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Back when it was originally airing several months ago, I did first and second reactions to the anime Black Bullet. I remember my view of the show was generally positive, but deeply skeptical; it showed a lot of promise from the start, never appeared to latch onto any kind of strong thematic point, or justify itself as anything other than a fairly well animated spectacle. Sometimes rule of cool is enough, but if a show doesn’t take that and run with it (see Gurren Lagann), if it continues to run with underlying pretensions, the rule doesn’t work. The viewer is focused on those pretensions, looking for something thematic, and ultimately will feel let down.

Today on The Anime Harvest, we revisit Black Bullet for those final episodes, and I’ll give my final reaction to the series.

Keep in mind, this is a “final reaction”, not my final thoughts or a review. I could come back to Black Bullet again in the future to say more about it or even disagree with what I say here. Final reactions are about my thoughts during and immediately after watching the last episode(s) of a series or season. This will be less structured and less thought out than a full review, and contain spoilers. With that said, let us see what Black Bullet‘s final episodes have to offer.

One of the things that troubled me earlier in the series was that I really wanted to like the protagonist, Satomi Rentaro. He’s just a nice guy; I wanna like him. But the way the world is built around him; I mean, actually, other characters build Rentaro’s importance for him, is just such sloppy writing. He’s good at what he does, sure, but other characters treat him like some kind of chosen one, so whenever something important has to be done they all just gather behind him and say, “lead the way, oh great one.” Whenever someone questions Rentaro’s authority, they’re immediately made to look like a bad guy, or at least an asshole. The plot often chimes in, making Rentaro conveniently the only person available when the day is in need of saving. Notice a trend here? None of Rentaro’s importance has to do with his character.

When Rentaro is given the chance to express his character, for the most part his character is defined by his duties, as a soldier and a guardian to Enju. To paraphrase Jean Paul-Paul Sartre, being ones job means sacrificing ones transcendence, ones own will, and thus ones character. That said, there are times when Rentaro stresses under these duties, struggles to make decisions, and even occasionally catches himself making a mistake. It’s not so much making the mistake that’s important here, but that he reflects on it. The best of these moments was early on in the series, when Rentaro is a passive witness to a Cursed Child being accosted by security personal, but after seeing the look on Enju’s face, he goes after them to save her. By the time he reaches her, she appears to have been killed, and Rentaro clearly regrets not acting sooner.

Black Bullet episode 2 Rentaro

It’s clear Rentaro has character, and the fact that he tries to reject it being simply being his job can only make that more interesting. But he needs to express that character in a way the directly affects the plot. And eventually, he does.

Disobeying orders, assembling a group to break ranks and take the battle to the front line, and going off on his own. In a lot of ways these still feel like he’s just following some order, but I think that’s just the strength of his resolve. These are moments when I finally felt engaged with the character, Rentaro. Towards the end he’s no longer a chosen one, pushed down a path by others, he’s a leader who makes a path for the story.

The return of Kagetane. This is something I saw coming since he “died”. And I’m happy it came. I like this villain. His mysteriousness has been set up so well, giving so many ideas as to what he is, presenting so many questions with the a handful of answers for guidance.Black-bullet-episode-11-stream-kagetane-kohina-rentarou

The relationship between him and Rentaro quickly becomes cliche, but there’s still something about him that’s so creepy and curious that I just can’t help loving him. There’s something about a villain who can sleep around a campfire with his greatest foe, still feeling as dangerous as ever but with no thought that him might stab you in your sleep, that’s really fun to watch.

The little girl thing still bothers me. It’s pretty clearly just emotional manipulation, but it doesn’t even succeed as that. The girls are just too innocent and sweet despite what they’ve been through; I can’t take them seriously. Remi for Black Lagoon would have fit some of these roles perfectly, but instead they’re filled with stand-ins trying to be so sympathetic that I can’t possibly sympathies with them. Midori’s death was meant to make the viewer cry, and contribute nothing else; it just made me role my eyes. The majority of the Initiators are just not believable characters.

The final battle with the Gastrea was underwhelming, but I’m not sure if that was a mistake by the writers, or their intention. The Gastrea were never a point of interest, just a nameless faceless enemy to drive the plot. The interactions between people is what’s interesting. While the end of the Gastrea was utterly forgettable, it got me to lower my guard around 3 moments that actually did have impact. Two scenes between Rentaro and Enju, and one scene about Kisara.

The scenes between Rentaro and Enju made their characters feel complete, but still left room open for them to grow in a second season. The first one, right before Rentaro attempts to sacrifice himself, was fairly cliche, but the scene during the credits complimented it so well and finally mad Enju relevant again.

But what really got me was Kisara’s scene. While I’m still laughing the the idea of her sword suposedly being faster than sound yet not creating a sonic boom, the darker side of her character is revealed. She murdered that guy. I don’t even remember who that guy is; the scene is a great misdirect. In the middle of boredom in this side conflict between two characters I didn’t care about (honestly, until this point I yawned whenever Kisara was on screen), the show slaps you with the sudden surfacing of this psychotic monster inside her.

This plays into the message that Rentaro states earlier in the episode; everyone has two faces, a light one and a dark one. When it was said it was just trite, and focused on the good side of people. But to have Kisara’s dark face suddenly appear here demonstrates that there was actual thought put into the message.

For me, most of Black Bullet varied from momentarily interesting, to just having to trudge through it hoping it would get better. And it did get better towards the end. It wasn’t great, but better. It was those last 5 or so minutes that were really great, but it’s certainly not worth watching just for that.

However, I find myself excited for a second season. I think there’s a lot more it could do. The Gastea have been driven away and human villains have come forward. Ayn Rand, Kagetane, and now Kisara. All of them make much more interesting villains than the Gastrea. And some of the plot threads that i was most interested in are still loose; Enju’s condition and Rentaro’s call to leadership. If the second season is ballsy enough to give more twists like the one this season ended off on, it could be great. So, I’ll be looking out for that. Until then, what did you think of season 1 of Black Bullet?

Don’t Lose Your Way