It took me a while, but I finally got around to watching that BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER anime. Since it’s now a month or so after this thing was first released to the masses on a free insert DVD in Hobby Japan, complete with seven (!) subtitle tracks; this shit has been pirated to death, and I bet everyone has said what they’ve had to say, and I bet it was all very similar. But I haven’t read that stuff at all, so prepare yourself for something you’ve probably heard before!
After being overrun with fanart of the titular BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER and her presumed nemesis, the Dead Master, I was somewhat hyped up for the Miku-music-video-turned-full-length-anime project backed by visionary douchebag Yamamoto Yutaka. Amongst the flood of fanart, as well as official artwork, visages of girls who were neither B★RS or Dead Master passed before my eyes every now and again. Who were these girls, and how did they work their way into what seems to be a work concerned with a Gothic-styled world with a serious checkerboard fetish (SUP SHINBO) in which really pale girls fight against each other? Well, we have a handy-dandy English website that explains that all to us. With the amount of words devoted to the touching story of two girls in middle school versus the amount of words about girls with flaming blue eyes, I should have known that this OVA would focus more on the goings on of that last screencap as opposed to the top three.
If you haven’t figured it out yet–and you have, because you’ve seen this damn thing already–BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER isn’t really about BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER. But that’s not a bad thing.
You don’t need a story summary, right? I just linked to one written in charming Engrish right up there! So let’s get down to the dirty stuff. BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER mainly focuses on the relationship between Mato and Yomi. Both of them are forged from established molds, but rather than come off as used and abused tropes, their portrayals are subtle and thoughtful, with their interactions subdued and realistic. Come the girls’ second year of junior high, they’re put into different classes, which creates a degree of distance between them. The way this is handled is also realistic. Things don’t really devolve into a whole pile of drama, but rather into more realistic puddle of drama.
This stuff is great. I like it a lot. The scenes of Mato and Yomi slowly getting to know each other on their way to school, doing homework together, and doing other girlfriendy-things is plain fun to watch. Similarly, watching them come to terms with their feelings about being separated from each other is engaging and touching. But between these scenes–in fact, almost every other scene–we get thrown into the aforementioned world of broken down Gothic (I’m assuming Gothic, someone can correct me on this) castles and checkerboard patterns in which two girls fight for no apparent reason.
I know why they cut this stuff in so early and consistently–they don’t want you to forget that this is in fact a BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER anime between Mato and Yomi’s cute girltalk/drama–but it almost seems intrusive when a lot of the scenes don’t amount to much more than three seconds of B★RS walking silently while the camera is cocked at a dutch angle. After a while we get some fights, but the wispy and loose animation style, which works wonders in rendering the daily lives of our cute middle school protagonists, doesn’t really work when rendering fights. The few bits of action in the OVA are pretty loose, with lots of them being shot from far away. This wispy and loose animation style makes the fights seem somewhat insignificant. There’s no force behind the violence, and the danger doesn’t feel immediate or important. This may well be the feeling they were shooting for. In fact, I’m willing to bet that it was. But when I look for action, I like something more brutal and visceral, so this doesn’t really scratch my itch.
To their credit though, the scenes that do feature B★RS have some really wonderful backgrounds. The look and style of the world, which is realized extremely well by the background artwork, really captures the style of the intial BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER illustrations. They even put a little filter on top the animation to recreate the same sort of texture huke adorns his pictures with, and the use of color and shading is spot on.
Cute GAARUZU RAIFU scenes, as well as dark fight scenes, are both accompanied by a soundtrack composed by some fuckin’ guy called ryo. Once again, GAARUZU RAIFU comes back up on top in the music department, especially when things get dramatic. Scenes of clear pain in the characters’ tormented preteen hearts are backed by wonderful strings and piano pieces, whereas the fight scenes between B★RS and Dead Master get the generic rock treatment, which doesn’t inspire me in the least.
Near the end, the drama between Mato and Yomi is tied to the conflict between B★RS and Dead Master in the world of checkerboards. Things come together nicely, even if you saw it coming from a mile a way. But when all is said and done, I can’t help but wonder why this is a BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER anime. The short bits that actually have anything to do with the hurricane of fanart out there probably barely amount to 15 minutes (if that) of the OVA’s total run time, and the story could have worked just as well without cutaways to B★RS walking around quietly and looking unhappy. It seems as if they couldn’t think of anything to write around the established imagery, so instead copped out and wrote a youth drama. A damn fine youth drama, but with extraneous bits of pale girls looking at each other angrily. To be fair, the final frame of the OVA leaves things wide open for a sequel, where things may in fact be expanded upon.
But this is all we’ve got for now!