The world has already ended. This is a future where the battle for world has been fought and lost, with humanity barely staving off extinction at the hands of the Gastrea. Ten years later, Rentaro Satomi and his partner Enju fight to protect what is left of the world in the original light novel series which spawned the anime Black Bullet.
Ten years ago, humanity lost the battle against the parasitic Gastrea which saw the world effectively end as humanity took refuge behind giant Monolith towers to survive. Rentaro Satomi’s parents were casualties of this war and after subsequently being adopted by the prestigious Tendo family, he resolved to take the fight to the Gastrea. Now working as an anti-Gastrea “civil security officer” with the Tendo Civil Security Agency, Rentaro is partnered with Enju Aihara, a ten-year old girl who is an Initiator born infected by the Gastrea virus. Together, they work to eliminate rogue Gastrea but soon become embroiled in a sinister plot to release the Gastrea past the Monolith towers, potential ending Japanese society for good.
Who Is It For?
If you enjoy apocalyptic sci-fi stories, you’ll find a lot to like about Black Bullet.
How Was It?
Black Bullet starts off with a bang by detailing the end of the world 10 years before, grabbing my interest by quickly establishing a very unique and compelling backstory for its world. After this, the story jumps to the present in introducing Rentaro Satomi and quickly throws him into a thrilling action sequence as he is assigned to investigate a reported Gastrea sighting. This scene was great and I thoroughly enjoyed the way that author Shiden Kanzaki was able to make this feel like such a dynamic scene while simultaneously developing the plot and introducing characters. Thankfully, this rapid pace carries through the entire book and I never felt that Black Bullet was short on thrills or action.
Kanzaki does a fantastic job of creating an engaging portrait of post-apocalyptic Tokyo, describing the workings of this society as well as the events from 10 years before to set up the story. I found the setting to be the most interesting part of this book as it is well established early on without sacrificing the pacing or becoming difficult to follow thanks to the way it was seamlessly incorporated into the opening chapters. This continues on as the book progresses and without giving away too much, I always appreciated how well thought out the world of Black Bullet felt. While the characters themselves of Black Bullet aren’t the most compelling or unique cast out there, they are well utilized in this book and never feel out of place, complementing the story in most cases.
It also bears mentioning that Saki Ukai’s artwork is fantastic, with all of the illustrations in this book looking great. Light novel illustrations can be hit and miss, but Black Bullet definitely contains some of the prettiest illustrations I’ve seen which were great in emphasizing certain scenes.
While Black Bullet does a great job establishing a deep and compelling setting with good action scenes, the book has several serious problems which really hindered my enjoyment of it. Firstly, the relationship between 10 year old Enju and 16 year old Rentaro is generally portrayed in a very creepy manner, with Enju frequently making uncomfortably suggestive comments about their relationship beginning very early on in the book. In addition, it is made clear in the narration that Rentaro isn’t completely immune to this, ruining what otherwise could have been a good relationship. As a result I found it very difficult to find their interactions throughout the book to be heartwarming at all given this uncomfortable undertone, undermining any emotional resonance that would otherwise have been there. Most of all, it just feels like this was so unnecessary as it has no bearing on the main plot or real impact on their relationship in general, so I’m not sure why Kanzaki felt this needed to be here at all. Some might be able to look past this, but in my opinion it had a really detrimental effect on the main relationship in the book which was very disappointing to see.
While the writing for the majority of the book was quite good, there is a very visible decline in quality in the final third of the book. This is most noticeable during the climactic action sequence as the writing become extremely choppy and awkward. I found this especially distracting considering how well the action scenes had flowed to that point, making it especially disappointing that this happens during what should have been the best action scene of the entire book.
While the Black Bullet’s plot is largely well developed, the “reveals” that happen during the book’s epilogue come straight out of the blue without the necessary explanation or foreshadowing to make them feel like a cohesive part of the plot. I definitely scratched my head more than once, and this outcome was disappointing considering how well the plot had progressed up until that moment. It almost feels like the book could have ended without the epilogue and would have been stronger for it because it added almost nothing interesting to the plot while cheaply attempting to shock the reader.
Black Bullet Vol. 1 is a thoroughly mixed bag as it has a deep and well-developed setting that is marred by the uncomfortable sexualization of Rentaro and Enju’s relationship as well as by some odd plot decisions late in story. The book also falls flat in the climactic fight scene because of a noticeable decline in quality of writing, which especially disappointing considering that it shows it can do better by delivering some fantastic action sequences earlier on. This is a book I want to recommend because of all the things it does well, but I found myself continually thinking twice since finishing it because of all the questionable elements which weakened its execution. However, I’d say that the strength of its setting is ultimately the deciding factor, so if you can forgive some of its faults, there is an enjoyable experience to be found here.
Black Bullet Vol. 1: Those Who Would Be Gods was published by Yen Press on August 18th, 2015. Authored by Shiden Kanzaki and illustrated by Saki Ukai, the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. First published in Japan on July 10th, 2011, seven volumes have currently been released, with volume 2 scheduled to be published in English on December 15th, 2015.
Date of Publication: August 18th, 2015
Translator: Nita Lieu
Author: Shiden Kanzaki
Publisher: Yen Press