In all the 13 years obtaining and tagging music for Neko Desu, there is one song that has given me constant headaches. It’s time to talk about Black★Rock Shooter by Supercell.
First, some background.
Neko Desu is my weekly radio show, which plays “anime music”. Defining what “anime music” is can be complicated, but the short version is we play opening themes, ending themes and insert songs used in the Japanese releases of Japanese-produced animations (TV, film, web, OVA). We’re quite strict on that, so stuff that are just music videos or TV adverts don’t count. Similarly, we don’t play remixes or other versions of songs not used in the anime.
Black★Rock Shooter is the name of a character in a series of illustrations by created by illustrator Fuke Ryohei, also known as Huke. The original illustration was posted to Pixiv in 2007 as seen below.
Vocaloid is a piece of software released by Yamaha designed to create sung vocals by virtual vocalists. Various “voices” have been released for the Vocaloid software and more are still being released to this day. Each voice has a name, some illustrations and a short biography, and the most famous Vocaloid voice is Hatsune Miku, released by Crypton Future Media for the Vocaloid software in 2007 with some updates coming later (such as Hatsune Miku Append, featuring some additional personalities and tones). This software allows for composers to release music with vocals without needing to have a real vocalist.
Supercell is a music group led by composer ryo. Historically, supercell featured Hatsune Miku in their music, but later music featured guest singers. ryo, both with and without the rest of Supercell, have gone on to compose for numerous songs featured in anime.
In 2007, ryo from Supercell saw the original Black★Rock Shooter illustration and was inspired to make a song using Hatsune Miku as the vocalist, which released in 2008 on Niconico Video. The song was included in Supercell’s self-titled debut album in 2008 for the independent Comiket release and 2009 through Sony Music. While other songs sounded a little different, Black★Rock Shooter was the same on both releases of this album.
Later in 2009, an OVA anime based on Black★Rock Shooter was announced, and some “pilot editions” were released, amounting to three music videos. One used the original Black★Rock Shooter song, and one used the “2M Mix” version which was an updated version using the new Hatsune Miku Append voice (still in beta at the time). For those keeping track at home, we now have two versions of Black★Rock Shooter: the original, and the “2M Mix” version.
In 2010, the full OVA was released, but it didn’t use the song, instead opting for new original songs by ryo: “Braveheart” and “One Day”.
In 2012, a TV anime was released, using Black★Rock Shooter as the opening theme. Finally the song was eligible for play on the show as it’s used in an actual anime. However, here is where things get complicated. According to the opening credits, this song is just “Black★Rock Shooter”. Not 2M Mix, not 2012 version, just “Black★Rock Shooter”. Except…it was audibly different in arrangement, not just due to shortening to 1:30 for TV. It sounded like a much more polished version of the song. Understandable considering the song was 4 years old at this point and ryo/Supercell had grown to become such a prolific artist and composer at this point. They would’ve had to trim the song to 1:30 for TV anyway, so might as well tidy it up, use Hatsune Miku Append or another newer version, etc. And yet, the credits imply otherwise. So what’s going on here? We now have a third version of the song to deal with. What’s that? There was a fourth version released in 2012 too? Uh oh…
So fans of voicaloids will be aware of the rhythm game series “Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA”. I won’t go too far into it, but in short you press buttons to the rhythm or vocals of songs and they’re all vocaloid songs. There have been multiple entries in the franchise, but the one we need to focus on today is Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F, released in Japan for the PlayStation Vita in 2012 and PlayStation 3 in 2013. It also got a release in North America and Europe in 2014 and 2013 respectively. This release of the game had Black★Rock Shooter as a playable song. Specifically, “Black★Rock Shooter (Game Version)”. Like most tracks featured in the game, this version was trimmed down to just under 3 and a half minutes (3:26 to be exact) while the original version was nearly 5 minutes long. Side note, the longest track in the game is Ievan Polkka at 4:05, which is very funny. So the game version sounds a little closer to the 2012 anime version in terms of instrumentation and polish, but because it’s trimmed down, the flow and structure is quite different to the anime version, and so isn’t really the version we’re looking for.
And this is where the trail went cold for a while. On two occasions in 2013 I played the original version on Neko Desu with the caveat “Okay fine. This is the original version of the track while I wait on the TV version”. It wasn’t fine for me, but it was the closest I could do. To make things even worse, the TV size version was never released on disc or download either, as otherwise I would’ve played that. Playing a recording from a TV episode wouldn’t be the best quality either so I didn’t want to do that.
Fast forward a decade to 2022. The Neko Desu music library has reached 7999 songs and I’m thinking of what song to have as the 8000th song. Euricaeris suggests a version of Black★Rock Shooter, so I return to my research once more in the hope of at least getting some closure in what happened to the 2012 anime version of the song.
I found it.
Not the song itself, but evidence that it exists. Evidence that I was right the whole time and websites such as AniDB and VGMDB are wrong in simply labelling the original song as the opening to the 2012 anime.
Scheduled for release on March 28th 2012, MHCL-2037 is the catalog reference for a CD listed as “ryo (supercell) feat. Hatsune Miku/Black Rock Shooter (provisional)” with the description:
(Discontinued) Opening theme for Fuji TV "Noitamina" frame animation "Black*Rock Shooter". A single containing "Black Rock Shooter" (TV Anime Ver.), which is a new mix of the original song "Black Rock Shooter" and retrained Vocaloid. In addition, rearranged "Black★Rock Shooter (Re Edit)" is also included.
(from a translation of https://www.biccamera.com/bc/item/1406879/)
This is it! This is the release of the song I’ve been looking for since 2012! But something struck me as odd. The use of “Provisional” should’ve been removed when the listing got finalised, and there should be a proper track listing. Yodobashi has a similar listing labelled “temporary”. Eventually, I look up the catalog number of VGMDB.
Well that explains why they’re all provisional/temporary on shops. But that means that, somewhere in ryo’s archives, there’s at least two versions of the song that were intended for a release but for whatever reason never got released. As far as I’m aware, there have been no further releases of the song and, without contacting ryo and/or Sony directly, no way to get these versions of the song. That’s the end of the story I guess, resulting in no way to play a version of the song used in an anime.
Except there’s one last chapter in this story.
Enter Black★★Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall. In 2022, this anime largely slipped under the radar due to it only being on Disney+, but the final episode had Black★Rock Shooter (the character) show up at the last moment with “Black★Rock Shooter” (the song) blasting away. Which version did they use? The original. The very original from 2007. This raises a few questions, such as “why not use the updated version from 2012?” but the answer to that may actually be the reason why the 2012 version isn’t available in the first place.
I do wonder if the 2012 version of the song is one that ryo didn’t like as much, and perhaps forced Sony to cancel the release. Similarly, perhaps it was Sony who forced ryo to do new versions for the 2012 anime in the first place. We can speculate all we want, but from what I can tell in my research, it was never addressed publicly (happy to be proven wrong by the way). If I was fluent in Japanese, I’d love to contact ryo and/or Sony and ask what happened, but I suspect I wouldn’t get a straight answer.
Something interesting I was made aware of thanks to Blondie: BRS Historian on Twitter is that the 2M Mix from back in 2009 was seemingly meant to be the definitive version of the song, with some of the limitations of Hatsune Miku V2 being overcome by using the beta version of Hatsune Miku Append. The 2M Mix was released for free on Supercell’s website and is still available to download on archive.org, which may be the reason why it wasn’t used in the 2012 anime or Dawn Fall since Sony didn’t have direct control over it and therefore couldn’t make money out of it (while Sony still have the rights to the original Supercell album with the original song on).
So that really is the end. I can add “Black★Rock Shooter” to the Neko Desu music library as the ending to episode 12 of “Black★★Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall” in confidence, and make reference to the 2012 anime just in conversation around playing the track. This rabbit hole has taken up way too much of my time, but I’m glad I finally got to the bottom of it. I hope you enjoyed the condensed version of this story. Thanks again to Blondie for the extra info.