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Review: Show By Rock!! – Complete Season 1

I think, at some point, we’ve all known the rut Cyan is stuck in at the start of a new school year. She wants to prove her worth as a singer and musician as part of her school’s rock band. But even with all her lines memorised, about to open the door to the club room, she crumbles under her fear. Quite why is still a mystery to her – is it that she doesn’t put enough faith in her own ability, or is she just afraid to greet people she’s only admired from an audience? But as she’ll soon learn when she’s sucked into the bright, bubbly weirdness of Sound World, whatever the source, fear has no place when you’re standing centre stage.

Show By Rock!! began as Sanrio’s first ever character project aimed at older male and adult fans, making a break away from Hello Kitty. This time, the neko ears are on a wistful teen who brings an apt message of togetherness, in art and in fandom. Cyan has been called to this land where music literally rules by the gung-ho spirit in her guitar, Strawberry Heart, because it’s her destiny to defeat the evil manager Dagger. He plots to take over all of Sound World with his mystery band; but meanwhile, titanic Dark Monsters are wreaking their own havoc, targeting the most popular bands in town. This twin tale of mystery becomes focused on Plasmagica, the underdog idols of sparkle rock made up of leader ChuChu, reserved Retoree and fluffy oddball Moa. ChuChu takes Cyan under her wing when she drives off a Dark Monster solo, armed with the barest instinct of musical spirit. The prestigious Grateful Rock Festival is coming up, and with her on side, they’re sure to be a hit.

The snag is that, even as a hero of destiny, Cyan is still the same shy girl she was back home. Fearing reprisal by her band, she sneaks away to fight the monsters alone. But bottling things up never led to anything good, and she’s forced to confess eventually after she skips out on an important concert. Experience tells us that we’re never special snowflakes, no matter our problems, and Retoree had her own rocky start in the band. At first feeling sidelined as the established members jammed together, shaping songs from lyrics of love and unity, she is battling her nervous nature even now she feels part of Plasmagica. Hers is the search for acceptance that captures the heart, more so than Cyan’s. But their shared trouble with trust tightens the bonds in their band, becoming the unanticipated unifying thread through which they support one another.

Dagger’s secret weapon still hidden among the ranks of neverending battles of the bands, with each new rival introduced in silhouette, the mystery’s teased out even further. Though they might all start out as competitors, they’re rallied against the Dark Monsters by hook or by compulsory training camp. Even though the animation is at its most loveable and captivating in combat, it’s also where it’s at its most distracting. Jumping between 3D CG and regular 2D, each character has a cute, deformed animal alter-self that appears during battle, either between bands or against a beast. These chibis are undeniably adorable with a very Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog feel, but too much snapping between those facing off and cheerleading from the wings makes for disruptive dissonance in style.

The character designs and stories strive hard for nostalgia with clout, even when it comes off a little monster-of-the-week. The nervous tension before Grateful Rock, and ChuChu’s surprising fall to doubt, opens for a dramatic climax of neon colour and high emotion. In a show where the music is central, it’s great to hear such variety and celebration in the songs, which come to a crescendo with the final episodes. For our money though, we’d be backing proud metallers ShinganCrimsonZ and the far-eastern inspired Tsurezure Naru Ayatsuri Mugenan. The latter (Tsurezure for short) deserve props for their evocative if virtually translator-proof name alone.


Extras:

English dub; episode 2 & 6 commentary; band promo videos; clean opening/closing animations; commercials & trailers.

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