An anime fan of titles from many genres, Koriander Bullard is not afraid to speak on topics that make fellow anime lovers uncomfortable.
A Long Way From Snow White
September 16, 2021, was a strange day for anime and Vocaloid fans, as not only was it announced that Bibury Animation was producing a brand-new Black Rock Shooter anime, but that Disney of all companies, had licensed the new show, as part of a slowly growing anime catalog for their popular Disney+ streaming service.
When the announcement was made, many fans balked at the idea, fearing that the usually dark and post-apocalyptic feel of Black Rock Shooter would be turned into something more along the lines of Kim Possible or The Lion Guard, something watered down where the edge is mixed with life lessons on friendship and family.
Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall
Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall debuted on the worldwide Disney+ app on April 3, 2022, and on Hulu in the United States on October 21, 2022.
While the dark themes were left alone, many adult fans turned away very early, because of several barely censored shots involving minors and sexual assault, something not expected from a Disney co-production, and something that doesn't even fit the Black Rock Shooter franchise.
Supercell – "Black★Rock Shooter" (2008)
Black Rock Shooter dates back to December 26, 2007. Starting as a piece of digital artwork on the Pixiv account owned by Ryohei "Huke" Fuke, the image of an extremely thin teenager in a bikini with oblong pigtails and a giant gun inspired people.
The simple sketch, brought to life with a gothic color-scheme with streaks of blue captivated the singer Ryo of the band Supercell to write a song for the character, using the Vocaloid 2 voicebank Hatsune Miku.
Huke loved the song so much that he provided Supercell with illustrations they could use for a music video, and the song quickly became a cultural phenomenon, becoming a staple for Hatsune Miku concerts and the Project DiVA video game series.
Black★Rock Shooter OVA (2010)
This led to the first ever Black★Rock Shooter anime OVA, which hit Blu-ray in Japan in 2010. In this OVA, a girl named Mato slowly gets distracted more and more by school priorities, and accidently alienates her friend Yomi without meaning to.
Yomi's jealously when Mato makes a new friend manifests itself in a parallel world as a girl named Dead Master. The character of Black Rock Shooter is linked with Mato in this parallel world and has to duel Dead Master in order to free Yomi.
Black Rock Shooter Anime (2012)
While somewhat violent, the OVA never gets too out of control, and there is a strong lesson in the film about friendship and not abandoning your friends. It touched enough people that a full television anime was released in 2012, carrying on lessons about friendship between cold and gothic images of kids fighting.
Each Black Rock Shooter series exists in its own canon, so a metaverse has existed for the series long before that became a buzzword.
Black Rock Shooter PSP
In the PSP video game, Black Rock Shooter is a living weapon, meant to destroy an evil alien empire that is taking over a slightly futuristic, post-apocalyptic Earth, and much of Dawn Fall took inspiration from this game.
Most Black Rock Shooter media is unrelated, but many fans were thinking that a Disney licensed version would likely follow the TV anime and be in a school setting with scenes of combat balanced by images of girlhood and friendship.
They were wrong.
Dawn Fall Should Be TV-MA
Full disclosure. Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall has a TV rating of TV-14, but considering how the first episode ends, TV-MA would have been more appropriate.
Also, Disney licensed the anime. They did not have a hand in the show's creation, but they could have stepped in and pulled the distribution, and their anime block targets underage teens.
You "can" argue that being TV-14, Disney and Bibury did not directly target tweens or children, but they are aiming this at teenage minors, and Black Rock Shooter has always had merchandise aimed at 11-to-15-year-olds, hence where the previous anime had morals about friendship and girlhood.
No Smiles For Smiley
Most Black Rock Shooter stories focus on a mostly female cast, but Dawn Fall decided to add a brand-new adult male antagonist. Smiley, a narcissistic robot dictator, who looks identical to the 1998 Sleeping Beauty Prince Ken Doll, albeit nude and with a red cape.
Unlike most Black Rock Shooter antagonists who are happy with the simple goals of world domination and Earth's destruction, Dawn Falls's Smiley is more interested in siring the "perfect" race.
Scenes of Sexual Assault
He chooses to go about this by kidnapping women, teenage girls, and finally 11-year-old Miya, sexually assaulting them and then turning the few who survive into breeding slaves. Again, this series is licensed by Disney.
By the time Hulu aired the first episode, Disney+ subscribers had already seen Episode 5 where Smiley kidnapped and repeatedly assaulted Miya, and Episode 6 where Smiley began to alter Miya's body, turning her into Hemitheos Unit cyborg so she could produce heirs.
Disney Has History of Grooming Narratives
Disney has long come under fire for the number of age-inappropriate relationships in movies directly aimed at children, such as Snow White being 14-years-old while her prince is 26, or The Little Mermaid's 16-year-old Ariel marrying Eric and becoming a mother in a sequel film that takes place just one year after her wedding, but to knowingly agree to license a series with this type of content seems unusually irresponsible.
Disney Airing Uncensored Content
The first episode aired on Hulu just as uncensored as it had on the worldwide version of Disney+. Alarming, when the first images of Smiley in the episode have him forcing his... let's say "life juices" through the eyes of his underage victim from behind. Again, this is not what you would expect from something Disney had licensed.
If there is a silver lining, it could be that Smiley's character was social commentary on the forceful, destructive and creepy nature of pro-lifers.
Is Smiley Secret Social Commentary?
For example, Ohio Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt made a disgusting remark in April 2022, claiming that a tween or a teenager impregnated due to rape should see it as an "opportunity to help that child become a productive human being" knowing full well the dangers of pregnancy in minors and knowing that minors are unable to obtain aid or good-paying jobs to support such an adult task.
An argument therefore could be made that Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall might be the wake-up call many anime fans need about the dangerous of anti-choice predators and the glorification of grooming and sexualization of minors in anime, especially as the show debuted in the same year Roe Vs. Wade ended in America.
Better Ways to Tell Cautionary Tale
However, if that was the case, there are far easier ways to tell a cautionary story about predatory people, without diving into X-rated imagery.
Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall is visually what you would expect from the metaseries if you played the PSP video game, a story about saving Earth from an evil empire, in a future dominated by harsh climates and high stakes battles, but it's deeply marred by a focus on the predatory Smiley and is not suitable for minors.
© 2022 Koriander Bullard