I tend to like the “indie” side of entertainment. This is where creativity flourishes as opposed to the sometimes-generic packaged entertainment of bigger, more corporate companies and franchises. My likehood of Vocaloid music stems from that same vein, and as such, it is exciting to follow them from their humble, less popular roots and then bursting out into mainstream popularity like a whole forest of trees. This is the modern doujin revolution as I call it, where you create and share your ideas as much as the world allows you to. Blackâ˜…Rock Shooter started out this way, from a series of drawings, then a popular song, and now it shot off into the mainstream with an OVA, a game, and this anime TV series which I am reviewing. The results, while satisfying overall, are mixed. I’ve prepared my guns and gone over to the Otherworld with this one.
If you are familiar with the OVA, you’ll have no problem with the initial setup. Girls and friendships in the real world, awesome alter-egos fighting in the other world. There is a connection between these alternate worlds, as Mato, our supposed heroine, take the helm in reality and is the alter-ego of the titular character named Black Rock Shooter. There are many characters in the BRS world, as drawn by the original artist Huke. In this anime we also have Dead Master, Chariot, Black Gold Saw and Strength. These five creatures of the alternate world, they don’t talk, they FIGHT. The Otherworld is a desolate, industrial battleground where these creatures duel to almost ridiculous extremes. On the other side, the reality is a relatively laid back affair, where our main girl Mato lives and struggles through friendship and relationship issues. We have Yomi, a shy and kind girl who Mato wants to be friends with. Yuu, Mato’s close friend, is a fun and lively girl. Kagari, Yomi’s close friend, is an overprotective girl in wheelchair. And finally, Saya is the elder guidance counselor who is a crazy person. Hmm… something’s kinda off in this real world.
The thing is, reality can be as weird as it gets in Black Rock Shooter. The anime (reality part) features overacting, extreme melodrama. You’d think girl-on-girl friendships are just simple, but heck, the drama in the anime is mindblowing. The characters get crazy, as in psychologically insane, as if her problem is the end of her world. These girls can commit suicide, tear up their rooms, draw horrific images, etc. All because they are “jealous” of their friend’s “other friend”. This is the whole point of the reality part of the anime, and as amusing as it is to watch, it puts me into an uncomfortable position on how to rate it. Did I enjoy it? Definitely, but not because it was a well-presented drama. I enjoyed it because of its over-the-top silliness of what would have been otherwise a normal show about friendship. Coming from the OVA, which was relatively believable and slice-of-life, this TV series blew it all away and took the original concept into an illogical extreme.
The alternate world was no slouch either in Black Rock Shooter. The anime (Otherworld part) features overblown, extreme action. Animated with pseudo-2D computer imagery, the action scenes were mindblowingly awesome. As if the creatures cannot die, they punch, shoot and throw each other into previously unexperienced limits. I can’t think of another anime where the creatures could survive this much damage and torture to themselves. BRS has incredible-looking and firing blades and cannons. DM has annoying skulls and a large scythe. CH has claws and an enormous robotic spider. BGS has a cool blade saw. Lastly, STR has destructive mechanical arms. The destruction in this anime is impressive, with some of the best action sequences I have ever seen.
Having this mix of crazy reality and crazy other world is what makes the whole of Black Rock Shooter crazy. Unfortunately, with all the crazy that is happening, it seems they forgot to explain the crazy story well enough for me to understand. The secrets and mysteries behind how the real and alternate world is connected is explained in a relatively blind fashion, leaving you to try to connect the dots after each episode. The reveals on how the emotions in the real world influence the actions of the alternate world were so cryptic, I just didn’t get it at all, and it drove me… excuse the repeated word… crazy. How the hell did they complicate such a simple setup? Wait let me rephrase that. It’s not that the story in BRS is complicated, it’s just that they presented it in a complicated manner. By the time the series is over and you fully grasp the nature of the universe that the anime was trying to convey, the series is just that… over, leaving me with relative disconnect to the characters. I didn’t empathize nor sympathize with anyone, whether it be from the real world or the Otherworld.
This is such a shame, because this is an otherwise excellent series technically. This anime has an odd production value. The reality was animated traditionally, poorly at that, with inconsistent character designs. The Otherworld was incredible, it employed CG animation that “looked like it were 2D animation”. It had those black lines in traditional anime. You know it’s CG but you are presented beyond an 2D uncanny valley, that you believe that this anime was animated traditionally, and you would be fooled by those incredible frames. I guess this is where the budget went. The background music was quite decent, capturing the insane moods of the series. Seiyuu is composed of popular moefied voices. Hear their high-frequency screams whenever the scene goes mental. Finally, the fact that the actual Blackâ˜…Rock Shooter song itself, as sung by a better version of Vocaloid virtual singer Hatsune Miku, deserves some attention. It might not be a very good song, but you have to give props to it. This was one of the songs that piloted supercell into mainstream, and they have produced better songs since as we all know. The opening sequence with this song will be one of my staple best OP ever for quite some time. Honestly, the OP sequence is the greatest part of this anime. If you don’t want to watch everything, just watch the opening alone and you will be satisfied.
With my intro of liking “indie” properties gone mainstream, this is an example of a bump in the road. Did the short 8-episode length hurt it? I’m not sure, because the OVA only had one hour yet it conveyed its story better. Having this longer might have been better in order to flesh out the characters and mysteries right. But then again, they wouldn’t have presented with stronger action sequences if this were longer, they would lose budget. All-in-all, and despite all I have described negatively about it, Black Rock Shooter definitely deserves a watch. It satisfied me using all the adjectives I have described it: ridiculous, weird, insane, horrific, awesome, crazy, illogical, etc. Maybe you’d like them self-destructive girls, or maybe you’d like high-quality action anime. Black Rock Shooter has your kind of ingredients. Just don’t expect an absolute winner.