Rule of Three Review: Show by Rock!! – Episodes 2-3

The ending theme was right: I am indeed having a nice MUSIC!!

I described Show by Rock!! as “utter nonsense” in my premiere review, and remarked on Twitter that it was “so dumb and I loved it,” but after a couple extra episodes, I’m reevaluating my opinion somewhat. SbR isn’t dumb. It’s silly. “Dumb” implies a lack of intent; it suggests that something is amusing without that being the creators’ goal. “Silly,” on the other hand, means that the creators know exactly what they’re doing and are enjoying the heck out of themselves. And I’d say SbR firmly falls into the second category.

Yeah, it’s a show based on a video game promoted by Sanrio, and yeah, it’s primary goal is to sell merchandise. Which, if my friend’s reaction to the first episode is any indication, mission freaking accomplished, by the way:

But hey, Pokemon and Digimon had their roots in consumerism as well, and a whole bunch of us remember how devoted to the characters and invested in the stories we got with both those franchises. In some ways SbR reminds me of those old game-based series. It’s clearly a project that was conceived for promotional purposes, and then the creative team said “Okay, now how can we make this fun for both us and our audience?”

The answer was by creating a colorful world, a goofball cast of competing bands loosely parodying actual popular music styles (particularly those out of Japan, such as the show-stealing Visual Kei group SHINGANCRIMSONZ), and to stubbornly refuse to take itself seriously, like, 95% of the time.

It also doesn’t hurt that studio BONES (backed by that sweet Sanrio money, no doubt) has made both the cell and CG animation look really damn good, bright and distinctive with memorable facial expressions, framing, and motion.

SbR takes light jabs at the music industry, various music genres, callous marketing, and the personas crafted by entertainers (I just know the other shoe is gonna drop with that cutesy idol group before long). The series does spend a little time portraying the complicated, often competing motivations that come with working in a popular art industry, dealing with personal creativity, group (band) cooperation, audience reception, and that age-old debate over money/fame vs. THE MUSIC, MAN.

But like with most of the series, it’s not particularly profound, and is mostly just there to provide the occasional burst of conflict for our main characters, their band Plasmagica, and their record label.

Where SbR does run the risk of losing me is with those character conflicts. While I do like that it’s dealing with introverted performers (and the challenges that come with those seemingly contradictory personality traits) in both protagonist Cyan and her band mate Retoree, I confess that the occasional moments of seriousness haven’t really struck a chord (pun!) with me.

There are some potentially interesting (or at least amusing) character elements here, to be sure—Chuchu’s professional exterior covers up a lot more vinegar than honey, for example, and, I mean, freakin’ Moa:

But a lot of it comes off more as cute-girls-being-cute fluff, which feels a little too by-the-book to be intriguing. Although honestly, I don’t need SbR to be deep or emotionally affecting. I need it to be fun, full of silly characters and bouncy music and absurd, awesome-looking monster battles. And so far, aside from the occasionally banal character beat, it’s delivering on all counts.

It’s no secret that I love layered, nuanced, and thematically ambitious works. But dammit, you guys, sometimes I just wanna sit back and hum along to pop songs and giggle about a talking guitar and a bunch of half-naked idiots in a rock band. There’s something to be said for solid escapism, and so far SbR has easily earned its keep as a guilt-free guilty pleasure. May it continue to be this entertaining all season.

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