Black Rock Shooter (BRS) began as a Vocaloid song, where Miku’s uniform was inspired by some illustrations made by a guy named Huke. An OVA was created in 2010 based on that song/illustration combo, which received a ridiculously huge hype by all the Vocaloid fans. Not a surprise since it was after all a fan catering title. Two years later (2012) NoitanimA decided to take this title in its timeslot and to expand it further, thus creating the current version, which lasts 8 episodes. Weird number I must say since all its shows last 11 to 22 episodes. On the other hand it’s not like it deserved 11 or more; the theme is pretty simple in terms of plot and the pacing is deliberately slow just to manage filling it with something.
Both animation and directing are done by newcomers in the field. This is Studio Ordet’s first main animation project and if the girl designs remind you of K-On, this is not a surprise if you know the staff is actually ex Kyoto Animation employees.
The story of BRS is nothing much; it is just about a bunch of schoolgirls going through an emotional maelstrom, caused by jealousy. The heroine Mato is looking for friends in her new school (yeah, we can’t have schools without transfer students) and manages to befriend another girl named Yomi. This causes the other girls who were friends with to feel betrayed for loosing the full attention. It sounds silly but it makes sense if you think they are spoiled teenagers who have no control over their hormones and where the slightest event can make them angry or sad.
The above is what we see half the time, as the other half is something completely different in presentation altogether. While we watch the simple everyday lives of some normal girls, the plot will be going back and forth to an alternative reality, where we see them dressed in weird gothic clothes and fighting each other with very fantasy-themed ways. This alternative world is a hellish place which is supposed to symbolize their mentality. Chaotic, dark, depressing, violent, dangerous. And them fighting is supposed to symbolize their emotions and their friendship being challenged because of jealousy. These parts are practically non-stop action with all sorts of over-the-top weapons and it looks like a fantasy videogame. It is very eye-catchy thanks to its weird imagery and fast paced action, and makes a complete contrast to the rest of the normal scenes.
And that is basically the main attraction and lure of this show. Watching some girls having an everyday emotional conflict, made to look in their minds like it’s an all-out war in that other world. I must say this symbolic conflict is quite interesting in terms of character immersion and it hasn’t been used much in anime as of yet. There is for example Real Drive doing something similar but it was very unimpressive in terms of excitement. There are also many fantasy anime where demons turn people to monsters that represent their negative feelings; with the most famous examples being the witches’ mazes in Madoka Magica and the tv shows in the Persona 4 game/anime. So in terms of allegory it is quite fascinating to have an entire world being the projection of one’s mentality. Sorta like those weird Picasso/Van Gogh paintings that are supposed to be symbolizing something.
Despite all this artistic value though, have no illusions of what the core purpose of the franchise is all about. It is still nothing more than a fan catering work that promotes the song/illustrations and intends to sell a lot to the Vocaloid fans, or anyone else who is into fighting lolis.
"Oh my God! She has a flat chest, a big gun and blue flame comes out of her eye; this is SO COOL; I must buy everything with her face on!"
Of course I could say the same about any other anime or movie ever made (Gundam plamos anyone?) but in this case it is done in a too obvious way and aside from the fighting and the visual flavouring there is absolutely nothing complicating about it. It is just a simplistic concept presented in an extravagant way. Yes, it is art, but it caters too much on a specific type of audience instead of being the pure thoughts of its makers; thus turns sour from a point on. I really don’t care much about girls getting all emo and insane just because some other students don’t want to be friends with them. As cool as it sounds on paper, the show overdoes the whole insanity thing to crazy high levels and you are just not that attached to it after awhile.
Other than that, I was actually pleased they remade the whole thing; since the OVA hardly explained anything that is going on, such as why Yomi disappeared or how did Mato find her later on. When the explanations came though, it all felt like random nonsense and I guess it was silly for me to expect some good reasoning from a fan catering loli show.
So these alternative girls are some sort of magical mental defence. They fight the cause of their grief (usually another girl) and the one who loses makes the problem to disappear. That is, people simply forget it like it never existed. Contrived and messy but that is what they came up with. It kinda reminded me of that Fade to Black Bleach movie, which was equally stupid. The ending is also quite a cop-out, with the girls all naked and crying and saying “We must embrace the pain and keep going.” Yeah, ok, did we really need 8 episodes of this mess just for that obvious line? When did we even see the girls trying to run away from the pain and thus excusing all this mess? It was nicely presented in Neon Genesis but here it just came out of nowhere and was resolved in a dull way.
So once again it is proven how NoitanimA sucks hard in sci-fi shows (Fractale, C, No.6, Guilty Crown) and does wonders with slice-of-life or light fantasy (Tatami Galaxy, Kuuchu Buranko, Usagi Drop) so they better learn from their mistakes and just give up on trying to make supernatural, action, or science fiction anime. They just can’t do it right.
And now a warning for all those of you who have watched the older OVA. Be aware that the production values in the series are worse. The girls in the normal world are drawn in a more simplistic way, while the girls in the fantasy world are now made with computers and have a hell of a lot more armour and fancy accessories on them. Makes you wonder how the hell they even move in those things. The battle scenes also lack the cool fluent fighting choreographies of the OVA and now just seem like a loose line of random special attacks using familiar monsters and trashing the sceneries. It feels far more artificial and distant. And I guess not explaining anything was better than giving this ridiculous reasoning; thus the OVA was better.
So in all it is a somewhat different watch but definitely eons away from being great. Not recommended for any other reason that watching lolis fighting in an extravagant pretentious fantasy way.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 1/2 (well-made but feels artificial and cold after awhile)
Character Figures 2/2 (generic moeblobs and cool fighting lolis)
Backgrounds 2/2 (hellish in that fantasy world)
Animation 2/2 (very good during the fights)
Visual Effects 2/2 (bizarre during the fights)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (slow)
Complexity 1/2 (seems complicating at first but it ain’t much after awhile)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 4/10
Historical Value 1/3 (meh only the Vocaloid fans care about it)
Rewatchability 0/3 (too boring to deserve a second view)
Memorability 3/4 (interesting presentation)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10
Starts in an interesting way but towards the end it becomes a pretentious pile of emo nonsense.
After the OVA of the same name left me unimpressed and with quite lucid an idea of where it wasted its potential, I came in watching this new, bigger installment of this franchise of uncommon origins with clear expectations of what it had to improve to meet up with its hype, although I wasn’t really hoping it’d make it. Well, I’m glad to say that not it only met my expectations, but surpassed them. What I found is a small, simple, but surprisingly impacting and emotional gem.
The plot develops throughout its 8 episodes into a slightly psychological drama with some action scenes within the frame of a slice-of-life. While the OVA had shown the slice-of-life section and the “Black★Rock Shooter” section without making their connection clear and without explaining what was going on, the series throws some clues about how the two parallel series of events are related from the very beginning, creating both suspense and expectation, which then pay off when it is all revealed later on. In this same very effective manner are also crafted many other “mysteries” and situations, creating a surprisingly involving and intriguing plot leading to some nice twists and interesting revelations. The theme of being hurt/hurting others/avoiding or embracing one’s pain is pretty basic, and it was treated quite simplistically, but the characters, the storytelling and the “supernatural” element handle it well enough to make it work. In the emotional department, too: also thanks to an incredible voice acting and an intense direction, the anime is full of really powerful moments, in both comedy and drama, especially the finale, that kind of bittersweet, nostalgic-but-hopeful endings that I personally love. And this is where “BRS” really shines: the plot isn’t that complex, heck I don’t even know how much of it is never seen before, but if it works so well that after it ends I have to get up, go to the bathroom and wash my face… well, darn it, I can’t call it but good.
The girls of the cast are, on a first approach, pretty typical, but each is given a development process and/or a backstory which manage to give all of them an interesting twist. Mato is a typical lead, positive and pure and with overly ramatic reactions to everything; the exploration she is given in an almost Evangelion-like sequence felt a bit forced to me personally, but the effort to give her more depth is certainly there, and being consistent and likeable she works well as a protagonist. Yomi is a lonely transfer student with a “dark secret” of sorts, whose intense development provides some of the best scenes in the anime. Yū and Saya are the kind of characters you wouldn’t pay much attention to, initially, and to avoid spoilers let’s just keep it at that, they’re called plot twists for a reason. Kohata is the strong, leader type with a popular personality who’ll be torn between being made fun of for doing something “out-of-character” or hiding herself behind that character to run away from the pain. The mysterious, creepy Kagari, finally, is the one left a bit more underdeveloped, but still interesting, given that what happens to her is crucial to the plot. Their relationships are also very well crafted (that between Yomi and Mato being particularly touching), certainly one of the anime’s highlights.
Every character gets her own space of exploration and analysis, strafing around the various possibilities of the theme; they’re all three-dimensional, very likeable, even relatable to some extent, and well-written enough to have an easy impact on the viewer. The reactions that felt a bit forced or over-the-top aren’t to me (as they could easily be to others) that much of a big deal to hinder the enjoyment; besides, we’re talking about middle school teenage girls here, being overdramatic and overjealous is what they do (/sexist joke). I don’t really see why all the characters had to be female with no male in sight, either, if not to have people like me have fun pointing out the homosexual undertones with a stupid smile (I need a girlfriend, I know…), but still…
Since his art spawned an entire franchise, it’s no surprise that huke’s design of Black★Rock Shooter and company (especially Chariot and Dead Master) and most importantly the dimension in which they reside is something so stunningly awesome and original; and since Studio Ordet is comprised of many ex-KyōtoAnimation, it’s no surprise that the character design of the girls could remind you of works like K-on!. Just about anything in this department is pretty much flawless: the art is clean, the landscapes are stunning, the lightning is beautiful, even the direction is pretty clever (the parallelisms and symbolisms between the real world and the other world, for example). My only complaint is on the CG battles: the battles themselves are awesome, but I found the CGI a bit overused, and in the first few episodes also a bit too wooden and stiff.
The soundtrack is pretty good and varied, and even without really standing out it does well the job a soundtrack should do. From the second episode onwards the OP song is, of course, “Black★Rock Shooter”, and it would have been just wrong otherwise. The new arrangement gives the song new life, and the fact that it’s still sung by Hatsune Miku does justice to the series. Predictably, the ED song is penned and performed by Supercell, too, and despite it being the obligatory sappy-melancholic ballad with even the freaking Pachelbel’s Canon’s chord progression on the chorus I found it intense and fit to the anime.
A great part of the credit for the impact many of the scenes had goes to a simply stunning voice acting by the two protagonists, Hanazawa Kana (Nadeko in Bakemonogatari and also Ayase in Guilty Crown) as Mato (don’t you ever dare bring me so much on the verge of tears again, girl! I’ve got testicles!) and Sawashiro Miyuki (Kanbaru in Bakemonogatari) as Yomi. Also deserve special mention the stellar performances of Kitamura Eri (Ueno in C³ and Karen in Bakem… the hell is this, a Bakemonogatari reunion party?) as Kagari (you imagine the effort it takes to make a wheelchair-bound middle school girl sound intimidating?) and Asumi Kana as Yū.
In the end, here we got ourselves an anime which, unlike the OVA, managed to combine beautifully Black★Rock Shooter (the action and creative visuals of huke’s work) and Kuroi Mato (the struggles in friendship of a bunch of schoolgirls) into something unique, suspenseful and intense. I believe that, in an age where anime is under the rule of visual novels and long shōnen, Black★Rock Shooter has the potential to leave a lasting impact in the future to come, and despite the mixed opinions I hear on it I like to hope that it will. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that everyone will like it, but I’d definitely suggest to at least give it a chance. It’s very short, so it never drags on and won’t make you lose much time, and in my opinion a small, unexpected masterpiece that needs no flashed panties or endless “to be continued” to draw in.
My first review!
Please understand grammar and spelling mistakes, for I am not good at writing.
Black Rock Shooter tells a story of four high school girls and one counsellor, and their relationships. The story goes in depth to show not only the relationship that shows on the surface, but what is actually happening in the "inner world": the world of Black Rock Shooter.
Although the story-line does not follow that of a common/usual high school girls and their relationships, it tends to get boring and even confusing with the constant switch between the two worlds. However, I believe re-run of the anime may help understand it more; this anime definitely makes you think deeper beyond what is just visible on the outside, so you have to look closer to human heart.
The quality of the animation is pretty impressive. The numberous fighting scenes in the world of Black Rock Shooter are high-quality, as well as portrayal of the characters' emotion was well done.
I enjoyed the opening of the animation. One thing I notice with the opening music is I do not know if it is in the minor or major key. It seems to be in the bright major tone right for the introduction, but then it seems to switch to minor tone when the singing starts. Chorus part is then in the bright major tone again. I might be thinking too much, but it seems to connect the up and downs of the characters' situations and emotion.
As for the voice of the characters, I really liked Sawashiro Miyuki's acting of Yomi. It just fit the picture perfectly. Although I like Hanazawa Kana and I believe her acting is really superior compared to her young age, I believe her acting of Kuroi Mato was too pure and beautiful. Maybe it is because I associate Hanazawa Kana with Kobato; I don't know.
Characters, over all, are well-established, although there are a few issues. First is sudden change of Kagari. At first, Kagari seemed to be an insane and spoiled person, she transforms into a different person "her character in different world" battles with Black Rock Shooter. Second is the relationship between Saya-chan sensei, Yuu, and Strength. It may be because I have not played the game or thoroughly watched OVA, nor read the manga. The last two or three episodes showing their relationship were confusing to me.
Other than that, the characters feeling and relationship tangle are very much understandable (as I went through teenage year as well long time ago).
Black Rock Shooter is an interesting anime, that may require its viewers to watch multiple times to fully understand the animation. I recommend it to people who like something different, refreshing, and constant changes; if you like conflicts and complicated relationship between characters, you might also like the animation.
I am rather careful about giving an anime a "perfect 10", but this one did it for me. The story is gripping and deep. It mixes elements of the slice-of-life genre with drama, action, suspense, post-apocolyptic, seinen, shoujo, and fantasy in a perfect blend. What comes out is a rollercoaster ride that is unforgettable and yet, bitterly short. This could have easily been a 13 or 26 episode series, but, one could argue that its current presentation is devoid of filler. You're doing yourself a disservice by not watching this.
Black Rock Shooter is 8 episodes long, an incredibly short anime, but I spent nearly all of the anime terribly confused and only when it reached episode 8 did everything sort of make sense, but it's too late anime, the damage has been done.
The anime seemed to be terribly confused as to what it wanted to be: did it want to be a science fiction anime with alot of fighting? A school life anime that focuses on these mentally unstable school girls? It couldn't make it's mind, so it decided to be both, even though it hardly makes sense. For a fight scene to work I have to get invested with what they are fighting about, if I have no idea who these characters are and what they are fighting for/about, why should I care? I'm just watching this lovely animated fight scene but I have no idea why I should care. It's a shame because the actually school life stuff, with these characters slowly becoming more and more insane was actally very intresting, but when this gets intercutted with fight scenes I just have no idea what's going on.
The science fiction world that Black Rock Shooter is on doesn't really make any sense either, I was terribly confused during the anime as to wheather this was another dimension or just a dream that Mato was having, because she kept waking up. Also the 'characters' with really silly names like 'Chariot', 'Strength' and 'Black Gold Saw' in that dimension may have really cool character designs, but they have nothing else going for them.
Black Rock Shooter may be a character, but she doesn't have character.
More in video review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAqKwYHJbGs
BBFC rating - 15 for strong violence