Black Rock Shooter originated as an animated music video by Supercell. The OVA adaptation features the eponymous character and tells two stories. The first takes place in the normal world, where Mato starts her first day of junior high. There she becomes fast friends with Yomi, although this friendship becomes strained as time goes on. One day, feeling alienated, Yomi mysteriously disappears. The second story takes place in a dark fantasy world, where a young girl does battle against an unnamed nemesis.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen marketing misrepresent an anime to such a degree as with Black Rock Shooter. If you believed the ads, you’d think it was an action/fantasy story. In reality, that part mostly serves to bracket scenes that take place in the normal world (which make up the majority of the OVA). The conflict in the fantasy world eventually plays a part, but up until the end, they serve as random inserts that break up the pace of the main story.
The main story is about friendship and alienation, following the lives of Mato and Yomi through an entire school year. You see them develop a strong friendship, but more importantly you feel it too. This is set up so that when Mato forms an equally strong friendship with her basketball club manager Yuu, Yomi begins to feel that she is drifting apart from Mato. I find it strange that their friendship only has room for two people – this isn’t marriage after all – but at least they did a good job of showing Yomi’s alienation.
With just under an hour run time, I didn’t expect a fully fleshed out story. Indeed, there are many details left unsaid (particularly when it comes to Black Rock Shooter’s scenes). Black Rock Shooter’s journey to find Dead Master should have been a little more eventful. Watching those scenes is a bit like listening to an inside joke. I’m sure it makes a lot more sense to the creator than it does to the audience.
Eventually, the two stories twist together. Without understanding a little more about the relationship between the normal and fantasy worlds, this development feels somewhat contrived. However, they do build up to a rather effective double-climax which does surprisingly well to deliver on the emotional and thematic setup from the rest of the OVA.
I’d say the school drama style has been played out. It’s the perennial dead horse that anime just can’t stop beating. But Black Rock Shooter makes the most of it by having its characters be real. The friendship between Mato and Yomi is something you feel as it’s nourished and developed through the OVA. Focusing more on this than the random surreal action scenes was a smart decision by the director. It puts something at stake, and brings a sense of consequence to what happens.
It’s also refreshing to see girls who are more or less normal in an anime. Mato doesn’t really fall into any of the established archetypes. She’s just… a girl. The story benefits from this because it takes some of the artifice out of what you’re watching. So when Yomi is unintentionally hurt by Mato’s actions, you can put yourself in her shoes. When Yomi disappears, you feel despair and helplessness. Black Rock Shooter accomplishes a lot with its limited cast and scope by taking one idea and exploring it fully.
The OVA was produced by Ordet, and looks like the first project they’ve produced independently. It has a distinct art style that looks hand-drawn to an extent that surpasses actual hand-drawn anime from twenty or so years ago. Though the visual design is impressive, especially for the Black Rock Shooter scenes, the animation is less so. The framerate is choppy. I don’t usually mind this but it seems worse than usual for this OVA.
Surprisingly Black Rock Shooter doesn’t feature Supercell’s original song of the same name, although some of the score is derived from it. Mostly the music is nothing special, but I did like the musical cue at around the 45-minute mark. Call me a sappy guy but it gets me every time.