Black★Rock Shooter (2012)

Based on characters created by Japanese illustrator Ryohei Huke, Black Rock Shooter revolves around its eponymous title character, a mysterious black haired girl who possesses a burning blue eye and a powerful cannon that can fire rocks at a high speed. In 2008 the original illustration titled ‘Black Rock Shooter’ by artist Ryohei Huke inspired a song of the same name by Japanese pop band Supercell which rapidly gained popularity. In 2009, a 50-minute original video animation (OVA) based on the character soon followed, written by Nagaru Tanigawa and Shinobu Yoshioka, and directed by Shinobu Yoshioka. The success of the OVA sparked an eight-episode anime television series, directed by OVA creator Shinobu Yoshioka, with the script written by Mari Okada. Being imbedded in Japanese mainstream culture, the Black Rock Shooter franchise has also spawned several manga series and a video game for the PlayStation Portable each set in their own universe. The franchise has also inspired several music videos and has had many toys and figures manufactured based on Black Rock Shooter and characters from her elaborate world.

Set in the gorgeous backdrop of spring time Japan, the eight-episode anime begins when a young girl, Mato Kuroi, enters middle-school and befriends Yomi Takanashi, a classmate with an unusual family name. Mato does her best to strike up conversation with Yomi, but no matter what she tries Yomi doesn’t seem to want to open up. Until one day, Mato sees that Yomi has her favourite picture-story book, ‘Li’l Birds at Play’, and the girls finally strike up conversation based around their love for the text. Over time, the girls sense something in the other that they lack in themselves, and are drawn to each other despite their contrasting personalities. Though initially hesitant, they form a strong connection but both have secrets. Mato also finds herself surrounded by other colourful characters at school, such as her best friend Yu Koutari, the unusual school counselor, Saya Irino, and the tomboyish hot-blooded captain of the school basketball club, Arata Kohata.

The calm before the storm!
The calm before the storm!

Meanwhile, in another world, there wanders a girl with jet-black hair, ebony clothes, and a strikingly blue glowing eye; her name is Black Rock Shooter. Under the distant watchful eye of the mysterious Black Gold Saw, a red-eyed girl with skeletal claws and curved red horns, Black Rock Shooter begins a string of fierce battles with female warriors, the first being with Dead Master, a scythe wheedling Gothic clad girl with dark green hair and neon eyes. Without giving away too much, what officially starts out as a simple tale of teenage friendship grows into a multilayered story of two girls, in two worlds, entangled by the threads of fate, where the lives of these characters are influenced and intertwined by the emotions, feelings and pains of the other.

While inventive and captivating, the initial story concept of Black Rock Shooter can be somewhat difficult to follow, especially on a first time view, as there is plenty going on, making the connection between the two worlds a little unclear or jarring at first. It’s not until the last few episodes that a strong link is made between the worlds, but even then, it may still perhaps be a little difficult for some to follow as the connection is not touched upon in enough detail nor is it presented as clear as one may have hoped. Admittedly an English version of the anime might make this connection a little clearer and easier to grasp, allowing it to be more accessible to a Western audience. The story, although filled with amazing visuals and stand-out action sequences, is really about letting go of pain and has a real emotional pull. The lead girls, Mato and Yomi, are fairly honest and genuine, making it easy to connect with these characters, accepting them as true representations of teenage girls struggling with real-world problems.

Wake up and smell the roses.
Wake up and smell the roses.

The alternative world, home of Black Rock Shooter, is where the real splendour and awe of this anime lies. The girl’s other worldly counter parts, Mato’s ‘other self’ being Black Rock Shooter and Yomi’s ‘other self’ being Dead Master, are intricate, bright, bold and original, in concept and design, making them a visual treat on the eyes. There are several other new and exciting characters on offer crafted for this anime, who were not seen in the OVA, all adding an extra layer of inventiveness to the narrative. Each character is distinctly coloured, with their surroundings also draped in a similar pallet, giving the characters a recognizable and exclusively individual appearance. With no dialogue in this secondary world, the action sequences almost do all the talking and embody or symbolize what the characters may be feeling. The action set-pieces are truly mind-blowing, innovative and full of flair and imagination, bursting with colour and energy; a whole anime centred on these girls ferociously entwined in battle would never get tiresome or repetitive as these sequences are stunning in assembly, animation and execution. Several standout battle sequences include Black Rock Shooter’s clash with Strength, a girl with mechanized arms that have the ability to transform into machine or gatling guns, with an extremely high rate of fire, and another being Black Rock Shooter’s encounter with pale-skinned Chariot and her macaroon firing spider-like creature.

With animation direction and character design by Yusuke Yoshigaki and CG battle direction by Hiroyuki Imaishi, the animation of Black Rock Shooter is nothing short of mesmerizing being somewhat pioneering at the same time. The world of Mato and Yomi is animated traditionally and is mostly hand-drawn, while the ‘other world’ is completely computer generated. Although totally digital, the characters and setting of this secondary world have been rendered in a way that gives off a traditional animation look and feel. Creating this ‘other world’ digitally has given animators the freedom and opportunity to place the camera in some truly interesting and unique locations, allowing them to capture visuals that are almost impossible to animate by hand, presenting audiences with some truly astonishing never-seen-before sequences.

'Say hello to my little friend!'
‘Say hello to my little friend!’

There is plenty to admire in Black Rock Shooter; the visuals alone are extraordinary as are the incredible action set-pieces, which really need to be seen to be believed. Linking the anime with the original concept art, by placing the song which made the title characters famous in the opening credits, Black Rock Shooter, the anime, encompasses all that came before it and attempts to deliver something fresh and innovative to the franchise. While some might find the whole concept slightly confusing, there’s enough here to appreciate and enjoy as the visuals are a wonder to behold and won’t be forgotten any time soon. Certainly worth your while if interested in anime or animation in general, even just to see how far modern digital technology has come and the endless creative possibilities available at animator’s fingertips.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Black★Rock Shooter is released through Siren Visual