Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Show By Rock!!
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Cyan is a shy, nervous high school girl who can't bring herself to ask about joining the school music club. Fortunately, she's got her cell phone game to console her – until it suddenly pulls her into a different universe! Suddenly finding herself with cat ears and a tail in a place called Midi City on Sound World, Cyan finds that her love of music has given her special abilities. Joining the girl group Plasmagica, Cyan must learn to have faith in herself—and maybe protect Midi City from total destruction while she's at it.
Show by Rock has the kind of pedigree that might make you worry. Based on a rhythm game and owned by Sanrio, you could be forgiven for having serious misgivings about this series starring adorable people with animal attributes. Luckily, it manages to rise above its limitations, becoming a childlike show that has a little something to offer older viewers and those allergic to cuteness alike, combining music, unique animation styles, and elements of magical girl stories to create a series that can put a smile on your face.
Unsurprisingly, the plot follows a cat girl. Of course, Cyan wasn't always the adorable creature with ears and a tail; originally she was a shy high school student with a burning desire to join her school's music club and a terror of actually talking to anyone about it. After yet another day of failing to even open the clubroom door, Cyan finds herself whisked away via a music game on her cell phone to another world, where music dominates everything, and every animal-person is a combination of ridiculously adorable and super hot. It's called Sound World, and Cyan has been brought to Midi City to help stop the predations of Dark Monsters, which are attacking popular bands and corrupting musicians' “melodisian stones,” which are essentially their pure musical hearts.
As plotlines go, it's fairly basic, and we all know that the main story will be following Cyan as she grows into herself and learns to trust her love of music. But there's more going on in Show by Rock than expected – each band member in the girl group Cyan ends up joining, Plasmagica, has her own backstory and insecurities that need to be dealt with. To them, Cyan is an amazing wunderkind, not a shy nobody, which makes them react to her in ways that Cyan never would have expected. This is dealt with the most in Chuchu, the former lead singer and guitarist of Plasmagica, but we also see it in Retoree's desperate desire to be friends with Cyan and her inability to clearly say so. (This relationship could also easily be read as homoerotic from Retoree's point of view.) Moa, the sheep drummer, has her own special issue as well, making each girl a character in her own right, with her own struggles to overcome. This trend is also carried over into the other bands we meet in the show, particularly Criticrista, Plasmagica's primary rival. The series does a very good job showing us that the CriCri girls are much less mature than their opponents, which is a nice and unexpected touch. Of course, not every plot thread can be developed well, and the male characters who make up the two primary boy bands of the show, Trichronika and Shingancrimsonz, are played more for laughs than anything. While this is not the only plot thread left unexplored, it is the most jarring, making Shingancrimsonz's storyline less satisfying than Plasmagica's despite the fact that they clearly share duties as the protagonists.
Since this is a show about pop music, the songs do play a major role in each episode, and Funimation's dub has responded to this by adapting the songs into English. The fact that the voice actors for all of the major roles can sing makes this work well, and while the lyrics do undergo some changes (the opening theme being the clearest case), the feel and general themes of the songs remain intact. The dub overall has more energy to it, with everyone really selling their parts, and it's difficult to pick just one or two standout voices from the overall excellent cast, although some of the sounds Monica Rial makes as Moa are impressive, and Justin Cook appears to be channeling Floyd from "The Muppet Show." The dub also makes extensive, though not overwhelming, use of music puns, with most of them being based in the hits of the 1960s and 70s, possibly because the character of Grateful King feels like an Elvis reference. The only weak spot is the slang used by Criticrista; within a year it will likely be outdated, and one preview sees Rosia talking like a character from the film "Mean Girls," which is arguably already out of date.
Despite the general air of fun to this show, at least until it abruptly gets dark at the end of episode nine, there's still the very real sense that it's trying to sell us something. The soundtrack begs for a CD release, and the animal-based characters are highly collectible, especially the forms groups take when they're performing. (It can't be a coincidence that the 3D animal bodies look like nendoroids.) The “believe in yourself” message is also reiterated in almost every storyline, making it feel more like a kiddy show than not, which won't appeal to all viewers. On the other hand, if you prefer your anime largely fanservice-free, Show By Rock is very careful never to show off more of the Plasmagica girls than it has to.
On the whole, Show by Rock is far more fun than it might appear to be at first. (Both dub commentaries, one with Plasmagica and the other with Shingancrimsonz, make it clear that the English cast had fun working on it.) It's like a Saturday morning cartoon in the best ways: loud, fun, and with a positive message (even if it never does quite explore its own tentative themes about artistic ambition), and if it happens to sell you a toy or two, so be it. At least you'll be singing all the way to the checkout counter.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Fun story with catchy songs in both languages, animation gives everyone different ways of playing their instruments, cute character designs
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