Black Bullet – 05/06 Review
Hmm, I’m pretty sure that’s not how swords work.
So, at what point does a main-character qualify as having a harem? Does being loved by every female character count? Or does he have to go through each girl’s personal route first before he can call her part of his harem? I mean, Rentaro is acting like he doesn’t care except that he feels responsible for all those female characters as if he’s the only one they can rely on. And the female characters actually do rely on him to protect them and say serious shit so that they can be impressed and get all emotional. Well, naturally Rentaro is completely oblivious in regards to that situation so it doesn’t really matter, I guess. And he does have a love-interest which should make things easier romance-wise except that this series seems to really love the “Will They, Won’t They”-bullshit-routine.
Guess Gastrea aren’t that much of a problem after all. A bunch of Promoter and Initiator die and it’s business as usual in Tokyo. Rentaro, who vowed to uncover the dark secrets behind the Gastrea, forgets all about that and becomes the princess’s bodyguard instead. Why? Because some choleric jackass told him not to. Heroes do love to be contrary when it comes to bad people’s opinions, don’t they?
Anyway, he also has a meet-cute with another Cursed Child that’s helpless and really in need of love. The kind of love Rentaro naturally provides even though he has NO idea what he’s doing and there’s NO reason why he’s considered that charming by this Cursed Child named Tina… Well, back at the bodyguard-job it turns out politicians can’t all be albino-princesses, some of them have to be villains as well, I guess. Not very accidentally the princess gets attacked by a sniper… twice.
And then it comes out: The sniper is Tina and because of various ill-considered commands from… whoever is the boss of Tina Rentaro and Tina are confronted with the whole awkward thingy that’s been in the works since this arc started.
Jesus, I get it, he’s evil. No need to vent his inferiority-complex like that. It’s cheesy as hell…
I’m always wondering what the right way is to criticize stereotypical tropes in a story. Most, me included, just snobbishly roll our eyes by reflex. For someone who knows the trope it means a lessening of impact because all the stakes in the story don’t matter anymore. After you know what’s about to happen you stop caring pretty fast. And there’s also the issue of disillusionment. A trope is something a writer employs in a work of fiction and seeing such a thing just calls to attention that one is simply watching an irrelevant piece of fiction. In most cases fiction wants its audience to be invested in something that isn’t real and they want the audience to care about the fate of inexistent characters in an inexistent world. Then again, though, it’s not like one can easily avoid these stereotypical tropes. There’s a reason why these tropes are used so often that they become stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes isn’t one of quality but one of quantity. Personally I like to think of stereotypes as shortcuts actually. Getting from point A to point B in a story or having ideas for point A and point C but there’s a point B missing that brings it all together story-wise: Stereotypes are a solution for these situations. And I call it shortcuts not because of some lack of quality or because it saves time but what it means is that while constructing a story the simplest way to get the job done is to do the same thing that has worked before. Stereotypes make stories work, it’s not like most of them are so freakish or outlandish that it’s impossible to see why they were used. The only exception is the historical context, of course, when it’s stereotypes of the past that back then may have been common and accepted as the present-day-ones I’m primarily talking about here but in today’s context the same stereotypes from back then have indeed become unreasonable. But the point remains in my opinion that stereotypes on its own can’t break a story.
And the 5th and 6th episode of Black Bullet demonstrate that fairly well. Those are solid episodes that set out with a specific story to tell and there’s a specific tone to it as well. There’s the tension of the assassinations balanced out with the carefree scenes showing off Rentaro’s relationship with the other characters in the show. And each side-character gets to play a role in the plot. The tragic element is also built up nicely with the scenes between Tina and Rentaro as the audience becomes aware of the tragedy that is unfolding in front of them. There’s even a villainous character hiding in the shadows clearly having a larger plan that Rentaro has yet to uncover. It worked, I mean, these two episodes worked like clockwork in that regard. It’s a solid 40 minutes.
But fucking hell was I bored out of my mind during that time! When I say that stereotypes can make a story work and can’t break it, I meant that. And these two episodes are well-done and very competently structured. But here’s the thing: I would say 90% of what happens in those two episodes is the most stereotypical shounen-anime-staff one could imagine. NOTHING in these two episodes came as a surprise to me. In fact I always felt like I was two steps ahead of the dramatic curve in those episodes because trope-wise I knew exactly what would follow – and I was right every goddamn time! I’m really curious whether this is an anime-original arc because that would explain a LOT, I would think. It really feels like someone looked at the scripts of episode 01 to 04 and went “Yeah, those first four episodes were okay but how can we make this more shounen-anime-ish?”. But stereotypes isn’t what ruined this arc, it’s the fact that the sheer number of stereotypes present could make this basically any shounen-series. There’s simply no sense of identity, it’s like the most generic shounen-anime imaginable is playing dress-up with the Black Bullet setting as disguise. There’s no sense of impact or weight with anything in this series because it could seriously happen in any shounen-anime-series. It’s just that generic. Where’s the world-building? Where are the consequences from the first arc? Where is the character-development? It’s all just missing as the story is basically on auto-pilot while moving through the least troublesome plot possible.
Now let’s talk about some of those questionable stereotypical story-decisions in detail: First of all, Rentaro. Okay, I get it, he’s all nice and shit and he’s all about justice and whatnot but fucking hell, he can’t be the only one good person willing to do the right thing in that city. Everybody either seems passive, evil or seems not cool enough to get the “right point of view” that Rentaro has. He’s facing off against an evil dictator even though he’s only there as a bodyguard because of his principles but then later tells the princess off for being naïve when she talks about her ideals. Rentaro’s such a self-righteous jerk and even though he is the good guy, the fact that the story and he act like he can be the only effective good guy around is just stupid.
That’s not something you wanna hear from your bodyguard, I think.
Another thing that just ticks me off is the romance in this series. First of all, at this point all supporting characters on the good-guys side are female – and they all love Rentaro in one way or another. He has a fucking harem! And that doctor-woman rightly points out that Rentaro is too passive in the way he interacts with those women who are obviously interested in him and that’s why he’s still single. She’s right, you know: He NEVER makes it clear how he feels about other female characters, he’s just keeping them all at arm’s length. And it’s getting even stupider when the series has made it clear that he’s in love with Kisara, his boss and at this point it’s also clear that she’s in love with him. But they’re not a thing – because all that “Will they, won’t they”-bullshit is SO much better than just getting it over with, right? And this series doesn’t really has any reason not to just get it over with except that the series thinks it’s more interesting to develop the romantic sub-plot at a speed that makes snails look like fucking rockets. All that “Will they, won’t they”-bullshit really needs to be backed up by the setting, the plot or the characters. If there’s no real reason for why the story shouldn’t just get it over with I simply stop caring. That’s it. I really just don’t give a shit anymore what happens in Rentaro’s love life. If they don’t actually wanna develop his romantic life at a reasonable pace, I will simply consider each faintly romantic scene as a waste of time in regards to this show.
I grumbled already a bit when Rentaro is revealed to be some sort of cyborg but I accepted it. But in his talk with the doctor-woman, it’s revealed that there were four doctors who were the leading experts in that Terminator-program. And that they stopped the program because the Cursed Children are a far more feasible resource as a fighting force against the Gastrea makes total sense. What I didn’t expect was the stereotypical shounen-bullshit when it’s first revealed that there’s practically a whole legion of cyborgs running around in that world and second it’s revealed that there’s a ranking. That ranking-system was mentioned before and I thought ‘Well, who cares…’ but turns out it’s setting up one of those stupid power-systems. I can’t wait for the first training-arc to happen where Rentaro gets made stronger by the doctor-woman so that he can fight higher-ranked cyborgs… With stuff like that introduced there’s a real possibility of this becoming just another dull shounen-battle-series like Bleach or Naruto.
As for the actual events, I understand why the story would focus on Tina as the emotional centerpiece but her arc is fairly straightforward and naturally very predictable due to all the stereotypes involved. The bigger setting that surrounds this plot, though, is kinda nonexistent except that there are evil people doing evil shit while they’re gunning for the princess-character. The whole political side of this conflict gets essentially tossed aside as it’s suddenly more about Tina being forced to battle Rentaro against her will while Rentaro has to fight her to protect the princess and his love-interest. It really undermines the power the princess supposedly should have when in the end it really seems like it’s more about Rentaro beating some sense into yet another girl who has fallen in love with him. The series just ignores the strengths of its own setting in favor of some cheap drama with straightforward action to mix things up. But the whole political side or anything else that would show that Rentaro isn’t the only one who has to deal with this situation is simply ignored. I really hope they can end this stupid arc next episode so that they can move on to the type of story that made the first four episodes so good.
The 5th and 6th still offer some solid shounen-action with straightforward drama. Due to being stereotypical as hell, though, the two episodes have no surprises to offer to anyone who has ever seen a shounen-anime before. Really not even trying to be anything but generic I can’t really say that this bodes well for the series’ future as this is a big stepdown compared to the first four episodes.
Episode-Rating: 5th Episode: 6.0/10 6th Episode: 5.5/10
- So, the dialogue between the princess and the evil dictator-guy… The evil guy wants to emerge as the strongest power when the Gastrea are eliminated so that he can take control of Japan. Meanwhile, the princess later explains that she just wants to create a peaceful co-existence between the various havens in Japan so that they can become a peaceful nation (that’s still sort-of a monarchy, I assume). It was all portrayed as a very obvious good vs. bad struggle with some excuse that the bad guy sits on a shitload of Varanium so he has more power than he should have. But it was REALLY weird for me… because no one addressed the elephant in the room: How exactly are they gonna eliminate the Gastrea-threat? They both acted as if it was just a matter of time but nothing shown in the series so far made it seem like the Gastrea are soon a thing of the past.
- That choleric crybaby that’s supposedly the boss of the official protection-detail for the princess is in cahoots with the enemy, I would say. He’s the one leaking information about the routes the princess is taking… which should be a far bigger thing than just running after Tina again after the attack has failed.
- Also… Tina is a really shitty assassin. No way in hell she ranks so high on that bullshit-power-ranking-list…