The year is 2062 and Earth lies devastated after the failure of the automated workforce initiative Project Artemis led to a massive AI uprising that almost wiped out humanity. In an abandoned laboratory in San Francisco, a girl with no memories wakes up and attempts to discover who she is and what purpose she has.
I suspect the whole Black Rock Shooter thing might be a bit confusing to those of you who weren’t around anime a decade or so ago, so let’s start with a quick recap. The character of Black Rock Shooter started life as a series of illustrations by the artist huke, which in turn inspired a song by the artists’ collective he was a part of, Supercell. Subsequently there was a whole bunch of merchandise, a oneshot OVA by Studio Ordet (which was bad!) and then an eight episode TV anime series that was also by Ordet, which was unexpectedly excellent, probably due to some top-tier imported talent in the form of Mari Okada, Hiroyuki Imaishi and a pre-SSSS.GRIDMAN Akira Amemiya. It even made the very first GLORIO end-of-year list back in 2012.
Got all of that? OK, forget it, because this new show has absolutely zero connection to pretty much any of those past incarnations, beyond the basic character designs. DAWN FALL is instead an all-CGI post-apocalyptic scifi story which trades heavily on Drakengard and Terminator vibes. The shift from psychological fantasy to a very hard-edged techno scifi is jarring for those of us with memory of the past fictional incarnations of the character, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s so little substance behind the BRS brand that pivoting to a completely different mood and genre of storytelling was arguably the best thing they could have done, and there’s certainly some intriguing design work here, particularly in the memorably freakish baddies and their bizarre boss Smiley, complete with jarringly incongruous Tomokazu Sugita voicework.
On the other hand, the post-apocalypse is an extremely played out setting at this point, and Dawn Fall‘s uninspired blasted landscapes and crumbling buildings certainly don’t do anything to buck the trend. The excessive focus on military jargon and realistic weaponry seems like basic otaku-bait, and the comically high number of characters with covered faces is a regular reminder of the limitations of Bibury’s CGI chops. BRS herself is immediately disengaging, an emotionless doll who constantly seems half asleep between her generic amnesiac statements. It’s an ugly show too, and not even the action is particularly well choreographed or inspired, with the scene of BRS running directly into a hail of enemy fire laughably bad in particular.
In the end, Dawn Fall is more interesting as a weird curio than an actual story. The fact that it’s so hard to watch only enhances the idea that it’s kind of a throwaway production that nobody really invested that much into. Limited for the moment to Japanese Disney Plus accounts, we watched it via some very questionable fansubs, and I’m prepared to cut it a little slack on that front, but not that much. A lot will depend on whether the show has any interest in building on the couple of compelling concepts it does have, or whether it’s content just being a vehicle to smash action figures together. My interest is piqued either way, but perhaps not for the most positive of reasons.
I’m not a fan of how every Black Rock Shooter media entity has to be its own, completely unrelated thing. I’m not even talking like, Legend of Zelda style spiritual successors that have a lot of recurring elements. They are completely different concepts, with no connection besides BRS herself and maybe a cameo from another character here and there. What’s the point in even using the name then, other than marketing? It makes it hard to care when a new entry like Dawn Fall appears, since we’re effectively starting a brand new series.
And so, left to judge Dawn Fall in a vacuum, it’s not very good! It basically remixes the boilerplate post-apocalyptic military setting of the PSP game into something equally uninteresting, all delivered with a healthy portion of mediocre CG. Sure, BRS whips out the Rock Cannon at the end and we even get an appearance from Strength, but other than that I did not see anything worth getting excited about. Maybe if it had some of the drama and visual spectacle of the 2012 anime I’d be more inclined to give it some time, but as it stands I don’t see any reason to keep watching.