On her first day of junior high school, Mato Kuroi meets Yomi Takanashi. Though Yomi is initially taken aback by Mako's straightforward personality, the pair quickly becomes friends and begin to spend time together daily. As a sign of their friendship, Mato gives Yomi a cell phone charm—a blue star, identical to her own.
However, when the two enter their second year, their relationship starts to change. Placed in a different class, Mato begins to spend more time with Yuu Koutari instead, a girl she met through the basketball team. In fact, the former best friends drift apart so much so that Mato cannot find Yomi anywhere, as if she had disappeared entirely.
Elsewhere, Black★Rock Shooter is on a quest to vanquish the Dead Master. These two, while opposed, bear a connection not unlike Mato and Yomi. As their stories begin to cross, it seems Yomi's disappearance may have to do with the blue star-shaped charm and the legendary gunslinger herself.
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 comapny 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 conjuction 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 forthcomin 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 formore 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.
Friendship. Something that is craved and needed by everyone. But if that friendship were torn, how far would you go to repair it?
Black Rock Shooter is a fantastic short story of two girls whose friendship grows from the roots that is highschool. Everyday brought them closer, making the possibility of losing one another made it that much more unbearable.
Story: Inevitably in a short OVA like BRS, there isn't much time to create a deep and complex story. So knowing this, BRS takes a common storyline and throws in something unique, making it utterly fantastic.
The way BRS shows the two sides of the storyline
in a linear fashion makes the conclusion all the more effective, and by splitting the anime into two halves and showing them next to each other, BRS presents its story in a way that is not only refreshing, but more intriguing to follow as the viewer tries to decipher what is taking place. Although I began to doubt the storyline during the final few minutes, the conclusion brought it all together and cleared my doubts by showing how far someone would be willing to go to save a friend.
Art - Seeing as BRS is an independently made anime, the money in the art department is limited as shown by some sketchy bits of animation. When I first saw the characters, I immediately saw the similarites to others, such as Azusa from K-ON!. But aside from that the art is generally well done, from the characters emotions shown through a variety of expressions, to the battle scenes (which although sketchy at times) were well done overall. The eyes of the characters caught my attention most as they were very detailed and this combined well with the complex variety of emotions shown throughout.
Sound - When I first saw the trailer to BRS, the sound was something that caught my attention (I was tempted to write 'caught my eye' but it wouldn't have made sense would it? ;P). Although there isn't a great deal of music in this anime, the pieces used during the battle scenes and the ED song were brilliantly composed. The silence used during some parts of the anime were more effective then any musical piece could have been.
Character - Once again, with BRS being a short OVA, there isn't much time to work with the characters. However when the time calls for it, Mato and Yomi both show a degree of development as they strive to keep their friendship intact.
Enjoyment - The timely change from daily life to battle scenes was very enjoyable, and when the conclusion brought the two together it brought a smile to my face when the larger picture was revealed. When watching BRS, I was originally confused at how the two storylines would connect. Now however, I feel like if I watched it again I would enjoy it so much more, knowing that now I know the bigger picture, I can focus on the events that lead up to it.
Overall this is a fantastic attempt at creating something new and unique. With the short amount of time available, BRS gives us a fantastic story, which although small, is definitely memorable. Even though the Trailer seemed to promise a more action-filled epic, we were given a heartwarming combination of reality and the unknown.
Personally I really enjoyed this anime as a whole and like I said, I'd probably enjoy it a lot more if I watched it again. By coming into this anime with few expectations, I was pleasently surprised to find something as compelling as Black Rock Shooter.
It also posed me an interesting question: How far would you be willing to go for a friend?
This show was so hyped up. For a year before its release, floods of fanart, teaser videos, even cosplay, were everywhere. Then it finally comes out and is probably the most disappointing thing I've seen in a long time. It's probably going to get high ratings just because it has forced popularity, but don't be fooled. Here's the what and the why. Spoilers, of course.
Awesome promo art, a catchy song, cool fight scenes, and what does the story end up as? A slow-building, slow-moving school drama. It's not even interesting. Basically, the main character Mato becomes friends with a Yomi girl. Mato then becomes
friends with a Yuu girl. Mato gets jealous (since they were OBVIOUSLY such good friends after all of what, three days?), vanishes suddenly, and is never seen again. After the end credits, she's back. What happened? Who knows. It also impllies Yuu is now jealous of Mato and Yomi being friends, leaving room for a sequel (God knows it doesn't deserve one).
There are fighting scenes throughout, where characters that look like personas of these girls duking it out in a phantasmal checkerboard world, except for Yuu's persona, who just stands on a cliff for one scene and then is never seen again. The show keeps you guessing how it's related to the story you see unfolding at the school - could it be her imagination? A wild world contained in her dreams? No! It has no fucking connection at all! It's a metaphor for her trying to overcome her friend's jealousy. It's not deep. It's not inspirational. It's just stupid.
Yes, Black Rock Shooter is Yoko from Gurren Lagann combined with Hatsune Miku. Yes, there are girls with heavy weaponry, scythes, skulls, and skimpy clothing in this awesome cathedral world. But then when you actually watch it, you discover that during those fight scenes, the video gets so choppy you can barely tell it's animated at all! It's like you're watching a powerpoint presentation! The school life sequences were better animated, but were generally poor enough quality that it feels like you're watching K-On animated by underpaid laborers. Oh, wait...
Remember that awesome Vocaloid Song the show was going to be based on? It doesn't appear in the show at all. Instead it's replaced by a punky-sounding end credits song, very sparse background music, and the voices, well... most of the lines are grunts and heavy breathing. For 50 minutes of video, there's not very much talking, and for what they do say, I have no comment. The music though, was a big let-down.
There are 6 characters in this show. Mato, Yomi, Yuu, and their personas. The personas look awesome but never talk until the very end, where one speaks. Deep? No. Lazy.
Their designs are decent enough, although Black Rock Shooter to me looked more like a zombie with her pale white skin and stomach scar. I don't really have much to say about the school-life versions. They're really boring. If you can find one defining thing about any of the three of them, please, PLEASE tell me. I won't even remember their names by tomorrow.
Because it was only an hour.
Yeah, so people are going to say if you don't get the plot of this show, it's too deep for you. Well guess what? There is no plot. It's 40 minutes of highschool drama - /sorta/. 4 minutes of credits, and across the whole thing, 6 minutes of low-framerate fight scenes. The moral of the story? My friends and I came up with two.
A. You cannot have more than one friend.
B. Girls are bitches.
If you keep yourself on your toes, and have seen a fair share of anime in the past, I can guarantee you will be able to predict every single major plot event in this drawn out and clunky story. First off though I'll say that the animation does not disappoint, the quality is up to if not better than most on the air shows and although there's not much deviation from the standard in terms of design and motion they staff's done a solid job.
Now, about predictability, which most certainly is not an issue in any good story as plenty of plots have a
beginning that practically gives away the end. But with good story telling, you don't mind. Black Rock shooter however, does not have good story telling. Instead it has lengthy undramatic and emotionally forced build up to a random(yet, of course predictable) occurrence, which leads to the final 10 minutes being used neither to explain nor expand but rather continue the purposeless fight scene that we've already seen plenty of circa random cut aways sandwiched by the friendship-drama snowball rolling down the story's hill.
Certainly there's finer points and details I can get into but I'm definitely not the only one disappointed here so I won't get into what other reviews have already said.
The school life portions, had they been well written and presented a conflict that anyone could care for, would have been fine. The pointless cuts to the 50 minute stale mate of a fight scene would not have been necessary either if they just made the portions of the script where characters were interacting and developing something more than what it was. The first time they showed the fight probably hooked people easily enough that the 10 or so other times it was done were definitely not necessary. And really, the way it started had so much potential, the plot in the original song is so vague and ambiguous that really, there could have been any sort of plot but instead they just went along with the source material and stayed vague and ambiguous, painfully so.
Considering how much they provided for detail in the meaningless little portions of the ova, it's also disappointing that they didn't spend that time expanding on some of the inferred portions of the story. Considering how meticulous and detailed the fan-base is with their own renditions of BRS it's almost sad how unimaginative the writing in this is. There's one shot of the two heroines together with one playing the guitar, expanding on that could have made the plot amazing, half the point of BRS is that it's a song, without the song the character isn't much and without the character the song isn't much either. That's a specific example I'll bring up, but if you watch the OVA or have already, just imagine some of the scenes and developments given more meaning.
But anyways, compared to the quality that the independant creators on the internet were able to produce in terms of creativity, this OVA comes nowhere close. They stuck to cliches and were content with a run of the mill plot, didn't really seem to give much about their characters and have a liking for macguffins and deus ex machina.
With an anime adaptation, an OVA and a video game, there is no denying that Black★Rock Shooter is a successful franchise. The franchise spawned a fair number of figures, and we are here to help you choose just the right one for your collection.