Black Rock Shooter has always been something I have held a passing interest in - the way in which its creation came about, and its continuous popularity, have always fascinated me. Sadly, whenever the property has previously tried to capiltalise on this and launch itself into a more formal form of media, such as the semi-recent OVA outing, some of the magic falls away. Can this new outing break the curse and deliver something interesting?
Black Rock Shooter follows the antics of new middle school / junior high student Mato Kuroi as she enters a new school and encounters another sullen character who happens to share the same favorite book: Yomi Takanashi. Despite various setbacks, including the obsessive attentions of Yomi’s childhood friend, the two form a strong friendship and try to navigate the treacherous waters of childhood pressures, jealousies, and the attentions of a student councillor who has the world's largest mug collection.
Meanwhile, in an otherworldly, blighted dreamscape strange characters clash who look very much like the main girls - how and why are the two sets of characters, and their differing fights, linked?
The main thing to talk about with Black Rock Shooter is the pacing, which manages to utterly derail the show’s development and presentation. Right from the word go the show feels hurried as it tries to cram events in one after another, while at the same time feeling sluggish because it holds back the actual meaningful developments and explanations for far too long. This stalling lasts until you have already stopped caring about finding out the answers, making the show tedious to watch. The show also manages to pile on too many different plotlines into its short length, which leaves you unable to focus on the important elements as it cuts back and forth between them, resolving and re-opening plot threads almost at random. This jumping around becomes even more irritating when characters start inexplicably performing 180 degree turns at various points in the show, ruining any character development or established motives with a vague swish of the script. Capable characters turn into morons, those with convictions become listless, all at the apparent whims of the writer. It’s enough to make you throw your hands up in the air in exasperation.
Much like the previous OVA, the show is in love with cutting back and forth between the real world and the otherworldly “Mirror” landscape - where one shows the characters wrestling with their emotions and interaction, the other shows characters physically fighting. It’s a nice idea if implemented well, but the parallels between the two worlds are so blunt and direct that it loses all impact. Every time a CG “mirror world” fight shows up it is directly after a real-world version of this “fight”, so you know exactly what is going to happen, turning these fantastical scenes into mundane repetition that bulks out the overwrought drama.
Another element that further sabotages the show is the use of background music, which is applied with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer. The score is all very overbearing and abrupt, and without fail always comes in at the very start of a scene. Thus, when you have a scene where something disturbing is due to happen, discordant woodwind strains kick in immediately, before the distressing event has even occurred! This ruins any kind of build-up or delicacy attached to the event itself - especially in scenes where the brain-crushingly overwrought sad piano track makes an appearance.
The lasting, capstone frustration for me watching this show is that in its dying episodes it actually pulls off a very interesting reveal, showing you an unexpected kink in its storyline that had the potential to provide a really interesting pay-off to the series. Sadly, this is squandered by the oppressive weight of all the issues outlined previously. This waste of an great idea turned me from someone who was simply bored of the series to being actively angry that this great idea was not introduced earlier and capitalised on to a greater extent. Oh well.
Another wasted opportunity comes in the form of the CG fight scenes that take place between the titular Black Rock Shooter and the other cast members who inhabit the alternate “Mirror” world. While these are choc full of great design and some astonishingly interesting presentation, they are severely let down by the execution. The art itself looks a little too much on the cheap side to be eyecatching and has too few unique frames per second to look truly fluid, and so falls into an uncomfortable gap between both where it ends up looking lacklustre. This is likely, at least in part, due to the budgetary and time constraints of making a TV show but it would have been nice to have seen a little more polish and screen time fully devoted to this aspect of the show as this could have really elevated it to being something special.
Black Rock Shooter is a strange beast - it was an utterly unforgettable watch until it managed to pull out an interesting idea, only to then smother it. The whole production could have done with an injection of time and care (perhaps even love?) to really help it develop into something more, and with that lacking it doesn’t make much of a lasting impression beyond a vague unsatisfying bitterness. While it may have various flashes of something more interesting, it is not really worth your time digging into even with its shorter-than-usual series length. I still remain hopeful that the material could be adapted in a more confident fashion, but sadly this TV series has proved not to be that wished-for item.