Black Rock Shooter Blu-ray Box Review
Matou has always tried hard to be nice to other people.
So when she enters her first year of middle school and finds an interesting girl called Yomi in her class she tries to befriend her. But when Matou first visits Yomi’s house she discovers that Yomi has been taking care of a mentally unstable girl called Kagari. Kagari immediately starts bullying Matou in the hopes that she will leave Yomi alone. Matou must withstand the bullying and break the cycle of dependency between Yomi and Kagari if she wishes to free Yomi of her duties. But things don’t always turn out the way they were meant to and confronting Kagari causes Yomi to become unstable as well.
In her school life Matou is accompanied by her childhood friend Yu and sometimes consult with the school counselor Saya. But even this front is not safe for the fledgling young girl. Yu has a dark secret she has been keeping from Matou and the counselor seems to be actively encouraging the girls to give in to despair instead of fighting it.
Meanwhile, in a different world, a girl who looks just like Matou relentlessly fights off other girls in battles to the death. Her name is Black Rock Shooter and she is connected to Matou on a deep level. Matou begins to dream of her and view the fights. Unknowingly to her Black Rock Shooter mirrors an ugly side of herself, one she must conquer if she wishes to live a happier life.
The premise of following the lives of four young girls as they enter a new school or class is common enough in anime. However Black Rock Shooter gives that premise a dark twist. Matou, Kagari, Yomi and Yu are not happy girls who are satisfied with their school and social life. These girls are stuck in a phase where they are emotionally unbalanced and at times psychologically inapt to successfully communicate with the world around them. Matou’s decision to approach Yomi opens a can of worms that threatens to undermine Matou’s own worldview. The series doesn’t shy away from confrontations and you can expect to see the girls shouting, crying out in rage and insulting each other. Emotional turmoil and outrage are the series’ meat and bones. This show is bursting with raw emotions. The way in which hate or despair vividly show across the girls’ faces is both fascinating and frightening. The themes explored in the series are similarly dark, and can in fact be quite brutal. Black Rock Shooter was meant to be a rough emotional ride and if you are willing to accept it you will be rewarded greatly. One of the most interesting characters in Black Rock Shooter is the manipulative school counselor. The counselor guides the girls in surprising directions and appears to be quite evil. Her real intentions remain obscure until the very end but as the only influential grown up in the show with the ability to route the girls’ unstable emotions she is pivotal to the plot.
While Matou is having a hard time dealing with her life in the real world Matou’s alter ego Black Rock Shooter is continuously fending off girls in the emotional world. There is a meaningful correlation between what happens in the real world and the emotional world. These worlds affect each other to a great extent and finding out why and how they do so is the immediate attraction of the series. In a bold decision the production committee behind the series decided that the emotional world will be crafted entirely out of CG. They contacted Sanzigen – a company specializing in 3DCG modeling. Sanzigen used a complicated and very expensive process in which they created everything in CG and then used a technique called Toon Shading to make the 3D models appear more anime-like. They also lowered the CG frame rate to match that of limited animation (aka anime). Their efforts paid off – the emotional world doesn’t look like any animation you’ve ever seen before and it is breathtaking. The character models of all the alter-ego girls in that world look very cool, fights are detailed and the animation is super fluid. Each alter-ego girl has her own unique world – a manifestation of her inner emotions. These worlds are flashed out psychedelic combinations of patterns, colors and abstract structures. They are surreal, alienating, living and unstable worlds, befitting the emotional world of an adolescence girl. They also contain plenty of metaphors, from oozing green swamps to checkered black and white plains. Part of what happens in the emotional world has more metaphorical than physical value – a rarity for anime in this day and age and definitely a plus. The real world girls, which are depicted in classic anime style and are not polished using CG, don’t look too bad either. The series intentionally gives the girls a bland look but retains a good level of visual fidelity by giving proper attention to little details such as the gear-like eye pupils everyone has and the creases on the girls’ faces as they freak out. Likewise the music is above average while not being to obtrusive. The opening theme Black Rock Shooter and the ending theme Our Footprints (Bokura no Ashiato) do an excellent job at enhancing the overall atmosphere. Our Footprint looks very simple on the surface but is in fact a surprisingly strong and very sad song.
The Black Rock Shooter Blu-ray Box contains the series across 4 Blu-ray discs, the series’ OST (which does not include the vocal songs Black Rock Shooter and Our Footprints), a booklet and the Insane Black Rock Shooter Figma from Good Smile Company. The discs come with English and Chinese subtitles but as this is a Japanese release the subtitles are off by default. The English subtitles are good but can be a bit rough around the corners. There are too many uses of slang words and idioms. I also found a mistranslation in the ending theme and don’t agree with the choice to translate kotoritori as lil’ bird (the correct translation should be little birdy bird). But I’m being ungrateful here. The English subtitles are present and get the job done. In a Japanese release with English subtitles that’s the only thing that really matters. You have no audio options in this set. The audio is set to Linear PCM 2.0 and the lack of surround sound in such a modern series is disappointing. The forth Blu-ray disc contains the extras, and these are good extras indeed. There is a 21 minutes long segment showing how the CG animation was done (sadly it doesn’t have English subtitles), a segment showing how the fights looked before the Toon Shading (think of raw CG animation as seen in early video game development), several BRS trailers, textless versions of the opening theme and ending theme as well as all the episodes that started or ended with text on screen. The booklet is really nice. Not only does it show character sketches and has a small episode guide, it also hosts several interviews with the staff that worked on the series as well as an interview with Good Smile Company about the included Figma figure. The interviews also make mentions of the earlier Black Rock Shooter OVA and explain how the ideas for the series diverged from it. As this is a Japanese release the booklet is offered in Japanese only. The last part of this box is the Insane Black Rock Shooter Figma. This is probably the one extra that shouldn’t have been included. From an anime viewer perspective the figure just adds considerably to the cost of the package and also doubles the size of the Black Rock Shooter Box itself. I’m also positively sure that figure fans would have preferred if Good Smile Company sold the figure separately, because as it stands they are forced to buy an entire series just for one Figma figure. It’s a lose-lose situation. The positive side to this unholy matrimony? The BD box looks very impressive and has an interesting art design.
It’s hard not to shower Black Rock Shooter with praises. This is an extremely good looking series with an unconventional story and an unconventional art direction. At 8 episodes long it maintains a good pace and tells an engrossing and complete story. The continuous jumps between the real and emotional worlds insure that you won’t be bored by either one of them in the long run while the metaphors and symbolism provides plenty of replay value. Black Rock Shooter is a prime example of what an anime should be. It combines an intriguing story, a strong emotional experience and a unique art style to create one perfect masterpiece.
- Avant-garde art style.
- Strong emotional impact
- Can be enjoyed on multiple intellectual levels.
- The inclusion of the Insane Black Rock Shooter Figma.
Final Score: 10/10 (Masterpiece)
Product Information: Black Rock Shooter Blu-ray Box. Published by Toho. Release Date: June 22, 2012.
Review Equipment: an LG Electronics Japan HD LED passive 3D 27 inch PC monitor (D2770P-PN) connected to a PS3 using a ver. 1.4 HDMI cable.