Black Rock Shooter

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Well, I’m fresh off a Black Rock Shooter marathon. So let’s talk about it. Is that cool with you? Okay, sweet.

So there’s this anime called Black Rock Shooter. Hey, hey — don’t leave yet. I know the title is silly, but don’t write it off just ’cause of that. In fact, from this point on, let’s refer to the series by my unofficial title. I think it’s much more fitting. We shall call it Mood Whiplash: The Anime.

I think that about sums it up. Really — I’m still not sure what the heck I just watched.

Black R— I mean Mood Whiplash: The Anime is half middle school drama and half off-the-wall sci-fi/fantasy madness. The story is literally split between two worlds — Kuroi Mato’s ordinary, modern Japan; and Black Rock Shooter’s wasteland of eternal suffering. Yeah, it’s weird. On top of weird, characters are the exact opposite of predictable, it gets darker than you might be ready for, and it goes places you don’t really think it’s going to go.

And it’s weird. Did I mention that?

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Black Rock Shooter defends herself from a volley of giant macaroons machine-gunned from the mouth of a spider mech. Literally. That is a thing that happens.

Surprisingly, it also has things to say — not particularly deep things, but certainly deeper than I was expecting. In a lot of ways, actually, I was reminded of FLCL and Serial Experiments Lain, two of my favorite anime series. All the surface weirdness is there, and the impenetrable plot too. Except, while the convoluted, must-watch-several-times-to-even-begin-to-grasp-the-what’s-going-on nature of FLCL and Lain serve them really well, I don’t see it working in Black Rock Sh–mood Whiplash‘s favor.

See, FLCL is all about the confusion and weirdness of adolescence, and the completely incomprehensible soup of emotions that goes along with it. Serial Experiments Lain is about technology and the internet and identity and family and love and so many things I don’t even know. At its heart, Black Rock Shooter Mood Whiplash is really about how we cope with pain, and the message it arrives at about pain at the end is really kind of important and touching — but also really simple. It doesn’t require the elaborate dressing and the extra layers of complication and symbolism. It feels obtuse for the sake of being obtuse.

So what does it actually have to say? (If you’re paranoid about spoilers like I am, skip this paragraph, because I would definitely consider this a spoiler even if it’s kind of obvious.) What it said to me — and I’m still trying to glue some of the smaller pieces together here, but I think I’ve got the gist of it — is that pain is something we have to face ourselves. Black Rock Shooter’s world is the battlefield of the mind, a place where the scarred, emotionless warrior side of us fights our pain eternally, without rest. And the conclusion it eventually arrives at is that we can’t let our doubles  in that world shoulder all our pain for us. Sometimes we have to let it at our soft, vulnerable side, because we can’t be open to love unless we’re also ready to be hurt.

I think that’s what it was trying to say. In any case, that’s what got through to me — and I appreciate the sentiment. I’m a little discouraged that most people seem to want more of the scantily clad girl fighting robots and zombies and robot zombies with an arm cannon the size of my house… and less of the real human beings being human beings. That’s where this thing really got me: there are some shockingly raw and genuine moments of friendship, jealousy, loneliness. The (totally awesome) fight scenes are a metaphor for how dire and earth-shattering these emotions are for teenagers. But if you’re coming for the fights, you’ll be disappointed. They’re not the main attraction.

But I’ll definitely watch Black Rock Shooter again. Mood Whiplash, rather. Like the title suggests, it’s hard to know how I feel about it. I feel like there are a lot of missed opportunities, and that a simpler, more focused story would have served it better. But I may change my mind. After all, FLCL has grown to be one of my favorite things in the world ever, and I wasn’t in love with that the first time either.

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