I love Show by Rock!!. I loved Season 1 and I loved this too. In fairness this season probably didn't have to do that much to keep my affections, but at the very least it kept up the quality and didn't drop the ball. The odd thing though is that the show's also both simple and silly, with nothing you'd call brilliant in the plot or characterisation. It's good, but only in a straightforwardly competent way. The story arc's conventional. The cast are nice and likeable, but anime's overflowing with nice, likeable protagonists.
That's not enough to explain it. Even in hindsight, I'm finding it hard to pinpoint what made me like it so much.
I'll start by describing it. Midi City is a place that seems to be populated entirely by animals in rock bands. Cyan is a cat-girl. (Technically she's a schoolgirl from Earth who fell through into another dimension, but in Midi City she's got cat ears and a tail.) She has a secret mentor called Strawberry Heart, who's a pink heart-shaped talking guitar, and she plays in a band called Plasmagica. Her bandmates are Chuchu (a rabbit), Moa (a sheep) and Retoree (a golden retriever). The show's animation style is normally hand-drawn, but musical numbers see everyone transform into a tiny, cute and adorable CGI form. The characters are aware of this, by the way. It's not just a money-saving animation shortcut.
Anyway, Season 1 saw the Plasmagica girls use their awesome music to fight Dark Monsters! (While performing in rock concerts. This show takes its music seriously.) Season 2, in contrast, starts with the Queen of Darkness destroying Sound Planet and then goes back in time to show our heroines trying to change the future... while again performing in rock concerts! You can tell the baddie's evil because she hates music and is doing all this to destroy music! She believes in darkness! However our heroines will defeat her with THE POWER OF ROCK!!!!
In other words, it's ridiculous.
That said, though, the show takes its silliness seriously. It creates situations and emotions that are genuine. Season 1 had fluidity between goodies and baddies, thanks to Dagger's braindwashing. Season 2 does something else, which is good. They're avoiding the "remake as sequel" trap. This year is more about communication, with more than one character keeping secrets from their friends because they're trying to protect them. This ties in with the music, which brings people together and helps them communicate on a simple but powerful level.
What's more, I think the show has one special quality. It's a minor and easily overlooked thing, I think, but personally I reckon it's an important part of the puzzle. What it's giving us is happiness. I'm thinking particularly of the opening and closing title sequences. No, really. A perfect title sequence can set the tone for a show and have a deceptively powerful effect on how one responds to the whole episode. (See, for instance, season 1 vs. season 2 of DD Fist of the North Star.) Here, both the opening and closing themes are stonkers, with the opening quite likely to be my favourite of the year. (Season 1's knockout, in contrast, was the ending.) I never, ever skipped them. Jumping past either sequence would have been the act of a madman... but they're also conveying happiness. They're pure joy. I love those shots of Cyan dancing like a mad thing while Retoree, Chuchu and Moa do back-up vocals. That title sequence will put a smile on your face, but more importantly it also establishes, immediately and powerfully, the single most important thing about our heroines.
They love music, both listening to it and making it together. They're having fun so effervescently that it's infectious. How can anyone not love them?
That's a strong springboard for stories about those characters. It works. Well, it does for me, anyway. My reaction is probably stronger than most, but it's true that Show by Rock!! was a surprise hit that no one had seen coming.
Then there's Shingan Crimsonz, who are amazing. They're hot-blooded. They have fire in their veins and passion in their souls. They deliver every single word of dialogue as if the world's about to end, even if they're just ordering a takeaway. In short, they're morons who can make you laugh just by looking at the camera. Normally they'd just be idiot comic relief. Here, though, the show is taking their goofiness seriously and making them the B-story heroes.
This probably shouldn't work, but it does. The show achieves this by being ridiculous in every way. Ep.11 has a Death Star with spikes and ends with a hilariously unlikely mecha. Ep.12 has a silly ending even by Show by Rock!! standards. The whole thing's at that level throughout and it's making it work by giving its characters real emotions.
It'll make you laugh and want to dance. It'll open the hearts even of its villains. It's a celebration of music, of people who love music and of having friends who share that enthusiasm. It's batshit and glorious. It's a poppy, brightly coloured cartoon with lots of music, gags, noise and silliness.
I want to rewatch its opening credits now.