Strength cannot free Mato from Black Rock Shooter, so she attempts to sacrifice herself so Yuu won’t be the one to kill Mato. However, Mato breaks out of Black Rock Shooter’s hold and enters the world to face her one-on-one. BRS beats her bloody, until she realizes that she can’t be hurt without hurting others, and vice versa. Mato cries out and starts to fight back, distributing her pain out to Yomi, Yuu, Kagari and Kohata, who shed tears in the real world. Their counterparts lend Mato “strength in colors”, which she uses to blast BRS away. Strength dies, and Koutari Yuu returns to the real world, where she, Yomi, Kagari and Mato become friends.
The BRS finale featured almost as many tears as bullets, didn’t skimp on lofty deliberations or shaky distraught voices, and all in all did a satisfactory job wrapping up an abbreviated series that didn’t have a whole lot of source material to work with, a fact that became clearer as the story progressed. Even the kickass battle scenes, slick as they are, had become a little repetitive in this, the eighth episode. We’re a little relieved we don’t have to watch four to five more episodes of the same battles interspersed with the same philosophizing about pain and colors.
Don’t get us wrong; we enjoyed watching it thoroughly. At its best it served up really well-animated and imaginative action while also dealing with teen girl angst issues in a very over-the-top abstract fashion. It sticks to simple lessons – life is beautiful, don’t hold all your pain in, don’t be afraid to open up to people. But like Guilty Crown, which we’ve also just finished, Black Rock Shooter didn’t fully live up to its potential.
Mato is still trapped inside Black Rock Shooter, and Saya’s attempt to use Black Gold Saw to reach her fails. Yuu decides she’ll give it a try, communicating with Black Rock Shooter via her counterpart, Strength. But in the middle of their battle, Strength talks. As it turns out, Koutari Yuu switched places with Strength just before Strength was killed, so that Yuu could escape reality. Mato also realizes she has been running away by never opening up to people. When it’s announced Mato is missing, Yomi stops forgetting her, and Dead Master starts to awaken…
With just one episode left to wrap things up, this week set out to explain a little more about what the heck’s going on with this alternate world where girls kick each others asses literally. It turns out the world was created by those girls, as a physical means for their pain to be expressed. Their counterparts are supposed to lack emotions, and fight each other purely by instinct, fueled by the suffering of the girls in reality (we had no idea Japanese schoolgirls had it so tough). We kinda figured this was what was going down, but the reiteration was comforting.
We were treated to more deliciously over-the-top battle sequences in which Black Rock Shooter and Yuu bounce off each other and deliver sick bullet rain and some creative chiropractic. When Yuu, who it turns out is the bad-ass version (Strength is in the real world, which explains a few things) suddenly opens her mouth and speaks, it’s pretty surprising, as no one in the otherworld had yet spoken. In any case, Mato is in a bad way; still unable to escape Black Rock Shooter. It looks like it will be all up to Yomi to bust her out of there.
Black Rock Shooter duels with Black Gold Saw as Strength drags Dead Master away. Yomi wakes up feeling much better, but when Mato doesn’t regain consciousness, Yuu panics and visits Saya for help. Saya tries to reach Mato through Black Gold Saw, but Black Rock Shooter only attacks her. Saya tells Yuu the story of a girl she was friends with (who looks just like Yuu) who first told her about the “other her” who took the brunt of the pain from her life. Strength saves Black Gold Saw and pummels Black Rock Shooter.
The two worlds cross over more than ever this week, with normal selves inhabiting their warriorlike counterparts to achieve various goals. Mato wants to save Yomi from despair, and it would seem she was successful, but she got lost in Black Rock Shooter as a result. Yuu, who put her up to this and used her power to send her to the other world, naturally feels guilty. As for Saya, her antagonistic, even sadist attitude from previous episodes fade away as she recounts her story of an outcast girl who had a really awful life, but whom she promised to protect at any cost.
Which brings us to this girl she knew in high school, whose name is Yuu. Like Mato’s friend Yuu. They look and sound alike. We can only surmise they’re the same Yuu. Is Mato fuzzy about her memories with Yuu because Yuu is something more or less than a regular girl? She appears to be the same age as the Yuu Saya befriended, so it’s likely she’s just different. Yomi seems more cheerful, which pisses off Kagari, and she even deletes all her messages to/from Mato. Perhaps Mato took Yuu’s place as a forgotten friend who took her pain away? We have to be honest: it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and we kind of feel silly for obsess about it too much.
Mato and Yuu realize Yomi is acting more and more unusually, culminating in her uncontrollably cutting her hair in class; her mother takes her home. Yuu confronts Saki, blaming her for Yomi’s state; Saya tells her hearts have to be wounded so they can heal and become stronger. Later Saya tells Mato if she wants to save Yuu, she nees to die for her, and puts her hands around her neck. When Mato can’t find anyone who remembers Yuu, she runs out to the river, where Yuu is there, and uses some kind of power that connects Mato with Black Rock Shooter, who has already stabbed Yomi’s counterpart.
This episode tried to provide a lot of answers, but it just left us with more questions. Even if Mato didn’t believe it until the end, we were pretty good on the whole existence of a parallel world where badass avatars duke it out and shoulder all the grief and suffering of the angsty girls on the other side. Thanks to Yuu, we also know that Kagari and Kohata’s avatars were destroyed, freeing them from all that suffering. The result was like a reset button: they’re almost different people, with holes in their memories.
There are still a few things we have yet to work out: like what the real deal is with Yuu, for instance. Is she some kind of part-imaginary friend who freaked out Yomi? The clues point somewhere around there: identical bracelets, Mato’s her only friend…their builds…and Yuu serves as a medium between Mato and BRS, actually putting one in the other’s skin. Clearly she’s no ordinary girl. As for Saya, she shows her true colors like it’s nothing. Was she just bored pretending to be nice? What’s her plan?
P.S.: 1000th Post! WOOT! Also, the opening theme is growing on us. Call us ig’nant bitches if you must, but we just recently learned the vocals are by Hatsune Miku. No wonder they sound so artificial and precise!
Kagari returns to school and instantly finds a clique of friends, further frustrating Yomi, who is now feeling ignored and unused by everyone – Mato because of Yuu, and Kagari because of all her new friends. In the dream world, Yomi becomes enveloped in a mass of metal chains. Kohata’s admiree stops by practice to apologize for the love letter incident and to reciprocate his feelings, but she has no memory of him. Yomi holes up in her house, and when she finally recieves her, Kagari tells her exactly everything she doesn’t need, and in the dream world Yomi’s chain nest explodes, revealing an immense boss for Black Rock Shooter.
Well, Kagari seems to be adjusting nicely to normal high school life, and all but discards Yomi by the episode’s end. This is troubling to Yomi, because as it turns out she was just as dependent on Kagari as she was on her; moreso, in fact. Kagari is not one to mince worlds and in fact seems to go out of the way to state things as nastily as she possibly can – and already teetering on the edge, Yomi seems to crack. It’s her turn to be saved, and it’s up to Black Rock Shooter to defeat her very nasty evolved form.
As for the whole deal with Saya, well, the woman is clearly a bit of a sadist, happily contributing to Yomi’s instability by saying the magic words: “Nobody really needs you.” She also really likes her coffee. It’s our experience that whenever an anime series with fantasy elements has a character who believes she is useles and the world wouldn’t even bat an eye if they never existed, that character goes on some kind of rampage, followed by a catharsis. It will be fun to watch Mato snap her out of it, if she can. As for Kotoha, we’re not sure what’s up with that yet.
Mato and Yomi resume their friendship with Kagari on the mend, but Yomi seems disconcerted by the fact Mato has a best friend in Yuu. The basketball captain Kohata puts Mato on the team as a semi-regular, and the team goes on a training trip. Kohata is also courting a boy named Taku, but his friends post her love letter to him on the bulletin board and tease her. Rather than cry or lash out, she laughs it off, but Saya makes it worse. In the dream world, a red-eyed older girl is raising a host of worn-down dolls that resemble Kohata. Black Rock Shooter attacks them and stabs another. In the regular world, Mato finds Kohata collapsed in the infirmary.
We’re going to go out on an admittedly short limb and say Saya is that red-eyed girl with the antlers in the dream world. But she also turns evil and deranged in the real world, calling into question all her past kindness and counsel. It could be she’s manipulating Mato, Yomi, and now Kohata, whose gentle soul she systematically crushes. Not that it’s a good idea for Kohata to hold everything in in the first place. Those guys were total dicks to her and, we’d have kicked them in the balls. Taku, who let them do it, doesn’t deserve her affection.
We’re now in a very dark place with Mato’s counterpart going after dream Kohata. We wonder why: Mato has no beef with her in the real world. Is Black Rock Shooter going rogue, or are her actions the unintended but somehow logical effect of Mato’s real-world actions, as set up by Saya? We’ll have to wait and see, of course. This week didn’t spend as much time in the dream world as last week, but it did feature a plethora of powerful emotions – including dread and depression – and expand the scope and mystique of the series’ universe and its mechanisms. Plus, Saya is evil and cold.
Car Cameos: Mato and her team travel up the mountain
in a Toyota Coaster-like bus. A blue Fiat Nuovo 500
makes a brief appearance in an establishing shot.
Mato goes to a festival hoping to meet up with Yomi, but she’s stood up, with only an “I’m sorry” text in reply. Mato is crushed, and Black Rock Shooter is brutally punished in the dream world. Kagari wouldn’t let Yomi leave, and when Mato shows up at her door, Kagari throws herself down the steps in protest. Mato meets Yomi’s mother, who tells her Kagari’s paralyzation is all in her head, but Yomi has to take care of her. Mato won’t accept that, and confronts Yomi and Kagari in the hospital room. After much heated discussion paralleled by equally heated combat in the dream world, Yomi finally calms Kagari and persuades her to give up the act and go outside. In the dream world, Yomi is freed from Kagari’s chains.
Well now, we’ve got ourselves quite the dual headcases in Yomi and Kagari. For years Kagari has been pretending she can’t move her legs so she can be isolated at home with no one but Yomi. Perhaps more disturbing, Yomi has gone alone with it, enabling her the whole time. In refusing to give up friendship with Yomi, we can credit Mato with freeing not one but two troubled souls who had become far too entangled with one another. Now Yomi will surely get reacquainted with an old friend called free will while Kagari will re-learn how to walk, go to school, and function in society again. Hint: It’s not all about you, kiddo.
The animation stepped up its game – in both worlds. The regular world features some intense close-ups and demented expressions – particularly from the Kagari during her vicious, ultimately cathartic tantrum. The dream world meanwhile was a feast (and not just of macaroons): we were worried that the spare, washed-out palette may grow stale with too much exposure, so what does this episode do? Administer a big dose of Color with a Capital C. Black Rock Shooter has some really sweet-ass weapons, and there’s nary a still frame in sight, as everything – the people, the scenery, and the cameras – are all in constant motion. We could watch this stuff all day.
The expressive but sometimes clingy Kuroi Mato has just entered a new year of high school and meets the beautiful, artistic Takanashi Yomi. She is polite, but Yomi’s ‘relative’ Kagari doesn’t want her befriending Mato. Distressed that Yomi may hate her, Mato talks with the school counselor, Saya, who tells her no matter how much her heart may hurt, the pain will be taken away by someone else. In Mato’s case, it’s the Black Rock Shooter, a punk’d out version of herself in a dreamworld, getting brutally punished by enormous monsters piloted by dream versions of both Yomi and Kagari. In the ordinary world, Mato reaches out to Yomi once more, resolved to be her friend…whatever the cost.
(Cracks knuckles)…Well now, with out winter staff retreat behind us, we thought we’d resume our reviews with the first of only eight episodes of the newest series on the scene. Not only were we impressed with the level of quality in the production values and the stark contrast achieved in depicting two very different universes, but we also like how at the heart of this exquisitely sweet-looking series resides a very simple story about friendship – in this case, the uneasy genesis of one – and the risk taken and costs incurred in opening one’s hand and heart to another.
The world in which the badass looking Black Rock Shooter resides, and the battles she fights, can be seen as literal manifestations of the emotional states of the ordinary Mato. Kagari freaks Mato out and rubs her in every wrong way imaginable; and in the otherworld, it is Kagari laying waste to Black Rock Shooter. Still, we expect the kid will score some victories down the road. It may have taken a month longer to arrive, but so far it’s been worth the wait. It doesn’t hurt that two of our favorite seiyus (Hanazawa and Sawashiro) voice the two lead girls.
Black★Rock Shooter is a 50-minute OVA produced by Ordet, a four year-old studio founded by a former director with Kyoto Animation (Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Air, K-on, etc.). It is an orderly and uncomplicated tale splicing scenes of two new junior high students (Mato and Yomi) becoming fast friends with scenes of badass versions of themselves dueling each other with huge complicated weapons in a stark, stylish, surrealistic otherworld.
It quickly becomes apparent that the evil Yomi of the otherworld absorbs regular Yomi, who goes missing in the real world after drifting apart from Mato due to ending up in different classes and different clubs in the second year. The moral seems to be: keep your friends close or they could become your enemies.
Straightforward story aside, Black★Rock Shooter looks and sounds great. The real world is rendered in gorgeous detail and lush color, contrasting sharply with the Soul Eater-like atmosphere of the otherworld. The battle itself is also very well animated for the most part, though a bit jerky at times. Mato and Yomi are also voiced by two of my favorite seiyus; Kana Hanazawa and Miyuki Sawashiro, respectively. In all, this was a good watch; a competent Animation by a relatively new studio, and an entertaining 50 minutes. Rating: 3