Fear. Love. Anger. All basic parts of the human existence. All unique, yet interconnected. All primal, yet human. At some point in our lives, we have all experienced a mixture of any of these emotions. For every good day, there are a few bad ones. For every tender hug, there are words that sting of bitterness. And few powers on Earth compare to the influence these emotions can have on our lives. Emotions are not intrinsically human, and yet they are a large part of what makes us human: the love of a mother for her children; the fear that pushes a soldier onward through the face of danger; despite not sharing an experience, we can relate to it because we all understand emotion on a deeper, more instinctual level. This innate knowing, this intimate understanding, is why emotions are both so powerful and so deadly. Anger can bring both justice and destruction, fear can breed both wisdom and madness, and love can cause both joy and hatred.
There are two sides to every coin, and every emotion serves as a tipping point between two outcomes, and the actions of individuals decide which way the balance will swing. Few anime touch on this as strongly as Black Rock Shooter, a series that is small in length, but surprisingly large in depth. Beginning as a typical fantasy/slice-of-life anime, the story presents the viewer with an interesting question: what if our emotional conflicts were decided in battle? Each character in the series is shown to have a counterpart in another world, a world where the emotional trials between the characters are represented by battles between otherworldly warriors. As the characters interact and know one another, the closer their other selves get, either in battle or in friendship, and this interplay is what drives the series.
As Mato, the middle-school protagonist, learns more about her friends and becomes involved in their lives, the cannon-toting Black Rock Shooter meets each of their counterparts in different ways: some in battle, some as allies. In a way, each counterpart is the embodiment of the emotions of a specific character, and this manifests itself in different ways. The emptiness felt by Yomi manifests itself in the dark and lonely Dead Master; the emotional nudging and influences of the school counselor Sayaka manifest themselves as the mysterious and powerful Black Gold Saw, who takes it upon herself to attack and manipulate Black Rock Shooter. And as Mato’s emotions begin to spiral out of control, as her world seems to be getting both brighter and darker, the unchecked feelings give rise to Insane Black Rock Shooter, the full embodiment of Mato’s negative emotion.
This surge of energy and explosion of raw power in one being threaten to rip the emotional world apart, as Insane BRS begins to destroy everything in her path. All she knows is pain, and she uses that to fuel her destruction, regardless of the effect it would have on herself and Mato. As individuals, we act in the same manner at times. We undergo a trial, and instead of reaching out for comfort, we pull into ourselves. We hide ourselves behind the curtain of our hurt; we savor and hold on to that which threatens to burn us up; we love to hate the pain. The pain that fuels us drives us to lash out against those close to us, pushing us further into isolation and depression. Instead of finding identity in Christ, who allows for true individuality by expressing ourselves through our love for Him, we confine ourselves in a prison of pain, locked behind bars of despair, longing to escape, when the door is open before us. God made us creatures of emotion, but when we fixate solely on one emotion, bad results are bound to happen.
And Mato comes to realize this, as she enters the emotional world, and decides that she would rather take the pain for the sake of her friends. She is more than a receptacle for pain: she feels love for her friends and family, she feels disappointed and angry at her weakness, but determination to improve, she understands, she feels, she IS. Harnessing the full power of the emotional spectrum, Mato faces herself, defeats Black Rock Shooter, and restores balance to both worlds. Only by realizing who she is, and by embracing her identity as a whole can she experience victory. And, so too with the Christian. Only when we realize that we are not defined by our circumstances, we embrace who we are in Christ and allow God to guide and heal us, can we experience victory over the trials of life, whether it be a struggle with sin, a problem with trust, or a hurtful friend. We need to let go of our own pre-conceived notions of our identity, what we or what others press upon us, and submit ourselves to the lordship of Christ. And contrary to popular belief, acknowledging Christ’s mastery through humble submission is not a shackle meant to bind us, but rather the only gateway into true freedom.