Monday Anime: Black Rock Shooter

This weeks anime offering was first suggested to me by my good friend, Jaelin, who is also a big anime nerd, same as me. Jaelin and I have known each other a while, having met some years ago when we were in a guild together in the MMO Forsaken World. Over the years, she’s come to be someone who’s opinion I respect a great deal, so when she said I might enjoy this one, I trotted my internet on over to check it out.

Yes, Vanessa, I respect your opinion, too. Jesus.

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Anyway…

Let’s just say I got way more than I bargained for with Black Rock Shooter, in all the best ways. The real treat came when I started digging into the history of the series, and found that it was as convoluted and coincidental as an anime can be. Which also tickles me, because I like it when great things come about by happenstance, way more than I do when they come about by committee.

First off, Black Rock Shooter is a 2012, eight episode series put out by a two studio team up. Ordet did the primary animation, while Sanzige did the CGI work. The show relies on both heavily, but we’ll get into how well that worked later on. For now, let’s leave it at two studios worked on making this one.

The story follows Mato, a middle school girl who meets and befriend classmate Yomi. At first, Yomi is resistant to this, and Mato soon learns it is because Yomi’s childhood friend, Kagari, who is confined to a wheelchair, has been emotionally and physically abusing Yomi for years. Kagari blames Yomi for being in the wheelchair, but with Mato’s help, Yomi is finally able to end the cycle of abuse, and allow both herself and Kagari to start healing.

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At the same time this is happening, in another world, a very surreal and ever changing landscape of twisted dreams and nightmares, a lone gun toting girl, who bears a striking resemblance to Mato, battles duplicates of both Yomi and Kagari. The Kagari double rides around in a giant mechanical spider, while Yomi’s double wields a scythe and telepathically controlled infinite chains.

In that world, Mato’s double, known as the Black Rock Shooter, beheads the Kagari double, known as Chariot, at the same moment Kagari has a total collapse. After this, Kagari no longer needs the wheelchair, having been faking her injuries to punish Yomi, and becomes a very different person, revealing the two worlds are somehow connected.

Mato is slowly drawn deeper into the world of the Black Rock Shooter as she begins to have dreams about not just her, but Yomi’s double, the Dead Master, and Black Gold Saw, the double of their school councilor. Soon, she learns that the world these strange figures inhabit is real, and tied even more closely to her own than she ever could have imagined.

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So, yeah, it’s a psychological anime. Pretty damn good one, too. Lots more action than you usually get in a psychological anime.

The real strength of the story lies in the Otherworld, where Black Rock Shooter and the rest live and battle. It’s an insane and trippy place, where the laws of physics depend entirely on who controls the domain they are currently in. Each double holds sway over a particular area, and the world conforms to their attitude and approach. It creates a constantly shifting and unpredictable environment that adds a real sense of disorientation to the story of Mato and her friends.

On that side of things, most of what happens in the real world setting revolves around fear, pain, grief, and loss. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen it, learning to deal with those emotions and the trauma often associated with them is the driving element of the anime. The series never loses focus on these elements, either, with everything that happens being used to build the significance of negative emotions, and the importance of accepting them as part of life.

So, how did we get a series like this? Well, it all started with a single piece of artwork. Created by Ryohei Fuke, best known by his handle ‘Huke’, who posted it on his blog and the online artist community Pixiv back in December of 2007. It was basically just an image of the Black Rock Shooter, labeled as such. It also ended up being quiet popular.

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So popular, in fact, that band Supercell wrote and performed a song dedicated to the image, titled, obviously, Black Rock Shooter. Supercell, by the way, is the band that performed the first OP for Guilty Crown, “My Dearest”, in case you were wondering. Not that they did this without Fuke’s permission, of course. In fact, Fuke designed the artwork that would be used in the official music video for the song, which they uploaded to a video sharing site, further amplifying Black Rock Shooter’s popularity.

From there’ Black Rock Shooter got a 50 minute OVA in 2010, followed by a video game in 2011, as well as a comedy/parody manga the same year. Two more manga would quickly follow, both in 2011, as well as the anime we are talking about today in 2012, and just for good measure, a second video game.

Not bad for a random piece of art somebody posted on their blog, ‘eh?

Lucky fucker.

So, yeah, Black Rock Shooter followed an unlikely path to success, especially considering every version follows a different plot, sometimes wildly different. The only consistent character across all version is Black Rock Shooter herself, with other characters being added or removed depending. There is no one set ‘canon’ Black Rock Shooter story, so odds are, the character will keep popping up in various forms of media for a long time to come.

Ah, the freedom you gain from not having any kind of a set backstory.

Lucky fuckers.

Anyway, we’re just talking about the 2012 anime adaptation, so let’s focus on that and leave the rest of those alternate universe versions to do their own thing.

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Whatever kinky bondage thing that may be.

In terms of animation, this show is God damn gorgeous. The blending of CGI and traditional animation is almost completely flawless, creating a very wild experience, especially when dealing with the Otherworld. That’s where the CGI really gets to shine, creating a trippy, topsy turvey world that changes at random and can be whatever they want with little regard to physical laws. It’s a surreal experience at times, and makes the show as a whole feel very otherworldly. Which is kinda fitting when ya think about it.

The battle scenes are probably the real highlights of the Otherworld segments, however. Extremely dynamic, visceral, fast paced, and frequently inventive in how the Otherworld characters fight, every single fight scene is a powerhouse moment that they always manage to find a way to improve on come the next.

Personally, I really enjoyed Black Rock Shooter verse Dead Master. That was one hell of a fight, with the giant laser beam firing skulls and all. I mean, c’mon, if that doesn’t make you wanna check it out, maybe the army of skeletons and zombies will.

The real world sequences are just as lovely to look at, with solid, fluid animation that is just really well done. It’s got a gorgeous color palette going for it, with beautifully rendered backgrounds and some of the better character designs I’ve seen in a while. Everyone is easily identifiable, and memorable, while their Otherworld versions look just enough like them to let us know there’s a connection, without being carbon copies.

The music, though. Sweet Jesus, the music is amazing. Arranged by Hideharu Mori, probably best known for his work on Ranma 1/2, the music for Black Rock Shooter is just breath taking. Rich, vibrant, and at times, heart wrenching, Mori really delivers a tour de force with this score. Id’ just about kill to have the soundtrack for this one, and it has quickly climbed into my top five anime soundtracks I wished I owned.

Part of what really sets the music apart here is that in the Otherworld, nobody ever really speaks. Almost everything that happens there is done by way of visual design, and the music takes the place of dialogue, exploring the characters thoughts and motivations. It was a big challenge for Mori, no doubt, but he really nails it, and I’d be surprised if this didn’t go down as one of his great accomplishments.

Besides liking seashells, I mean.

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Final note on the music is that the opening theme is actually the Supercell song, “Black Rock Shooter”, which kind of made all of this possible in the first place. That’s just a nice touch on the studios part, recognizing and appreciating the history of the character that lead to the anime being made. Always gotta love it when that happens.

Overall, the production design is very well done, and the scripting keeps you guessing as to just what the real connection between the real world characters and their Otherworld doubles really is until the last couple of episodes. Better than that, though, is that it always manages to pull out a few other surprises even after that connection is revealed, not just about the various characters in both world, but Mato herself, and why Black Rock Shooter is such a powerful presence in the Otherworld.

So, if you enjoy psychological animes, or action oriented ones, this show has enough of both to keep you satisfied, as well as truly engaging story, memorable characters, and plenty of moments that’ll shove an onion in your eye.

I’m still not over the Yuu reveal. That was heavy shit.

Go, check out Black Rock Shooter. It’s only four hours. You can thank me later.

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