Cyan is a shy schoolgirl who gets sucked into a fantasy world where everyone exists in two versions. You might have a normal anime appearance, or else you might have transformed into a cute chibi CGI cartoon. Cyan's now a cat. Her new friends are a labrador (Retoree), a rabbit (Chuchu) and a sheep from outer space (Moa). Together they're Plasmagica. This is good because Cyan had always wanted to be in a band. She also acquires a talking pink heart-shaped guitar that orders her to use rock music to defeat the Dark Monsters.
It's based on a rhythm video game for Android phones, although game and anime canon are apparently very different. Also, to my astonishment, it's extraordinarily good.
I was expecting nonsense. What's more, I was expecting a plot about rock music. I was right. It's a silly cartoon set in a music-obsessed world where everyone's secretly an anthropomorphic CGI animal who's either in a band, managing a band or plotting to take over the world. It looks like a kiddie show. The title's "Show by Rock!!", for goodness sake. As for the plot, that's standard "Band Aims For The Top" stuff, with a supervillain in the background and a world of goofy cartoon creatures.
Oh, and Cyan's manager is an egg. An actual egg, walking on little legs. His secretary Angelica though has lots of cleavage, an eyepatch and the air of being able to kill everyone in the room.
Against all the odds, though, the show takes all this silliness and builds it into a story that works. Once you've accepted this cast in this world, you'll eventually realise that the character drama has teeth. There's no fat on the script. The Plasmagica girls' relationship is all about friendship, as is expected in anime, but what's more the show will be digging into that. It's testing the girls. Each has a secret and they're capable of hurting each other. They'll make mistakes. When they have angst, it'll be well-founded. When they have fights (although they usually get on far too well for that), it'll be for a strong character-based reason. When they apologise tearfully to each other, those apologies are necessary and bear weight.
Similarly the baddie (Dagger Morse) might look like the cackling villain of a magical girl anime, but his silly gimmick Dark Monsters are to be taken seriously. If you have darkness in your heart, Dagger Morse can get you. People do. They get taken. No one is immune, including our heroines.
It's great. It builds and builds, until the finale triumphantly gets everything right. (I don't mind a few character points not being tied up neatly, e.g. Moa's alien mission or the Shuuzo-Rom backstory. Apart from anything else, there's going to be a Season 2.) Dagger Morse nearly wins! Lots of different heroic characters all get to be awesome. Cyan saves an enemy. "It's probably because I kept saying mean things to you that I turned into a Dark Monster." As far as I'm concerned, It's perfect.
The show even triumphs with looks like a money-saving gimmick, i.e. the CGI chibi music performances. (Lots of anime shows switch to CGI for the song and dance numbers, but normally it's more discreet.) These characters might not have mouths, but their miming is super-cute and extraordinarily expressive. Their hands even match the chords they're playing! Look at the end credits, for instance. That's pure animated happiness. I even love the song's scrambled Engrish. "Go go lucky, have a nice music, go go happy music!"
There's going to be a Season 2 and I honestly don't know what to expect. I'll be watching the hell out of it, obviously. I loved this first season. However at root it's silly nonsense that just happens to have been written much better than expected, so maybe Season 2 will fail to catch lightning in a second bottle?
What are the cast like? Well, the Plasmagica girls are impossibly cute. Cyan is lovely. Retoree falls in lesbian lust with her immediately, but that's soon forgotten as we get a bit deeper into Retoree's characterisation and learn that she's as shy as Cyan and terrified of not being able to make friends. Chuchu will surprise you.
However there are also other bands. (Lots and lots in the game, fewer in the anime.) Shingan Crimsonz are hot-blooded swaggering macho idiots who call their fans "cattle"... and the show's taking the mickey out of them. It's affectionate. It still loves them, almost as much as it loves Plasmagica. However for instance ep.7 takes them to Yokai Street and reacting with as much goofball terror as Scooby Doo and Shaggy. (The girls of course hadn't turned a hair.) They can deliver a dick-waving "I'm the greatest" speech and then bang their head on the door. Aion is a massive chuunibyou who claims to be a god, but in fact he's a shut-in with a communication disorder who can't talk unless he's posing. They're capable of heroic victories, but they hadn't realised what they were doing at the time. They're triumphant but pathetic, while also thinking they're God's gift to the world.
They're brilliant! Oh, and apparently the English dub's excellent too.
The show's target audience is a bit complicated. It's from Sanrio (the creators of Hello Kitty), who've always gone for a girly demographic, but this was made for older males and young adults. The game includes a song about sex, called Naked, plus other stuff like Chuchu doing gravure modelling. However the anime gets rid of all that and is giving every impression of belonging on children's TV.
It's a cute, affectionate show, but its warmth is given force by the writing. A lot of shows that look like this are built on lazy story loops and only a safe, weightless sort of character drama. That's not the case here. The Plasmagica girls fight and come through stronger for the experience. We actually see the healing power of music. That's not just pretty words. Working together on a song can help the girls bond in a way they'd been unable to achieve by talking. It took me a while to realise that I love this show, but I do. It's the combination of: (a) ludicrousness, (b) writing where everything clicks, and (c) pure happy.