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Andrew Osmond on girls with very big weapons.

Black Rock Shooter, like many anime, weaves fantasy round real life. In anime, schoolkids may pilot giant Evangelion units, or kill crooks with Death Notes, or leap heroically through time, but they still must fit all that between classes, exams and homework. Black Rock Shooter is a bold hybrid; part school drama about fraught female relationships, and part otherworld apocalypse thud’n’blunder starring supergirls with very big weapons.

In the “real” world, young Mato Kuori is just starting high school, together with her exuberant girl friend-since-the-sandbox Yuu. Quickly, they make new acquaintances, such as the domineering sports captain Arata, the kindly (well, kindly-seeming) school councillor Saya, and Yomi, a quiet, bookish girl who catches Mato’s attention. Even in reality, there’s plenty of intrigue. For example, Mato discovers that Yomi has a sinister wheelchair-bound companion called Kagari, who takes girlish nastiness to horrible extremes, and who seems to have a Baby Jane hold over Yomi…

However, Mato is also having dreams – of a world of cliffs and chasms and eyeballs in the sky, and female warriors with very familiar faces. Mato (voiced by the ever-busy Japanese actress Kana Hanazawa) seems to have an alter ego in this place, an agile fighter with an abbreviated outfit and serious firepower, who’s the Black Rock Shooter of the title.

Perhaps Mato’s dreams come from her reading too much. (Both she and Yomi adore a storybook in which a little bird flies through a universe of radiant emotions, though the tale takes a Grimm turn at the end.) Or maybe Mato has a troubled psyche… or, maybe, the warrior world is more real than that.

The eight-part TV series is part of a multimedia franchise, all stemming from a single picture of Black Rock Shooter by the artist Ryohei “Huke” Fuke. This also spawned figurines, video games, manga series (including a “chibi” four-panel strip called Black Rock-Chan!) and an anime OAV telling an alternative story. For its part, the TV series focuses on the real world rather than the fantasy – an emphasis that might have encouraged by its positioning in the famed “Noitanima” anime slot on Fuji TV (also home to shows like Eden of the East and Bunny Drop), which aspires to be female friendly.

The framing device of a young girl with strange dreams inevitably echoes Alice but also the Freudian horror film Company of Wolves, the classic 1950s British book Marianne Dreams (filmed as Paperhouse) and even Zack Snyder’s critically-maligned movie Sucker Punch. As an anime, Black Rock Shooter presents its fantasy sequences in a wild, freewheeling graphic style, which contrasts sharply with the show’s version of the “real” world; it’s somewhat similar to the approach taken by the time-travel anime Noein.

The real-world drama, meanwhile, concentrates on girls’ possessive friendships and insane jealousies – things anime has sometimes played for laughs (in Project A-ko, for example), but played for suspense and melodrama here, as if to undercut the fashionable moe image of idyllic girly friendships. It’s ironic, though, that Black Rock Shooter’s title song is sung by the ultimate in artificial female stars. No, your ears are not deceiving you – the singer is Hatsune Miku, performing a number by Supercell!

Black Rock Shooter, the Complete Series Collection is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment on 13th May.

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