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Black Bullet – Review

by Anthony Sulwer

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Black Bullet should move to the top of your queue with – if you’ll forgive the pun –a bullet.

Directed by twenty-plus-year veteran Masayuki Kojima (Trinity Blood, Gunslinger Girl, Gungrave) Black Bullet acts as both a throwback to the anime revolution of the early 1990s, as well as using the influences of today’s hyper-connected world and how it might look two decades from now.

The first season of Black Bullet accomplishes more in thirteen episodes than most series do in multiple seasons of filler and fluff. The typical, often-egregious qualities plaguing much of recent anime (i.e. still image panning, generic and repetitive characters, giving every little thing like reflected light their own sound effect) are either non-existent in the first season of Black Bullet, or they are so few and inconsequential that everything they got right drowns out what little they may have gotten wrong. Black Bullet avoids many pitfalls while simultaneously infusing a fresh story populated with enigmatic, colorful characters; all while adding just enough recognizable tones to make it feel familiar without being cliché.

The series is set in 2031, ten years after the Gastrea infestation, a parasitic virus, devastated all mankind. The survivors of the area in and around Tokyo now live within the shadowed shelter of massive monoliths made from Varanium, a metal containing the ability to both repel and destroy Gastrea.

In the years following the Gastrea epidemic, children were born to women who had been infected. Their fetuses ended up bonding with the Gastrea virus. These children have superhuman abilities unique to each one who – as a result of the virus – are also all female. These girls become known throughout Tokyo as “Cursed Children’” and are largely shunned by a population who does not trust them or their glowing, red eyes. The crimson irises are, for the most part, the only attribute to distinguish the girls from other children. However, if the girls are able to keep their emotions under control, they can maintain a more socially acceptable eye color.

Civil Securities are formed throughout the world in order to keep the Gastrea able to break through the barriers from attacking the citizenry and spreading destruction. How some of these massive, strange Gastrea creatures are able to breach the walls is one of the more fascinating subplots of the series.

In Tokyo, the top Civil Security agency is the Tendo Civil Security Agency. The series follows Rentaro Satomi, a second year high school student. Rentaro works for Tendo Civil Security Agency (TCSA) as a Promoter. Almost always alongside Rentaro is his partner, an Initiator and Cursed Child named Enju. This partnership is how all the teams who work for Civil Securities – as well as a few freelancers – operate. One Promoter and one Initiator. The Initiator is always a cursed child with an amazing, and often deadly, superhuman ability. The Promoters are also highly skilled warriors, as Rentaro himself uses a gun loaded with rounds made from Varanium, the material used specifically against Gastrea, to unusually great effect.

All of the Cursed Children and their Promoters make for some of the most interesting character interaction seen in anime in many a moon. Rentaro and Enju have the Promoter/Initiator partnership, but they also have a deeper bond that shows in their protection and love for each other. It is the relationships between Promoters and Initiators driving the story toward its many climaxes throughout the season. Sacrifices, confessions, guilt, wrong choices; these are all part of the emotional obstacles that find their way into a first season of only thirteen episodes.

In the first few episodes the primary antagonists are Kagetane Hiruko, a Promoter whose Initiator, Kohina, is his daughter. Both of these characters are violent, psychotic, terrifying, and utterly, bloodily delightful every time they appear. The fact that Kohina is only a ten-year-old child makes her blood lust all the more chilling and memorable. The battles between Kagetane & Kohina versus Rentaro & Enju make for spectacular scenes fraught with peril and high-speed action. The two duos final battle turns out to be a surprising, nail biting mid-season finale after Rentaro appears to be mortally wounded.

The animation throughout Black Bullet maintains an extremely high standard when compared with much of the lazy anime being cranked out lately. Nothing about the quality in Black Bullet feels forced, rushed, or lethargic. On the contrary, Black Bullet plays out its truly amazing first season as a labor of love and devotion on the part of everyone involved in creating the series. Each character is well defined, unique, with distinguishable, often polarizing, personality traits. The drama created by the strong personalities sometimes takes the spotlight away from the gigantic, oddly fascinating but horrifying Gastrea creatures ready to launch an invasion on Tokyo.

If Black Bullet falls flat anywhere, it’s in the occasional, very uncomfortable professions of love and attraction from Enju toward Rentaro. She is, after all, only ten years old and he is assumed to be in his upper teens. It does make the viewer squirm a bit to have Enju ask Rentaro to join her in her bath. These moments, thankfully, are very few and far between, and Rentaro always refuses – or flat out ignores – each and every advance she attempts.

Black Bullet packs a considerable amount of plot and character development for its central protagonists into its criminally short, thirteen episode introductory season. Slick animation developed with care, intriguing characters, and a fascinating story arc, Black Bullet seems to have come out of the ether as a fully developed, fully realized creation, ready to engage its audience with a sadistically entertaining premise with equally entertaining characters and interactions. I would be remiss if I did not admit to feeling as if I did myself a huge favor by waiting until the full first season was available before I began watching, because having to wait every week for a new episode may have been a little too maddening.

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Author: Anthony Sulwer

A freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado, Anthony fell in love with anime while working part time jobs at video stores in the 90s. Nights off were spent watching Akira, Ninja Scroll, Fist of the North Star, and anything else to appear in the small "Specialty" section of the large chain stores.

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