Who in 2008 would have thought that in the far off year of 2012 the then indies group Supercell and pixiv celebrity Huke would be the driving force behind a Noitamina show? Well, I’m sure some record executives and TV producers thought such things to be possible, but what I’m trying to say is this BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER anime–a show based off of one illustration and a song–has been a long time coming.

Now, I personally don’t care about B★RS‘s origins very much. I like Huke’s art as much as the next guy, but I’ve never been huge into Vocaloid. There’s some songs coming out now that more or less riff off Nakata Yasutaka enough for me to dig them, but I wasn’t really all that into the early stuff. Even now, that B★RS song doesn’t really do it for me. But hey, anime! I like anime! Let’s watch some anime! So, I’m watching the B★RS anime, now half-way through its eight episode run.

For starters, the show is animated quite well. But, it seems that to facilitate this high standard of animation, the detail in the character designs has taken a noticeable drop from that seen in the OVA designs. While I think Yomi and her crazed friend Kagari come out nicely drawn in this simplistic style, Mato–our main girl–just kind of comes off as a bit flat. Some mob characters suffer from this as well, but it’s probably just an issue of me personally not digging this style all the way. Nothing in the show particularly hurts my eyes, but it’s not quite what I dig, either.

As far as the 3D segments set in the titular B★RS world go, I thought every 3D bit in the first episode was good, and almost looked indistinguishable from 2D animation. However, parts of the opening and later episodes start to look like PS2 cut scenes (sup, Berserk). That said, the uncanny valley of these scenes lends them a Quest World-esque quality that does a good job of drawing a distinct line between reality and the world of B★RS. That doesn’t really excuse the more mundane scenes in B★RS-Quest World for being a little wonky at times, though. They should at least do the faces in 2D.

The action scenes are all very good, though, and are host to very dynamic choreography and camera work. That 3D’s good for something, after all. I’m sure this one of the shows were sakuga fans love the animation, but turn their nose up at everything else going on in the story.

And what a story it is! Basically, this TV show is an expansion on the themes presented in the OVA that dropped a few years ago, with those themes being: Isolation, teenage angst, and the hardships that come with friendship. These are all fine themes that we can all relate to, and I think the original OVA handled them decently. Two episodes in, and the B★RS anime wasn’t doing such a bad job, either. Sure, they introduced a silly wheelchair ridden girl who shoved macarons in people faces to spice things up, but it all worked despite–or because it was–slightly over-the-top. I mean, that’s just youth, right? It’s crazy! It’s not anime crazy in the real world, but it’s still crazy. I also have to give them props for resolving the conflict between Mato, Yomi and Kagari within two episodes. It made for a tight and punchy story arc.

However, episodes three and four seem to be taking the dive into anime train-wreck territory, which seems to be how people think “good” story-driven anime is written now-a-days. While Yomi’s feelings of isolation from seeing Mato and Yuu together seem a bit forced, the fact is she’s just a junior high schooler, and those sorts of feelings seem like they would be quite natural at that age. However, the school counselor character is just stupidly and unrealistically twisted. I suppose when I think about it, the manner in which they’ve twisted her character is not all that different from the type of character Kagari was in the first two episodes, but her sudden 180 to verbally abusing the students that come to see her seems a slight bit contrived. I know they’re trying to surprise us or something, but it just makes for good laughs more than anything else.

The gorilla in the room is, of course… what does any of this actually have to do with the titular BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Throughout this whole review I’ve done nothing but talk about story elements and characters not at all related to the illustration or song this damned cartoon is based off of. And that’s why fans on both sides of the Pacific seem kind of upset: If one were to remove the B★RS segments from BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER, the show would more or less lose nothing, at least at this stage in the game. To be fair, this TV anime makes a better attempt to connect the two worlds together than the OVA did, but the connection is still tenuous at best.

This begs the question: Why would you make a BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER anime where the main focus is not BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER? The choice to connect a real world and a world of B★RS seemed superfluous enough in the OVA, so I don’t see why in the TV series they continue to try and push this connection that really doesn’t have to be there. If you’re going to make a B★RS anime, it should be a straight action piece set in its crazy post apocalyptic world. I understand it’s hard to write a character and story around an illustration that was just made to look cool, but trying to force a connection with a set of characters and a world completely separate from the style of the original illustration and song seems like too much of an easy way out.

The main reason I’m watching this show at this point is because the level of Japanese is more or less at my level, so it’s an easy to watch raw. Other than deriving pleasure from actually understanding this crazy language to some degree, after four episodes this BLACK★ROCK SHOOTER anime has some issues. Hopefully it’ll all come together in the end, though.

But I can’t say I’m sure that it will.


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