First off, I would like to apologize to all you good people (gotta suck up to the readers) for implying that Black Bullet might not be completely awesome in my First Reaction. Though far from flawless, all the little things that made me dubious about where the show was going have proven to be red herrings, so if you haven’t already, go watch Black Bullet, it’s pretty damn good. Though, again, far from flawless.
The story of Black Bullet seems to be one of relatively short arcs, the first one finishing with episode 4. Being only about halfway though the second one at this point, I can’t really comment about how well they work as a whole, but individually they’re fairly good, albeit not especially memorable. The climax of the first one was memorable, but I’ve already forgotten a lot of the set up. The second one so far has had a clear, consistent flow, but it’s not building to anything as stunning as episode 4. A big thing holding this second arc back I think is that I can’t get as engaged with the villain. Not that Kagetane was a particularly deep villain, but he was mysterious, and threatening. The new antagonist, Tina, is sympathetic, but I can’t get behind the story because I’m not sure what I’m supposed to expect from her. She’s an Initiator, not a Prompter, so seemingly she’s not a force for evil, but a weapon of it. This makes it easier for her to switch sides, so whatever she’s thinking will determine the threat level. And unfortunately, the show doesn’t give us any indication of what she’s thinking, so now I’m impatiently waiting for her character turning point, and not focusing on the story. I understand that telling us what she’s going to do now defeats the purpose of her trying to make a decision, but at least give us a hint, even a red herring would get me back engaged with the plot. Have Tina drop a line like, “I will carry out masters orders” to keep the feeling of danger going for now.
There’s also a problem of plot convenience. Some aspects of the plot rely heavily on chance. A varanium projectile is needed to defeat the monster; oh look at that, I’ve got one attached to my shoulder. And the shape and mass somehow don’t matter at all despite the weapon being extremely precise. Tina is about to be told her target is Rentaro; woops, she dropped her phone. These are minor, but it’s lazy writing.
I’ve been a little pessimistic here, but I am looking forward to where the show is headed. Ever since the first episode there has been a steady flow of world and character building information, which has had some purpose when it was mentioned, but seems primarily directed towards setting up a larger, deeper conflict than we’ve seen so far, and once that comes, I expect Black Bullet will put it’s best foot forward.
One of the big things that worried about the first episode was Enju’s romantic obsession with Rentaro, as it implied some pedophilic tones. But now that I’ve seen where the show is going, and the nature of Enju and Rentaro’s relationship, I can’t really fault it, and it never goes so far as to really be a turn off. In fact, Enju’s behaviour could make a lot of sense, depending on her history. I have a younger sister, younger than Enju, and she has said before that she wants her future husband to be just like our father. This makes a lot or sense given that he only knowledge of a man in a family setting is him; he is literally the model for her to understand a mans role around a wife and children. For Enju, the same is true of Rentaro, except she has a more mature perspective on it. Combined with the fact that they’re not blood related, and whatever trauma Enju’s been through in the past, her feelings and behavior towards Rentaro make sense, and aren’t just there because this is an anime and otaku culture is kinda fucked up when it comes to little girls.
This is reflected in Rentaro’s character. In some ways I’m still really uncertain whether I respect the direction with writers took with Rentaro. He’s not exactly wish fulfillment (unless you wish to be between to near death twice in one episode), nor is he just an idealized hero, but he’s somewhere him the middle. He’s a badass, with cybernetic limb and basically superpowers, and the fate of his city and probably the world rest in his hands by episode 4. Every bad thing that happens to him only servers to make him even cooler, and looked up to by literally every over character in the show, which is especially bad when so much of the show is about being an outcast and hated by your peers. It makes all his struggles feel hollow when you know he’s just going to find the will to power through, then get an Evangelion worthy “congrats” afterwards. Where redemption is found, however, is in where he finds that will. Rentaro is not righteous by nature. He’s probably more like an average, decent, passive guy, who would give a couple bucks to the Salvation Army if they came to his door, but wouldn’t even think of running into a burning building to save someone. What triggers his heroics is Enju. As her guardian, he tries to be both a brother and a father to Enju. As a father he provides for and protects her, and as a brother he tries to live up to her idealized image of him. This is most clear in episode 2, when he would have let the police take away a Cursed Child, no questions asked, but Enju’s disappointment in him prompted Rentaro to take action. In fact, basically everything Rentaro does is either to protect Enju, or protect her image of him, which makes me wonder why. Unfortunately, the question has yet to be answered.
An I wish I could say I was done with the unsettling little girl stuff, but in a show about super powerful yet extremely vulnerable little girls, it’s hard to avoid. And I could chalk it all up to just being the shows’ premise and not actually at all creepy, but it’s still creepy that they chose to make this the premise. I get that little girls were chosen by the writers because it makes the message of societal abuse resonate stronger with the audiences emotions, but doesn’t that send the wrong message if we’re only encouraged to empathise with little girls? What about male children on the fringes of society, or even adults? Are we not expected to care about them; only little moe girls? And besides the thematic issues, when you have scenes like this
I can’t help but feel very uncomfortable. Even from a business standpoint this is a bad idea, because it’s stuff like this that makes a lot of anime inaccessible to a broader audience. But I’ve raved and digressed enough.
Other than the little girls, Rentaro also has three big girls falling for him, which is great for wish fulfillment, but not so good for relatability when it comes to most otaku. The front runner among the three is Kisara Tendo, Rentaro’s childhood friend, present tsundere, and boss. I can’t say much about her now, but it’s teased that she has some character depth that should be explained soon. For now though, she’s short tempered, badass with a sword, and worries about money almost as much as she worries about other girls flirting with Rentaro.
Miori Shiba is a firearms expert and supplies Rentaro with his equipment, the student council president, and an obnoxious secondary love interest. Unlike Kisara, she’s very forward about her feelings for Rentaro, making her only purpose in the romantic subplot to be forcing Kisara to tip her hand a little.
And lastly there is Seitenshi, who thankfully is in no way defined by, or even significantly affected by her feelings for Rentaro. She’s the head of whatever government is in place, a cool, gentle, idealist, who wants people to live in a peace. And that’s about it.
Lastly, I want to mention the animation. In my first Reaction I said the design looked nice but wasn’t executed extravagantly. Now I know that it can get extravagant when it needs to. Again I think of episode for, which didn’t just look “nice”, in that everything was drawn well, but beautiful. 4 was an action packed episode, and animators executed it perfectly. The characters movements looked natural and were extremely fluid. And it doesn’t take away from the rest of the show; it’s not like everything else looks worse by comparison. Instead, the right animation at the right time has worked to convey the significance of each scenes. Most scenes look fine, and climaxes look splendid. The budget and quality is distributed well.
Black Bullet is the best show of this season that I’ve been following, just based on what’s already been delivered. If the final episodes pay off on the world and character building, it could even be notable outside of it’s year season. But, like a lot of anime it suffers from superfluous romance and the characters that come with it, and some weirdness that makes some scenes uncomfortable to watch. It’s odd to say this so late in a animes runtime, but it’s main attraction is it’s potential. If the finale fails to deliver, this potentially great show will be nothing more than a couple decent arcs. But there’s still 8 episodes to go until then.
Don’t Lose Your Way