Show By Rock!! Stars!! is the fourth season in the almost weirdly engaging Show By Rock!! franchise, picking up almost precisely where season three, Show By Rock!! Mashumairesh!! left off, and in some ways forming almost a coda to the franchise as a whole – or at least marking the start of a new phase of the story. That’s because it manages to bring all of the various bands from the previous three seasons together into one show, and while that does make for a crowded cast (especially in the final episode), it also gives us a very full picture of just what the Midi City music scene really has to offer. There’s no guarantee that everyone is through their trials and tribulations, but it definitely gives the sense that the most major hurdles have been cleared, allowing everyone to move on to the next steps in their musical careers.
Since those steps are clearly a lot closer for established bands like Plasmagica and Shingoncrimsonz, who were the focus of seasons one and two, Stars!! keeps the two groups from Mashumairesh as the primary protagonists: Dokonjofinger for the boys and Mashumairesh for the girls. The story begins with the four ladies of Mashumairesh – Himeko, Howan, Ruhuyu, and Delmin – driving from Under North Zawa to Midi City, where they’re supposed to meet their producer’s friend, Maple Arisugawa. They meet him, all right, but not in the way they’d planned: the car he’s driving and the one Himeko’s driving get into an accident on the highway, resulting in a fairly spectacular crash. The cause behind it is the strange ghostly amp Ziipe, who has been terrorizing the musicians of Midi City, but who never appears for very long – which means that Himeko and the girls get blamed for the disaster because Ziipe has already disappeared and what the cops see is footage of Delmin using her electric beams during the incident.
That the trouble doesn’t last for very long is a good indication of how the series as a whole runs. There is an overarching plot – the major music event Mashumairesh has come to participate in – but each episode is self-contained, taking the characters to a variety of places for ostensible training exercises or performances. These various venues are wide-ranging, and most of the major players get a chance to participate in the story’s action. Only Mashumairesh ends up going to the home of the Devilmint Dragons (i. e. Delmin’s hometown), but Plasmagica ends up in space again, there’s a sports festival that all the girl groups get a chance to participate in, an amusement park, and other staple anime venues. All of these activities are referenced after they happen, so they’re clearly not intended to be throwaway adventures, but they also don’t make the show form a particularly cohesive whole.
What, then, is the point? While that’s a fair enough question to ask, the answer is perhaps a bit trickier. Show By Rock!! as a franchise isn’t really about overarching themes other than the love of music and the friendships of the various band members, and even in that latter idea there’s a fair amount of playing fast and loose with the audience’s expectations with implied yuri relationships that don’t actually go anywhere. (Although there is a very cute Himeko/Howan moment when Himeko assumes they’ll be sharing a dorm room since they’ve been living together.) This isn’t necessarily a show that wants you to think too deeply about its symbolism or what it’s saying about music or love; it’s a series that wants you to kick back and enjoy yourself, having fun with the characters, the various songs, and the music-based world itself.
In that respect, Stars!! does a good job. The sheer number of bands gives us a variety of songs in varying styles, and the final episode functions almost as a medley of the franchise‘s greatest hits, with almost every band we’ve gotten to know (or at least heard mentioned) over the previous seasons getting a turn on stage. Most of the character development goes to the girls of Mashumairesh, which does make a certain amount of sense, since we got two seasons of Plasmagica and the Under North Zawa group is clearly meant to mirror them to a degree. Interestingly enough we see Ruhuyu, the purple wolf, go through the most changes as she calms down a little bit. She’s still fairly involved in her own little world and the episode on Delmin’s home island has her very focused on learning to shoot beams of her own (despite not being a devilmint dragon), but her time in Midi City and with Plasmagica seems to make her think about being as lost in her head as she was in season three, to the point where the other girls start to comment on it towards the end of the season. She’s still very much the character she was when we first met her, but she’s grown up a bit, which was an interesting choice for the character. It may simply be because of the fact that she’s out in the wider world in season four, but whatever the cause, seeing Ruhuyu start to rely less on her fantasy crutches feels like the sort of meaningful character development that we don’t often see in this franchise, or at least haven’t seen since Cyan in season one.
Show By Rock!! Stars!! is an entertaining combination of eye-rollingly silly and plain old fun. Seeing all of the disparate characters from the various seasons come together is probably the best part, and the minimal effort with the Ziipe plot does manage to pull through in the end in a way that could anticipate a season five. The music is catchy, the animation largely on point, and all in all this comes the closest to recapturing the magic that made season one so enjoyable. We’re not quite there yet, but Stars!! is definitely leading things in the right direction.
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