Black Rock Shooter

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Inspiration comes in a myriad of forms, and anything can lead a person on a flight of fancy. In 2007 the artist Huke designed an original character called “Black Rock Shooter”, which he posted on his blog. The character inspired Ryo, the leader of the band Supercell, to write a song entitled “Black Rock Shooter”, and Huke joined the band to provide further illustrations that were used in the music video for the song. Anyone familiar with the band’s musical history will find it unsurprising that the lyrics themselves are sung by none other than the Vocaloid Hatsune Miku.

In 2009 Yamamoto Yutaka’s production company Ordet (Suzumiya Haruhi fans should recognise his name as the production director for the original series until he was fired from KyoAni during the making of Lucky Star), decided to make a series of animated music videos based on the original work in conjunction with Ryo. Ironically, the same scenes was used for all three shorts, with the only real change being that the titular track was presented in three different ways.

All three shorts were gathered together and released on DVD under the title “Black Rock Shooter: Pilot Edition” and, following its successful release, Ordet embarked on a 50 minute OVA for the show. In an extremely surprising move (and truth be told, a very good bit of marketing), the new iteration was subtitled into seven different languages, and released free (that’s right, free!), on the cover of Hobby Japan and Megami magazine, with a further release on the cover of Animedia scheduled for August 10th 2010.

The anime will also be released as a retail version in December of this year as well, but with all the freebies it will be interesting to see if anyone actually buys it.

Okay, now you know something of its history, but why have I bored you with all that when what you really want to know is, is it any good? Well, there’s a reason for all that information (and no, it’s not because I love the sound of my own voice, which is admittedly rather gravelly these days – and don’t ever let me sing!), which has a big effect on how one views this show.

As far as the story goes Black Rock Shooter is ostensibly about two friends,  Kuroi Mato and Takanashi Yomi, who are both first years in junior high school. The anime is also about a blue eyed girl wearing very little who is engaged in various battles with other characters.

And that’s about it really.

The main issue with Black Rock Shooter is that there is no explanation as to what is actually going on, or more importantly, why. While I’ll be the first to admit that such sentiments are not always necessary in anime (especially certain comedies), the lack of any real direction makes one wonder what they’ve just watched. While the plot may be fairly straight forward in the “real” world (albeit on the brief side), the whole deal with the parallel world is never investigated, nor are any explanations forthcoming no matter how long you wait. The viewer must assume certain things in order for the story to work, however while this may be fine in certain shows, there is simply too much missing from Black Rock Shooter to allow for any viable suspension of disbelief.

What does make sense though, is that the story is effectively about depression and isolation, however the highly stylized approach adopted by director Yoshioka Shinobu leaves too much to the imagination, with no real compensation for the viewer’s input except for a scantily clad girl with a gun/sword/whatever it is at the moment. The fact is that there is scope for a much, much better story here, but for various reasons, some of them obviously financial (hence the “official” retail releases and all the merchandise), there is no room for the plot to evolve into something worthwhile.

The seeds are there though, for a much more in depth look at the franchise, and I for one would be interested to see how a 13 episode series would play out as this OVA does have some good ideas and concepts.

One area where the music video influence shows is in the look of Black Rock Shooter. The animation is pretty decent in both the real world and its parallel counterpart, however there are some flaws with both styles used by the show, especially with the character movement which are, at times, a little on the odd side.

The design of the anime is good on the whole, especially the settings in the parallel world, all of which are a little on the post-apocalyptic side. The look of the real world is very much like that of any number of anime, although there has been some effort to increase the level of detail in the surroundings. The one thing that irked me, however, was the number of scenes in the parallel world where one character or another does nothing more than pose in a cool way, as this just seems an unnecessary attempt to curry favour with the viewer.

On a side note, has anyone else noticed that the scantily clad, gun-toting, parallel world loli looks remarkably like a punk/goth version of Hatsune Miku?

As far as the sound goes, Black Rock Shooter is good in every department, but it’s a long way from being great. The acting is decent for the most part, however there are occasions where the sieyuu are overcompensating for the lack of characterisation. The effects are well chosen and choreographed, however there are some timing issues that occur during the heavy action scenes.

Now given that this is a show that’s ultimately based on a music video, one would be forgiven for thinking the music might be a little bit special, however this is not the case. While the thematic music tends to be rather subdued over the course of the show, there is a distinct lack of accompaniment for the majority of scenes. The major piece is actually the ending theme “Braveheart” by Gomband, a fairly generic J-rock song that actually works rather well given the manner in which the show ends.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what to make of the characters. On the one side Mato and Yomi are decently realised as junior high school students with a budding friendship, however there isn’t any real development of them or their relationship as what the viewer is only given a “fast forward” perspective until the “interesting” stuff begins to happen. On the other side there are the characters on … the other side, none of whom are explained in any way, and only one ever gets named.

Granted this is only a 50 minute OVA and there’s a lot to cram in there, but this is exactly why I believe this show should really have been at least 13 episodes, as while the “real” world characters are personable enough, I’m pretty sure many viewers have asked the same questions I did (i.e. who are the parallel world characters and what the hell is going on?).

While the OVA is enjoyable to a degree, the problems it has are simply too big to be overlooked or marginalised. One of the biggest issues is that the money wasted on producing this 50 minute OVA could, with a bit of frugality, been used to produce a 4 episode series that would have allowed for more development o both the plot and characters.

In essence though, Black Rock Shooter is simply another example of what is actually wrong with the anime industry. The various production studios waste so much money making shows that cater to a minority market, even within the anime community, and must therefore make up for their losses by overpricing the licenses for overseas distribution, and that’s basically what’s going on here (hence the retail release and the huge amount of merchandising).

Be that as it may, Black Rock Shooter is a decent way to waste 50 minutes, but it’s not the best way to spend your time given the number of “better” (and I use that word very loosely), shows on offer.

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