It’s only a little ironic that I compared the first BanG Dream! Episode of Roselia movie to a ‘Greatest Hits’ album of the type these musical money-making franchises are wont to put out, as now we’ve come to the series’ second concert movie. A string of a bunch of popular songs from all the Girls’ Bands played back-to-back with animated concert flourish, that’s way more in-line with the idea of a chart-topping crowd-pleaser for fans to throw on when they just want some BanG Dream!-flavored excitement taking up space in their brain for an hour and a half. It’s a methodology you can expect from this kind of piece of pop culture: Fans are already clicking on music videos and tapping along to these songs in the accompanying rhythm game dozens of times a day, so why not graft all those tunes together into a big show they can sell movie tickets to?
The distinguishing format of this film release necessitates a digression: I never did compose a review for the first BanG Dream! FILM LIVE concert movie, since even though as ANN’s resident Bandori fanboy I found it a perfectly fun diversion, that’s ultimately all it was. The animation and camerawork were functional if not amazing, the characterization and banter had some amusing bits but there wasn’t terribly much of it, and the song selections were good choices but evidently entirely constructed around just slotting the relevant short-version MP3s into the animated footage. It was fine, but folks, I can tell you now with comparison to 2nd Stage, that first movie comes off looking even more like a screensaver than it already did. Not only is this second film great as the kind of animated ‘concert movie’ it’s pushing as a concept, it also pretty well proves how well this format can work for a franchise like BanG Dream! when they just put their whole ass into it.
Right from the start 2nd Stage (streaming on Eventive, as usual) is bigger, louder, and more ambitious than the utter demo tape its predecessor was. Poppin’ Party‘s opening number of ‘Initial’ is constructed with banter within it, specifically making clear to us, the audience, that the songs used throughout this are new recordings for the film. The recording and mixing of these songs are designed to accentuate the giant arena nature of the supposed ‘show’ these cartoon facsimiles of performers are playing in. That style in turn strongly helps to drive home the distinctions in musical styles between all the bands on display here. And those styles are further broadened by the presentation, shifting from, say, Pastel Palettes being lighted with colors evocative of their band name, to the sudden rock-and-roll laser light show that characterizes Bandori bad girls RAISE A SUILEN.
The presentation of FILM LIVE 2nd Stage never goes too wild in terms of the kinds of craziness the animated format could really afford them if they actually wanted to cut loose. Everything is mostly focused on presenting a ‘believable’ concert film that just happens to center around CGI anime girls. There’s a faux-fish-eye-lens trick that’s deployed to view the stage a few times. A smoke machine gets tripped and the resulting lighting effects get played around with. They animate sweat on these girls while they’re performing. Ran takes a drink from a water bottle between songs. They’re small details that add up to make it feel like an actual show, which is a world apart from the procession of jukebox dance numbers that the aforementioned first FILM LIVE came off as. They definitely recognize the freedom that the virtual camera affords them; there’s a pretty invigorating shot during Afterglow’s ‘Tied to the Skies’ where the focus rotates around to each of the girls behind Ran, and in general the direction’s good at conveying the ‘feel’ of each band, such as how the camera goes absolutely bonkers when Hello! Happy World is playing.
Presenting the character of those bands and the girls in them is the other mission statement apart from just getting all the hit songs out in front of a receptive audience. Not only are the member introductions and between-song banters significantly expanded from that continuously-comparable first entry, but the transitions between the different bands are marked with their own skit-flavored surprises afforded by the multi-group concert format. I don’t even want to detail some of the occurrences that happen out of concern of ruining the moments for any devoted fans who have yet to check this thing out. And if the concept of ‘Concert Spoilers’ seems a bit overblown, do know that it’s something they directly call out during the proceedings of this movie, so it’s not that alien an idea.
For all that energy put into these anchoring non-musical stretches, they do seem to start cutting shorter as the concert goes on. By the time RAISE A SUILEN and Roselia take the stage, things are just hurtling along on pure musical momentum with less time afforded for things like complex transition skits or band-member introductions. That’s not necessarily a problem, and it shows an understanding of the kind of pacing we’ve reached by that point in the piece, but do know that even in an ensemble showcase like this, the screentime isn’t being exactly evenly divvied up. Though RAS and Roselia did already get an entire anime season and a set of movies, respectively, devoted to them, so those ones can probably do with a little underexposure.
In that respect, the way everyone else is on display almost seems designed to make it up to all the fans whose Best Girls got shortchanged in the last few pieces of BanG Dream! anime media. Not only is everyone here faithfully reenacting their contractually-obligated running gags, but you can catch little touches in how they interact with each other on-stage while performing, along with their song selection which speaks to where these characters are personally at this stage in the plot and timeline, if that’s something you’re devoted enough to be following. That element means the full subtitles for all the songs are extremely appreciable, given the character-relevant context so many of the choices for this performance embody. Conversely, there’s the selling point of new faves to be seen here as well, as 2nd Live marks the first non-chibi, non-music-video animated performance of the Morfonica group, which definitely feels like a treat to see. As a note, in promoting the newer groups even harder, the showings of this film include one of three different post-credits encore songs. For the record, the screening accessed for this review featured a three-way mash-up between Poppin’ Party, Pastel Palettes, and Morfonica in a fairly delightful ensemble song.
In general, after the more low-key presentation of the Roselia movies, it’s appreciable to see all these characters presented with the more overt animated acting courtesy of the team at Sanzigen, who are clearly flexing the muscles they honed on that sort of action so well back in D4DJ First Mix. It’s still not entirely seamless – there’s a framerate drop here, some too-obvious mocap there, and the sheer amount of stuff happening occasionally breaks through what Eventive’s bitrate is capable of transmitting. But overall it’s the kind of energetic effort a production like this demands, always selling what a monstrous upgrade it is compared to the proof-of-concept the first film it now so clearly was.
Now that is all well and good, and it should be. All the team at Sanzigen had to do was put together an over-the-top crowd-pleasing roller-coaster ride for BanG Dream! fans, and they definitely had the energy for that here. But does that make for a good movie and/or concert experience in general? Sure I just spent paragraphs gushing about it, but I’m one of those aforementioned fans, and the exercise of criticism requires me to at least attempt the headspace of general-audience appeal on this thing. With that in mind, it’s definitely going to depend on your expectations for movie-length anime entertainment. What’s here beyond the musical content is relatively simple character-based skits; that old Ninja Turtles concert movie had more plot to it than BanG Dream! here. But in the spirit of the real-life shows it’s emulating, almost all the girls do take the time to introduce themselves to the audience, and display just enough of their quirks that a theoretical neophyte could find fun to be had with it in a ‘Cute Bands Doing Cute Things’ sort of way. As well, having all the bands here parading their selections around also helps broaden the appeal, if only because there’s more sheer variety to BanG Dream!‘s music than something like, say, Love Live!. Don’t care for Afterglow’s alternative sounds? Don’t worry, because after just a few of their songs, Pastel Palettes is coming in with more pop-idol stylings. If that isn’t your speed, you only have to wait a little bit before RAISE A SUILEN roars in with their outlandish techno-rock. Theoretically anybody watching should be able to hear something they like the sound of, and the prowess of the presentation probably helps it go down easier.
That’s a lot of technical qualification at the behest of a decidedly secondary audience, though hopefully any of you other BanG Dream! fans out there that drag your uninitiated friends to this can rest easy knowing they won’t be too bored. Otherwise, FILM LIVE 2nd Stage is a mostly-enthralling technical showcase for a franchise that, by my count, is on its second or third victory lap. As long as they’re going to continue to pour more stuff for this series out of the pipeline, we can at least hope it can keep looking this cool.
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