The original Show by Rock!! anime was a surprise hit for me. “Cute animal-eared girls in bands by Sanrio” sounds fun but not especially amazing, but the execution turned out to be magnificent. Between the fluid animation and excellent comedic timing, I still think fondly of the series and its immediate sequel, Show by Rock!!#. The third season, however, didn’t quite hit the mark with me. The relatively low-key Show by Rock!! Mashumairesh!! took place in the same general setting, but it just didn’t have the charm or humor that made the first two anime such winners.
I’m not sure if the aim of the fourth season, Show by Rock!! Stars!!, was to bring back some of that old magic, but it pulls the “crossover” card and decides to combine the old and new casts together. Now, the band Mashumairesh (whose name still confuses me) has joined up with the original heroines, Plasmagica, to participate in an all-star band competition. The crossover isn’t limited to the characters either, as the staff includes talents from all the previous series.
The result is that Show by Rock!! Stars!! brings back much of that old magic. From the very beginning, it feels closer to the earlier seasons. Mashumairesh, new to the big city that Plasmagica calls home, accidentally ends up doing some serious property damage that gets them landed in jail and facing a criminal trial. “These are the absurd antics missing from the Mashumairesh!! season,” I thought while watching it. By the finale, I think it’s largely satisfying and captures most of the spirit of Show by Rock!! at its best, though it doesn’t go quite as far as I hoped.
Ultimately, I think the problem is that Stars!! focuses much more on Mashumairesh. While the fourth season brings snappier writing and performances to the story that helps elevate the Mashumairesh girls, they and their surrounding cast just don’t strike the same strong balance between friendly personalities and character flaws that help define Plasmagica and friends. Though Howan is by no means a poor character, Cyan makes for a more appealing protagonist. Plasmagica’s ChuChu has a personality of tempered ruthless ambition that’s just absent among the Mashumairesh members. Moa the alien sheep is the best, as always. And how do you beat the overwrought melodrama of a band named SHINGANCRIMONZ, whose band leader is adored as a man among men by the other members because he holds steady employment as an accountant? None of the all-guy bands originally featured in the Mashumairesh!! season even come close.
That’s not to say Show by Rock!! Stars!! is a failure. For the most part, the series is highly amusing and does a good job of bringing out the best qualities in its many characters. It elevates a B+ cast into A-rank players, but I still wish I could have seen more of the S-rank superstars.