The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Review: Black Bullet plays like a nicer-looking version of That Lazy Action Franchise Anime Tie-in. You know the one. You've seen it at least once in adaptations from Devil May Cry to Witchblade to Tokyo Majin. The premise goes something like: government organization of teenagers and young adults in post-disaster Tokyo fight ordinary citizens who turn into bug-demon-monsters of some kind, using a combination of guns and superpowers. The details of that summation may change slightly from title to title, but it all goes down the same dull, ugly street. Black Bullet has kept its street much nicer-looking than its peers, but not much less dull, unfortunately. It's based on a light novel, and it has the worst trends of light novel writing where once any kind of action segment is over, characters sit around and talk to each other about the plot in as-you-know dialogue interspersed with unfunny comedy bits. At least in some shabbily-written light novel adaptations, the dialogue has novelty and personality, see the lyrical twistings of My Teenage Romcom SNAFU or even this season's Flag no Kanojo. No such luck with Black Bullet. Once the admittedly enjoyable action stops, everything drags to a predictable snooze.
This uninspired but watchable premise combined with well-animated and directed action scenes would draw a 3 from me in any other circumstances. It may be dumb as a rock, but the show does hold your attention for twenty minutes and looks fairly good doing it. But then there's that supporting cast, a cadre of horribly annoying and transparently fetish-based females from the childhood friend to the career-hardened MILF to the twin-tailed lolita, which is where the real problem lies.
Loli Enju doesn't just look-ten-but-is-really-fifteen, she's ten alright, and she's also hell-bent on sleeping with our teenage protagonist for reasons unexplained that probably won't be remote justification for it even if they are. Of course the whole thing is played for laughs, and of course it's literally her only visible character trait. The sexualization of Enju is so baldly ridiculous that it crosses over from feeling like a device for otaku appeal into a brazen attempt to shock, and quotes from the story's author seem to indicate that was the intent. It is neither shocking nor funny, however, and the monster-juice-that-looks-like-cum-shots and panty shots the anime foists on her only succeed in reinforcing the very thing the author is supposedly self-aware about. Subversion without purpose just accomplishes the exact same thing it was supposed to be critical of, and Enju is just gross, unpleasant, and a massive damper on what is frankly an uninspired story to begin with. Unless you're desperate for a guns vs. bugs action anime this season, spare yourself the skin-crawl coating this one.
Black Bullet is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Review: It's the near future, and humans live in cautious fear of Gastrea, a virus transmitted through bodily fluids via other "Gastrea," which also refers to the gargantuan insectoid and arachnid creatures that are created from the infected. Despite the towering metal monoliths set up around city perimeters meant to repel these monsters, they still find their way in. Humanity's last line of defense is the Cursed Children, kids whose mothers were infected during pregnancy. They're marked by their red eyes, their regeneration powers, and their abilities to defeat the Gastrea. Also, they're all girls because of some hand-wavey Gastrea-centric reasoning, but also because they sell more Blu-rays.
Among those on the front lines is a "Promoter" named Rentaro. His parents were killed ten years ago in the battle against Gastrea, and now he devotes his life to vanquishing these oversized bugs. Armed with a Varanium-blasting gun (the same super-metal that the monoliths are made of), he fights alongside his Cursed Child sidekick Enju, who does her duty of insect-exterminating-while-also-being-cute. (Her cuteness, however, does come into good use when she has to tell someone that he's about to transform into a wretched spider. There's nothing quite like bad news being delivered by an adorable little girl.)
Humdrum action scenes aside, Black Bullet is a little hard to get excited about, because it's a shade too generic. The mystery of the Gastrea isn't that strong of a hook, and we've yet to really be presented with a reason to care about the characters. Rentaro has some past trauma he needs to sort through, but other than that, he's pretty bland. Enju has the potential to be a much more complex character, though that's likely something that will be kept under wraps for at least a few more episodes. The only thing that's keeping me on the line is knowing that the series is directed by Masayuki Kojima, who also directed the incredible Monster series. Then again, any adaptation is only as strong as its original source material and I'm not so sure Black Bullet has the same pedigree.
For those who like their anime a little on the gruesome side, there is that. Halfway through the first episode, we're treated to a pretty gross scene of an infected man exploding into a giant spider, beady red eyes bursting from his chest cavity, accompanied by a sound effect typically reserved for trees crashing through a forest. As someone who detests anything with more than four legs, I was not terribly pleased by this imagery. I can only assume that the rest of the series will be filled with increasingly creepy multi-legged things.
As far as action series go, Black Bullet seems just Okay. It doesn't seem terribly original, but it's at least planted the seeds for interesting character development. This may just end up being one of those "it gets better at episode ##, I promise" shows.
Black Bullet is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: Just once, I want to see an anime where the fate of the world hinges on the powers of a handful of special octogenarians. They could live in a special nursing home, where craft hour is all about how to use their powers, and have octogenarian romantic entanglements while they're fighting evil. Alas, we must instead watch yet another show about world-saving children. They're referred to as Cursed Children in Black Bullet. A virus that turns most people into giant insects gave the children super-strength and regenerative abilities, without the buggy side-effects. In the remnants of Tokyo, surrounded by enormous slabs of mosquito repellant, special handlers use the girls—they are all girls—to fight those who have succumbed to the virus. Rentaro is one of the handlers, and Enju is his Cursed side-kick, a precocious nine-year-old with the speech patterns of an octogenarian. Which I guess is as close as I'm going to get to my dream.
Bullet is a fine-looking show. Post-apocalyptic Tokyo is lovely and eerie, the action is top-notch, and the series goes out of its way to make Enju as mind-destroyingly adorable as possible. The show wasn't written by drunk monkeys either. It thinks about how police and the public might view the Cursed and doesn't try too hard to cram its mysteries down our throats. As for the heebie-jeebie potential of Rentaro and Enju's relationship, it's kept under control by Rentaro's indifference to Enju's advances. (She does advance, though). Yes, there's an evil genius in a circus get-up, and yes the cast is the character equivalent of plain oatmeal, but overall it's a decently-made show. It's just… well, we've seen it so many times. Like a college student and his ramen, we've been consuming this kind of thing so often for so long that it's hard to even consider choking it down without a little involuntary stomach spasm.
Black Bullet is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Ten years previous to the action of Black Bullet, a scourge descended upon humanity in the form of a deadly virus, one which turned humans into “gastrea,” or giant bugs with human teeth. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, and when a pregnant woman is infected, her child is born a girl with red eyes, known as a “cursed child.” Cursed children are, the end of the episode shows us, kept mostly separate from the rest of humanity, although a select few are brought over to the human side of the river to help exterminate gastrea. These are known as “initiators” and they are paired with “protectors” who care for them and give them a special drug for reasons as yet unexplained. High school student Rentaro is one such protector, partnered with libidinous elementary school girl Enju, an initiator. Together they fight gastrea. And that's about all we know so far.
Black Bullet has a pretty interesting premise, and the gastrea themselves are appropriately monstrous and disturbing, because nothing says “nightmares” like a giant spider with a full set of human chompers. This episode, however, has a hard time figuring out how to get off the ground. There's a clearly doomed love story between Rentaro and a girl named Kisara, there's the meant-to-be-funny antics of the adorable Enju and her efforts to have sex with Rentaro, there's a mysterious bad guy, and there's an exciting battle...all of which could be good on their own, but here are so mushed together that it just makes for an episode that feels like it's trying to please everyone at once. It would have been better off picking one or two of these elements and developing them, and I hope that it does so in later episodes.
Some of the visuals look pretty nice, which certainly helps to keep your eyes on the screen. Personally I love the hem of Kisara's skirt, and some of the scenes of a man going gastrea are gruesomely fascinating, going by in the blink of a eye. The image of the cursed children standing on the opposite side of a river, the bridge and its sign destroyed to keep them there, is quite striking, to say nothing of a little bit creepy.
Overall it feels like Black Bullet could have been better than it was. If it can slow itself down in the future and spend a little more developing each aspect of the story, it could have potential.
Black Bullet is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: Ten years ago humanity was nearly wiped about by the assault of the Gastrea, giant spiderlike aliens (?) who were not only fearsome combatants capable of regenerating from most wounds but could also spread an infection that would irrevocably turn humans into Gastrea. Humanity eventually figures out how to fight back, with one of the keys being varanium, a special black metal that is anathema to the Gastrea. The other is the Cursed Children, girls born of pregnant women infected by the Gastrea virus who inherit the physical prowess of the Gastrea at the cost of requiring regular injections to keep the traits under control. Enju is one such Cursed Child, an Initiator who works with her Promoter (read: handler) Rentaro as civil officers to combat Gastrea who somehow get past the varanium monoliths which guard Tokyo. She is sexually precocious for her age, much to Rentaro's consternation. As one might expect, Rentaro and Enju are hardly living the high life, as they work for a small, independent agency managed by the daughter of the family who adopted Rentaro when his family was killed by Gastrea (and whom he is sweet on). Then there's also the matter of the sexy, somewhat odd scientist who studies Gastrea and a mysterious masked figure he encounters at the scene of a Gastrea emergence who is both quite formidable and claims to be planning to destroy the world.
Not surprisingly, Black Bullet is based on a light novel series. It seems to want to be a darker, hard-edged monster-hunting title but also seems unable to completely commit to that without tossing in some more typical otaku-focused trappings. Those do, of course, include the precocious loli, the comic obsession with sales on things like bean sprouts, and the sexy childhood friend – although in this case he is the one interested in her. Still, the action scenes are good enough, and the bloody violence and bug gore graphic enough, that a lot of that can be overlooked. So can the fact that the story construction so far is pretty generic. The first episode does also show at least some effort to be a little more involved, such as by bringing up in passing that some don't consider the Cursed Children to be human or that Rentaro's manager/prospective girlfriend Kisara is quite the martial artist but also apparently suffers from diabetes; doubtless both of these points will come up later on. The masked fellow may also hold some intriguing potential, although the way he is entirely ignored after appearing seems odd. However, every time the series handles something casually and smoothly it seems compelled to balance that out by awkwardly jamming in backstory elements about the setting. While not a huge flaw, it's definitely irksome.
Black Bullet also does reasonably well on the technical front, courtesy of Kinema Citrus (Code: Breaker, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, the Eureka 7 movie). Artistry and animation are both good, action scenes hum along, and the musical score delivers, too. In fact, that and the actions scenes are good enough to carry the first episode past its rough points. While there are some worrisome traps that the series could fall into, it looks like it could be an entertaining (if not necessarily original) action romp, especially if the kinks get ironed out.
Black Bullet is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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