Black Rock Shooter Review


Black Rock Shooter is one of those shows that I knew nothing about except the design of the main fighter. One of the oldest music themes in my favorites list is “Battle of BRS” which may be from this show but I was listening for it during the show and didn’t notice it so maybe it’s from the OVA or something else. Either way it’s cool to be entering into this adventure now and it’s definitely a great show. It’s a fun divide between the human world and the other place where fights rage on forever. It’s short but makes the most of the length.

The show starts off by introducing us to Mato who has had a very fun life up to now. She really enjoys reading a book about the bird who saw a million colors and has lives her life modeled after that. Mato enjoys everything and sees life as being something amazing. When she sees her classmate Yomi is really by herself and not having a good time, Mato tries being her friend. This will be tough though as Yomi is shackled by her sick friend Kagari. Mato will have to learn what it means to go through both emotional and physical pain on this journey of hers but she doesn’t want to stop trying to get Yomi to a better place.

The plot changes over the course of the 8 episodes but a large chunk of this is really about Mato learning that there’s more to life than just pure joy even if it would be cool if that was the case. So by trying to help Yomi she ends up throwing her own life off of the clear path it was on. That’s why throughout the show Mato is just great. She doesn’t get down easy and she’s always going out of her way to help out the other characters. She helps out quite a few characters before this is over.

Now I should talk about the other world. It’s a very interesting concept and one that the show dives into quite a bit by the end. So in this show, every character has an inner self which is quite literal. This self is born to fight on your behalf in the other world. Mato’s counterpart is Black Rock Shooter. So BRS’s objective is to protect Mato’s soul and get rid of anyone who endangers it. It is quite literally a life built for nonstop fighting. There is never an end to the battles and there are always more fighters to battle.

As a result it can be a depressing existence for these beings. Fortunately they are built to have no emotions by default but as we see in the show, it is possible to develop them. So all these years BRS has been fighting off enemies and protecting Mato. I’d say she has done an excellent job of it considering that Mato’s had a near perfect life. It’s important to note that the humans don’t know about their inner selves or at least most don’t. Mato has dreams about BRS on occasion but that’s really the extent of it.

When your inner self is destroyed, you lose all memory of whatever had been causing you pain. So, lets say someone bullied you at school and stole your lunch. Your inner self absorbs that pain and if the despair is too much then it will cause your real self to also be empty inside. If someone destroys your inner self containing the despair, your real self will completely forget it. It’ll be like that deed never happened to you so you now have peace but it’s a false peace since you’ve lost your memory. So one of the trials here is deciding if what BRS is doing is right. After all, aside from protecting Mato she is going around and destroying all of the negative inner selves.

This is helping these other people by conquering their despair. It takes Yomi and Kagari from each being near suicidal to being able to be happy again. So it does seem like a really positive thing but it completely erases all of their bad memories which does have a big impact. There’s a whole debate to be there for sure. My short answer though is that BRS is doing good. She is protecting Mato and if she didn’t destroy those inner selves then they would have possibly destroyed the human hosts as well. It’s hard to say for sure but it definitely seemed to be going that way.

BRS seems like one of the only positive inner selves though. So I wonder if you have to have despair in order to generate one of these or if we just don’t see the positive ones. I am going to assume it’s the latter for now and BRS is intentionally only going after the evil ones. If so, it speaks even better of BRS even if by the end some characters are convinced that she may destroy the entire world. BRS is very determined and gets the job done, that’s definitely very impressive. She is easily my favorite character as well. She takes some really heavy blows and always manages to get back up. Additionally, just imagine what it’s like to be locked into a never ending conflict for years and years at a time. You have to have strong mental fortitude to keep up with that and we see that BRS really is a strong soul.

That’s about all I need to say on the Other World so you get the gist of it. We see several other inner selves of course as each main girl has one and they all try their best to fight off BRS. Aside from Strength none of the others get any real character but the designs are all fun. Of course they do give us a ton of great action scenes as well. It’s all very styalized and is using a noticeably different animation style than in the human world. It helps to make the fights stand out and I definitely liked it quite a lot.

The fights are great throughout and you really feel the blows. If handled wrong this could have been excessively violent but it’s all styalized so it never actually feels that way. The characters are almost like machines fighting and I’d say this is intentional to show how they have been containing the despair for so long and nothing phases them. BRS will be getting pummeled over and over only to jump up and land a powerful combo. The other world scenes are definitely the best part of the show.

Not to say the human stuff is bad, I’ll get onto that shortly. The human stuff is really good too but it’s nice to have a literal battlefield where we see how the emotions are affecting these fighters. It also adds the action genre to the show which is never a bad thing. The fights remind me of Madoka a bit with how everyone has an absolutely massive arsenal where they can spam their attacks at will. These fighters never run out of attacks to use and will fight until one of them is completely destroyed.

So now lets get to the human part which is almost like a different show. Maybe that’s part of what makes the show so effective, it’s like two shows for the price of one as we switch into worlds. For an emotional story like this where Mato is helping everyone out, I’d say a crucial part of whether it succeeds or not depends on how dark each person’s story is. It’s very easy for a show to write everyone going through absolutely horrible tragedies where the scars will be with them forever. Fortunately the show has a lot of restraint and while all of the characters are in bad situations, it never crosses that line.

The darkest situation is the first friend for sure which is Yomi. So here’s the situation. When they were kids, Yomi was best friends with Kagari. Unfortunately Kagari got injured and blames Yomi for this. Yomi must now play with her and her alone at all times. If she tries to play with anyone else Yomi will guilt trip her further. Unfortunately Yomi’s mother is also in on this and doesn’t notice how Kagari completely terrorizes her the whole time. Yomi is now too scared to do much of anything and even allows Kagari to physically injure her. This is where Mato steps in to save the day.

This is the kind of situation though where I have to blame Yomi quite a lot though. I get why she feels guilt here but at the end of the day the injury was actually more on Kagari when you think about it. Additionally, guilt can only go too far. Yomi has already given Kagari many years but when it comes to letting your friend stab you and scare everyone away that’s just going way too far. I wanted to see Yomi stick up for herself a bit here. It’s a character arc I’ve seen before definitely and each time I think it just goes way too far.

Yomi ended up being my least favorite character in the series as she just keeps sinking even after the arc. You’d think that the experience of having a possessive, abusive friend would help Yomi learn what not to do in friendship. Instead she becomes unreasonably jealous of Mato’s other friend Kotari. It would have been so easy for the 3 of them to be friends. Mato and Kotari were both all for it but Yomi of course had to make sure this couldn’t happen. It takes forever for Yomi to finally turn into a decent character. In a sequel I’m sure she would look better but in this show she was really annoying with how this all ended up. I still think there was no reason for her to go off the deep end. (Not gonna blame the inner self for any of this)

Kagari was of course an awful bully in the first half but fortunately after BRS saved the day she was able to become a good character. I mean she still has some moments that seem off like when she yells Yomi not to be too clingy but I guess she was trying to be nice about how she framed it and just didn’t know how to do it. It’s hard to just forget about the first half so I wouldn’t say Kagari is a good character. She is on a good track to be a better person going forward though.

Another character who needed help was Arata. Her situation isn’t nearly as bad though. Basically she likes a guy but he’s a wimp who lets his friends make fun of her for that and does nothing to stop them. Now that Arata had her heart trampled on like this she has retreated within herself. She has always internalized all of her issues and believes that anything bad that happens is her own fault. It’s a rationale she uses to make sure that she never gets sad but of course this is catching up to her. It doesn’t help that Saya is always making some little comments about this but I’ll talk more about her shortly. I liked Arata quite a lot though.

Internalizing like that isn’t healthy but it is certainly better than blowing up at the other characters and causing a scene. Arata never does that and does ultimately stand by her ideals of rising or falling on her own merits. You’re rooting for her to have a happy ending by the end of all this. Her inner self is probably the weakest one as she doesn’t really fight but it makes sense. Her inner self has no despair to absorb since Arata keeps it to herself and the inner self probably doesn’t even know what to do at this point.

Now lets talk about Saya. So for most of the series Saya was my favorite villain. She’s the counselor at the school but her actual role is the opposite. She will call in a student who is having a bad time and will intentionally give them bad advice. For example Yomi arrives in a very bad mental state and Saya tells her that nobody needs her. Arata mentions how things went badly for her and Saya basically says that’s a good thing. Mato goes in for help and Saya literally starts choking her before saying that she lost control for a sec.

It’s how not subtle Saya is that really sells the character for me. It’s also just surreal because I’ve never seen a character like this. Everyone is caught up in their feels so nobody ever complains about her to the administration so Saya’s really in the clear. The comments are always obvious but when the character questions this Saya will say that she misspoke or just do the classic “Huh?”. It’s very twisted of course since this is a villain who only targets you when you’re already down and in a delicate headspace. It’s why this makes her so unique as a villain though. She doesn’t do anything over the top, she’s not using swear words, beating people up, or doing anything crazy. She’s just using mild comments but ones that are specifically tailored to each character to maximize how hard they will take the comment. Now there are some twists about this that make you think about her character some more. It’s an interesting twist but whether it truly helps her or not can be debatable.

Finally we have Mato’s best friend Kotari and from the start you probably figured that something would happen to her eventually. She’s always happy and cheering Mato on so clearly something is wrong here right? Well, she gets quite a lot of development such as a burning house and growing up in an awful household. It’s certainly not a good situation for her and like Arata she seems to internalize this. At least..that seems to be the case at first. So the next 5 paragraphs are pretty big spoilers so avoid them if you haven’t seen the show yet. This will also tie into Saya as I untangle this a bit. Get ready to skip nowwwwwwwww.

Begin Spoilers. So Kotari actually switched places with her inner self “Strength”. How is this possible? Anything is possible in these things if you believe hard enough. So now Kotari is the one who receives all of the despair and it’s sort of driven her crazy. She has a whole speech about this at the end where she’s screaming about how it hurts but how she’s also still here and she won’t let the pain beat her. The speech itself could be rather inspirational if she wasn’t so crazy by this point trying to murder BRS. The message is good how Kotari has been through a lot but won’t let the pain define her. At the same time, Kotari has completely abandoned the human world so is she really dealing with the pain or avoiding it? She’s clearly been through a lot and was a really good character.

Then of course the character we thought was Kotari for most of the series was actually Strength. As a result I can safely say that Strength is a great character as well. She takes a lot of risks to help Mato throughout the series and was really a nice person to everyone. It seems like she takes her life very seriously since she knows first hand how any sadness would affect the real Kotari in her world. So the setup they have is pretty good and it’s a credit to both characters. Ultimately this can’t last though and the real Kotari will need to go back and hang out with everyone. Hopefully she still has all the memories of Strength and knows what is going on or school’s gonna feel crazy.

Now lets talk about Saya’s plan. It turns out that there was a method to her madness. So she was intentionally breaking each student down to expose their true selves so BRS could destroy them. This would grant the students their inner peace. Then once BRS had absorbed all of that negativity, Saya would destroy her so then Mato would be free and everyone would be free of despair. It’s one of those plans that doesn’t sound crazy at first glance. If Saya succeeds then everyone will be happy so isn’t that good?

Well, it would be except how can she beat BRS? We see how powerful BRS is in every fight and she seems to get stronger after each adventure. Saya’s inner self is powerful as well but definitely not on the same level. Maybe the fact that Saya seems to pretty much be able to control her inner self would make her stronger but I still see no way to close the gap. Saya is also tempted to murder Mato at one point which would have really not solved anything and would have made everything worse. I don’t think BRS ever needed to die though as she only happened to go crazy because of the failed fusion with Mato. Otherwise I think she would have stopped once the threats were gone. So Saya’s plan was very convoluted and was no good.

Here’s another huge flaw in the plan. What if she broke down Yomi and the others too well and they ended up doing something they’d regret? If they died then her plan would have been completely off the rails since she would have indirectly murdered the people she was trying to help. That’s why I think they should have played it straight and kept Saya as a villain. Make her the final boss and that would have been more satisfying. This plan just doesn’t make much sense to me even if it was well intentioned. Reminds me of Athena’s plans in that sense. Plus Saya was just so much fun as a villain. Ah well.

End spoilers. As mentioned, Mato is a great main character so that wraps up what I would consider to be a very impressive lineup here. You really won’t have any issues with Mato because she does her best to protect everyone at all times. She is willing to put her physical and emotional selves in jeopardy to help out as well. Mato really doesn’t hesitate to put herself in harm’s way and while it ends up hurting her, she’s okay if she has helped someone. You can’t ask for much more out of a hero.

The animation for the human world is good too. It may not stand out as much as the inner world but of course that’s because we don’t have big action scenes in the real world. Either way it works well as the animations and designs are on point. The soundtrack is also good. I wouldn’t say there are any really standout themes but the battle theme is good. The opening and ending are okay but I wouldn’t say they are too memorable. I don’t think you’ll be humming these tunes after the show ends or anything like that.

Black Rock Shooter works in large part because of the writing. Of course the fights are good as well but this is really a show that could have gone sideways. Writing an emotional show will always be tougher than a standard action one because you have to be sad without being too tragic. It’s a tight line that you have to walk and this show did a great job with it. It’s why it ended up surpassing expectations for me and is definitely a top notch show that I would recommend checking out. At only 8 episodes you’ll be done with this one in a flash. The story breezes by and the pacing is always quick so you can’t go wrong here.

Overall, Black Rock Shooter is a great show that is emotional by day and action packed by night. The contrast between both worlds is really handled excellently. I would be cool with a whole show for either world but by merging it like this you really get a complete adventure. From the two though, a full show for BRS in her world would be a lot of fun. Since nobody there talks though I can see why this would have to be more of a sub plot though. I mean, not that they can’t talk but as emotionless fighters they don’t tend to talk much. Only BRS and Strength really show any kind of emotion here. Well, it’s nice to know the story behind the fun battle song “Battle of BRS” now. I’d recommend looking up that tune if you haven’t yet and of course you should check this show out if you’re up for a solid adventure.

Overall 8/10

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