When Best Friends Fight and Look Hot While Doing So: Black Rock Shooter Finally Arrives

I’ve come across many headlines about Black Rock Shooter seemingly for such a long time now, but I never read anything for myself. I watched the OVA just moments before writing this and I thought I needed someone who can share the context of why BRS is so highly anticipated. So I asked one of its flaming fanboys, 21stcenturydigitalboy to let us all know.

All original (non-screen captured) images in this post are by Huke.

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Thank’s GL, also for letting me guest here on THAT.

To understand the popularity of Black Rock Shooter, one must first understand the popularity of Hatsune Miku. Miku is a ‘Vocaloid’, the personification of a software that allows the user to create songs by programming a voice to sing. There’re a number of Vocaloid characters, each of which has it’s own distinct voice, but Hatsune Miku was the first one to strike major popularity, and even as more Vocaloids have been released, she’s remained the most popular.

To contextualize that popularity, it’s comparable to the likes of Touhou, or to any given Kyoto Animation show. In fact, one such show, Lucky Star, featured a famous scene in it’s OVA wherein Kagami cosplays as Miku for a couple minutes – the popularity of that cosplay was enough to get it’s own Figma (which I own~). Miku and the other Vocaloids have also been a massive hit in America, to the point that even non-anime-fans are aware of them.

Like a Touhou character, Miku doesn’t have any set personality or story, so the only definite aspects of her character are the design and voice. However, it’s the strength of those two factors that’ve made her so immensely successful, and her malleability is exactly what’s inspired thousands of artists, writers, and programmers to make, well, anything you could possibly imagine the fanbase making out of her. (I’ve written two Hatsune Miku fanfictions myself, one of which is a sci-fi adventure, and the other an action story – which goes to show you the diversity of her usage).

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The original illustration

This brings us to the unique creation of Black Rock Shooter. As explained on the Black Rock Shooter wiki, the character, along with the other characters from the series, were originally created by artist ‘huke’ with no relation to Hatsune Miku or Vocaloid. The connection was made because of ‘ryo’, a songwriter who’d been using Miku’s voice out of necessity because he couldn’t find a vocalist, and ended up becoming easily the most popular musical artist to use Miku as well as the most popular artist on Nico Nico Douga. ryo formed the group ‘Supercell’ out of himself and the team of illustrators who worked with him to create graphics and videos for his works. huke became a member of that group, and when ryo saw huke’s Black Rock Shooter illustrations on Pixiv, he was inspired to write the song Black Rock Shooter, and the character’s design was actually altered to more closely resemble Hatsune Miku for the sake of the video. The rampant success of the song and design lead to Black Rock Shooter becoming the most popular alternative Miku design.

Because Black Rock Shooter isn’t Hatsune Miku, huke still has full rights to the character. The Vocaloid company is apparently known for being fairly protective of Miku, and may have either not wanted an anime to be made for her or was simply asking too much for it (and anyway, there’s no way it could’ve been any good.) So instead, with huke and ryo’s permission, studio Ordet (formed a couple years ago when Yamakan, the man who could be called the reason for Haruhi’s and Lucky Star’s success, left Kyoto Animation to form his own studio) decided to produce a Black Rock Shooter anime.

arm_cannon belt bikini bikini_top black_hair black_rock_shooter black_rock_shooter_(character) blue_eyes boots cape chains checkered glowing_eyes highres huke knee_boots long_hair pale_skin scar short_shorts shorts solo swimsuit twintails vocaloid zipper

Knowing not only how popular Hatsune Miku is, but how popular ryo’s song and huke’s design are, as well as knowing that Yamakan’s studio is behind the production, you can guess how large the positive response to this project was among the fanbase. Not long after the adaption was announced, a number of extremely high-quality Black Rock Shooter figures also started going on the market, and were among the top figure pre-orders for as long as those were open. (I happen to own the first one that got released, which is also the most expensive single item in my collection~). The trailer for the anime was aired on a big screen in the middle of a live Hatsune Miku concert (that was, in fact, a concert, in a concert hall, wherein a 3D hologram of Hatsune Miku performed her music. Sort of like Gorillaz, but moe) which instantly went viral from the shitty rips of many camera-wielding otaku. Not long afterward, the official trailer was released to the world, and then the long wait for the OVA began.

You can surely imagine the amount of anticipation being poured into this as Black Rock Shooter fanboys like myself clutched their hundred-dollar figures tightly and prayed that it would turn out as good as they hoped. Which is why it was imperative that studio Ordet deliver – so the OVA got a massive animation budget and some of the industry’s biggest seiyuu behind it (including Kana Hanazawa, Miyuki Sawashiro, and Kana Asumi, the first of which is easily the most popular seiyuu among otaku this year, and the other two of which are among my personal favorites).

belt black_hair black_rock_shooter black_rock_shooter_(character) blue_eyes chains cloak fire flame glowing_eyes gun highres hotpants huke scar solo stitches twintails weapon zipper

In some ways, what you get from the Black Rock Shooter OVA is fanservice born from fear. The OVA’s story alternates between the tale of two girls in the real world and their counterparts in a dream-world. All of the plot happens in the real world, whereas there isn’t even any dialog in the crazy world. This is exactly what I, and surely most others, expected, as it was direly important for the anime not to impose any kind of personality on Black Rock Shooter beyond what’s represented in her art and song, lest it risk alienating or enraging fans who wouldn’t be satisfied with the given personality. Hence, the real-world characters were created to protect the sanctity of the Black Rock Shooter character, so to speak. This could come across as weak to some viewers, but as a BRS fanboy, it’s exactly what I wanted, as I, too, wouldn’t have been satisfied with my vision of the character being wronged.

Anyway, I greatly enjoyed the OVA, but I don’t have much to say about it. I look forward to the further installments that will definitely happen with there being so many characters left to introduce. GL can take it from here.

Thanks digiboy, I’m giving you a hug like how Mato gave Yomi.

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The OVA itself plays like a Hollywood superhero film in only in that it works like half of an origin story. While we learn all about Mato and Yomi and their friendship: how it started, grew, and developed tension. But we know very little about Black Rock Shooter herself.

It seems that she functions like an avatar for Mato in that dark stylized world, but she appeared to Mato to invite her in it. Mato ‘became’ Black Rock Shooter. It would be something like the black alien symbiote suit that Spiderman used for a while, if the suit wasn’t a parasite, and actually revealed itself to Spider Man first.

This is an action show, and the action — the battle — is shown in the beginning, and in-between segments of Mato and Yomi’s story. As for the content of action and battle, it would not be a big stretch to say that there is as much fighting and battle in this show as there is musical performances in K-ON! This isn’t a knock on either show, I merely intend to highlight that the shows are more concerned at telling the story of the girls than showing the performances.

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Since this is a show where best friends fight, I can’t help but compare it with another OVA with the same conflict: Macross Plus. Black Rock Shooter is the Macross Plus for lolimoe fans. I can’t say I’m really impressed by the action (the special effects, like the gun shots annoyed me), but I appreciate it.

I think this show will make the fanboys rejoice, but I don’t think it’ll automatically alienate non-fans. Mato and Yomi’s story while rather light to justify the deadly combat to come, was engaging enough to watch. I don’t think anything felt like a cheap play for laughs or even moe reactions.

So yes, Black Rock Shooter works as half of an origin story for its ‘superhero’ character, though if digiboy is right, there was never meant to be a story for the shooter herself and it should be that way.

Have you been waiting for Black Rock Shooter?

Did it live up to what you expected?

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32 Comments

  1. Posted July 25, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    I watched it but wasn’t impressed. The art was good but the way the story was told could have been better. more action less back story perhaps?

    • Posted July 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Is it as simple as increasing the time spent depicting the battle while shortening the scenes spent say, walking to school? Would that have sufficed for you?

  2. Zentari
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    You know, I realize that anime is the main medium that this blog is about but how come no one has even mentioned anything about the recent manga publisher’s movement and how it’s gonna affect the scene ?

    • Posted July 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm I use Onemanga a lot, but I’m afraid I don’t feel confident to address issues concerning the industry at all, especially since I’m not from the U. S. (nor from Japan for that matter). It does suck not to be able to read new scanlations with such convenience (my wife depends on it for all her non-physical manga reading), it’ll just mean I’ll have to find other ways to reach the scanlation groups.

  3. Posted July 25, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Ordet seriously need to make another OVA to clear things up. (Back to making wild guesses at a corner). Haven’t been expecting this, but just picked this out of boredom.

    Just watched it a few hours ago, somehow is not very good but not the worst out there. Stuck in the middle, and man, we need moar male characters (if possible to fit in BRS).

    • Posted July 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Not being the fanboy digiboy is, I sympathize much with your opinion. I think BRS is mostly successful at what it tried to do,a nd is interesting because of its origins. But I don’t think it’s so amazing either.

  4. gwern
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    So, BRS is a character developed to replace the content-less visual design of a computer-generated voice, with the computer-generated voice removed and replaced with a seiyuu?

    Wow. It’s like the old Ship of Theseus paradox. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus)

    Otakudom may be thriving in the late ’00s and on, but let no one say it isn’t very peculiar.

    • Posted July 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Ah yes I remember Trillian Astra and the Douglas Adams in Japan anecdote. I think BRS is interesting for its context, which is why I brought in digiboy to talk about it. There’s nothing like a fanboy for this purpose.

      Fanboy-driven creation? The idea is as old as Kawamori mashing up Gundam with Yamato to make Macross, but for an anime to germinate from alternative fanart is kind of really cool, like this guy says.

  5. Posted July 25, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Very thorough explanation. I’m still not quite sure I…get it… but it only makes me want to see this OVA more!

    The show sounds ridiculous. Every bit as crazy as something like FLCL.

    • Posted July 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Hehe I don’t think it’s as crazy as FLCL but the premise is pretty hard to establish indeed. I think the show is rather interesting, if only for its context at least.

  6. Posted July 25, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I sucked it up and watched it. I was completely unimpressed, and totally turned off because it just seemed like a giant ball of “wtf is going on”? to me. I saw the preview trailer at AX, and I thought it looked pretty cool, though the animation was a bit weak in my eyes. Then when I saw the OVA, the slice of life thing was totally new to me. Was not impressed by it either. I kept on trying to relate to the characters, but I couldn’t. I could barely understand them. Not only that, but the action scenes didn’t really relate to what was going on the real world.

    Well anyway, I think it’s fairly obvious what my position on the OVA is by now. I think it’s pure fluff to be honest.

    • Posted July 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Well, I don’t have anything against pure fluff. As a piece of arguably disposable entertainment I don’t think BRS is particularly excellent, but I do think it’s interesting due to its context and I’m interested in what other possibilities for anime there will become thanks to it.

  7. Onion
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, it would be a lot better with just the real world bits.

  8. Windaerie
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Watching the action scenes in the dream world was very cool, but the real world slice of life sequences were a little dull. I like digitalboy’s explanation as to why there isn’t any dialogue in the dream world, and I guess I’m disappointed with that (only because I thought the premise of the show was going to be focused mainly on that).

    Maybe the next release (hopefully) will make the storyline connect better. More good soundtrack music or theme music might also be nice.

    Thanks for the post, ghostlightning.

    • Posted July 25, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for engaging the post Windaerie. If anything can be observed from the reactions to BRS over on twitter, it doesn’t have much appeal outside its fanbase, when I thought it would at least be interesting.

  9. ToastCrust
    Posted July 26, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    What really mystifies me was why they didn’t include a cover version (by one of the seiyuu?) of the Black Rock Shooter song.

    Did ryo lose the rights to that one or something? I had almost taken it for granted that it would make an appearance.

    • Posted July 26, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      Well, there was at least a piano version of the song that played in various scenes. I don’t imagine that ryo could have lost the rights to his own music, even if he couldn’t have used Miku’s voice. There’s the possibility that they just didn’t want to, or that it wouldn’t have sounded right (I can’t imagine Kana Hanazawa trying to sing Black Rock Shooter, her voice is in no way right for it. Same goes for Miyuki Sawashiro). In the end, I think it’s really probably for the better that they didn’t try.

  10. Posted July 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t really see it as an action show or superhero show at all. It played more like a delicate drama that detailed the relationship between two girls for me. The fighting is a backdrop to visualize the internal conflicts. And as a drama, I think it told the story beautifully. Plus, the art and the animation is just pristine.

    • Posted July 26, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      While I’ve seen better animation and character design, I do think it’s successful in telling a simple story. The BRS alternate world could be read as you say a visualization of the internal conflicts, but this is not so, given digiboy’s research on how the BRS character came to be.

      It would be more like an avatar that Mato becomes part of, but wholly distinct from her. Yomi’s avatar would seem more like a possessing entity, from which Mato must rescue her.

      • Posted July 29, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. While it’s true BRS was inspired from Hatsune Miku as an independent character, I don’t see how that plays into affecting our interpretation of the anime. Also, it seems to me that the anime quickly separated itself from its Hatsune Miku origins. It lacks any music that inspired the designs. Further, I also disagree that the anime tried to not impose a personality on the BRS. She does show vary her expression at times. And her interactions with Dead Master all added bits to her character beyond the images Huke created. Essentially, she has been typecasted as a cool but kind girl. So I guess I don’t really agree when Digiboy claims that BRS is an independent superhero type character because the production wanted to keep the sanctity of the original design.

        • Posted July 31, 2010 at 12:21 am | Permalink

          I agree with everything you say here, but I still think protecting said sanctity factored into this. I totally do think that BRS is a representative of Mato and stuff, but what I mean is more of, look how far it goes. BRS never speaks a single line of dialog. What personality we get from her expressions is very real, but impossible to dislike as well. What if she’d said one line of dialog that the viewer thought wasn’t good enough for her? The illusions shatters.

          This isn’t a bad thing. It just means that BRS as an idea in and of itself is one that cannot be marred even by it’s own creators – it is an entity immune to degradation by it’s very nature.

  11. MK-chan
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    In fact, this anime was supposed to be 7 OVAS of it from June 25th to august 31th.. but then the anime was delayed for a month, so we hould expect more explanation and characters in a week or so.. So this is not the end of all, guys. For the first epsode, I think it was ok xD

    … “Watashi wa… BURAKKU ROKU SHUTA.” –> that was EPIC. xD

    • Posted July 29, 2010 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      While I wasn’t blown away, I’m quite interested. I’ll be looking forward to the next episodes :3

  12. Emperor
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    ‘ve been waiting for this one for a long time, but what makes its special is that it gave birth to idea ending in creating fanart Insane BRS.Really like that much more XD

    • Posted July 29, 2010 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      Who WOULDN’T want to be given the opportunity Huke got? This is why this show is special. A fanboy gets his shot at making anime. It’s this kind of story that makes BRS important in my eyes.

      • Emperor
        Posted July 29, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        100% truth XD

  13. Posted August 4, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t help getting a Nanoha sort of vibe from the first episode of the OVA… I suspect under the neo-baroque visual style there is some borrowing of some magical girl tropes in the whole thing. Maybe I’ll write a post…

    • Posted August 4, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I can see it. The relationship could be called quite similar to that of Nanoha and Fate.

  14. Bwaffles
    Posted August 5, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I’ve been looking forward to this for months, and I can honestly say it is not what I expected at all. However… I loved it. I was really drawn in to Mato and Yumi’s story. It was so good that the only bad part was the ending because I felt like they only gave us a little teaser. For sure I’d watch a full season or some more OVAs.

    • Posted August 5, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      I do think it’s an interesting step for anime take. I’m not as enthralled, but I will watch the next show in whatever form it takes.

  15. Rincewind
    Posted August 14, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    I just finished watching the OVA. I liked it a lot. The Mato-Yomi story is really nice. In fact I enjoyed the story more than the fights.

    • Posted August 15, 2010 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      Frankly, so did I but that’s not saying much really. I am interested in more of this though.

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