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Supercell’s Perfect Day is Darn Near Perfect

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Music, Rants, drama, friendship, lvlln, music video, nagi, ryo, supercell | Friday 18 March 2011 12:30 am

So the the anime-based music video for Perfect Day the top track to their latest album Today is a Beautiful Day was released a few weeks ago, and it’s pretty phenomenal. Telling the story of two girl friends who somehow grew apart, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another anime work based on a Supercell song. And it simply puts Black Rock Shooter to shame.

First of all, look at the art. Just look at it! It’s beautiful. The sparkles and feathers, the bloom and lighting give everything an almost angelic feeling. The shakycam effect is overused a bit, but for the most part it works, because the moving camera adds just a touch of reality to this world. Some of the backdrops are gorgeous, with the crisp detail and lighting reminding me of Makoto Shinkai’s works.

Like Supercell’s song’s tend to do, it captures perfectly the emotions without necessarily going into the details of what happened. The innocence of childhood friendship. The pain of having to say good bye. The shock, and then gratitude at the sudden encounter. These emotions feels stronger and more genuine than whatever Black Rock Shooter had to offer with its story about Yomi getting jealous of Mato.

And I absolutely love the blue haired girl’s design! The hard angles, especially in the hair, remind me a bit of the characters from Shiki, but they’re not nearly as harsh. I could get lost in those wondrous round blue eyes. The simplicity of her clothing is appealing, and the little flourishes like her boots or the tight loops of her necklace stand out well against them.

But what I love most are the bandages on her legs. They’re not wrapped bandages like the kind you see on Abiru or Rei, but rather the rectangular stick on kind. And they’re just plastered all over the place around her knees, as if willy nilly. Instead of giving the image of weakness as bandages tend to do, they give her a tough and masculine one, like Lark with her chipped tooth.

Anyway, Today is a Beautiful Day came out a couple of days ago, and I highly recommend it. 6 of the 13 tracks are songs that were released on singles before – most of which I talked about in my 12 Days of Christmas post – but the new tracks are great. And the final track, Watashi e (To Me) is a follow up to Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari, the Bakemonogatari ED, providing some concluding remarks to that song. You can find translations to most of the new songs on Words of My Life.

I bought the limited edition with the DVD on YesAsia, but the regular edition is there as well.


12 Days of Christmas – Day 2 – Supercell

Posted by Author | 12 Days of Christmas, Anime, Anime Review, Hatsune Miku, Manga Review, Music, VOCALOID, lvlln, nagi, romance, ryo, school, supercell | Wednesday 15 December 2010 8:20 am

I first came across Supercell the same way I’m sure many people have: the ending theme to 2009′s hit Bakemonogatari, Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari (The Story You Didn’t Know). I remember being captured immediately by the opening guitar melody, then Nagi’s gorgeous singing about 10 seconds in. It was one of those songs that I fell in love with immediately. It was only natural that I immediately looked up just who this “ryo” and “nagi” as mentioned in the ED sequence were. Since then, Suprecell has quickly become one of my favorite bands, and 2010 was a fine year for the band. We’ll look back at some of my favorite songs that it released this year.

Supercell’s Wiki page has plenty of info on it, including the peculiarity that there is actually just one musician and no performers in this band. This peculiarity makes talking about Supercell a bit of a strange endeavor. Do you use the plural pronoun “they” when describing it, as is the standard for bands? Or do you use the singular pronoun “he,” because the actual music is composed and written by just one person? Furthermore, when Ryo does a piece of work, such as the background music to the OVAs Cencoroll and Black Rock Shooter, do you say that Supercell did it, since, for all intents and purposes, it’s equivalent, or not, because the rest of Supercell, the visual artists, weren’t involved?

I don’t know. I’ll refer to Supercell using the pronoun “it,” as it is a single unit, a band, after all, and I guess it makes sense to separate the works that Supercell did, which includes visual art (in the form of nothing more than album covers, really) and the ones that Ryo himself was only involved in. It’s all very confusing and, really, it doesn’t matter. I can’t think of any other musical band with one visual-arts-only member, much less where the vast majority are visual-arts-only.

Then there’s the issue of capitalization. Traditionally, names like Supercell, Ryo, and Nagi are capitalized, but every official text that I’ve seen have been all lowercase. Of course, that’s something that resonates with me, since my screenname lvlln is meant to be in all lowercase. Lvlln just looks weird. So in short, just writing about this band introduces some unique issues. I’ll stick with capitalizing them as expected. It makes the text easier to read.

With 2009 being the year Supercell went professional, 2010 was its sophomore year, and what a year it was! It strengthened its ties to the anime world with another anime ending theme, the opening theme to a PSP game, the ending theme to Type-Moon’s new (now-delayed) visual novel Witch on the Holy Night, and most recently, the theme song to a manga. Not to mention the extremely hyped but ultimately disappointing Black Rock Shooter anime, which was based off its song by the same title, and for which Ryo composed the music.

2 of these songs continued what I think of as Supercell’s “unrequited love” series of songs, which started way back in December of 2008 with its upload of Hajimete no Koi ga Owaru Toki (When the First Love Ends) and continued with the aforementioned Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari.

Anyway, here are 5 of my favorite releases by Supercell from 2010, in chronological order: Sayonara Memories, Kocchi Muite Baby, Utakata Hanabi, This Star Sparkling Night, and Hero.

Sayonara Memories


Sayonara Memories, released in February of this year, was Supercell’s 2nd single, its followup to Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari and also featured nagi on vocals. Though the single had 2 more tracks, the title track really was the only good song among the 3. I consider this to be the 3rd of Supercell’s “unrequited love” series.

Like Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari, Sayonara Memories was accompanied by a music video that showed the story of the song being told. This video was a bit more traditional, though, in that it featured clips of the band actually singing the song interspersed with clips from the story. The thing to note here is that the singer (and main character) in the video is not Nagi, the actual singer! Sony is clearly aware of the mystique of having Supercell’s performers remain semi-anonymous behind their online screennames, and they hired an actor (Sakura Ema) to play the part.

In more ways than just the video, Sayonara Memories felt a lot like Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari part 2. If you read the Wikipedia articles on both songs, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart:

“Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari” is a J-pop song with instrumentation from electric and bass guitars, drums and piano. According to a book of sheet music published by Yamaha Corporation, it is set in common time, and moves at a quick tempo of 165 beats per minute in the A major key throughout the song. The introduction starts with only piano accompanying Nagi’s vocals, and uses a bridge with added guitars and drums to transition into the first verse. Another bridge is used between the first and second verses; both verses use the same music with different lyrics. After the third verse, a break is employed, followed by the fourth verse. After a short outro, an instrumental coda is used to close the song. … The lyrics tell the story of a girl with an unrequited love who was never able to convey her feelings to the person she loved.
Source

“Sayonara Memories” is a J-pop song with instrumentation from electric and bass guitars, drums, piano and violin. According to a book of sheet music published by Yamaha Corporation, it is set in common time, and moves at a quick tempo of 160 beats per minute in the B major key throughout the song. The introduction starts with only piano accompanying Nagi’s vocals, and uses a bridge with added guitar, drums and violin to transition into the first verse. The song continues with the second and third verses, which also serves as the chorus melody, before employing another bridge. The musical structure used in the first three verses is repeated for the next three with different lyrics. After a short seventh verse, a break is employed, followed by the eighth verse. After a short instrumental outro, the song ends with Nagi singing “Aa, yatto ieta” (ああ やっと言えた?, “Ah I finally said it”), referring to a love confession at the end of the eighth verse.

The lyrics tell the story of a girl with an unrequited love who was never able to convey her feelings to the person she loved.
Source

(emphasis mine)

…yeah. One difference I noticed was that Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari has no chorus, whereas Sayonara Memories has one, a quick shout of “Sayonara Memories!” reminiscent of the short choruses of “Melt!” in Melt and “Arigato, sayonara” in When the First Love Ends. However, in all those songs, no line other than the short 2 or 1 word choruses are repeated, giving them that stream-of-consciousness storytelling feel. Story-wise, the trip to see the shooting stars was replaced with the daily walk to school (fitting for the shift in theme from summer to spring), and middle school was moved to high school, but they’re pretty much the same songs. Not that that’s a bad thing, since they’re both great songs. And though Sayonara Memories has no ties to anime, it is clearly using the same tropes and themes seen in many of today’s high school anime.

Kocchi Muite Baby (Come Over Here Baby)


Supercell’s first Hatsune Miku song since When the First Love Ends was released in July on a collaborative single along with Livetune’s Yellow, as the opening song for the PSP game Hatsune Miku: Project Diva 2nd. Though I don’t like the song that much – it’s decent, not great – I do respect that Ryo was finally exploring a theme other than unrequited love with a major song. Instead, this song has a more aggressive, playful tone, similar to that of Love and Roll, the second track from the Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari single.

Plus, both the game’s opening video and the in-game animation were great. The song is one of the most fun to play in the game, because of the fast, dynamic camera shots and fun choreography. It also has Ryo’s trademark scream, which he’s used in all sorts of songs including Melt, World is Mine, and Oishite Ageru (the only one officially released with Nagi). At 3:30, it’s a more typical pop song length and much shorter than Supercell’s other main songs which tend to run over 5 minutes.

Utakata Hanabi


With this, Supercell returned to the anisong world, as a 90 second cut (just 1/4 of the whole song!) of it was used as the ending theme for a series of episodes of Naruto Shippuden. I’m no fan of Naruto, but the ending sequence accompanying this song was great, literally putting Sakura in the position of the singer and even having her lips mouth the song at parts.

Utakata Hanabi – literally Water Bubble Fireworks but commonly translated as Ephemeral Fireworks or Transient Fireworks – has the singer reminiscing about a summer festival when she spent the evening watching fireworks with her love. Like other songs in Supercell’s unrequited love series of songs, the details aren’t clear, but the singer’s feelings are, as is the importance of this moment in her memory.

The tone a bit of a departure from the other songs in the series, in that this song does not end with hope for the future and letting go of the past. Rather, the singer seems unable to let go of her sorrow, perpetually stuck in that moment that she knows she can never experience again. The overall mood of the song is also much more somber than When the First Love Ends, Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari or Sayonara Memories. The tempo remains a slow burn throughout, never speeding up to the high tempos of the other 3.

Utakata Hanabi also got a music video which you can see above. It was the first not to feature live actors since Supercell’s Nico Nico Douga days. The art and animation style is unique and somewhat psychedelic, and it perfectly complements the song, showing us depictions of both that summer evening that the singer is remembering and how the singer is feeling now as she remembers. It took me a few viewings to warm up to it, but the way it visually represents the lyrics to the song is truly compelling.

Due to the slower pacing and more depressing mood of this song, it’s not quite as enjoyable as the other songs in the unrequited love series, but it’s a great piece of music nonetheless. However, it really got outdone by the second track in the single:

Hoshi ga Mattataku Konna Yoru Ni (This Star Sparkling Night)


Technically, this is the 2nd “side A” to the single, though it is still the 2nd track and wasn’t released to the public until the CD release in late August. You can read the lyrics that I translated. It is the ending theme song to Type-Moon’s new visual novel Witch on the Holy Night, which was delayed from its original 9/30 release date to Christmas Eve of this year.

This was my preferred song from this split single, and I believe it shows Ryo taking a major step away from the “unrequited love” theme that he had been pounding on so hard. Even his early songs, including the hit Melt as well as the less well known That One Second of Slow Motion, played on that theme.

Instead, this song was all about the new beginning of a relationship. The subject material is reminiscent of Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari, in that it’s about the singer looking up at the stars with the boy she has a crush on. Unlike that song, this one is not about looking back to that day with regret, but rather about being there now, at the moment, when the two begin to fall in love. Along with the general theme of the lyrics, the faster, more upbeat tempo contrasts greatly with the depressing mood of Utakata Hanabi and makes it just a more fun song to listen to. Instead of Nagi’s beautiful voice being used to express regret at the first love, we get to hear her express the joy of the first love.

I find it noteworthy that this song actually has a real chorus, the full line, “On this star sparkling night.” The line is always followed by a different line each time, as is the tradition for choruses in Supercell’s songs. Also noteworthy is that at 4:28, it is over a minute shorter than Supercell’s 3 “unrequited love” songs with Nagi, 2 of which are over 6 minutes long and the shortest (Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari) clocking in at 5:41.

Hero


Hero has yet to be released commercially, only being released on the internet at the end of November. Like This Star Sparkling Night, I posted a translation of the lyrics to this.

Also like that song, this is about budding first love. We get to hear Ryo and Nagi expand their horizons further by having the singer be a male this time, with a crush on a girl. Nagi has quite a high voice which is part of her appeal, but somehow she manages to make it sound boyish enough for most of the song, raising it to make the parts when she’s singing the girls’ speech stand out.

Hero is the latest song to be released by Supercell, and that it continues the theme from This Star Sparkling Night gives me hope that Ryo has gotten out of the rut of making the same “unrequited love” song over and over again. All those songs have been excellent and remain in my playlist to this day, but it’s good to see his works evolve. Of course, there’s the risk that this is the new theme he’ll latch onto, but This Star Sparkling Night and Hero have already differentiated themselves a bit with the different perspectives, and I wouldn’t mind hearing what ideas Ryo has to play on this theme.

So all in all, even discounting that horrible Black Rock Shooter OVA, 2010 was a pretty huge year for Supercell. Still no full albums since its first one, but 1 online release plus 3 CD singles (and another song called Kibou no Neiro to be released at Comiket the end of this month) is certainly nothing to sneeze at. More importantly, the releases have continued to impress me. 2 anime from 2009 for which it did the ending themes – Bakemonogatari and Cencoroll – are set to get sequels next year, and I’m hoping that Supercell once again gets that responsibility for the sequels. Either way, Supercell has managed to tie itself to some very powerful and popular companies, including Sony, SEGA, Shaft, Ordet, Good Smile Company, and Type-Moon, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing more hits out of it in the coming years and more.


“Hero” English Translation

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Music, Translations, aoharu, lvlln, lyrics, manga, nagi, romance, ryo, school, sony, supercell | Friday 3 December 2010 2:48 am

So I’ve stated a few times before that I’m a big fan of supercell. In the anime world, the band is most famous for Black Rock Shooter, a (rather disappointing) OVA that was spawned from its song of the same title, as well as The Story You Didn’t Know (Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari), the ending theme to Bakemonogatari. Of course, originally being a Vocaloid band, supercell has ties to plenty in otakudom, including having the opening song to the PSP game Project Diva 2nd (Come Over Here Baby (Kocchi Muite Baby)) and the ending song to Type-Moon’s delayed (first non-eroge) visual novel, Witch on the Holy Night (This Star Sparkling Night).

Well, wouldn’t you know it, supercell has now added a manga to the list, with the online release of Hero (ヒーロー), the theme song to a manga called AOHARU.

Here’s the short 45 second preview video that’s on AOHARU‘s official site:


And, released on Sony’s official supercell page on 11/30, is the full 5 minute version. I actually didn’t take a liking to the song at first, but the song started growing on me the more I listened to it. And now that I’ve read the lyrics, I think this is a solid song, definitely up there with supercell’s other hits. And speaking of the lyrics…

Below is a translation of the lyrics along with the Romanji. Note that the bulk of the translation was lifted from Timeless Grey; I merely made some corrections when needed and prettied things up, both visually and aurally.

Hero by supercell. Written by ryo. Sung by nagi

Tomodachi to shabeteiru sono ko no egao wa amari ni karen de
Sono sugata wa omoi egaita manga no heroine no you da

As she talked to her friend, that smile of hers looked so pitiful,
Her form was like the heroine of a manga I drew in my head

Hitome mite koi ni ochita
Honki no honki de suki ni natta
Demo ne boku no mitekure ja
kitto kirawareteshimau

It was love at first sight
I truly, truly came to like her
But with the way I look,
She would definitely hate me.

Hora mata da kusukusu warau koe
Iin da sonna no narekko dakara
Wasurete shimae dakedo mune wa hari sake sou da

See, I can already hear the giggles of “heehee”
But it’s okay, since I’m used to it
I’ll forget about it, but my chest still feels like it’s about to burst

Shounen wa soshite deau
Sore wa kitto guuzen nanka janakute negatta
Kimi ni deae masu you ni
Nanman kai datte negaou
Itsuka kanarazu!
Keredo hito wa sonna kiseki
Shinjirareru wake nai to itta

That’s how the boy met [her]
I wished that was definitely not just some coincidence
So that I would meet you,
I shall wish for it tens of thousands of times
Someday, definitely!
But for people, that kind of miracle
Is something they say they can’t believe in

Shoujotachi wa sasayaita
“Ano ko sakki kara kocchi miteru
Nanna no are kimiwarui wa
Chikazukanai de nekurasan”

The girls whisper,
“That boy has been looking here since just now
What’s up with that, it’s gross
Don’t come any closer you downer”

Sumimasen sonna tsumori ja……
Utsumuku boku ni kanojo no koe
“Watashi kono hito shitteru!”
Amari wa azen boku mo bouzen

Sorry, I didn’t mean to…
As I hung my head down, her voice called out,
“I know this person!”
Everyone was amazed, and I was dumbfounded as well

“Michattan da na ano tsukue no e wo ne
Zenbu kimi ga kaitetari suru no?”
Aa! Mata warawareru
Dakedo kimi wa
“Aa iu no suki nan desu”

“I saw the drawings on that desk
You drew them all, right?”
Ah! I’m going to be laughed at again
But then you went,
“I like those things too”

Shounen wa soshite deau
Tatoe nan oku nan man kounen hanarete iyou ga sa
Zettai hikare au kara
Soko ni donna
Shougai ga atte mo

That’s how the boy met [her]
Even if you were hundreds of millions of light years away,
His mind would be drawn to you,
No matter what obstacles might lie in between,
He would overcome them

Norikoeteiku sore wo unmei to yobu nara
Kare wa masa ni hero da!

If that is to be called fate,
Then he’s sure to be a hero

Dakedo sono hi boku wa mitanda
Hitori me wo harashi naku kimi wo
Boku wa nante muryoku nan darou
Ii ya kanojo wa nante itta?
Utagau na jibun no sonzai wo
Shoujo wa sukui wo matteiru

But that day I saw
You alone, crying so hard your eyes swelled
Why must I be so powerless
No wait, what did she say?
Don’t doubt yourself [because]
That girl is waiting to be saved

“Tsuyogari de honto wa nakimushi de
Etto korette maru de watashi mitai”
Yatto waratta! yorokobu boku no mae de
Porori porori to naki dasu kanojo
Doushitara ii!?
Kimi wa
Ittanda “Arigatou”tte

“You act all tough, but you’re actually a crybaby
Umm, that’s exactly like me”
She finally smiled! In front of me who was delighted
Her tears kept falling, plop plop
What should I do!?
You said,
“Thank you”

Shounen wa kimi to deai
Ikiru imi wo shirunda
Uso janai honto sa
Soshite kimi wo mamoru naitou ni naru
Itsuka kitto ne
Kare no hidari te ni wa kanojo no nigi te
Gyutto nigitte hanashi wa shinai kara

Because this boy met you,
He learned what it means to live
It’s not a lie; it’s the truth
And so, he’ll become a knight who will protect you
Someday,
Onto his left hand, her right
Will hold tightly and never let go

Soshite boku wa kimi ni de au

And so I met you

Notes

  • The original lyric sheet from Sony’s site had large blocks with lots of lines. I think having the translation come in every 3-4 lines is ideal, but since many of these blocks contained single threads that really shouldn’t be broken up, I kept most of them intact.
  • I added words in brackets when the word was clearly implied but harder to get from the context when translated to English. They are technically not parts of the actual lyrics.

I think it’s pretty clear that ryo is sticking with the theme of first or budding love, with this one. He’s explored that theme a lot, from his Vocaloid hits Melt, This One Second of Slow Motion, and When the First Love Ends, to all of his professional hits with Nagi: The Story You Didn’t Know, Sayonara Memories, Utakata Hanabi, and Utakata Hanabi‘s 2nd track, This Star Sparkling Night.

Given that all of his songs have been sung by female voices, the stories were all told from the girl’s perspective, making this the first one that is explicitly told from the boy’s. Somehow, nagi’s distinctly feminine and high pitched voice doesn’t detract from that. I’m also glad to see that, like This Star Sparkling Night, this is a song filled with hope for a new beginning, not one of regret and looking back, like most of supercell’s recent songs have been (When the First Love Ends, The Story You Didn’t Know, Sayonara Memories, and Utakata Hanabi all follow that theme).

Credits


“Hoshi ga matataku konna yoru ni” English Translation

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Music, Translations, lvlln, lyrics, nagi, romance, ryo, supercell, type-moon | Wednesday 1 September 2010 3:41 am

Well, supercell’s 3rd CD single, Utakata Hanabi (Literally Water Bubble Fireworks, though kumoriha translates it as Ephemeral Fireworks in his translation. I prefer Bubble-Like Fireworks, personally), was released last week on August 25. The title track, predictably enough, leaked about a month back, so that was nothing new, but also in the release was a second track, titled 星が瞬くこんな夜に (Hoshi ga matataku konna yoru ni), or This Star Sparkling Night in English. Below is a YouTube video of the song in full.

Since I haven’t been able to find an English translation for its lyrics, I thought that I would take a crack at it.

This Star Sparkling Night by supercell. Written by ryo. Sung by nagi.

Believe, believe,
there’s magic here tonight
Believe, believe!

sore wa totemo shizuka na yoru de
tsunto tsumetai kuuki wa hoo o sashita
omowazu kitto kimi o niranda

It was a very tranquil night, and
The cold air slightly stung my cheeks
So I inadvertently scowled at you.

“…boku no sei ja
nai desu yo” tte
sonna kao o shiteru

“It’s not my
fault,” I said
with that expression still on my face.

nan demo nai kono shunkan ga
isshou kioku ni
nokoru you na ki ga shita nda

This meaningless moment
Is one I would forever remember,
I felt somehow.

hoshi ga matataku konna yoru ni
negaigoto o hitotsu
kanau nara kono toki yo tsuzuke to

On this star sparkling night,
I make one wish
Please make this moment last

onaji sora o miagenagara
taisetsu na koto hodo
sugusoba ni aru no ka mo
nante omotteta

Looking up together at the same sky,
My most precious thing
Just might be right next to me,
I thought.

itsumo ippouteki na kanjou
sore ja tsutawaranai koto kurai
wakatteru tsumori yo

By just continuing these one-sided feelings,
I won’t be able to convey them to you,
I know at least that.

motomoto nibui kimi wa kitto
watashi ga okotte bakari iru you ni
mieru darou kedo

To you who has always been calm,
It must look like
I’m always angry

konnan darake no kono sekai de
kimi ga iru
sore dake no koto de kyou mo ikiteyukeru

In this world of mine filled with hardship,
You were there.
That was enough to get me through today.

hoshi ga matataku konna yoru ni
hitoribotchi ga futari
kakaeta itami o wakeau you ni

On this star sparkling night,
Stand two lone stars
As if sharing their suffering

onaji sora o miagetetara
nanika iwanakya tte
dakedo nante ieba
ii ndarou

Continuing to look up at the same sky,
I feel I have to say something,
But what is it that
I should say?

“nee, nagareboshi ga mitai na”
joudan de furikazashita yubisaki
kirei na o o hiita
sore wa maru de mahou no you de

“Hey, I’d like to see a shooting star.”
At the tip of the finger I raised in jest
Was the beautiful tail of a shooting star.
It was like magic.

hoshi ga matataku konna yoru ni
wasureteta koto o hitotsu
iikakete dokun to haneru kodou

On this star sparkling night,
That one thing I had forgotten,
My heartbeat jumps and interrupts me as I say it.

yami no naka isshun fureta te
kimi wa ki ga tsuiteru?
kore tte kitto
sou iu koto na no ka na

Our hands that touched for a moment in the darkness,
Did you notice it?
This feeling must definitely be
“That” thing.

hoshi ga matataku konna… konna yoru ni

On this, this star sparkling night.

Notes

  • The second-to-last line, “That” thing is obviously meant to refer to “love.” It was difficult for me to convey that in English, so I decided to translate it literally and leave this note.
  • This Star Sparkling Night will be the ending theme to Type-Moon’s next visual novel, Witch on the Holy Night. Unlike Type-Moon’s other visual novel franchises Tsukihime and Fate/stay night, this one will not be an eroge.
  • The first track to the single, Utakata Hanabi, is not too shabby itself. You can see the full music video, first released with the CD, here.
  • Utakata Hanabi was used as the ending theme to Naruto Shippuden starting sometime in late July. Here is the only non-mirrored version of the video I could find online.
  • You can buy the CD single here and the limited edition with a DVD of the music video here, both on cdjapan.co.jp.

Credits

  • Credit goes to Kyou and 희짱 (Hui-chan) for their Korean translations off which this translation was based. Warning: watch out for autoplaying music in those links.
  • Credit goes to lerorin for providing the lyrics in Romaji.
  • Credit goes to ryo for writing such a beautiful song. Credit goes to nagi for an excellent singing performance.

[Review] Black Rock Shooter – Wait for it… wait for it… wait for it… OK, it’s over.

After much delay and, depending on where you hang around, much hype, the 50 minute OVA Black Rock Shooter was finally released yesterday, July 24. Despite the solid visuals and music, the poor pacing and storytelling make this an anime that I can’t recommend, even to die hard fans of Vocaloids or Supercell like myself. You’re better off just waiting for the soundtrack and seeing some of the highlights.

For those who don’t know that much about Vocaloids or Supercell, here’s a brief introduction to Black Rock Shooter. Ryo, the only musician in the now professional band Supercell, got his start uploading his songs sung by Hatsune Miku onto Nico Nico Douga. One of his most popular ones, perhaps second only to Melt, was Black Rock Shooter, a song that he had written based off of a picture drawn by an artist who goes by the name of Huke. It was uploaded in June of 2008. You can see the original video with English subtitles on Youtube.

Some time since then, anime studio Ordet decided to pick it up and to create a 50 minute OVA based on the song – which itself was based on a picture. It was originally supposed to be released in September 2009, but it got pushed to Spring 2010, then again to Summer 2010. And yesterday, on 7/24, it was finally released, for free on DVDs that came with the September issue of Hobby Japan. There are a couple other magazines will also have the DVDs packed for free.

An iconic shot from the original Nico Nico Douga animation, rendered in the anime.

One of the biggest questions I had going into this was what the story would be like. After all, the OVA is ultimately based on an image, and the lyrics to the song don’t exactly build up a cohesive world. Well, contrary to the more fantasy oriented images associated with this production, Black Rock Shooter tells the story of a middle school first year named Mato Kuroi (Kana Hanazawa) and her friendship with classmate Yomi Takanashi (Miyuki Sawashiro). The 2 become friends on their first day of school and grow closer throughout their first year despite their being in different sports clubs (basketball for Mato, volleyball for Yomi). About half way through, the basketball team manager Yuu (Kana Asumi) gets into the mix as well. The main conflict manifests itself as jealousy when Mato and Yuu get put into the same class for their second years while Yomi gets put into a different class, stuck outside looking in.

Interspersed in this story are brief scenes of the eponymous Black Rock Shooter – an obvious stand-in for Mato – chasing and fighting against Dead Master – Yomi’s stand-in – in the dark fantasy world most associated with the work. The action scenes are short and inserted fairly evenly throughout the OVA, and it’s only at the end when Yomi disappears that a clear connection between the 2 settings is shown.

Dead Master looks down at Black Rock Shooter, both about to fight.

The core problem with Black Rock Shooter lies with the storytelling. The pacing is horrid, with pretty much nothing happening in the first half. 50 minutes is longer than a TV show episode, but it’s still not a long time, and you simply can’t waste that much time with the set up. The more action packed fantasy scenes inserted throughout that half didn’t do anything to help the pace, because they felt unrelated – at best, only loosely connected – to the main story in the real world.

The first clear indication that the 2 worlds are connected, about 2/3 of the way into the OVA.

On that note, the story just doesn’t tie together. There is a fundamental disconnect between the scenes in the fantasy world and in the real world. There are hints at how the events in the two settings relate to each other, but it is only at the end that a clear connection is made, and even then, the explanation is unsatisfactory. Clearly, the fantasy scenes were meant to serve as a metaphor for the emotional conflict taking place in real life between Mato and Yomi, but the rest of the connections, including the reason for Yomi’s disappearance or her blank text to Mato at the end, are left as exercises for the viewer. Same goes for the opening fight between Dead Master and Black Rock Shooter, which clearly happened before the events of the show. Having an open ended story up to the viewer’s interpretation is one thing, but this is either laziness or ineptitude by the director.

The orange, yellow desert background contrasts with the dark green castle background of the other fantasy scenes when this character appears. That's about all this character does before she disappears.

Heck, there is even3rd character in the fantasy who never does anything. Perhaps the entire purpose of this OVA was to set up a series. At least, that’s what it feels like with its open threads and the cliffhanger-style ending.

Even the fantasy scenes, while containing entertaining, visceral action and beautiful art, suffers from the fact that nothing about these characters’ motivations is revealed until the very end. There were hints here and there at the bigger story, but the mismatching chronology – the fantasy scenes have no connection to the real life scenes being shown at the same time – meant that I was left wondering why Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master were fighting for most of the time. And fights in which you have nothing invested in the outcome just aren’t as fun to watch.

It doesn’t help that neither of the two show any emotion through most of the fight. As they get hit, thrown, shot at, and tied up, their faces rarely change from their monotone dead stares, as if they were both Terminators programmed to fight each other. The closest thing up until the climactic moment was Dead Master’s evil smirk. They don’t talk, and they barely even grunt as they fight. The brevity also hurt these fight scenes, as none of them lasted long enough for a real story to develop within the fights. Just as the fights started to get into their grooves and made me excited, the OVA would cut back to a plain real life scene. There are things that can be done with single long action scenes that can’t be done with many shorter ones. They need time to build a sort of rhythm, something that Black Rock Shooter never managed to do.

The action, while pretty, doesn't make for very good still shots. Hence why I'm showing shots from still scenes.

That being said, Black Rock Shooter is still a very pretty anime. The real life scenes have the level of detail you expect from an OVA, and the stylized animation of the action scenes work very well. Some of the backdrops in the fantasy scenes are obviously created using CG, but they almost never stand out. The use of the color and light, as well as the architecture in those scenes do a wonderful job of creating an oppressive, dark, almost depressing mood to the speechless fights. I’m a fan of the character designs as well. The purposeful contrast between Black Rock Shooter’s tall, lanky, unbalanced design with Dead Master’s curvaceous and symmetrical one was not lost on me. Heck, they even put scars on Black Rock Shooter’s stomach in order to emphasize the straightness of her design (ironically, Yomi is taller than Mato).

And the music was very enjoyable as well. No, there was no Hatsune Miku music; not even Black Rock Shooter was played. Instead, it was a largely classical score, fitting for a school story. In some scenes, the music really took center stage in communicating the emotion to the viewer. One of the first scenes, in which Mato climbs the hill near her house before going off to school, sticks in my mind. In the world of TV shows, where usually some plot has to be fit into a 24 minute less 1:30 OP less 1:30 ED slot, the background music almost always stays right there in the background. Without such limitations (in fact, one might argue that they didn’t even fill the pressure to fit a story into its 50 minute slot), the OVA was free to implement more movie-like usage of background music, to good effect. There were also call backs to Supercell’s Black Rock Shooter song as well, with some of the music, particularly at the beginning and end of the OVA, using themes pulled straight from that song.

This picture kind of summarizes Black Rock Shooter. So much badassery when free to act, but chained and restricted by the plot, unable to fulfill its potential.

Ultimately, Black Rock Shooter is two separate stories connected only loosely by theme and character design, with 80% of the time spent on a, though heartfelt, tragically generic story about friendship, and the other 20% dedicated to the good parts: the fun, even if meaningless, action scenes. The uneven pacing and storytelling unraveled a technically solid production, and as the credits rolled, I felt sorry for all the people whose hard work went into producing what amounted to essentially nothing.

The only way I can see this OVA being somewhat redeemed is if it turns out to be just the 1st part of a longer series, one which explores the fantasy world that this one only briefly touched upon. Both the pre-credits ending and post-credits ending tease a possible continuation. But as a stand alone work, it is incomplete and not worth the time to watch it.

This is when the story finally begins, right? It couldn't possibly be that the ending credits are about to start in less than a minute, right? Right?

Notes:

  • As always, screenshots galore at Tenka Seiha and Random Curiosity.
  • The free magazine-packed DVDs include 7 different languages of subtitles, including English. The other 6 are Japanese, Chinese, Italian, German, Spanish, and French.
  • Other magazines that will have this DVD are Megami Magazine (7/30) and Monthly Animedia (8/10). (source: Anime News Network via Vocaloidism)
  • The character Dead Master was never named in the OVA. I got her name from the figures of her they’re selling, such as this one.
  • This is the 2nd anime for which Ryo of Supercell did the music. The other one was Cencoroll, and it also starred Kana Hanazawa as a leading role.
  • Kana Asumi starred as Poplar in last season’s Working!!, in which one of the running gags was that she would always mispronounce the main character’s name “Takanashi” as “Katanashi.” Her character Yuu has no problem with that in Black Rock Shooter, however. The OVA also made the same pun as in Working!! regarding Takanashi’s name being able to be confused with “Kotori” (Takanashi’s name when he cross-dresses).
  • At the point when Mato was giving Yomi the star cell phone strap, I started wondering if the fantasy world was far in the future, given the post-apocalyptic style of the setting. I was hoping that there was some falling out between the 2 that the OVA would show, before they somehow became Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master. I think that would’ve been a better twist than, “It’s a metaphor, lol.”

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