Ever since K-On's success, there have been a huge surge in both slice-of-life anime featuring cute girls doing mundane things and anime where boys or girls try to get into the music scene. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. However, this isn't always a good thing, as there's a lot that can go wrong, such as companies making rip-offs or copies of said show, focusing too much on fanservice and doing what K-On did rather than actually having a decent story, characters, and conflict, or standing out on its own merits. If creators try too hard to copy other works, they won't be appreciated for their own merits, and if a piece of media can't stand on its own merits, then it'll just fade into obscurity. But even shows that stand out and are able to stand on their own merits aren't always good, and sometimes the show that inspired so many rip-offs may not even be that good! Despite its problems, Show By Rock definitely stands out and knows what the heck it wants. Unfortunately, it's being held back by many problems that, if rectified, could have made it so much better, had the creators been given more leeway with it.
A young girl named Cyan (pronounced Shion) Hijirikawa wants to be a rock star and join her school's music club but is too shy to do it. But when she's at home, she gets an app on her phone that suddenly takes her to this magical world called Sound World, particularly one place called Midi City. It's full of half-animal half-human people called Myuumons, and music is par for the course. There are popular bands such as Trichronika, Criticrista, ShingancrimsonZ, and another band she joins called Plasmagica. She receives a sentient heart shaped guitar named Strawberry Heart that tells her she needs to defeat dark monsters that are threatening Midi City. Dark monsters are created when someone's Melodisian Stone is corrupted by negative feelings or outside forces. Cyan joins Plasmagica and gets the chance to fulfill her dream, along with saving Midi City from the dark monsters.
Yeah...as you can tell by the summary, the premise is admittedly very convoluted and cliche. Random kid gets taken to another world by someone or something, is the chosen one and has to defeat evil villain via insert macguffin here, make friends, etc. There's too much to deal with, and it doesn't help that the show is only twelve episodes long. It could have benefited from being a lot longer, like 26 episodes or even 39, for a variety of reasons that I'll get into. Sound World itself doesn't really get expanded upon, nor do we learn all that much about Melodisian Stones, the villain behind the scenes, what made him what he is, why certain people are so important, how and why Midi City is the way it is, etc. I do find it interesting that Sanrio (Yes, this was made by Sanrio, the people behind Hello Kitty. Just go with it) named a city after a midi file. Heck, I remember when midi files were especially popular on places like Neopets, waaay back in like, 2003-2005 or something. However, having an interesting setting doesn't matter if you can't expand upon it or use it to your advantage.
Same goes for the characters. They're not bad, but there's loads and loads of them, and they're all very under developed and bland save for one character, Cyan getting the worst of it, which is actually lampshaded in the final episode. She begins and ends the show being the exact same person. She doesn't do anything, she gets scared, she doesn't do anything by herself, she's shy and insecure, she just gets dragged into things without actively doing anything about it, she's never directly affected by anything that goes on around her...she's just not very interesting as a character. Not only that, she's constantly told that she's the one who absolutely has to defeat the dark monsters, but it's never stated why she of all people has to do it. Others could have very easily been better candidates, and they never state the actual reason why SHE is the one that got picked, which makes the whole chosen one plotline very superficial. Give us a reason, dag nabbit! Sakura from CCS was made to be the cardcaptor because she accidentally released the cards from the Clow Book. Sasami from Sasami Magical Girls Club was born with her powers. Hitomi from Vision of Escaflowne had a pendant from Gaia that she inherited from her grandmother, who received it from a dying man whose son becomes her friend later on. They all start off one way, and end the series having grown and learned from their experiences. Cyan doesn't. Therefore, she's not interesting.
The other characters are no better. True, some of them do get expanded on, but it's all very predictable, and none of their backstories are actively fleshed out save for Chuchu. Retoree is shy, Moa is a cheerful alien who misses her home (and it's quickly forgotten about), Chuchu wants to be the best, etc. I have to admit though, ShingancrimsonZ is the best band in the entire show. The guys in that band are not only hilarious, but charming and are often the comedic relief despite being crazy gothic punk rock bishounen who scream a lot. They're just as bland and underdeveloped as the others, but their antics are funny enough to steal your heart. Criticrista, on the other hand, is the worst of the bunch. We're told that they're best friends who love each other, but we never see them interact much unlike with Plasmagica. It doesn't help that they're all annoyingly cute moe girls with obnoxiously high pitched voices (one of them being voiced by Rina Hidaka, one of my favorite new VAs, and as much as I like her, her work as Rosia really isn't one of her best) who are there to pander to creepy guys, etc. Everyone else is just there for eye candy or doing stuff nobody really cares about. But there are these two animal high schoolers who appear at the end of some episodes who go to school and constantly complain about wanting to go to Midi City, with one of them always saying "Sorrrry!! X is the pits!!" Why are these Myumons here? What purpose do they serve? Nothing! They're never used for anything, so they're just a waste of animation and broadcasting time! The producers should have ditched them and used their budget for, oh, I don't know, actual world building and character exploration? Also, Moa also has an annoying voice actress who tries way to hard most of the time, coming off really shrill in the process.
Animation wise, the show is decent, albeit way too flashy, especially with the way they draw the character's eyes. Too many sparkles and diamonds in them! It's so distracting and completely throws you off. But the character movements are fluid, the character designs are relatively decent, albeit a little too over the top for some (the water band and Criticrista being two such examples), the cosmopolitan look of Midi City is very beautiful and it kinds resembles modern day New York, as the biggest tower in the city kinda looks a lot like the Empire State Building, complete with flashy neon colored lights, etc. Also, the CGI. It is beautiful, and I do not mean that sarcastically. I'm serious. The CGI in this anime is the best I've seen. It's actually fluid, the animators actually put in effort to make it relevant to the story, and since the characters are all rendered into their animal forms during the CGI scenes, they don't fall into uncanny valley territory, and considering how anime CGI is usually REALLY bad a lot of the time, that's saying a lot. I also appreciate that the show likes to parody various animation styles, especially when ShinganCrimsonZ is involved, like having the characters go all buff and beefy a la Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, or giving them girly 70s shoujo faces complete with exaggerated faces and long eye lashes and sparkles a la Rose of Versailles. The way its used for comedy is actually pretty cool.
Since the show's about music, obviously the music has to be the best part of the show, right? Well...yes and no. Pretty much everything by ShinganCrimsonZ, Trichronika, and that other band called Tsurezure is awesome, but all the other songs are mostly just bland, cutesy moe fare that grates on your ears, Criticrista's song obviously being the worst one. The opening and ending songs are no better. It's nice that the show uses a rock and roll music style, since the show is about bands and the music is actually relevant to the story, albeit used in a ridiculous, stupid, and deus ex machina-using way. However, if the songs have cutesy high pitched voices singing them, then all they are is annoying if said voices aren't in tune with the music.
So yeah. Show By Rock isn't great, but it's not bad. Cliched, yes, but not bad. It's pretty fun if you want something good to watch, and the fanservice is pretty mild for the most part. But if you're looking for more serious fare, then give it a miss. Also, ShinganCrimsonZ is awesome. Why couldn't the show be about them?!