First Impressions: Black Rock Shooter

Black Rock Shooter (BRS) is an anime with an interesting history; it began with an image which inspired a song, which became an OVA and finally a TV anime. It serves as an interesting reimagining of the OVA, adding a lot to the fundamentally flawed but enjoyable experiment that the OVA was whilst taking only a little away at the same time.

Recap:

BRS begins with Black Rock Shooter fighting in a bizarre hostile world as her voiceover talks about little birds flying in a blue sky. To the uninitiated Black Rock Shooter is a girl whose left eye tends to burst into blue flames in battle and can materialise a giant transforming cannon on her right arm. In the midst of the action we cut to Mato Kuroi, a daydreaming, friendly extrovert in her first year of high school.

She quickly meets Yomi Takanashi, a quiet kind hearted girl who Mato immediately decides she wants to become friends with. However unbeknownst to her, Takanashi is forbidden from making any friends by a creepy female voice which she communicates with in her room via a can and string.

The next day Mato tries to get to know Takanashi. However remembering the creepy voice’s instructions from yesterday Takanashi quickly removes herself, leaving a confused Mato to wonder how to approach her.

After basketball practice Mato happens upon Takanshi, who can’t help but remark on her phone strap which is the little bird of many colours. With something in common they quickly bond and Takanashi invites Mato back to her home to see her earlier edition of the book they both love.

Everything goes well until Takanashi’s younger sister of sorts (they aren’t related by blood) arrives. Takanashi panics but by this point it’s too late as the wheelchair bound Kagari, owner of the aforementioned creepy voice arrives and joins them. Takanashi becomes withdrawn as Kagari goes to great efforts to abuse Mato through less and less subtle means until Mato leaves, completely broken by Kagari’s abuse.

After running home she cries in her room, unable to comprehend why someone would be so unabashedly cruel to her. Takanashi meanwhile is given a brief ‘I told you so’ scolding by Kagari.

Meanwhile as Black Rock Shooter makes her way through a barren desolate landscape, Kagari’s echoing voice taunts her with cries of ‘Go Home’ before she is attacked by Chariot, the other world alter ego of Kagari. A brief fight ensues, not that you could really call it a fight as Black Rock Shooter is pummelled to such an extent you wonder how much punishment these characters can take. The scene ends with Chariot gloating over Black Rock Shooter, dropping bland coloured macaroons on her face and chanting ‘Go home.’

Back in reality Mato decides to consult the counsellor and walks in on a private session between the counsellor and Mato’s basketball coach Arata, who is discussing her own insecurities. Arata is the final main character in the show, her alter ego if you can call them that is Black Gold Saw, who has currently only been manifesting in the form of a giant red eyes at the beginning of the episode.

The counsellor reassures Mato by saying there will be someone to take the pain, which is not so much helpful advice as it is an obvious metaphor for Black Rock Shooter taking her pain in the other world. Mato spends the next few minutes pondering who might help her share the pain and stumbles upon Takanashi in the art room. Takanashi tries to brush her off but Mato is relentless and Takanashi can’t deny herself this happiness that’s trying so hard to help her. Brought to tears by Mato’s selflessness it seems Takanashi has accepted Mato’s friendship.

Black Rock Shooter meanwhile continues her fight against Chariot, gaining the upper hand before Deadmaster (Takanashi’s alter ego) intervenes and captures her. The episode ends with Black Rock Shooter captured and surrounded by enemies, a metaphor for the insurmountable odds Mato is going to face I assume.

 

Review:

I had made the effort of watching the OVA again before I started the show but needless to say it wasn’t necessary as the show is a straight up remake. If you weren’t a fan of the OVA you’re probably not going to enjoy the show for all the same reasons and a few more beside. If you like the OVA then you’ll be pleased to note that whilst sharing the same basic storyline, the characters are far more fleshed out and the story doesn’t feel as rushed, though the disconnect between the two realities is just as present as ever.

Sure to anger some, character designs have been changed, Deadmaster now sports glasses and is a lot more green. There is a lot of CGI used in the scenes with Black Rock Shooter and whilst the abundance of CGI is definitely disappointing, it’s certainly not overbearing and not obvious to the degree that it breaks your immersion in the action. That said it certainly feels like a step back, even if a minor one from the style and quality of the original OVA.

The main problem of the OVA was connecting the two worlds, which didn’t really happen until the end. In the anime the events concerning Black Rock Shooter basically mirror what has already happened in the real world. Whilst the scenes are visually impressive and undeniably cool, the battles have no real significance by themselves: The first battle is simply a visual treat, a remake of the fight between Black Rock Shooter and Black Gold Saw that began the OVA, cool but insubstantial to the story as a whole. The second fight only serves to mirror what has already happened in the real world and once you realise this the scene doesn’t really hold any weight because you know exactly how it’s going to play out. The third action scene continues the second, once again reflecting the real world and then going a little further as if to foreshadow things to come.

Thus there is no tangible link between the two worlds as of yet, hopefully Black Rock Shooter’s scenes won’t just mirror the action of the real world in future episodes as it would feel a bit redundant watching fights that whilst looking nice, hold no tension because we know the outcome. However considering how small this series is (8 episodes) it’s hard to imagine enough is going to be satisfactorily explained, so it’s best to just take the mystique of BRS at face value, enjoy it for it’s cool action scenes that may or may not have any impact on reality rather than question the why or the how behind it.

The slice of life in the show works well for what it is, simple. Mato and Yuu are bubbly outgoing characters. Mato is the type of character with a heart of pure kindness who has never known hate, so doesn’t really know how to respond when such feelings are aimed at her. Takanashi is a character who had long ago given up hope, but upon meeting Mato allowed herself to hope for something more than her current existence as the plaything of Kagari. Kagari, whilst wheelchair bound manages to be extremely unnervingly creepy and is a promising source of true conflict in later episodes (beyond the usual slice of life conflict tropes).  The ‘other’ world characters are all distinctly varied and interesting enough in their own right to make interesting villains and contrast the purity of Black Rock Shooter both visually and in their respective fight styles.

Ultimately the basic story of BRS isn’t anything to write home about. The slice of life story is simple enough, but works well as long as you weren’t expecting something profoundly deep. Not that the series doesn’t try to be deeper than it looks, with an abundance of metaphors and the occasional voiceover pertaining to something deeper but none of it really holds ground considering how vague everything is. The scenes with Black Rock Shooter are cool in their own right but are both so connected and yet disconnected to the real world they don’t really have any substance to them. It’s too early to really talk about the larger plot because there isn’t one yet, this episode served to introduce all the real life characters and most of their counterparts, setting the stage for a larger story that I assume will be kicking off next week.

In the end BRS is an interesting if simple anime, the fight scenes are cool and whilst the use of CGI isn’t welcome it doesn’t detract from the well choreographed fights and the interesting, abstract visuals. The show is also punctuated by an interesting soundtrack, it’s used sparingly, serving well to underline or exemplify the action packed and emotive scenes.

Overall to anyone a fan of the OVA, Black Rock Shooter in general or simply curious I would have to recommend the show. BRS has the visual flair to bolster its already exciting action scenes and these contrast well with a competent slice of life story, filled with interesting characters in both worlds. So it’s certainly worth a watch, as long as you don’t mind the inherent mysticism that will require you to leave your questions at the door.