Humanity is at peril a lot lately. The Attack on Titan trend of 2013 has sparked a slew of anime adaptations of manga which involve some kind of barrier containing humanity and protecting them from a formidable and horrific enemy which is knocking on their door and about to attack once and for all when we, the audience, join the party. This time we get replica obelisks from 2001: A Space Odyssey protecting Tokyo in this action tale, Black Bullet. Is it something refreshing or just as buggy as the creatures that populate it?
In the year 2021, mankind was stricken by a mutative virus known as Gastrea which causes huge insect creatures to destroy humanity and spread its contamination across the planet. Our main character Rentaro, sees one of these bugs close-up and his life is changed forever as is the entire world. The only thing that can hold back the Gastrea strain are huge towers of a dense black metal called Varanium; these structures contain Tokyo and its district in a relative peace while the menace roams outside occasionally slipping inside and causing trouble; that is where Rentaro and his partner Enju come into play to deal a dose of death to these demons. They are special agents of the Tendo Civil Security Agency and act as a buddy cop team [referred to as Promoters and Initiators]. Together they take out rouge and infected humans with the Gastrea virus and act as the last line of defence if the police can’t handle proceedings. One day though, a masked man named Kagetane and his Initiator daughter Kohina arrive on the scene and throw everything into discord. Only Rentaro and Enju can make any headway against Kagetane and his proclamations that the world is about to be destroyed and that he shall be the catalyst behind it. Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Tokyo, hundreds of young girls [or Cursed Children] are left abandoned; infected by the Gastrea virus from birth and gifted with some of its characteristics such as super strength and regenerative abilities. As such, humanity treated them with distrust and banished them to the corners of the barrier. However, the ruler of Tokyo [Seitenshi] has enacted a new law to help break down the social stigma but it is a very hard divide to heal. Rentaro and friends try and bring the two sides together as well as save the world from being entirely overrun by the Gastrea.
Black Bullet is a very confusing beast. It is a decent looking show with some noteworthy plot points and thought-provoking narrative structures but it suffers from moments of boredom and irrelevance. Light novel adaptations run the risk of being full of filler to help pad out an entry in a series and it can be transferred to its anime partner. Black Bullet is an action anime at its core but there’s not as much action as there would normally be. There’s a lot of standing around and talking about what just happened to fill any gaps in the plot that may have arisen; it’s a little broken up and it can distract viewers from its fundamental brief to convey the struggle that humanity has with the Gastrea. To me, it doesn’t FEEL like humanity is at risk; it looks pretty clean to me. It’s not like other apocalyptic anime in that humans still look like humans and society has remained relatively cohesive. The threat level is seemingly low. Granted, there IS a huge race of insect monsters coming down hard to dispel this status quo but the threat is not as present as it should be. That being said, when Black Bullet gets around to the action, it does it rather well. The addition of Kagetane as a non-Gastrea threat is a credible narrative tool in that it adds multiple threats which would happen in a dystopian society; there is very rarely one enemy. It would be natural for multiple foes to arise from the carnage and claim their stake in the world that they claim is rightfully theirs. There are some pretty gruesome scenes which don’t try and sugar-coat the situation and throws itself head on into showing that being infected with a Gastrea virus is not a nice way to go. It does the action part competently at least! Shame it has to rely on anime tropes to get by otherwise.
The Cursed Children I mentioned earlier are the creation of the Gastrea infecting pregnant women and giving birth to infected babies with traits of the Gastrea whose DNA slowly corrodes their host over decades instead of instantly. These Children are all female, which is down to the virus itself supposedly destroying Y chromosomes? It’s not made that clear initially. Sadly my mind can’t escape the fact that the reason they’re girls is to act as moe bait. Rentaro’s partner Enju is an example of this. Acting as Rentaro’s Initiator, she is a useful partner and is a very powerful individual. There’s no debating her place in the story, she is needed…but when the action isn’t happening, she falls prey to lolita tropes. She has a high libido, constantly making advances on Rentaro who thankfully rebuffs her desires but the fact she’s doing this is unsettling for me. This shouldn’t be in this kind of anime and it ruins Enju’s character. That’s all she seems to be there for; to act as eye candy and be the focus of many unfunny sexually driven comedy moments. It doesn’t work for me. What does work though is the fact that the Cursed Children are not forgotten and Rentaro does try and help them; especially with making Enju go to school like a normal girl. His actions are creditable; but I can’t shake off the feeling that the Cursed Children are excuses to have cute mascots fighting to appease a certain demographic.
Is Black Bullet worth your time? I hesitantly say yes. You have to take things with a pinch of salt and realise that there’s a lot left unexplained and that some of the time you will just have to go with the flow and accept that you might find out later in the show or maybe not at all. The Gastrea’s origin isn’t compelling enough for me either; I’m not sure how they came about or why they’re after humans. It seems to me that they are just GENERIC BUG MUTANTS. Nothing special. However I will say that the show does its action well and it’s worth watching for that at least. You just need to be patient as there are long expositions and complex moral dilemmas abound; you can’t switch off with this one!
Black Bullet is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
RATING: CAUTION [It’s a disjointed action show, but it does have its moments.]
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