I wasn’t sure what to expect from Black Rock Shooter‘s anime debut. If nothing else the franchise has become a great example of the power of the Internet, as original artwork and character designs by artist huke inspired a song by Supercell, which together have spawned an increasing variety of figures and merchandise and – at last – a 50-minute anime, released for free (with various subtitles!) in both physical and digital media. There’s no doubting that Black Rock Shooter is a phenomenon and this OVA has been surrounded by hype. but when I finished watching it, i found it pretty amazing, even if it did lack story in certain parts.
I’ll get straight to the short answer before going into a little more detail: there is certainly some substance to Black Rock Shooter and potential for a solid anime franchise to justify all of the merchandising, rather than the other way around. By the end of the OVA’s roughly 50-minute runtime there’s little doubt that there’s more to come, so time will tell if that potential is fulfilled. But enough about potential, let’s talk about the debut OVA. The story centres around Mato Kuroi who, on her first day of junior high school, finds a new friend in classmate Yomi Takanashi. The two girls become close friends, but when their class is split in the second year of junior high their friendship begins to suffer.
I know what you’re thinking: “Where does the girl with the huge cannon fit into this?” That tale of young friends is interspersed with scenes of a stylised alternate world mostly depicting Black Rock Shooter facing off against Dead Master, though the OVA opens with a battle against Black Gold Saw and Strength also makes non-combat appearances. These sequences benefit greatly from a bold, textured aesthetic heavily influenced by huke’s artwork and become gradually more integrated with the main story, though if you can’t make the connection right from the start you’re not looking very hard… or at all. Unfortunately, many of the transitions between the two worlds are jarring and some of the sequences from the alternate world – specifically, a bunch of scenes depicting nothing more than Black Rock Shooter walking – seem superfluous, with little to offer other than the great art design.
Those somewhat extraneous scenes become particularly problematic as the film progresses and it becomes increasingly obvious that the main story would benefit from a longer runtime. To put a more positive spin on things, it’s a problem because the real-world story of Mato and Yomi is actually pretty good. It’s not a particularly original story, but I found myself engaged with the girls’ friendship even when things occasionally moved a bit too quickly thanks to the alternate world scenes eating up the OVA’s already relatively short runtime. While most will be drawn to Black Rock Shooter by the fast-paced action – and they won’t be disappointed – I found myself enjoying the real-world side of the story much more, even though the fight scenes are truly spectacular.
At this point I’d like to go back to that question – “Where does the girl with the huge cannon fit into this?” – and give an alternative, more personal answer: “Not particularly well, for the most part.” I’ve already mentioned how obvious the parallels between the two worlds are, but they’re not directly linked in terms of actual plot until literally the very end of the film, at which point we’re left with no real resolution. As a lead-in to the inevitable follow-up it’s effective, but on its own – as it is now – it’s a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion (or lack thereof) to a fortunately enjoyable story.
In the end, then, it’s impossible to avoid discussing the franchise’s potential, because whether this is a complete stand-alone story or the start of something more actually makes a pretty big difference when it comes to evaluating the OVA. Given the already formidable popularity of Black Rock Shooter I think it’s safe to assume there’s more on the way, so let’s run with that. While the fight scenes in the alternate world may be mostly all flash and little substance, the seeming convergence between the two worlds in the closing moments of the Black Rock Shooter holds the promise of combining that flash – and it is nice to look at – with the much more engaging, character-driven drama that sustains the OVA. That’s the real potential of Black Rock Shooter and, although this first chapter only begins to achieve it, it’s still a pretty enjoyable introduction and I would recommend it. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for the story to continue.