Black Rock Shooter
Number of Episodes: 1
Production Company: Ordet
Brief Overview: Mato Kuroi enters junior high and immediately strikes up a friendship with her classmate, Yomi Takanashi, her polar opposite. In their second year, however, the two grow apart. Meanwhile, in another world, a battle to the death begins to unfold.
Thoughts: Even since the announcement of the Black Rock Shooter anime project, I've been wondering what I should expect from an animated film based mainly on a song; a song performed by a virtual idol singer, no less. The few pieces of concept art that were available early on hinted at something dark and stylized, and what little I remember of the early previews seemed to fall in line with those expectations. The final product is a bit different, however; it blends stylized, well-choreographed but mostly unexplained action sequences with drawn-out slice-of-life moments that tell two halves of the story in parallel. The end product doesn't exactly meet the hype that's been building for this OVA, but it's creative enough (and pretty enough) to be relatively engaging in spite of that.
The story begins as Mato, an energetic and outgoing girl, goes to school on her first day of Junior High. On the way, she sees the more subdued, restrained Yomi step out of a car at the school's front gate. Fascinated, Mato attempts to strike up a conversation with Yomi, and in spite of some early awkwardness, the two establish a quick friendship. Their friendship grows throughout the school year, even though the two girls join different after-school clubs. Come second year, however, Mato's budding friendship with Yuu, the manager of the school's basketball team, causes the seeds of jealousy to grow inside Yomi's heart. Eventually the two grow apart, in spite of Mato's attempts to contact Yomi. One day, Yomi turns up missing, and Mato takes it upon herself to find her and bring her back.
Meanwhile, in a world filled with broken buildings and other dreamlike imagery, Black Rock Shooter, the titular heroine, is engaged in battle with Dead Master, a dark spirit who wields a scythe.
The relationship between the two seemingly distinct storylines becomes clearer as the story unfolds; Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master bear striking resemblances to Mato and Yomi, respectively, and their conflict contains echoes of the strife that the two real-world characters are experiencing. As Yomi is overcome by jealousy and Mato begins to frantically worry about her friend's well-being, what once seemed like nothing more than a supernatural battle with cool weaponry and nicely-animated action becomes colored by the revelation that the super-human characters echo their real-world counterparts. Black Rock Shooter's search across the beautiful, desolate, and sometimes nightmarish landscapes of the other world proves to be a decent symbolic representation of Mato's own search for her friend, and the desperation she feels when unable to make contact.
Some viewers might be tempted to question why the slice-of-life elements were presented alongside and in-between the more action-packed portions of the program, and I agree with that sentiment to some extent. While I personally didn't find the final product particularly confusing, some of the viewer reactions I've read elsewhere express plenty of frustration towards the format. To be honest, if this story had been presented in a linear style from beginning to end, the first half would have seemed like a total slog; I'm not averse to slice-of-life or character-based stories in the least, but the relative lack of anything happening during those portions coupled with the hype this OVA has been getting, mainly for its animation and action sequences, might have made the OVA feel extremely disappointing. It benefits from its non-linear style.
Of course, what many people are probably wondering about is the quality of the animation, something which was very hyped as the OVA's release crept ever-closer. I would venture to guess that most viewers wouldn't be disappointed. What the action animation lacks in fluidity it makes up in dynamic and flashy choreography, use of unusual and visually-interesting camera angles, and some amount of lifelike movement in the characters. Even some of the real-world scenes are spiced up by Mato's expressive gestures and some rare moments of inspiring animation - there are a couple of scenes that involve Mato at basketball practice that are a treat to watch because of how lifelike the characters move. Design-wise, though, the slice-of-life scenes can't hold a candle to the otherworldly battle scenes. The background artwork during these portions really shines; there's good use of texturing that, coupled with the sometimes-bleak and worn-down background architecture and the subdued color palette, creates an almost antiqued, stony look that's very unique. The character designs are also worthy of note, not only due to the fact that they're what many viewers are probably interested in seeing in the first place, but because a few of them feature some truly creative weaponry and (thankfully) tend to avoid displaying some of the bouncy properties that are perennially popular in female character designs.
Black Rock Shooter is unfortunately not as groundbreaking or as epic as the hype would have had us believe, but the end product still displays a fair amount of creativity and presents its short story in a creative package. A short epilogue after the credits suggests that there might be material for a sequel, as do brief introductions to characters who just barely appear during the course of the OVA. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to another helping of this series. It's just long enough to feature some nice animation and a pleasant story without wearing out its welcome.
- The two seemingly unrelated storylines are drawn together well by the end of the episode.
- There's some really nice animation in both the action segments and the slice-of-life scenes.
- The background artwork during Black Rock Shooter's scenes is striking and creative.
- The whole thing isn't as groundbreaking or epic as the hype would have had us all believe.
- The non-linear presentation might not be everyone's cup of tea.
Recommended? Yes, it's a nice little one-shot piece that doesn't waste its 53 minute run time.