By Andrew Osmond.
In Japan, mobile games are big business. Blame it on the commute – on Tokyo trains, the jam-packed passengers are asked not to talk on their phones, and remarkably nearly all of them don’t talk. So instead they use their phones and tablets for browsing, texting and playing games. And they can be all kinds of games, from epic networked RPGs to dating sims with pigeons (yes, it’s a thing). According to a report on the Kotaku website, Japanese gamers spend far more money on pay-to-progress mobile games than Westerners do.
Show By Rock originated as a rhythm mobile game in 2013 – that is, a game to test your ability to keep in time and/or play an instrument, like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Show By Rock was made by the games company Geechs in collaboration with the world-famous Sanrio, home of Hello Kitty, My Melody and many more characters. Sanrio is usually seen as purveying products for girls (and women), but the company specified that Show By Rock is targeted more at boys. That doesn’t stop the game having an abundance of cute, furry and fluffy characters, as you can see on this official promo video.
The anime version brings in another famous name – Bones, the studio behind everything from Fullmetal Alchemist to Blood Blockade Battlefront. Bones has a track-record in being able to tailor its style to match its clients, and that’s precisely what it’s done here. The Show By Rock anime certainly doesn’t hide its game origins. In the first episode, shy human girl Cyan dreams of being able to perform in her school band, but seems too timid to ever get anywhere. But then, while she’s playing School by Rock on her phone, a malevolent force sucks her Tron-style into her phone, and into the cartoon city of the game, where music bands wield magic powers against monsters. Oh, and Cyan turns into a goth lolita kitty.
However, Cyan is only one character amid a colourfully crazy cast, where even the band manager is… a stressed-out egg with a moustache and esteem issues. Cyan’s fellow band members are cute girls with furry appendages; many of their fans have piggy snouts; Cyan herself is guided by a talking guitar; and there’s a colour-coded boy band spoofing every ‘poseur’ singer stereotype going. As well as the monsters, there are battles of the bands, which are held at the “Boodookan” (a reference to the Budokan arena in central Tokyo, but also to Voodoo). The combo of band battles and videogame trappings makes Show By Rock seem like a furry version of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.
The most unusual thing about the Show by Rock anime is its mixed format. While much of the show is made in traditional-looking animation, customised for cuteness, it sometimes switches to full 3D CG, especially in the first episode. Unlike many cartoons, the transitions aren’t hidden – on Shion’s arrival in the fantasy city, she finds a CG boy-band performing to an adoring crowd which is traditionally drawn. Many of the show’s characters appear both in CG and flat versions, but it’s the CG versions who look terrifyingly ‘toyetic,’ like adorable wide-eyed figurines.
Animation purists may find this mixed-media hard to take, but gamers should take it in their stride – games often have far more patchwork styles! Show by Rock’s CG was by Studio Gooneys, which had previously worked on a children’s sci-fi adventure show, Tenkai Knights, also made with Bones.
Show By Rock is released on Blu-ray in the UK by Funimation.