There are some things in this world that just don’t mesh well for numerous reasons. Oranges don’t go with pickle relish, safe driving and copious amounts of alcohol are practically incompatible, and tarantulas have one of the least desirable relationships with the extremely vindictive tarantula hawks.
However, say somebody told you to find a way to make all of these things get along with their respective counterparts. Oranges and pickle relish would hold hands and run naked into the sunset and tarantula hawks would forgive their prey for whatever transgression they’d made in a past life. If somebody gave you five minutes to make all of these get along, how would you do this? Tell the two to get over it and come to terms? Trick them into meeting in the same restaurant to reconcile like in a sitcom? Or pull an overly pretentious metaphor out of your ass, stamp it on, and hope that it takes hold?
If you’re anything like the Black Rock Shooter staff, you chose the very last option and hoped that the audience would ignore the fact that you didn’t come up with an actual solution to your dilemma. After all, you can’t possibly splice together the hilarious melodrama of Degrassi with the elegance of a John Woo film and explain it all away with a metaphor that misses whatever point it was aiming for. In the end, the tarantula and its nasty predator still have an extremely acidic relationship.
If there’s anything to take away from Black Rock Shooter, it would be how not to connect two entirely disparate elements into one cohesive whole. Also, it would be not to give the most awkward element most of the first episode’s runtime. The “friendship” (Who are they kidding here?) between Kuroi and Takanashi isn’t really all that engaging to watch. While it’s a step up from the haphazard perfunctory approach of the OVA in that it actually has drama, it still doesn’t hold enough weight to last for around 15 minutes of the show’s runtime; it either lacks the nuance to give the performance some depth, or it completely misses opportunities to build on it more as a whole. I spent most of the watch time glancing back anxiously at the progress bar, hoping for it to end after only ten minutes. That is not the sign of a good series. Yes, even if oddly-colored macaroons are involved.
If you’re still clamoring for more lessons to learn from Black Rock Shooter, the second would be that symbolism is incredibly difficult to impress the audience with. If you lay it on too thick and make it obvious, they’ll scoff at it and say that it’s way too ham-handed. If you barely put any symbolism in your show but do have it present and accountable, it won’t be picked up at all.
Black Rock Shooter is too afraid of the latter, perhaps saying something about what they think of their target audience, so they decide to pile this metaphorical make-up on to give off the impression of being mature and intelligent, stamping the symbolism everywhere in both the real and bizarro worlds. It’s not only a juvenile writing tactic, but it somehow further blurs the connection between the two worlds while (maybe?) attempting to explain it. If it shifted focus to the avatars present in the alternate world and mostly used the symbolism there after a short explanation of what its parallel is in the real world, I have a feeling it’d be much easier to watch.
However, Black Rock Shooter is far from starved of merit. For every failed attempt at edginess or depth, it actually manages to pull another off. The few minutes in the alternate world, while much too sparse for my liking, do serve as a nice metaphor for the internal conflict of the series’ characters. While the connection is still rocky at best, it is still nice to see some kind of effort made to elaborate on the show’s vaguest concept. Not only are the fights well choreographed (not quite as well as in the OVA but they’re still outstanding), but the character designs are quite imaginative, appropriately being compared to Vocaloids given a dark makeover. While that is an oversimplification, it does manage to capture the mystique of our protagonist, the appropriately named Black Rock Shooter.
And it’s not just the character designs, the artistry on display as a whole is astounding. The agonizingly boring real world segments are eye catching, not having any flaws to speak of, but the alternate world is where the animation department really got the chance to strut their stuff. Again, while it’s not quite as well done as in the OVA likely due to the length of the full series, it manages to impress. Though it matters very little when compared to the unforgivable… well, nearly everything else, it is nonetheless something worth praising.
Black Rock Shooter is definitely not off to the best start. There are too many questions that need answering, too few action sequences, and very little plot to speak of. Unless it sinks more of its budget into those delicious scenes in the alternate world, the content will likely collapse under its lack of a substantial plot. There’s certainly enough good to bring in certain viewers, even more if we count the yuri-obsessed subset, but I’ll only be carrying on if it manages to avoid trying too hard to be deep. I want my 23 minutes to excite me, not make me angry with the scriptwriter for making a plot with little direction or urgency. Much like the OVA, it’s all flash and no substance despite trying to be otherwise, but it’s a pretty enough flash to warrant wading through squalor to get there.