OVA Review: Black Rock Shooter

Flaming eyeballs? There's a Visine for that.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Black Rock Shooter was originally a character designed by the Japanese artist Huke, which the band Supercell adapted into a wildly popular Hatsune Miku music video. The video itself doesn’t feature much plot; it’s just the titular protagonist travelling around a post-apocalyptic world, looking all emo and angsty. That means when Yutaka Yamamoto and Studio Ordet decided to make a full-length original video animation from this concept for their first independent project, they had their work cut out for them. Not only did they have to prove their little startup studio could produce quality anime, they had to create an entire universe and mythology for Black Rock Shooter from scratch.

So, did they succeed? Did Studio Ordet prove it could hold its own against the older, larger and better-funded anime studios? Sadly, no. This OVA was a disappointment on nearly every level. It’s a pity, since there’s a really interesting concept here. Unfortunately, it was dragged down by poor animation, badly paced storytelling and low production values.

Read more after the break.

Those are the stubbiest, sloppiest twintails I've ever seen.

Black Rock Shooter begins, oddly enough, with a slice-of-life setup. Mato, a fairly typical high-school girl, meets another girl from her class named Yomi. Since they’re neighbors, the two begin walking to school together and strike up a budding friendship. Mato takes Yomi to one of her favorite places, a picturesque cliff overlooking the entire town, where they consummate their friendship by exchanging star-shaped cell phone straps. Eventually, Mato winds up joining the school basketball team, whereas Yomi opts for volleyball. However, Mato sprains her ankle during practice one day, and consequently meets the team’s manager Yuu. As Yuu and Mato become fast friends, Yomi begins to feel alienated, and shows signs of depression.

Meanwhile, interspersed with these school drama scenes are seemingly unrelated brief shots of Black Rock Shooter (who I will henceforth refer to as BRS) travelling through her post-apocalyptic world. Eventually, she arrives at the castle of a gothic girl named Dead Master. After BRS offers her hand in friendship, Dead Master scorns her and attacks. The two battle, with BRS using her transforming arm-cannon/melee weapon, and Dead Master using two giant flying skulls and a scythe.

Trust me, this gun is much less impressive than it looks.

Back in the real world, Mato becomes worried when Yomi doesn’t show up for school. After getting a panicked text message from her mother, she returns home to find two police detectives waiting to question her; Yomi’s parents have reported her missing, and the police fear she’s run away. Concurrently, BRS is defeated by Dead Master and chained to a wall, helpless. Mato falls into a deep depression, despite Yuu’s efforts to cheer her up. She becomes hopeful, however, upon recieving a blank text message from Yomi’s phone. She rushes out to her old hangout, the cliff, where she discovered Yomi’s cell phone strap lying on the ground. As she holds it, crying, a light descents from heaven and envelops her.

In the alternate world, BRS breaks free of her chains and confronts Dead Master. The latter, while backing away in fear, accidentally falls off a cliff, but is caught by BRS in a hug. Struggling against her captor, Dead Master breaks free of the body she had been inhabiting, revealing that Yomi had been possessed by the evil entity all along. BRS then confronts Mato, and after a brief conversation, merges with her. The new BRS/Mato fusion opens her eyes, looks straight at the camera, and declares “I am Black Rock Shooter!”

After the credits, we see Yomi and Mato reunited. However, Yuu is beginning to show signs of a mysterious depression…

*insert ominous music here*

From a technical standpoint, Black Rock Shooter was unimpressive. The initial battle between BRS and Dead Master was probably the highlight, as it was more fluid and well-choreographed than the rest of the OVA. The animation quality everywhere else was noticeably lacking, with many scenes having a distractingly low framerate. The flame around BRS’s right eye was probably the most egregious example of this; it was poorly animated, and didn’t look convincing in the slightest.

The character and art design was also pretty bland, with the exception of Huke’s alternate world designs. Similarly, the music was forgettable, minus a couple of piano pieces at the end. Honestly, the whole presentation was underwhelming to me. It felt like a cheap, second-rate project… and nowhere near the quality we usually expect from OVAs. I realize that Studio Ordet was operating with limited manpower and budget, but I really think they could have made a better effort.

Green is the color of EVIL!

On the other hand, my feelings on Black Rock Shooter‘s story are mixed. I thought the real world storyline was pretty enjoyable, with believable characters and well-written dialogue. However, the alternate world scenes felt entirely extraneous and unnecessary until the very end. I realize that the battle between BRS and Dead Master was supposed to parallel the relationship of Mato and Yomi, but this comparison never really clicked for me. How are these alternate-world entities related to our real-world protagonists? Why is the girl’s friendship represented by a battle? What caused Yomi to vanish? Why does her disappearance cause Dead Master to capture BRS? Is BRS actually Mato’s alter ego? The OVA never bothers to answer any of these questions, making the whole affair frustratingly confusing.

Furthermore, the emotional conflict between Mato and Yomi never receives any meaningful resolution. Instead of addressing Yomi’s feelings of alienation, this OVA seems to indicate that her depression was merely caused by Dead Master possessing her. In other words, it raises some very serious issues concerning friendship and its consequences, then hand-waves those issues away by saying “It was just alternate-dimension demonic possession all along.” Such an unbelievably asinine deus-ex-machina I have not seen since the finale of Battlestar Galactica.

However, Black Rock Shooter is much sexier than Starbuck.

Overall, I found Black Rock Shooter disappointing. Although it had a a promising concept, the storyline was fragmented and the production values subpar. I can see this OVA being a good jumping-off point for a series, but on its own it fails to impress. I’m disappointed, Yamakan… I really expected better from you.