Black Bullet – 11 Review
How selfless of Rentaro to answer that notion with the thought that only HE should take responsibility!
Exactly at what point is the audience allowed to laugh at macho-heroism? There IS a line, right? The fact that Rocky didn’t break 10 world-records in boxing at the end of Rocky I benefited the story and yet as the movie-series went on, Rocky became a heroic figure that did unbelieavable shit for no other reason than in service of a cheesy trope. Honor, glory, power, love… all that is fine and dandy but a male character should never do something irrational just to keep up appearances. I mean, it’s the same thing with female characters as well, just with different tropes. Not every series needs self-awareness in its story, although in a post-modern world every story needs to have some sort of self-awareness, but there’s nothing wrong with committing to a certain type of story no matter how cheesy it ends up being. But a story really has to go for extremes in that regard. Take 300 for example, that movie is FAR from being anything anyone should take serious and yet it’s VERY serious in tone and themes. If something’s that ludicrous I can overlook any lack of self-awareness. But Black Bullet isn’t at that level of ludicrousness so when Rentaro is being a complete dick in the disguise of honor and whatnot, then it results in bullshit. If he weren’t the strongest dick in town, his honor-fueled stupidity would’ve killed him a hundred times over already, I think.
Fire is on the horizon as the sounds of the night are drowned by explosions and screams of pain and terror. And with each second those sounds die away taken over by the inhuman buzzing of the Gastrea. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. Rentaro and his henchmen can only look on the glow of destruction in horror knowing that they are called to battle.
But turns out, a bunch of weirdos with little kick-ass girls don’t make for a great army so things look pretty hopeless. The Gastrea even have a lasercannon (or something) so things are looking pretty grim. Luckily for Rentaro and the few others who survived the Gastrea fall back to regroup… or some shit. Who knows, they all look like something Godzilla would fight against and he isn’t that talkative either (although there IS a little Godzilla in all of us, of course), so who knows what’s going on in their heads.
Anyway, Rentaro and his henchmen pretty much survive unscathed because of ‘smart tactics’. So, they all have a nice evening at some place when Rentaro is called to the boss-guy of the army. And boss-guy pretty much tells him that he can go fuck himself but before that he better does something nice for the people and whatnot. Otherwise, the boss-guy will consider Rentaro’s ‘smart tactics’ as disobeying orders of a superior which is… actually kinda true. So, Rentaro, left with no wriggleroom to worm his way out of the situation, agrees to go all Rambo on that fucking walking lasercannon of the Gastrea.
Naturally as a true man Rentaro leaves his henchmen behind because Rambo had the same shtick. Kisara catches him before he leaves but she’s a woman so what does she know, right, guys? Going into the wilderness alone immediately turns out to be a bad decision (for some inexplicable reason) and he probably would’ve died in a nameless river… if it weren’t for old buddy Creepy-Mask! Turns out this is one of those ‘Nobody is dead until you see their dead body’-shows and Creepy-Mask is quite the chipper fellow considering he nearly died a few months ago.
And as a thanks Creepy-Mask sort-of helps Rentaro while having a secret agenda… as evil people do. But for now Rentaro’s committed to this absurd roadtrip-story… Who knows what will happen once they meet the walking Mercury-laser-show.
I bet at some point in the future this will all sound VERY ironic…
The biggest weakness of Black Bullet’s fascination with power is its lack of depth. Black Bullet doesn’t have the same multi-faceted parable George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire has with the question who between a merchant, a king and a soldier has the most power. In fact, the struggle with power and what to do with it becomes more and more similar to the Jedis’ one in Star Wars. Similar to the struggles of the Jedi with the dark side, people with power in Black Bullet equally are either part of the light side or the dark side. The struggle that comes with power is one of good vs. evil in Black Bullet and the setup becomes even more simplistic as this struggle simply ostracizes all the other elements of the setting. The weak only play a role insofar as they either need to be protected or destroyed. So, when Rentaro meets one of his old villain-buddies again, he’s treated like an equal and someone who can be even convinced to change sides. And like the light and dark side in Star Wars there’s a pseudo-philosophical bent to the question whether someone’s evil or good.
But nobody likes watching these tiresome discussions of whether Rentaro wants to protect people who are probably assholes. First, the answer to the question what’s good and what’s evil here is blatantly obvious. Second, the series has neither the time nor the appropriate characters for not generalizing a lot in those discussions and making abstract judgments. And most important of all, third: There’s a fucking reason why jedi have lightsabers. The way to sell an obvious moralistic struggle of power is by making it physical. Instead of trying to find some philosophical depth in a conflict that hardly has the necessary depth for such a thing, the story simply throws a ton of action at the audience to express the message. And in this regard for an action-series it’s even beneficial to not have the sort of brainy story the characters need to talk about before they can engage with it.
I think, that’s actually the first time the series didn’t use a close-up shot for when the doctor-woman gets this close to Rentaro. And it turns out it looks just as creepy as you would imagine it to be.
Because of that, Black Bullet certainly delivered the most entertaining episode of this arc yet. Not only that there’s enough action to keep tiresome, cheesy dialogues to a minimum or at least make it all relevant to the plot in some way, but going outside the city is the best thing Black Bullet could do. This area outside the city with the Gastrea and with its battles is such a vague and empty setting that the story can easily concentrate on the cheesy power-struggle that Black Bullet is so fascinated with. In the city there’s always this need to create some sort of slice-of-life-portion that’s cute and whatnot just as a change of pace. Black Bullet excels at the dark over-serious stuff, or that’s at least what I think the series’ strength is. But in an effort to make the characters seem more enjoyable and sympathetic this series often has these bland scenes filled with stereotypical stuff. And the reason why these aspirations seem so dissonant in this case is because Black Bullet doesn’t really go for any sort of character-driven drama. There’s no need to sell the characters since the series is actually aiming for straightforward battles between good and evil that seem to happen in a universe detached from any form of daily life. The characters aren’t explained by lengthy monologues or introspective musings; they’re defined by their actions within the power-struggle at the heart of the series.
And if the series would only deliver the sort of battles seen in this episode I would blame the anime for fucking up the adaptation. But the original story has one big story-element that definitely spices things up a little: The Cursed Children. Because if you ignore their struggle, this series really could happen in some vague, isolated arena and there good guys and bad guys beat the shit out of each other to determine the fate of the world. The story-element of the Cursed Children is a little bit more complex than that, though. But after watching 11 episodes I feel like the series has bitten off more than it can chew with the Cursed Children.
Dramatically speaking the series never seems to tackle the dichotomy of Cursed Children being valuable defenders of the haven against Gastrea while at the same time being victims of a racist-campaign. You always see just one or the other and it never comes really together. And the weird thing is that Cursed Children have way more dramatic weight in this struggle between good and evil at the heart of the series. But the series doesn’t really intend to go for that sort of thing. The Cursed Children are even turned into little girls who need to be accompanied by another person. And it’s THOSE people who determine the role Cursed Children play. The question of whether to be good or evil should be WAY more interesting for Cursed Children than it is for their human companions. At that point, things would get VERY dramatic because Cursed Children are involved in a ton of conflicts just by being who they are. But because of the way the series tries to simplify its drama, those Cursed Children just become another generalized argument in the shallow discussion of good and evil and what to do with power. The Cursed Children simply should play a far bigger role than they do AND they should be much more active within the story as well.
Now, I said that the focus on the action and the setting outside the city benefit this episode but the direction gets a bit muddled in that regard. Turning a big battle into a sensible plot is one of the biggest challenges any action-laden story can face in my opinion. And in this case it really doesn’t help that the audience is already expected to believe that those Promoter-Initiator-pairings are supposed to act like an army. If anything the army should be way stronger in situations like these. I talked last episode already about how the strategy of the guys defending Tokyo makes no sense and naturally everything went to shit for the defenders as soon as the Gastrea started attacking. The whole concept of incompetent big bosses making stupid decisions and the little guys paying the price is hardly a very original trope in military-storylines but the story still should make sure that the whole thing makes somewhat sense. I guess, that’s where worldbuilding would have to come in and shoulder that burden. The separation of the two armies and that the bigshot of the Promoter-Initiator-army turns out to be a conniving bastard, both of these things could be explained with some political exposition. The Light Novels probably covered that, I assume. In any case, it still has the stink of an obvious setup with a predictable outcome. It may be cheesy for Rentaro to turn the battle around by himself (or with the help of his friends) but it would at least create a plottwist when the battle is set up as a certain defeat. It certainly adds to the dark atmosphere in this episode but since it’s set up as a losing battle and since there’s no salvation in sight the whole thing becomes predictable.
Even worse, it feels like the guys writing this episode knew that and started panicking. And that leads to an unnecessarily frantic pacing in those battle scenes where it’s not clear who’s where and what the overall situation is (except that it’s bad). At the same time, though, the scenes are NOT chaotic enough to make that forgivable. Rentaro has the time to calmly watch people die and there are more scenes of him looking AT the battle instead of being in the thick of it. Maybe it’s budget-restraints that forced the writers here to let those scenes play out like that but in the end the scenes are more about delivering moody but unengaging tragedies.
By getting darker Black Bullet starts to feel more like its own thing again and the flow of the scenes feels more assured like a cohesive whole. Sadly, a lack of time and worldbuilding stop the moody beginning of the episode from making full use of its situational setup. Instead, the first half ends up being nothing more than a preparation for the next stage in this arc. And like usual the question of power and what to do with it is at the centre of it.
- So, Rentaro spouts some shit about flanking and leaves his ordered position to take out some Gastrea in a jungle, comes back… and the battle is already lost. Is it Rentaro’s fault they lost? I don’t know… but I don’t know whether he and his henchmen did anything of importance either.
- After that stunt during the first arc of the series and now with this, I assume, you can count the remaining Promoter-Initiator-pairs in Tokyo on your fingers.
- I actually don’t know why the boss-guy basically blackmailed Rentaro into accepting a suicide-mission. Rentaro actually seems like the kind of guy who would gladly do such a stupid thing if he thinks it’s totally cool, honorable and other cool-sounding shit.
- When Kisara finds Rentaro going away on his own, I’d really have loved for her to open with the line “I know what you’re doing. And cut it out.” After that she would’ve simply slapped him because she always talks before she hits. That’s how this scene SHOULD have played out…