First Impressions – Black Rock Shooter

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There are a whole lot of contrasts at work with the premiere of Black Rock Shooter, both within the episode itself and me as a viewer.

One of the disadvantages of being a one-man operation like this site, as opposed to a staff of writers like Random Curiosity, is that I only have one set of tastes to view anime with.  Yes, they evolve over time and I grow to like some genres more and go through stretches where I tire of old favorites, and I like to think I’m open to liking anything.  But there’s no one that likes everything, and no one who’s personal biases don’t impact what they write.  For a show like this or Nisemonogatari, it would be nice to have someone who’s really into the material to cover it – because if a show isn’t in my comfort zone, my only real choices are to fake it (never) blog it (probably unenthusiastically) or not cover it at all.  Those are series that clearly have a large fan base, and deserve a place at the table.

Now, I won’t compare BRS to the works of Nishio, because while the latter are series I just can’t manage to watch, the former is perfectly tolerable – just not a premise that interests me much.  BRS is a serious work by serious people and deserves to be treated as such, but from my perspective it feels somewhat calculated and shallow.  In short, it’s always seemed like a promotional video to me more than an original series.  On the other hand, it comes to use from Ordet, the studio founded by Yamamoto Yutaka and filled with interesting names from other studios, and as a new entity with a lot of potential it’s fascinating to see where they go creatively.  And while director Yoshioka Shinbou (who also directed the OVA) doesn’t present a compelling résumé, by far the most notable name on the staff list is Imaishi Hiroyuki, director of Gurren Lagann and of the most distinctive visual stylists in the field.  He’s the Animation Director here and that alone is enough to place BRS on the radar screen of any serious anime fan.

As the storyline itself is a contrast of two worlds – a very classic slice-of-life at a middle school, with an alternate world of terrible violence and destruction – I found the production at odds with itself too.  Frankly, there are many instances where the art looks sloppy and the animation stiff, and the CGI  – at least to my eye – looks positively dated.  On the other hand, Imaishi’s stamp is all over the imagery of the piece, the stunning and harrowing world of Black Rock Shooter, and the scene where heroine Kuroi Mato (Kana Hanazawa) meets the chilling wheelchair-bound Izuriha Kagari (Kitamura Eri) at the house of new friend Takanashi Yomi (Sawashiro Miyuki) is brilliantly staged and genuinely creepy.

What we know of course is that all of these girls have dual existences, in our world and that other one, though for anyone who didn’t know the premise the things that happen to the blue-eyed girl in that hell could be highly disturbing.  As is, there’s a strangely distant quality to the violence here, starting with the fact that it elicits almost no reaction – no cries of pain or fountains of blood.  While that world is visually arresting it’s the mundane “real-life” scenes in the premiere that have the most impact, as Kuroi meets Takanashi and sees a potential soul-mate in the girl who shares her passion for “The Tiny Bird and the Colors”.  Kuroi’s pain when Kagari is shunning and frightening her feels much more real than anything that happens to Black Rock Shooter.

This is a very familiar premise, and feels more the product of a marketing meeting than a writer’s meeting.  Still, despite the inconsistency in the direction and animation I enjoyed the first episode – probably more than the OVA, in fact.  This is an alternate retelling of those events, and the presence of Imaishi adds a certain style and pop to the TV that the OVA lacked, for me.  The question for me is whether this artificial construct is going to be able to generate enough that’s genuine to make it compelling for eight episodes.  I could rail about how in any case this doesn’t belong on NoitaminA (it doesn’t) but as that block appears on track for a return to its roots – more or less – in the Spring, it hardly seems sporting to dwell on that.

OP: 「ブラック★ロックシューダー」 (Black★Rock Shooter) by supercell feat. 初音ミク (Hatsune Miku)

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13 comments

  1. F

    While design wise this is a distinct step backwards from the OVA, and the CG was entirely unnecessary, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

    …yeah, I'll let your shock wear off first.

    Anyway…I don't really have much to say, its the OVA's plot with a few twists (Kagari's presence fundamentally alters Mato and Yomi's relationship, making it impossible for it to develop the way it did in the OVA), and the events in the Other World, which were quite straightforward in the OVA seem much more complex and nuanced here.

    A lot is going to hinge on just how real the Other World is. Is it just a metaphor for Mato's conflicts with others, or is it a real struggle being played out, connected to these four girls? And what is the role of Black★Gold Saw, who seems to be a part of the Other World itself, and does she have an alter ego in the real world (Saya? Arata?)?

    I'm glad they finally wised up and are using Black★Rock Shooter as the OP, and for all my grumbling about the CG, I thought it was well done, and the fight between Rock and Wheels was absolutely brutal.

    I wish this looked better, I wish it were designed better, I wish it weren't on noitaminA, I wish it was more than 8 episodes but…its not bad.

  2. S

    I never understood why people hate CG in anime so much. They don't look that bad, especially not in BRS. It's like many people don't realize that anime studios work on a budget and that the animating process requires a lot of effort. Who the hell doesn't take shortcuts, so long as it doesn't affect the overall quality too much.

    And about BRS, I enjoyed it, other than hearing HanaKana again, the fights were interesting as well, though I did prefer the OVA's designs, but who cares really, not as if complaining will bring back the old ones.

    And I also don't get all the talk about the downfall of noitaminA and the like. It's just a programming block showcasing two animes. Just because BRS got decided to be on noitaminA doesn't mean it stopped another arthouse show from being on that block. Mawaru Penguindrum felt to me like noitaminA material, yet it didn't need to be to have been so critically acclaimed. I just feel that people shouldn't see noitaminA as some kind of gateway for amazing anime or something.

  3. I just feel that people shouldn't see noitaminA as some kind of gateway for amazing anime or something.

    Why not? It used to be.

    The thing is, you're describing exactly why NoitaminA was created in the first place. The idea was to showcase anime that would otherwise not be produced, and to appeal to viewers who might otherwise not watch anime. BRS may turn out to be an excellent series, but it's highly commercial – studios and TV networks need no persuasion to produce a series like that.

    Yes, there are non-commercial series that get aired in non-NoitaminA slots (though I don't think MPD is a good example, as it's quite commercial). And I do think that the most important function for NoitaminA is to show two good series if possible, no matter what they are. But I don't think the original charter should be totally forgotten, because it's the reason shows like Hourou Musuko and Saraiya Goyou were made. And to his credit, it looks as if Yamamoto Koji is airing two shows that fit in with that charter in the Spring.

  4. S

    Nah I actually said that because it irks me whenever people keep saying that noitaminA is becoming mainstream and crap because they've been programming shows that have been less than stellar.

    I don't mean to say that noitaminA shouldn't be what it's meant to be, I'm just saying that people should not expect everything that gets programmed there to be amazing, and in such, their expectations are shattered and they start hating on the anime. They're allowed to experiment as well, and I guess 2011 was the year when noitaminA decided to try something different, and who knows, maybe the heads realized that, and as such, we have Spring 2012.

    I personally don't give a shit if an anime is aired in noitaminA or not. I just watch whatever interests me. I haven't watched quite a few past noitaminA shows like Sairya Goyou, Tatami Galaxy or Moyashimon based on the sole fact that I'm just not that interested, and thus don't feel compelled to watch them. However, for the upcoming Spring season, I am very much interested solely because I love jazz, and I love fishing (or at least I THINK that's what it's about… what is it about? lol). I couldn't care less that they're aired during noitaminA.

  5. F

    I have this weird thing with noitaminA. I like that it exists, and that it does shows that no one else does…but I very rarely actually like them. Its a good season when I actually follow both noitaminA shows, and there have been only two or three over the last few years where I actually watched both (and one of those was Winter 2011, where I only finished Fractale to see if Yamakan really was going to blow it that spectacularly. Which he did. He chose a bad season to air that). I think its a waste for shows like Guilty Crown (which is about the least-noitaminA show ever) or even BRS (which is at least within shouting distance of what the block is about) to take up the space, which could be used better by something well…different.

    I like that the block does different things, even if those things are only occasionally of interest to me.

  6. F

    Argh.

    "Its a good season where I actually follow ONE of the noitaminA shows…"

  7. t

    Remember Enzo , BRS and Guilty Crown are paying for the spring NoitaminA lineup that are bound to bomb commercialy 😉

    Maybe my Imaishi fanboyism is getting in the way but I really enjoyed this,the OP just screams Imaishi,I've had it on repeat for a while.
    The plot also seems more twisted than the OVA and I'm looking forward to seeing where that's going.

    Though yes,I admit this isn't ufotable level CGI,loved what they did for the BRS game and when the TV show was anounced I hoped it'd be an anime made by ufotable based on the game…but oh well.

  8. I don't know how true that is, totoum – maybe so. But I really think the Watanabe show especially has a chance to do well commercially. If indeed we've reached the point where we need to alternate between a commercial NoitaminA block and a mission-appropriate one, so be it.

  9. S

    I'm not quite sure what I just watched. Something tells me there's more to the battles in the other world than just the emotional pain Mato feels. Okada Mari, please surprise me 🙂

  10. K

    I was surpeised. I actually liked it and now am downloading the OVA. Too bad its only 8 episodes but still is worth 24 minutes of my life each week.

  11. M

    I had an interesting conversation with lvlln and Foshiizzel a bit back – if all posts on blogs are written favourably… what about the variety? When I go to a blog like Random Curiosity, or Sekijitsu, or METANORN, every post seems the same to me. None of them are interesting. They all say favourable things about an anime, and when they do say unfavourable things about it, it's almost always unanimous; everybody in the team says that the anime sucks.

    I may be wrong, because I don't frequently visit those sites. Why? Because they're boring. Team blogs should be written as a team, with contrasting opinions and such, not as a collection of individuals. Well, perhaps they shouldn't, but it would be more interesting if they did.

    Even in your posts (which I, uh, don't frequently read; don't be offended, please!), they all seem to say the same thing. Even if your opinion is different on a show, your writing's always the same. It's, quite honestly, boring.

    You're a really traditional blogger. I know few bloggers like you; you and Divine are probably the most traditional guys I know (and I don't even know Divine). Your posts are always the same; screenshots, a summary, your thoughts, and more screenshots. Now that's not bad (if it were, RC wouldn't be the most-viewed aniblog in history), but it is quite boring.

    Why don't you step out of your shell for once? Blog a show you don't like! Even if a show is bad, that doesn't mean your posts have to be bad. I find the hardest shows to write good posts on are the shows that are awesome; not only because there's really nothing to say besides 'this show is awesome', but also because if there was something to say, everybody else already said it.

    So I blog shows like Majikoi, like Ben-To, like Horizon and Black Rock Shooter and No. 6. They're my most entertaining posts (this isn't saying much at all), and they're also the posts I have the most fun with. Maybe these types of posts just won't work for Lost in Anime as a site and with its reader base, but I'm sure it'll be fun to at least try.

    Here's a wise sentence, and you can quote me on this. A bad blogger writes boring posts about entertaining shows. A decent blogger writes entertaining posts about entertaining shows. A great blogger writes entertaining posts about boring shows. The best blogger writes entertaining posts about everything.

  12. Wow. Thanks for the opinion, although the only part that really rings true to me is "I don't frequently read" because that's self-evident from the rest of your comment.

    I blog plenty of shows I have mixed feelings about, as you'd know if you actually read my posts. I say plenty of negative things, and usually gets ripped a new one for it. So from my perspective I can't win – if I like a show too much, I'm a fanboy. If I criticize, I'm a heathen. So all I can really do is say what I think and damn the torpedoes.

    Let me also say thing – why would I waste time blogging a show I hated? What possible enjoyment could I get out of that? I'm not interested in dancing for the entertainment of pretentious readers who need to feel like they're better than everyone else.

  13. E

    @Mushyrulez

    Care to explain how you would even know that posts you don't frequently read are boring? I could understand if you felt like ranting after thoroughly reading LIA, but this comment holds no weight coming from someone who (self admittedly) hasn't even viewed the majority of the material they're bashing.

    Here's a wise sentence for you: Next time, inform yourself on all rant source material prior to pointless ranting.

    And FYI … your wise 'sentence' for Enzo was actually what we refer to as a 'paragraph'.

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