Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Black Rock Shooter (2010)

started out as a video created Ryohei Huke and Alternative band Supercell. The music, imaginative character designs, and colorful environments was enough to make the video the talk of many anime forums. As with typical hype fests since the 2000s, it was picked up by a studio and given the animated treatment.

The OVA takes place on two worlds: Earth and Other World. Our main character is a middle school girl named Mato Kuroi. The new girl in town, Mato quickly makes friends with her new classmates including a quiet girl named Yomi Takanashi who later convinces Mato to join the volleyball team. As time passes, Yomi starts to change in such a way that she appears to have a split personality. Yomi is eventually spirited away and no one can find her. Wishing to save her friend, Mato merges with a mysterious apparition that suddenly appears before her to offer her aid, becoming Black Rock Shooter. This new entity sets off on a quest to save Yomi from a similar entity known as Dead Master.

The issue with Black Rock Shooter is that there are certain aspects of the anime where the work excels such as animation and art style, while lacking in other areas such as plot and character development. Two girls become friends, one disappears, and her friend goes to save her. That's the entire plot of this anime. Black Rock Shooter tries to keep things interesting by centering the subplot around the events in Other World but the setting itself nor the characters therein get the exploration they deserve which is a shame because while Earth has typical cliche anime environments such as classrooms, houses, city streets, schools, and so forth, Other World has striking visual aesthetics, and unique architecture that really builds an atmosphere of foreboding and at times epic.

Other World has a visual aesthetic that is abundantly empty. To explain, the environments are monstrous in size and have unique trappings such as chains and grave stones. Abandoned towers, shear cliffs, and mountains overlook vast landscapes of total desolation. The fact that there are no people or even remains of people gives the environments an even more oppressive identity adding untold horrors which weave oblivion into the apocalyptic setting so well it forces us to re-evaluate how we judge beauty. The character designs are interesting as well given that Black Rock Shooter, Black Gold Saw, and even Dead Master are all drawn with great artistic flourish and imagination.

At this point you may have noticed that the only images I used have been from Other World and this is done by design as Other World contains the aesthetics that make this OVA (and its anime, manga, and video game counter-parts) stand out. The character designs and environments on Earth are so drab and uninspired that in addition to actually detracting from the visual appeal of the anime it's no wonder you don't find much in the way of wallpapers or even screen caps of it online. If Other World is a feast for the eyes, Earth seems like stale bread by comparison.

The music is another place where Black Rock Shooter falters. While the music isn't terrible, it fails on an artistic level because the music doesn't do anything to stimulate the the viewer. The music in Black Rock Shooter should have been used to enhance the drama, action, and suspense but it's hardly noticeable at any point but during the fight between Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master, and even the score for that battle is bland just not to the same of extent of the rest of the soundtrack. Given the amazing scale of Other World it makes little sense that the creators didn't put any effort whatsoever into providing this OVA with a soundtrack that would do it justice. Sugizo, Dir en Grey, and most notably HYDE could have provided an amazing score for this OVA and if the budget was an issue (doubtful given the animation) any one of them could have provided an OP or EP far superior to what we have here.

Because of the appeal of its characters and universe, Black Rock Shooter has spawned a PSP game, two manga, and an anime series. That doesn't mean much for several reasons. Most anime either stem from or spawn a manga or two as well as video games. Secondly, from an economics standpoint Japan emphasizes production over consumption so its easy for the manga, anime, and game industries to flooded with a number of works and spin-offs from those works. Also keep in mind the fact that popularity is not always an enduring quality. (How many people are watching SAO today?) I understand that a lot of work went into this title but Black Rock Shooter doesn't do anything that separates it from any other anime on the market.

The story is cliche, our lead characters are not endearing, and the plot contrivances here are borderline insulting. When Yomi disappears, Mato wishes upon a star that she could bring her back. Turns out this star was an apparition called Black Rock Shooter who grants her wish. Not only that, but the defeat of Dead Master happens in such an absurd way you just have to see this. The worst offense is that while Other World is a very impressive setting which has all the action and intrigue, less than half the OVA takes place there. In the span of say 50 minutes, 15 of those (at the most) takes place in Other World, meaning that the majority of your time is spent watching a slice of life anime with the least interesting cast of characters this side of Tenchi Muyo. The conceit of the OVA and some defenders thereof is that it explores existentialism, but I recall Angel's Egg doing that in 1985, and it did it much better.

Every once in awhile there comes an anime that stimulates our senses and forces us to look at story telling in a different way. This is not one of those anime. It's not awful, but there are better things you could be watching.
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