Black Bullet


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?

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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.

blackbullet_2Black 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.

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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.

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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.]

If you like what you read, please visit my Patreon campaign to help grow Anifile.

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KÄMPFER ABRIDGED – EPISODE 7


After a break, Episode 7 marked the second push of production for the series. This episode came out in May 2011 and was one of my favourite episodes to write for with loads of excellent performances by all my cast.

MasakoX – Natsuru, Higashida
Nowacking – Sakura
takahata101 – Harakiri Tiger, Kampfer!Akane
sakurasenpai2008 – Akane
Rina-chan – Mikoto
LittleKuriboh – Seppuku Bunny
Lanipator – Kampfer!Mikoto, Hung Hound
KaiserNeko – Kanden Kitty
whip0falchemy – Shizuku

PREVIOUS EPISODE <—— ——> NEXT EPISODE

Dragonar Academy [Seikoku no Dragonar]


When you throw dragons into any sort of plot, you’re going to get a positive reaction. Now imagine if you could learn how to ride dragons and have one be your pet; that would be awesome, right? Yeah I figured. If you’re gonna learn then you need an academy in which to do it…preferably one with loads of well-endowed students? Well that’s what you get with Dragonar Academy but its substance is nowhere near as full as the chests of most of its characters.

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From the off we’re presented with a young boy named Ash Blake who has had his arm sliced off and nearly dying before being brought back to life and bestowed a Starbrand by an as of then unknown entity. Cut to a future time and he is seen as a social pariah in that he can ride any dragon [also referred to as a ‘parr’ or partner] instantly and it respond to his command. He is labelled a problem child and is quite volatile which makes a loose cannon amongst the students of Ansullivan Academy. His aggressive nature isn’t helped by royal prude Princess Silvia and her standoffish nature and then cruel attitude to him initially. It’s quite obvious that we are meant to feel sorry for Ash, especially when we find out that he did have a parr but not anymore through unfortunate circumstances [perhaps that first scene was a clue]. After the pair duke it out in an upcoming dragon race, Ash runs into two warriors from the rival country of Zepharos and he is quickly dispatched through a rather underhanded tactic. [I did scream out in protest at that part.] It’s through this action that his new parr appears in all her naked glory! She is later named Eco and is different from nearly all parrs in that she looks human despite being a dragon and has the same instincts and traits of a dragon only without the scales. The rest of the story is dedicated to Ash and Eco bonding and him acquiring his Arch armour which Eco has to make and does so in a typically reluctant tsundere [lovingly stubborn and aggressive] fashion which enhances his Astral Flow powers. It’s clear that we’re going towards an all out war between Lautreamont and Zepharos…when you’re not gawping at the ample student body that is.

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I get the feeling that Dragonar Academy is clutching at straws somewhat, or more accurately bosoms. The plot in itself feels very generic and something we’ve seen before in some shape or form. The whole chosen one who is an enigma inside a school and then rises to glory angle has been done most notably in Harry Potter in recent years. Not to mention the enraged lolita character in Eco which is almost a carbon copy of Zero from The Familiar of Zero all the way down to her hair colour! It’s easy to see that the plot is very trodden and overused and it has to rely on very conveniently designed uniforms to accentuate the front-heavy students even more which is a sure-fire sign that viewership ploys, particularly with young men, are running amok! It’s very unlikely that that many students would have those kinds of racks or a school would even try and enhance them further, but then we are talking about a place where dragons not only exist but are as common as horses so I guess anything can happen. I’m waiting for a banana riding a unicycle! [/sarcasm] Then again, I should’ve known what I was getting into; four minutes into the first episode, we’re thrust a steamy soft-core scene with the ‘god’ who is watching over proceedings named Navi who entrusts Eco to Ash through kisses and straddling. Right. She claims she was sizing him up later on…she sure was! [wink wink]

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It all starts to make sense somewhat when we realise that Dragonar Academy is someone’s first [and seemingly only] story. The writer Shiki Mizuchi wrote this back in 2010 as a light novel and has not made any other stories since then, capitalising off the ‘success’ of this IP. It stands to reason that his relative inexperience in nuanced storytelling is to be expected; he has probably written some unpublished articles but this is the only one to make it to print. Then we get the animation house in charge of the design, C-Station. Dragonar Academy is their first proper production after doing contract work for other titles [really low-end animation work mind]. They spun off from larger studio Bee-Train in 2009 and it’s taken them five years to get an anime out to market. I guess they were building an experienced team and I will give them credit, it looks decent. Not groundbreaking but passable.
dragonar_3Going back to the dragons as common as horses thing I mentioned. It’s actually rather sad that dragons are like this now. Dragons are meant to be creatures which envoke fear and if they’re going to be ridden, treated with respect and shown to be majestic and powerful. These dragons look like horses; nowhere near as ethereal as their myths and reputations convey. They look beefy and clunky which isn’t how dragons should be. It’s only when you stick a pair of wings of them [a Maestro dragon which Silvia pilots] that they even get close to resembling their legendary status. It’s such a crushing blow to me and most fantasy fans I would imagine. This sentiment is something that carries over to the anime at large, squandered opportunity. You have a chance to build a really interesting model of a dragon academy with gothic architecture, spindly dragons that are barely contained and riders who are constantly near death with a main character who is less stock than what we get with Ash. Instead we get a soft and mediocre copy of a magic school that we’ve seen time and time again. It should like be Skyrim High School, not Magic School #320. Dragons aren’t domesticated creatures, simple as that.

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There’s not much else to say about Dragonar Academy except that it is a poor reiteration of a tired concept which fails to make a dent in the universe or even engage me. I will give it credit for looking somewhat decent in the animation department and character models, although sometimes the eyes look a little large for their owners’ bodies. It looks alright in that regard, shame that the same amount of effort couldn’t have been put into the original light novel in which this was based on. I wouldn’t bother with this show unless you’re looking for some mild titillation.

Dragonar Academy is available to stream on Funimation’s website.

RATING: CANCEL [Cookie cutter magic school anime if ever there was one.]

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If Her Flag Breaks [Gawoware]


People can sometimes be hard to read. Emotional manipulation, masking, adaptation to the social normality is common in modern society with people not always showing you what they’re truly thinking or feeling. Imagine if you could see a person’s emotions summated in a small flag on top of your subject’s head. What would you do? Use it to your advantage? Make people happy? Or try and break them? The first two, I thought so. However, our main character in If Her Flag Breaks chooses to make that third option his mission…and somewhat fails in his endeavours in the arms of many MANY girls! SOMANYFREAKINGIRLSOHMYGOD!

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Our story is about a guy named Souta who was the sole survivor of a horrible shipping accident where his entire family was killed. He is left to fend for himself and huddles inside a derelict house alone. He has a special trait though seemingly given to him by a strange mage named Sakura who was on the boat at the same time; he can read people’s emotions. Not through some special magical foresight that looks cool; his visual cue is a lot simpler…and cuter. He can read social flags, as in he can tell what people are thinking and what their ultimate motive is. For example, one of the MANY girls he befriends clearly has the hots for him as the love flag is raised by the second episode. This girl is Akane Mahougasawa, an heiress to a huge company; she quickly wants to be friends and despite Souta’s repeated efforts to break her friendship flag, she rebounds and he capitulates. I said break her friendship flag; why would he want to do such a thing? Akane is pretty cute…even IF her voice is screechy and sickly sweet. Souta is a pained individual; you would be too if you were in his position. He believes he is bad luck and tries to push people away and live alone so as to not trouble other people and have them meet with a potentially awful fate. He can see social flags, but he can also see if people are about to die. He thankfully chooses to save people but his main goal of staying alone is a total failure with him securing the required five cute girls who are into him in a romantic comedy; in fact he gets closer to ten of them. TEN! That’s more than zero, mate – you’re not exactly doing well at being a hermit [and it seems that by the end of the season that there’ll be more!]. His house is renovated thanks to the kind efforts of the student body of the school he goes too and most of the girls in the show up sticks and move in with him at the drop of a hat! The rest of the story is geared towards recounting Souta’s adventures with his female companions as well as discovering more about the powers he was ‘gifted?’ with. It’s a two-part narrative that’s for sure, but it seems like it’s a cut above most others.

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There are a lot of catalysts in this show and most of them are girls. Nanami, who is clearly focused to be one of the key love interests, is a princess and heiress to the principality of Bladefield, a poor European duchy [Don’t look it up, it doesn’t exist.]. Her abrasive manner kickstarts the whole show when she accosts Souta and gets him out of his lonesome slump enough to spark a comedic story to unfold before us. Then we get Kikuno and Rin, who were childhood friends of Souta and help him connect more to his past so he is able to rebuild his social structure. Akane, her lacky Ruri and Megumu are the new acquaintances to freshen up Souta’s friendship circle and help him secure a strong community with his now renovated house/dorm. The characters may be archetypes of many other anime but they have logical places in the show and most of them don’t feel like they’ve been shoved in. Even Megumu, who is confused about his gender, finds solace in Souta who is pretty straightforward when it comes to it and accepts what he sees; his place in the story is a moral cue for us all to be accepting of everyone we meet and that we all just want to have a friend. It’s a touching subplot and it saddens me a little that others keep getting him confused for a girl…although it doesn’t help that the producers of the show chose to have him have a sister who forces him to wear female clothing. It’s sad that he’s used in this manner but Souta’s mannerisms uplift me somewhat. You can tell from the next slide that Megumu is a little bit happy about this!

ifherflag_3I’m going to say this right here; this is probably one of the most blatant examples of a harem anime I have ever seen. There are so many girls here that every male anime fan will have at least one character they really like. They’re LITERALLY falling out of the sky there are so many of them. My favourite is the dead-pan android Ruri [who is totally modelled on Ruri from Martian Successor Nadesico, I swear it!]. Ruri’s place in the show is to observe Akane [she is a rich heiress to be fair!] and offer one-liners and quips whilst munching on USB energy. She is a cute android and it proves that the models of flinging female personas at the screen will guarantee that one will stick! One thing to remember though is that the overarching narrative is that Souta needs to change his fatal destiny. He is to gather four gifted souls: a princess knight, a shinobi, a clergyman and a magician. It’s obvious that a bunch of the girls are going to end up filling those slots based on their personalities but this rather morbid plot is at least garnished with sugary sweetness to negate most of the pessimism.

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The show itself is one that has it sizeable heart pounding a mile a minute. There’s always something going on, a quip being made, a gag being spun and generally most of these jokes hit. There’s one scene where Ruri spots that Mimori [the student president] is aroused by blurting out her heat signature down below. That came from left field and I did laugh loud which is rare for me; it’s not like I don’t find things funny, I do…but it takes a lot to get to me to laugh out loud. If Her Flag Breaks is funny and yet it has a serious streak to it in Satou’s troubled past and his uncertainty of the future and what his powers mean. The entire package is presented well with a nice flair and somewhat unique style. The character models look cute if a little moe for my liking but I will give it credit as its story and writing are above average. I reckon the show is meant to be spoofing the harem genre with the sheer number of girls fawning over Satou in some shape or form as well as the exaggeration of the friendship angle…or more like twister!

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Watching If Her Flag Breaks was a welcome break from the serious anime I’ve been watching; a chance to have some light-hearted comedy and yet something that wasn’t brain-dead and with a touch of mystique about it. I went into this thinking it was going to be stupid and ridiculous. I am right that it is ridiculous but I was wrong about it being stupid. The flag angle throws lots of cards on the figurative table and means that the teenage angst that is rife in most anime is reduced significantly and in a novel fashion too; I like that! I also like that the show’s director [Ayumu Watanabe] also directed Mysterious Girlfriend X – one of my favourite anime. It probably explains why I have a soft spot for this title. This show is amusing and bonkers at times and yet despite the simplistic character models, you kind of want Satou to be happy like they do. I’m happy, at least!

If Her Flag Breaks is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CONTINUE [A surprisingly charming and unique spin on the harem genre]

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Majin Bone


What do kids, specifically boys, like most of all when it comes to a TV show? Fighting? Robots? Powers? Fighting robots with powers? Well, that’s the formula we’ve got here with Majin Bone. A tale about a young boy who gains powers and turns into a robotically armoured fighter with dragon powers and beats enemies up. Sounds good, yeah? Simple action; maybe too simple. In fact, it’s a little lacking.

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Majin Bone is a multi-media property created by Bandai. Bandai has created a digital card game of the same name and has, logically, joined forces with Toei Animation to create an anime series to go in tandem with the game. It started with a manga in January published in the magazine Saikyo Jump and now three months later has its animated brother in arms to help push the Majin Bone property into the public eye. Did I say push? I mean lightly tap. The anime is a very lacklustre affair in terms of style and finesse, but I will give it credit for trying its best with what it has; I’ll go into detail later but for now, let’s focus on the story. Its story is about a young boy named Shougo who finds himself embroiled in a battle between armoured fighters who are causing havoc around a city, fighting battles between themselves in both reality and in a game-like cuboid anti-reality. At first, he is clueless about this but his friend Saho constantly points him in the direction of aliens [and for once is on a hiding to something!] and he ultimately finds himself hearing strange sounds that aren’t his mind telling him to jump ship and find a better anime to be an average high school student in. Three figures watch over him [who later are his cohorts Antonio, Tyrone and Luke] and could easily help him when a warrior accosts Shougo when he comes into contact with a magical stone tablet and merges with it, but they choose to just watch instead of…helping. Yeah. The rest of the story revolves around Shougo learning his powers of the Dragon Bone and fighting more baddies in a similar vein whilst also dealing with the sexual tension of having his best friend Saho staying in the same house as him [Saho’s family home got destroyed in the aforementioned fight] and her unearthing his porn collection doesn’t bode well for our young man.

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I think the first thing I need to point out here is that this isn’t meant to be a deep and philosophical analysis of robotic warriors and such; this is merely a show invented to help sell a card game. It doesn’t need to have a detailed plot; just enough to serve the purpose of advertising the cards available, the basic concept, the main characters and add some kind of mild superhero-esque peril. It’s a wholly stock affair with characters representing all sorts of stock archetypes. We’ve got Shougo as the aloof teenager, Saho as the oddball supernatural obsessive, Luke as the stoic leader [I’m getting vibes of Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho] and so on. They cover the bases of what we should expect in an anime of this sort. However, there is a critical point to make which helps make Majin Bone stand out above Yu-Gi-Oh clones; its acting. If Toei and Bandai wanted to follow a formula one hundred percent, they could’ve used more grating and simplistic vocals which would sound brash, shrill, over-acted and annoying to anyone over the age of fourteen. Instead, it sounds a lot more natural and realistic. These characters sound more normal than I expected. It makes the show more accessible and that’s a good thing. Listening to Antonio’s flirtations with Shougo’s sister for example, was actually rather amusing and despite his already eccentric Brazilian flair, his diction and timbre resonated well with my ears; I didn’t want to skip the video or slice my ears off – again, good thing.

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Another good thing is what the Majin Bone production team does with the seemingly meagre budget that Toei has bestowed upon them. Toei has been doing this a lot lately, neglecting some of its anime properties for its more popular titles when it comes to animation quality. I applaud them for trying their hardest to make something that punches above its weight. Their efforts pay off somewhat; it actually has a retro feel to it. The superflat art style and simplistic character designs complement the limited resources and add a little charm to proceedings. It saves the show from becoming another cheap ploy for cash. I mentioned earlier that the characters had stock archetypes when it comes to their personalities; but thankfully the designs are more original. They look natural and more indicative of the character instead of clones from other shows [for the most part] like the voice acting. It feels like a real-life world has been thrust into a surreal existence and it has to deal with this sudden change of events. Most of the fighting uses 3D models of the robotic armour-clad characters in a grid-like environment. The designs look cool, but the fighting isn’t. It is so stale and unfinished; the limited use of sound effects and minimal dialogue left me feeling cold and distant. I didn’t engage with any of the action save for a couple of moments when Shougo was finding his feet [by planting one in a robot’s face]. It brought everything down in my eyes and I felt sad.

majinbone_1I think if Majin Bone got the budget it deserved or maybe a studio that would give it the attention it needed, it would be a better show. I respect it for doing the best it could with what it got. I think the characters are decent and do a far better job than the animation does. It is such a letdown. I will keep watching for a while to see how it goes but I feel that I know that the animation quality will steadily get worse as the mid-series slump occurs but I have hope. Also, I never quite got why the series is called Majin BONE. It sounds weird and slightly awkward. In fact, there’s a line where Luke tells Shougo to “Equip your bone!”; I think he’ll have no trouble with that, what with being a highschool student!

Majin Bone is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CAUTION [It has potential, but Toei’s neglect doesn’t bode well for this show]

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