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The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Show By Rock!!

How would you rate episode 1 of
Show By Rock!! ?
Community score: 3.5

Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3.5

Show By Rock!! is bizarre, senselessly cute, and kind of annoying. In essence, it's right up my alley. As someone whose weak spots include poofy skirts, adorable animal-inspired character designs, rhythm mobile games, cutesy-poo idol girls, and generic pop tunes… well, I was pretty entertained by this Sanrio-game-turned-anime. Even with its nonsensical plot points, alternate universes, and weird CG interludes.

Our heroine is a girl named Cyan who wants nothing more than to join her school's music club. The trouble is, she's so shy that she can't even bring herself to hand in her application, even though she's spent many a day lurking outside the club room and practicing music in her room. One day, she fires up the Show By Rock mobile game, a real-life scrolling rhythm game whose gameplay is kind of like Guitar Hero, combined with a raising sim platform where you can nurture a band and use them for boss battles. She receives a special item called the Strawberry Heart, and is instantly transported to a strange world where animal people are listening to a trio of hunky (supposedly? If you're an animal? I'm not sure.) CG animal bishonen play at the digi-animal world Budokan. Their concert is interrupted when a giant skeleton monster with subwoofer hands comes after them and attempts to suck out their musical soul gems. Cyan, who by now has been transformed into an adorable cat girl (the lead bishie greets her with, "hello, kitten!" Well played, Sanrio.), whips out her magical Strawberry Heart guitar, and demolishes the bad guy with a crazy riff.

All of this sounds ridiculous, and even watching it play out on a screen, it kind of is. It's pretty easy to stay onboard for the first few minutes, but once Cyan lands in alternate-universe-crazy-CG-animal-people-world, it's hard not to mutter a few expletives with a question mark at the end. Especially because that transition is neither properly foreshadowed or explained. It's like watching Cool World starting from the middle, except everyone sort of looks like toys. It doesn't help that some of the characters are 2D while others are 3D, something that's not even really explained until the tail-end of the episode. (It also took me a good two minutes to realize that the main fox boy's nose was not his mouth.) So rather than the introduction to this world being a magical journey that we're experiencing with Cyan, it's mostly just jarring and strange.

Then again, knowing that it's a product of Sanrio helps. When people think of Sanrio, most probably conjure images of Hello Kitty, Badtz-Maru, Keroppi, and other cuddly critters. But they also have some seriously weird stuff, like singing salmon fillets and chronically depressed eggs who hang out with dancing dudes in yellow unitards. Incidentally, there's another egg character in Show By Rock!!, whose first speaking introduction is a rambling spiel about eating eggs. So basically, anyone expecting Hello Kitty will probably be confused, despite the merchandise-friendly fluffiness, bright colors, and floating hearts. If you're into this kind of neon pop aesthetic, the visuals of Show By Rock!! totally work. Both the cutesy 2D designs and the sometimes off-putting 3D designs are charming and spunky, and people like me who can't stop thinking, "wouldn't this be cool to cosplay?" will have a great time with the characters.

There's a lot about the first episode that feels rough and unpolished, especially the narrative, but it has a lot of energy and style. I can't recommend it in good conscience to most viewers, but I'll be tuning in next week for sure.

This series is available streaming at Funimation.com.

Theron Martin

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: Mobile phone-based game adaptations in anime actually haven't had any worse reputation than adaptations of any other type of game, yet I still approached this one with much trepidation. Everything I'd heard about it suggested that it was going to be some sickeningly cutesy, performing-in-a-virtual-setting kind of deal in the vein of the Pretty Rhythm franchise, something targeted overtly and exclusively at younger girls and is really just a long commercial for the source game. And, to an extent, it is (although the show is Sanrio's first late night anime, and the inclusion of many otaku-favorite elements makes it clear they're going for multiple demographics here) . What I wasn't expecting was how funny and enthusiastically bizarre it would get, to the point that I must admit, with some dismay, that I actually found it enjoyable.

The premise is essentially a new version of the long-standing “sucked into a game world” plot device. Middle schooler Cyan badly wants to join the all-girl band which constitutes her school's Music Club, and she does have some talent, but she cannot work up the courage to do so. While fretting about it and playing a game on her phone one night, she suddenly finds herself sucked into her phone, transformed into a 3D CG version of a Goth Loli catgirl (complete with no mouth!) and watching a concert put on by a boy idol band named Trichronika (who are also all 3d CG animal people) for an adoring audience of animal people – at least up until the band and Cyan all get sucked into another alternative space, where they must battle an energy-stealing “dark monster” who looks kinda like a giant skeleton. When the band gets in a tight spot, Cyan discovers that the special item she won in the phone gam, guitar Strawberry Heart, not only can talk but can also give her the power to fight the dark monster by performing with it. Her efforts succeed, which transport her back into her 2D body, albeit with the catgirl motif intact. There she is recruited by fledgling talent agency BRR, which is headed by a mustachioed egg. (No, really.) He sees her as the missing piece for his girl band Plasmagica. Since this is what Cyan always wanted, her desires get the best of her reason, which is trying to insist that this is a frickin’ weird situation. Meanwhile, the sinister figure responsible for bringing Cyan to this world schemes something dastardly involving a new song to be made by an individual veritably imprisoned by his contract – or at least he tries to do so, because the person he is rambling on to sleeps through the whole thing.

So there's a touch of Escaflowne: The Movie here (in the “heroine transported to the alternate world by the antagonist but ends up with the good guys instead” sense), but the scenario actually reminded me much more of a cartoon which aired on American TV in the 1984-85 time frame called Kidd Video. That series was pretty much a goofy excuse to mix in music videos and different levels of reality in song performances and featured a chief villain who was clearly a caricature of a studio executive (i.e., Master Blaster), and this production gives that same kind of vibe. Using the 2D to 3D animation shifts to indicate which reality the characters are in is a strange but kind of interesting gimmick, and some of the jokes are actually a little funny. Most importantly, the energy the episode displays can be infectious, and that compensates for a lot.

Based on its first episode alone, Show By Rock!! isn't going to be a great series, but it could actually be a little more fun than you might expect.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 2.5

I like cute things. Scratch that, I love cute things. Show By Rock!! is incredibly cute, cuter even than the Hello Kitty brand that Sanrio is typically associated with. I even like the little CG characters in the show, which are normally an incredibly hard sell for me. They're rendered and animated very nicely, and I found them endearing where normally I would be waiting with discomfort for the 2-D animation to return.

I'm down with idol shows too. I was really into Love Live!, I'm an UtaPri aficionado, and I even like some fringe idol flops like Wake Up, Girls! and its completely ridiculous webshow spinoff Wake Up, Girls! ZOO! Color-coordinated outfits on dancing and singing Disney-esque princes and princesses make me happy, and much like Disney product, I can ignore the insidious artifice holding it together when the presentation is polished and magical.

I also love animal-people. Well, strictly speaking, I like a specific kind of animal-person, somewhere between cute and ugly, somewhere between cartoon and realistic. Trip the line too far one way or the other and it terrifies me. I'm horribly creeped out by Sonic the Hedgehog characters, most Dreamworks animals, and most fursuit-resemblant art, but I love Digimon, Pokémon, King Kazma from Summer Wars, and the critter-men from Fire Emblem, Escaflowne, and Utawarerumono. Show By Rock!! has the right kind of animal-people for me. I really like the sheep-girl in the main band at the end of the episode, and the lead wolf-boy in the featured band in the middle of the episode.

What I'm saying is, Show By Rock!! should have my number completely. It should. But the thing that really bugs me about it and turns me off completely is sort of intangible, so all I can do is describe it and hope that it's of use to somebody who might feel the same way at the end of this episode.

The premise of this show is that our heroine Cyan is playing a popular rhythm game on her phone one evening when she unlocks the mystical and legendary Strawberry Heart guitar and is transported into the world of the game, where she becomes a catgirl and must use the power of rhythm games to stop giant monsters from turning other animal-person musicians into monsters and destroying the magical rhythm game world. It's pretty simple on the surface, but the episode makes it surprisingly complicated by throwing terms and items and new characters in your face rapid-fire through a series of setpieces with constantly changing visual aesthetics. (The diversity of screencaps on this page kinda shows off the episode's propensity to jump between a superdeformed CG style to superdeformed 2-D, to regular anime 2-D and back again.) It's this specific style of production and editing that makes me think of a commercial while watching the show, and unfortunately, that's all Show By Rock!! feels like by the end: an expensive commercial.

I'm not a pie-in-the-sky rube on this one, I know most anime is basically product meant to sell a thing, even if that thing is works of art in another medium, from books to games to comics. At the same time, most anime is also more successful at sculpting a standalone experience that feels like a heartfelt narrative to me, and that includes marketing powerhouse anime like Love Live! and UtaPri. Show By Rock!! has all of the polish in all the right places, and there's a lot to like here on the surface, but I haven't seen an anime that felt this deliberately like a toy commercial in a long time, and that kept me from getting invested in any of the fun and glitzy pieces. Sure, it's just one episode, but it had all the heart and soul of a 30-second spot for Angry Birds, and as much as I wanted to get past that and just have fun with the material, this was one step too far into blatant commercialism for me.

It's zany, bizarre, and visually divisive enough that I expect it to prompt a wide variety of reactions, so maybe it will work better for you, but if you're the kind of person that mentally rolls their eyes when you hear people talking about hilarious Superbowl commercials, this might strike the same chord with you, so to speak. Sanrio did a good job of polishing up this rhythm game advertisement, but that's all it is right now. Maybe that will change as the story and characters are allowed to breathe in future episodes.

This series is available streaming at Funimation.com.

Nick Creamer

Rating: 4

Cyan Hijirikawa dreams of playing in a band with her school's music club, but she's too shy to join them. Fortunately for Cyan, this isn't a low-key school drama - this is a completely ridiculous thing. And so, when Cyan gets dragged into her phone after getting a high score in a rhythm game (as you do), she finds herself in a strange world of music and anthropomorphized bands, where chibi CG rock stars sing without mouths and their fans cheer and wave with little pig-person hands. But no time for music, suddenly a Dark Monster appears! And now Cyan is dragged into some monster-fighting dimension, where a skeleton with amps for hands is stealing the souls of the rock stars! Now Cyan's guitar is telling her to defeat the monster with the power of music! Now she's on the street, getting signed into a recording contract by a tiny, angry egg-person!

This debut was a wild merry-go-round of delirious nonsense, but most of it was the enjoyable kind of nonsense. There was a great energy as it moved from silly event to silly event, with Cyan herself keeping it all together through her endearingly transparent personality and sense of wonder. It's still not even entirely clear what kind of show this is, though “idol takeoff/magical girl battle show/comedy” seems like a pretty decent wager. So far it's riding largely on energy and novelty, but the show is fortunately very energetic and fairly novel, so that's not a problem.

The aesthetics all fit in with the “what the hell is going on” theme here, with the show shifting from a fairly standard cute-girls-at-high-school aesthetic to the mid section's CG madness and back to a “neutral” neon-and-frills style for the post-battle Sound World segments. By both framing itself as a separate world and simply being very high quality, Show By Rock!!’s CG manages to avoid the usual anime-CG hurdles of stiffness and visual disconnect. The superdeformed style, complete with huge eyes and no mouths, keeps the faces from ruining the look, and the character movements have plenty of personality. The music is also an appropriate mix of guitar solos and pop-rock, with it all coming together to cleanly evoke the gaudy, technicolor atmosphere of Sound World.

Overall, this was a wild and largely entertaining debut, but it also leaves me with plenty of reservations. Shows that rely on novelty to stay interesting often fizzle out quickly, and Show By Rock!!’s premise doesn't necessarily seem unique or engaging enough to have much staying power once the sparkles fade. Plus the jokes were hit or miss - while some visual gags and the over-the-top language were amusing, all the deliberate jokes of Cyan's manager Maple were overlong and grating. The show will need more than its base concept to stay entertaining, so it'll be up to the next episode or two to decide whether Show By Rock!! has any actual ideas beyond its bright colors and hyperactive personality.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 1

I'm am not sure if I just watched a half-hour commercial for a line of nendoroid figures, a new batch of Sanrio characters, or a cellphone game, but I am fairly certain that I did just watch a half-hour commercial. Show By Rock!! is a very strange show that mixes traditional animation with plastic-y CG and may or may not have a plot that matters. Honestly, I just feel confused right now.

The story centers on Cyan, a schoolgirl with K-ON ambitions. For some reason she didn't join the school's music club at the beginning of the year, and now she's fussing about asking to enroll. The best part of the episode is when she's fantasizing about having joined the club and participating in a concert only to realize she's still standing outside the clubroom door. That gives me a bit of hope, as it indicates that there is a sense of humor here, because if this show takes itself too seriously, it could falter badly. In any event, after her embarrassment at school, Cyan goes home to her bedroom and whips out her cellphone music game. No sooner has she won a snazzy pink guitar than the screen is taken over by a sinister dark image, and the next thing Cyan knows, she looks like a squigdy plastic cat girl figure and is watching a boy band give a concert to screaming fans. SAO and Log Horizon this ain't.

Naturally having been brought to this music-based otherworld, Cyan has a natural talent for music, apparently possessing a Melodesian Stone, which...actually, they don't really cover that. Can only stonebearers create music? Or can only stonebearers fight bad guys? I'm pretty sure only people with a stone can turn into nendoroids, but again, I'm not 100% on that. Regardless, Cyan and her pink guitar save the day, earning the eternal gratitude of Syu*zo and his bandmates, as well as an offer from an agency run by a talking hard-boiled egg named Maple. Naturally Cyan joins the girl group Plasmagica, and then Mysterious Rivals appear. By this point my WTF Meter was about full.

I will say that Show By Rock!! does try its hardest to get you interested in what's going on. The pacing is fast, the colors are bright, and the switch between 2D and 3D animation certainly keeps you looking at the screen as it tries to be, if not precisely innovative, than at least eye-catching. The music is pleasantly perky and cute, and all of the voices sound bright and enthusiastic, especially Mamoru Miyano as Syu*zo. If I were about eight or nine, I'd probably be a lot more thrilled with this. There's a lot about Show By Rock!! that just doesn't make a huge amount of sense. It's clearly trying, but with the strange mix of animation, the lack of clear plotline/plot trajectory, and general lack of making much sense, this is one show that had me checking the timer every five minutes.

This series is available streaming at Funimation.com.

Zac Bertschy

Rating: 2.5

Cyan Hijirikawa is too shy to join the music club. She desperately wants to sing and play guitar in the school band, but she's just too insecure to do it – so she psyches herself up at home by playing a mobile rhythm game, which, as you may have already predicted, sucks her in to a strange videogame world where little chibi CG animal people (think Sonic the Hedgehog characters by way of Nendoroid) are having a big splashy concert. She's waylaid by a purple blast of energy that puts her right in the middle of the concert when an enormous skeleton attacks. Lead singer Syu*zo is about to have his Melodisian stone pulled out by the beast, which would turn him into a monster himself (which is what happens when your Melodisian stone is removed, as everyone knows).

Suddenly, a talking guitar named Strawberry Heart that Cyan won from beating her last high score on the rhythm game is summoned, and she has to use her playing power to defeat the bad guy. Cyan's heart shines bright and she blows the monster away, which returns her to 2D animation (although she's been transformed into a catgirl and is now inside the game world). She's confronted by a mustachioed egg man who asks her to join the band he represents, Plasmagica. There's Chuchu, a bunny girl on lead vocals and guitar, Retoree the bassist, and Moa, the drummer who ends her sentences with ‘pyuru’.

Still with me? Okay.

Anyway a limo carrying Trichronika, the handsome catboy band she just saved, pulls up and asks her to join them – they're much more popular, after all. Her egg agent angrily rebukes their offer, and takes her over to his agency, which is kind of a dump but they have a lot of heart. Cyan wonders where she is and what she's doing, but she's so excited to have joined a band that she decides she doesn't really care about the circumstances – I suppose we aren't really supposed to, either. Smash cut to a shadowy bad guy who has a musician trapped in a recording studio until he records the one song that will let him take over “Sound World” – which I presume is where this show is set. There's your plot!

Show By Rock!! is based on a mobile rhythm game, presumably one with the same free to play hooks and addictive gameplay of the Love Live!: School Idol Festival game, and this show is basically a long, expensive-looking commercial for it. There's a lot of cutesy jargon and the show is far more concerned with flooding your sensitive eyeballs with flashy animation, bright neon colors and cute animal girls than it is telling a compelling story, but it's probably dumb to expect a show based on a phone game to wow you with deep storytelling.

The only thing I can really say about this is that I am absolutely not the target market for it – this seems laser-focused on Japanese girls, and to a lesser extent, otaku, who might latch on to the character designs and the fun energy the show trades in. There's a little bit of fanservice – not much, mostly involving the egg agent's secretary, but this is Hello Kitty megacorporation Sanrio's first late night TV anime, so they're gonna take it slow on that front, presumably. Otherwise, this is as saccharine and sincere as you can reasonably get outside of Love Live!. It's cute cute cute cute cute and very little else. I can say the CG is pretty good – normally they cut a lot of corners in CG for TV anime, and there are no animated mouths on the little Nendoroid characters, but they have a soft-edged look to them that makes them look a little like Claymation characters and the character animation is pretty nicely done for the most part. I can't even imagine the merchandizing bonanza this show could trigger if it takes off. Maybe in about 6-8 months we'll all be buried in Show By Rock!! figures and hug pillows and phone cases, and Cyan's perpetually hyperactive mug will be plastered on every building in Akihabara. If that's their goal, this first episode seems like a pretty solid effort to make that happen.

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