutie looks pretty adorable. But I'm highly impressed with her character so far. There were some really powerful woman in the original, but Kuon feels different - more like an ordinary woman who happens to be very competent in the face of danger. Her profession (traveling apothecary) makes it make a lot of sense too.
(Come to think of it, that ordinariness also reminds me of Eruruu. They're both pretty down to earth characters.)
IIRC you haven't seen the original Utawarerumono, right?
As such, I can't help but point out that they're throwing in some shout outs to the original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUxribpvKTo
Let's just say I knew what was about to happen the instant Haku noticed Kuon's tail. Kuon being an apothecary is another notable one. While Kuon is more of a "woman of action" than Eruruu was (from the trailer, I'd say Rurutie's personality will be much closer to Eruruu's than Kuon's), her profession hearkens back to Eruruu being an apprentice healer in the original (both Eruruu and Kuon are the first character the protagonist meets in their respective series).
Is that image of Umi making you think of a different particular character? If so, then I'm not quite seeing that. But am I seeing "magical girl outfit" here? Definitely.
A large chunk of the Love Live! costumes are indistinguishable from magical girl costumes. I'm not sure the exact percentage, but it's at least 10% and it might be as high as 35%. In the anime itself, the Season 2 Episode 12 costumes truly make μ's look like a team of magical girls. And some of the costumes do make me think of specific magical girl characters. Eli's costume here, for example, definitely makes me think of Sayaka Miki's puella magi outfit.
I hope you do go to Japan some day. Though I'll admit my hope is at least somewhat selfish. I'm sure you'd have some wondrous pictures to show from that trip.
As for your Vivid question - Almost the entire StrikerS protagonist cast shows up in force for a short arc in the middle of Vivid. Caro is part of that, and has a decent-size role to play there. Frequently, Vivid feels like "StrikerS: The Sequel". It's not as much "Vivio's story" as I thought it would be. If you like Caro a lot, I'd definitely recommend watching through this short arc at least. IIRC, that would be about 8/9 episodes of Vivid, so you wouldn't have to watch the whole show to get it.
BTW, a guy I know on another anime forum recently took a trip to Japan and decided to take a few days to tour locations featured in Tamayura, Non Non Biyori and One Off. Have to say I'm now tempted to do something similar (though overseas travel is a few items down my "stuff to save for" list right now and I suspect I'd also be tempted to get some new camera gear first...).
Just remembered something I wanted to ask you about. How much of a role does Caro have in Nanoha Vivid? I dropped Vivid pretty early on, but I actually am pretty curious what she and Erio get up to post StrikerS.