Take one part TRON, one part The Last Starfighter, mix with a bit of Hello Kitty, spice liberally with fan service, and then top with a mountain of frosting and sprinkles and you’ll get something along the lines of Show by Rock. Cyan loves music, but has always been far too shy to join her school’s music club and perform in front of everyone. One evening, upon receiving a special item in a music game, she finds herself sucked into the game’s world and dumped near a concert. When the show is interrupted by a giant monster attacking the band, it’s up to Cyan to save the day with the power of her music. Armed with a magical talking guitar named Strawberry Heart, Cyan is meant to save Midi City from a series of giant musical monsters. Moreover, when her sweet riffs get attention she’s quickly signed to a professional band just about to make its debut—Plasmagica!
The anime is based on a mobile rhythm game developed by Geechs with character designs from that veritable juggernaut of cuteness, Sanrio. With properties like Hello Kitty and Cinnamoroll, Sanrio has a lot of appeal with kids and female audiences, but Show by Rock represents an attempt to expand into a male market via the game, and a generally older audience via the late-night anime slot (read: making characters that you’re more likely to want to bone). Judging so far, it looks like Sanrio has made the jump quite well.
Not only are the character designs very appealing, but almost all of the characters actually have two different forms: a more human form that makes up the majority of their screen time, generally along the lines of cat girls/boys, as well as a more animal chibi version or “myumon” form that they can take on temporarily while they perform. I’m not a huge Sanrio collector or usually into very moe designs, but I really like the character designs in both forms. The more animal forms have a lot of variety (though not all of this has made it into the anime) from standard catgirls to a yokai band with a vampire and a yeti, egg people, an insect-based band, and a cat that’s also a daruma. The human forms have a good variety as well, ranging from cute to sexy; it’s hard to explain, but there’s just something highly cute and appealing about them.
Production for the anime adaptation is handled by Bones and, as one would expect, the quality of the animation is quite good. The show sings with vibrant colors and energy; just a look at the opening and ending credit sequences gets the point across perfectly. Characters stay on model, and the CG sequences are good. They don’t blend with the other animation, but it’s mostly used for the “myumon” sequences and, because those are separate due to the framework of the show, it’s not a big deal. But Show by Rock is primarily meant to sell you on the characters, and the staff really has a good grasp on that. There’s a level of expressiveness and exaggeration that works well to communicate the charm of the characters and also makes the show pretty routinely funny.
One of the advantages of Show by Rock in comparison to other music-heavy shows and music game tie-ins is more diversity in the music. Usually shows stick pretty tightly to one thing, whether it’s idol pop or garage rock. By contrast, the Show by Rock game has 10 different bands across multiple genres. There are pop groups, visual kei bands, rock bands, and electronic DJs. Not all of these have appeared in the show yet, but several have and they seem to be moving fairly quickly to introduce more. It’s all mainstream popular music to ensure mass appeal—you won’t find any really out there indie or experimental styles—but it keeps things from getting too stale.
Sanrio has basically narrowed down character design to a science, and given that plus the tie-in status of the show it could easily devolve into an oppressive, joyless exercise in checklist- (or perhaps more appropriately, database-) driven creation. Obviously, the show is still a bald exercise in cross-marketing and monetization—hey do you like this game? Buy the albums and get rare cards for the game! Watch the anime every week for codes for other rare cards! Buy the Blu-rays!
And yet, there’s something that works so far. It’s just so … effervescently ridiculous. I feel like the design and production meetings are a giant improv exercise of “yes, and” Talking guitar? Eh, whatever. Aliens? Sure. The manager is an egg? Why not. A visual kei band full of idiot drama queens who Jojo pose and 70s shoujo dramatic reaction frame their way through life? Okay. A ninja band and a sentai team band? Sweet. A band where the drummer is literally a mountain? I still don’t know how that works but I’ll run with it.
Show by Rock is pure, unadulterated junk food entertainment. If you’re looking for sophistication you’re not going to find it here. If you’re up for something extremely cute and silly, then so far this is a good time. I watch it with friends and it’s a fun, relaxing cap to a long week. Thus far the staff have kept up a good pace and kept the show feeling novel. It remains to be seen whether or not it can maintain for the rest of the run. I certainly hope so.