The Rolling Girls was a lot of things, but “well-liked” isn’t one of them. The much-hyped-at-the-time 2015 series, with its colorful trailers and power-pop soundtrack, was Wit Studio’s first original anime series and looked like it could be their Next Big Thing. But it wasn’t. It looked pretty and the characters were adorable but the premise was confusing, story was scattered and it didn’t deliver on the action packed promise of the first two episodes. It had some moments of unfuckwithable brilliance, like episode 8’s concert involving a guitar vs. shamisen shred-off and rocket powered Buddhas, but to most it was underwhelming, and was frequently accused of aping TRIGGER’s visual style.
All that said, I liked it a lot. It spoke to me for reasons I couldn’t really articulate at the time, and it crops up in my idle thoughts from time to time, especially while listening to pop punk. And then it hit me like an elbow in the pit. More than one review I’ve read referred to The Rolling Girls as a “travelogue”. But it’s not just a travelogue, it’s a weirdo visual metaphor for a punk band’s tour diary. I play drums in a hardcore/punk kind of band, and my experiences in that scene are important to me to a degree that I don’t know if I could ever do justice with words. The meandering plot of The Rolling Girls hit a bunch of beats that resonated with me so much because I’ve had similar experiences in music. I swear this will all tie together, so bear with me here. There will be mild spoilers.
My band is called Deranged Youth (If you’re interested, you can listen here. (Recommended for fans of Propagandhi, Thought Industry, Fantomas, Eyehategod, and Dragonforce.) We started early in high school, and nearly 10 years later we still have the same name, same lineup, and same lack of fans. We just kind of fell together when our singer discovered 80’s hardcore and decided to start a band, roping in the only people he knew who could play instruments. We bonded over a mutual love of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack and expanded each other’s musical horizons (somewhere I still have a mix CD that our singer made that had a bunch of Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Black Flag on it, which dramatically altered the course of my life). We argued a lot, and still do. We supported each other through difficult times (struggling through music school, awful breakups, battles with suicidal depression) and through good times (getting dream jobs, marriage, children). We’ve traveled around a bit, witnessed some amazing things in different scenes, made a ton of friends, worked our asses off for a few diehard fans, and carved out our little niche in the world. My band mates are some of the most important people in my life. I wouldn’t be the same without them and without the decade I’ve spent so far in punk rock.
So that’s the plot summary of Bill’s Life, the new original anime from Shit Studio. Now here’s the plot summary of The Rolling Girls:
Nozomi Moritomo is a teenager who idolizes Masami Utoku, a girl from her town and Nozomi’s childhood friend. Masami has a superhero alter ego called Maccha Green, one of many “Bests” in Japan, people with superpowers that lead and defend the city-states that the nation fractured into as a result of The Great Tokyo War (something that goes mostly unexplained, which I’m sure frustrated many). Nozomi herself is what’s called a “Rest”, as in she lacks superpowers and is basically just a rando. When Masami gets incapacitated and hospitalized in a fight, Nozomi takes it upon herself to complete a list of tasks, quests and favors that Masami, in her current state, can’t. She sets out on a cross-country journey and falls in with other girls – Yukina, who get’s lost easily, Ai, who is very tall and refuses to wear a real shirt, and Chiaya, who turns into an octopus. They roam across Japan, exploring each unique city-state, bonding over their shared loved of the band Momiage Hammers, fighting, making friends, learning about themselves, becoming better, stronger people, but most of all they do a lot of good things for others. Usually episodes end up being more about the people they meet than about the girls themselves.
It’s exactly the same as being in a band on tour, right? Right? You see it, yeah?
Okay, fine, it’s a bit of a reach to say it’s actually intended as an abstract visual representation of a tour diary but it hit me in the same feels that road tripping with my band hits. Nozomi semi-accidentally falls in with her crew of weirdos who share some of her goals and interests (her bandmates). They follow Maccha Green’s list (their tour itinerary) and travel to the different city-states, which are often themed and can vary considerably from one to the next (music scenes often vary wildly from one to the next despite proximity and can be overwhelmingly one kind of music, i.e. Madball clones in Boston). They meet a ton of new people, making friends and enemies. Some of those poeple are really important! (Sometimes you get to play with actually famous bands! Sometimes recording industry people show up. And yes, there is a character that could be viewed as a sketchy record exec type guy.)
They often get fed and housed by strangers, who quickly become friends (this is how a lot of bands save money touring). And they do good things for others, but a lot of times they’re just a catalyst for others to do good things for themselves. They make a bunch of memories and take a lot of pictures, not always realizing what the events they took part in meant to the people who live there, who live the life they were just dipping their toes in.
When you’re in a band, playing shows in unfamiliar cities with people you’ve never met, and then leaving, in can be easy to miss just how much each show means to people. You’re rarely the focus, but you are part of the whole. And that whole can be something incredible and meaningful. Fundraisers for charities. Break up shows. Reunion shows. When you’re playing outside your hometown, some local stalwarts’ final show may not mean to you what it means to the kid up front, screaming every word, who saw this band at his first ever show, when he snuck into a biker bar at 15 with his brother’s ID, but it is meaningful and incredible. Maybe not rocket Buddha incredible, but important nonetheless, and without your band it wouldn’t be the same. You’re not the focus, but you’re a catalyst. Punk rock can give a voice to the marginalized. It’s a home to the weirdos and rejects, a place where anyone can find acceptance (Chiaya actually being an alien octopus thing, but still being accepted by her friends, is tenuously this). Punk shows are pure catharsis set to power chords and d-beats. Any one show can mean the world to any one person there, and by being in a band and contributing to the scene you help make that happen.
The things the titular Girls who Roll experience on their journey stuck with me because they reminded me so forcefully of the emotions I felt, events I’ve witnessed, and the real, tangible Good Things I’ve seen punk rock do for people at shows. Their journey lines up so well with out of state shows to my eyes that I had to go digging around to find out if any of the anime’s creators had a history of being musicians. I couldn’t find anything concrete, but this interview with series director Kotomi Deai and animation director Hiroshi Shimizu by Otaku News offers a couple tidbits about their, the producer, and the writer’s music interests but nothing concrete.
The soundtrack is perhaps the only thing that really supports my interpretation of The Rolling Girls. As mentioned in that article, there’s a lot of Blue Hearts covers. The Blue Hearts were/are a Japanese punk rock/power pop band from the 80s and 90s. They were EXTREMELY popular in their day. They sound like the Ramones if the Romones were good. And the OP, ED, and several insert songs from The Rolling Girls are Blue Hearts covers sung by the main characters’ voice actresses. Most critics viewed this as just a curiosity. But to me it is of critical importance.
The Blue Hearts’ lyrics are, on the whole, painfully optimistic. In that interview, Deai says, “Lots of people in Japan grew up listening to the Blue Hearts and being encouraged by them when they were younger including the producers and the writer of Rolling Girls and because the whole concept of The Rolling Girls is to support and encourage people that fitted right in with that idea. So we got the voice actors to cover the songs.” In the show, the songs are used at emotional peaks, as if to encourage the characters themselves, and the lyrics of the chosen songs often relate to the themes or events of the episode. Music director Masaru Yokoyama uses punk rock in the same way many use punk rock in the real world – to inspire and uplift.
It’s also worth mentioning that the OP is a god damn music video, with the girls playing instruments and singing a Blue Hearts song. There are even scenes of them traveling around WITH GUITAR CASES ON THEIR BACKS, which does not actually happen in the show. OPs, as you know, are generally designed to give you an idea of what the show is about. Proof positive, bitch.
Today I mixed some Fireball with Berry Limeade flavored Hawaiian Punch. Shit was gross. Sorry God, it won’t happen again. I chased it with a mango Mike’s Hard, but now my guts are roiling serpents from all the sweet shit. So while I’m trying to tame this heartburn and indigestion so I can go to sleep, I’m going to do something a little different for this end segment. The following is a list of bands that are either local to me or that my band has played with that I think you should pay attention to. They’ll mostly be punk bands, some metal, some more digestible stuff. I’ll also put down a couple charities and causes spearheaded by punks that are relevant.
Hold Ups/Secret Spirit – https://holdups.bandcamp.com/album/living-ep / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUA7kaisRMM – These guys are basically the same band. 3/4ths of Hold Ups are in Secret Spirit and they sound very similar. Hold Ups are one of my favorite bands of all time. Secret Spirit will be soon.
Crystal Methodist – https://crystalmethodist.bandcamp.com/ – One of the best hardcore/powerviolence bands in NH. Good dudes just getting back on the horse after a car accident nearly killed their drummer.
Goolagoon – https://goolagoonhc.bandcamp.com/album/split-with-acxdc – hardcore with some jokey surf parts. This band frustrates me because I played with them when their guitarist was their singer and they were called Red Tape. Now that they’re a memey Spongebob band they’re suddenly playing Maryland Death Fest. But they are good, and good on them for getting that far that quickly. I’m jsut jealous.
Badfellows – https://badfellows.bandcamp.com/ – Kinda alt-country/folk-punk/alt-rocky stuff. Great, chill, kinda sad populated by wonderful people who do a TON for the NH scene.
The Long Year – https://www.facebook.com/thelongyear/?ref=br_rs – Straight up easycore in the vein of ADTR. I played with these guys at what I think was like their fourth ever show, and I thought they were fun so I went absolutely apeshit, doing flips in what little pit there was, stagediving onto a single person, that kind of thing. It made their night. When you’re just starting out you get a lot of dead eyed stares, so someone acting appreciative, even if it’s in a really hammy way, can be meaningful. It’s the little things.
Keep Flying – https://keepflying.bandcamp.com/ – “It’s pop punk with a horn section. It’s NOT ska, idiot.” Honestly, my one experience playing with this band was negative. They were assholes and spent most of their time offstage dumping on bands they’d played with, but then didn’t have the guts to talk shit into the mics. But they are really good. You’ll like their music, I promise.
Crowfeeder – https://crowfeeder.bandcamp.com/ – Awesome, amazing, incredible sludge metal duo. Great dudes who have a done a good deal of charitable stuff with their music and aren’t afraid to use their platform to talk about issues they feel strongly about.
Oh The Humaity! – https://ohthehumanitymass.bandcamp.com/album/tired-ears – Techy pop punk a la A Wilhelm Scream. One time my band was walking down the street near a thrift store that used to do shows and these guys came out asking the other bands unloading if anyone had a PA. I guess the venue’s had shat the bed. We said we did, ran home to get it, and basically saved the show. They remembered that, and tell that story when we play together. It’s cute and I like them a lot.
Giant in the Lighthouse – https://giantinthelighthouse.bandcamp.com/ – Indie pop/alt-rock. Haven’t played with this pair yet (and probably won’t, my band is far too weird and heavy) but I saw them play with Secret Spirit and fell for them right away.
Sonic Pulse – https://sonicpulse.bandcamp.com/ – Pizza thrash/power metal/prog thrash. So fucking much fun. They’re a joy and a pleasure to play with every time. They had a messy couple of years but their lineup seems pretty settled now and they’re only getting bigger.
Injury – https://injuryskaterock.bandcamp.com/album/darker-things-to-do – Skate fucking punk. My band owes these guys a lot. From the early days they were one of the only bands to actually want to play with us after the first time.
Punk Aid – https://www.facebook.com/punkaid/ – An annual charity compilation album. This year it’s for victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Lowell MA Transitional Living Shelter – https://www.facebook.com/LowellShelter/ – A shelter staffed partially by people involved in the Lowell punk scene.
Punk Rock Mental Health and Recovery – https://www.facebook.com/PunkRockMentalHealthandRecovery/ – A mental health community that hosts talks and provides some services. Founded by members of the New England punk scene.
Anyway, punk rock means a lot to me. I’m gonna get real dweeby and emotional here, but it’s affected the course of my life, ultimately for the better. It’s clearly had an impact on people in other countries like Japan too. It puts me in touch with people and areas of life that I’d never have seen without it. It inspires me every day. I hope that you can find, in literally anything, not just punk, even a sliver of the joy that music has brought me. I hope you can come to appreciate it the way I have. I hope that one day you’ll also come to appreciate the underrated gem that is Rolling Girls. But let’s not kid ourselves. A more realistic request would be to just be more mindful and try to care about others and yourself more. Support and encourage people. Be good. For others. For yourself. Even if you’re destined to be a mob.