Okay, the animation isn’t actually that bad, but it does serve as a good illustration for the problems with both the mundane junior high and bizarre dream world halves of the show. In the dream world segments, while the scenery is very colorful and the character designs are fantastic, the characters themselves are mindless action machines. The backgrounds tend toward scenery porn, and the fights are big and explosive, but everything is hollow. There are plenty of projectiles, lots of shots of the protagonist getting bashed around, and the battlegrounds constantly get blasted apart. But there is no emotion to it, to the point that the characters don’t even really have expressions. There’s no meaning. No reason. Nothing to make you care about the combatants, especially when they are seemingly invincible until they suffer Critical Existence Failure. And when all of the fights are pointless, that’s almost as bad as fanservice. Almost.
The real-world sections have the opposite problem; it’s where all the character development takes place, but the animation is exceptionally dull, except for the scenes where someone is in the middle of a breakdown, which happens every other episode. The character art lacks detail, and the backgrounds are indistinguishable from what shows up in over ninety percent of school anime. The extent of the character design is mainly limited to one character’s mole and a smattering of glasses, with almost everyone looking exactly the same except for their hair. But decent art is the purview of the show’s other half, while this part fulfills the need for the actors to be more than one-dimensional. And while for the most part it does a good job of adding depth, at times the relationship and character development feels rather rushed. It should probably take more than about a week for someone to go insane out of lonely jealousy because her friend hasn’t had any time to hang out, and personal revelations and personality changes should take more than a few minutes to work themselves out.
Speaking of personality changes, all the characters seemed to have their characterizations subtly shifted at the beginning of the second arc, such that they didn’t quite match up with what was established by the end of the first one. This sounds like a minor complaint, but when this portion of the show has to cover all the character depth of the entire series it can become distractingly noticeable. One thing I do have to give the show credit for, though, are its portrayals of bullying and abusive relationships. Those scenes were actually hard to watch, and made me wind up hating a character who we are supposed to turn around and feel sympathetic towards by the next episode. It didn’t cause too much of a problem, because the show is already starting to get weird, which is an ill omen for the rest of the series.
On the whole, Black Rock Shooter feels a lot like a mahou shoujo anime: the way the characters interact, the overwhelming predominance of girls over boys, the extensive combat scenes. Add a transformation sequence and this would join Senhime Zesshou Symphogear and Rinne no Lagrange as this season’s third magical girl series, except that its fights are even more meaningless than Symphogear’s mowing mooks down like grass. So far, Black Rock Shooter’s CG fight sequences haven’t contributed much to the show other than draining its animation budget. Between the fancy animation of the dream world and the characterization of the real world, you have what adds up to about an average show. But then there is the pointlessness of the battles and the visual monotony of the school drama, and thus the question arises; how highly can you rate a show that’s only half good?