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.