Astro Toy
Black Rock Shooter Figma

by David Cabrera,

Series: Black Rock Shooter
Maker: Max Factory
Price: ~$40

Today's piece came to me with a surprise. When I ordered Black Rock Shooter, I wasn't actually aware that the recent anime based on the character was being packaged for free with, like, everything: a ton of magazines, the Nendoroid, and the Figma (it's been a long time!) we have in front of us today. It's an interesting approach to hooking fans-- Max Factory has tried this before by giving away a whole game with Figmas-- and I presume that Japanese otaku are presently buried in as many unwanted copies of Black Rock Shooter on DVD as my generation had copies of Super Mario/Duck Hunt in the 80s. And so it is that we proceed to this column's first toy and anime review.

I'd go so far as to say that this stunt, and perhaps Shooter herself, represent a shift in the anime industry. Twenty-odd years ago, anime sold toys. Now, we have people trying to launch an anime franchise (and make no mistake, the anime explicitly makes room for a sequel) by packing it in with toys, and it was an internet meme that first sold the toys: BRS had her start on Nicovideo, after all. Otaku country is a pretty complicated place.

So this is the character design that won over a nation: a pensive little girl dressed up like an attendant at a Texas bikini car wash. Jokes aside, Black Rock Shooter is very distinctive, and the sculpt does an alright job on details like the faint blue highlights in the hair and the shiny leather (warning: not actual leather) outfit. In particular, the deep scars at her waist and below her chest are really pretty nasty-looking. Figmas are more concerned about keeping the look of the character than their Revoltech competitors, but this can't match the meticulous detail of a PVC figure either.

On that note, posability is Figma-standard. Anywhere a joint can be concealed, there is one, but where they can't hide it-- like the nearly-bare torso-- there isn't. As demonstrated here, Shooter's distinctive, asymmetrical twin ponytails can be moved, as can the back of her jacket, for dramatic effect. There are two alternate faces: meditating as pictured here, and angry.

Of course, a sword is not Black Rock Shooter's only armament, and the most impressive thing in the package is the Rock Cannon, a behemoth that the girl lugs one-handed. Now anime and three dimensions once again conflict here, as in the real world the Cannon, while surprisingly lightweight, is just too huge for BRS to really throw around. To counteract this, two Figma stands are included. At first glance I couldn't figure out what they wanted me to do with an extra stand, but it became clear: the other stand is for the gun. With a little work, you can set up cool scenes like the above.

In addition to the stands, there's an overlay you can put over a di:stage (if you have one) to make a BRS-themed stage. Unfortunately for “mint in box” types, the stage is printed on a cardboard insert inside of the box, meaning you have to make a big hole in the insert to actually use it. We're not doing that because this toy's going right back into her package and I don't want to make a mess of it. Maybe one day it'll go to one of you?

There's a respectable array of accessories as well: the usual Figma array of hands (the little rack Max Factory uses to store hands and the plastic accessory bag should be standard for every figure like this, get with it Revoltech), and a cool replacement effect part for the hair that simulates the blue fire that comes out of Shooter's left eye in clear plastic. Chains (meant to be attached to the gun) complete the set.

This is a pretty average Figma release, which is to say it's still among the best in Japanese action figures. The detail doesn't approach the (much more expensive) PVCs of the character, but the figure is playable and it's about the cheapest thing you can get that's still worth buying. For $40, you can make a hell of a display piece out of Shooter and her gun.

For the heck of it, I also popped in the Black Rock Shooter anime DVD that came with the figure:

The DVD comes bare in a plain, sealed paper sleeve. Not exactly otaku-friendly packaging: I had to tear the thing open to get the disc out. I imagine that while the studio wants people to see the anime for free, they also want to remind collectors and fans to buy the BRS Blu-Ray, which isn't out yet and will, of course, be packed with some other toys.

This disc is subtitled in seven languages, including English, so you can actually understand it. I know, right? It's very rare that somebody bothers with translation for a product like this, but I suppose they realize that the toys, at least, sell all over the world.

Given that there really isn't a lot to this character, the anime staff made something up. The show is, surprisingly, an hour-long schoolgirl drama in which a sweet, naive young girl befriends her tall, quiet classmate. Between scenes, as if to assure us “don't worry, this is about Black Rock Shooter!” we get scenes where the schoolgirls’ alter egos-- who are of course BRS and her enemy Dead Master-- do battle in a post-apocalyptic parallel universe as a metaphor for their relationship. So it's like Marimite without the nuanced characterization, and every five minutes there's a fight scene to keep the viewer awake

Even though the stories are clearly intended to be tied together, the two worlds don't really feel parallel. The schoolgirl story has an arc: there's mounting tension, there's a crisis, there's a resolution. Meanwhile, in Black Rock Shooter world, it's fight,fight,fight from frame one, and the tone only really matches up in the middle. The back-and-forth between these stories is more jarring than anything, like the director couldn't trust the audience's ability to stay focused on the drama. When the two worlds connect, it doesn't make a lot of sense, and Shooter feels like she's being trotted out by necessity rather than as the star of her own show.

Production values are high, and it's not just the fight scenes that look beautiful: Yutaka “Yamakan” Yamamoto's studio Ordet is totally showing off. You know how when school kids play sports in anime, it's a series of still shots and then an animation of a ball flying in the air? Ordet actually animates those mundane bits of school life, like our heroine playing basketball. These characters speak louder at times like this than they ever speak in the script.

Though I ultimately consider it a failure, the anime is more ambitious and impressive than a free DVD packed in with an action figure has any right to be. I must praise Ordet for not just turning out any old crap, as most studios would have done with this material, and at least trying hard to make something good.

Anyway, did you want the figure?

BBTS: 38.99 before domestic shipping

When he isn't killing time on fighting games and mahjong, David Cabrera gets hype about anime, manga and gaming at Subatomic Brainfreeze.

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