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.