Black Bullet – 12 Review
Rentaro demonstrates some riveting leadership-skills by threatening to kill anybody who doesn’t agree with him. Way to go, Rentaro! That will surely put him into the big-boy-league!
Why do serious series always like to believe that they are meaningful? Not every dipshit who doesn’t like to see tigers turned into carpets has something meaningful to say. Serious stories are just like that. ‘Meaningful’ doesn’t mean having a message. There needs to be a certain elegance to it that offers an interesting point-of-view for the audience. Because ‘meaningful’ doesn’t mean everything that has a ‘meaning’. Your doctor washing his hands before doing a health-check-up is meaningful. That doctor values cleanliness. There’s your meaning. But is anybody blown away by that interpretation? Of course he washed his hands! Of course he cares about cleanliness! He’s a fucking doctor after all! But now imagine finding out that he hadn’t washed his hands after holding a ding-dong in his hands (probably his own) and it had urinated the stuff his liver described as “Fuck this. Just dump this stuff somewhere outside our body.”. THAT is meaningful. But serious stories always go for the same platitudes thinking they’re saying something important about the human existence. Luckily Black Bullet has come one step closer to being somewhat meaningful with this episode – by making Rentaro a bit of an asshole.
You grow up thinking that there’s a knight, full of virtue and lofty ambitions and there’s evil, a monster, inhuman, bestial and destructive. And the knight is supposed to kill the monster. It’s a simple story and because it’s simple, it’s easy to believe. But then you find out there’s something inbetween, called a necessary evil. It’s a compromise. An evil one, that is. In the end, you’re doing something shitty because it was that or something even shittier. The knight-option doesn’t even enter the equation for this stuff. That’s how the world works. You dream of the knight, though. From time to time you remember what you’ve thought of as good and nostalgia mixes with regret evoking a bittersweet smell that’s just another sensation in your head lined up with dozen other memories. It’s a movie about things that once had your full attention, now turned into just another series of scenes which are as important as the chapter of a book you read on a bus last week. The smell of regrets and hopes washes over you like a breeze, expected but involuntarily, but you know. The signs are all there. Even if memories, clear and bright, repeat what has happened before, you can’t help but feel the difference between present and past. Your memories, they’re an old friend waiting at your door, waiting to embrace you and remind you of days past. And once the door is opened it’s a stranger telling you a story about a knight. But you’re grown up and so you recognize it for what it is – a fairy-tale.
Well, it’s that or you could just become an asshole and forego all that introspection. It makes a whole lot of stuff a whole lot easier, believe me. It certainly made things easier for Rentaro. Now after some various happy coincidences and somehow surviving a Rambo-mission he can finally come back and watch humanity winning the day once again. But things are never that easy. Turns out, Rentaro kinda forgot that other alien-dino hanging out with the creepy monsters these days. So the air-strike he calls in ends with a lot of regrets on his part and a whole lot of destroyed planes on the army’s part.
Luckily, the war is not lost… because the old leader died and guess who’s the top-dog now…? Yes, exactly, it’s Rentaro, the guy who really likes being an asshole these days. It’s depression, I think. All this bad stuff that has happened to Rentaro… Uff, not even a couple Hippie-Meditiation-Classes while tripping on LSD would cure that.
But at least Kagetane sticks around with his daughter. You know, those two assholes who did some evil shit and everybody assumed to be dead…? Yeah, they’re on the good guys’ side now. And I mean, why not? That whole Dark-Side-Sith-shtick of Kagetane is a bit obnoxious but women in this series don’t act much different when it comes to Rentaro anyway.
In the end Rentaro has managed to assemble quite the A-Team (although there isn’t a black guy)… BUT turns out that there’s a really big asshole that still holds a grudge against Rentaro and he wisely chose this critical moment during the defence of Tokyo to sabotage Rentaro’s efforts.
Thank God for assholes is the lesson of this episodes, I guess…
I get it, you’re not supposed to talk bad about dead people but still… This guy basically blackmailed Rentaro to go all Rambo on that Pleiades-thingy. AND he was apparently completely fine with a strategy that obviously turned out to be a complete disaster. All I’m saying is: That guy isn’t in the habit of shitting gold – neither while he was living nor probably whatever hell he landed in after his death.
Finally Rentaro behaves like all the other dicks in the city and the series is all the better for it. The same way the series often showed Rentaro just clenching his fists as he stood paralyzed in front of whatever shit the world threw at him, the series just seemed paralyzed in front of the grim world it showed. The dark, grim storyelements were often shown as part of the story but seldom became actually a part of the plot.
In many ways this arc has slowly but surely found the sort of story this series seemed to want to tell from the very beginning. The start of this arc was hardly exciting or interesting but by escalating events that were beyond the control of Rentaro the story has picked up the pace and the series feels more self-confident than ever before. Earlier arcs often tried to find moments of quiet that were light-hearted or focused on Rentaro talking with other people about his troubles. This arc, on the other hand, has wisely started to show Rentaro being faced with challenges that force him to make decisions. And he actually does make decisions. When the story gets darker the pure-hearted, idealistic hero often ends up being shown as paralyzed or angsty because there doesn’t seem to be an option at first that would let him stay pure-hearted and idealistic. Saving time and making the character more compelling in the process, Rentaro, instead, starts to become an anti-hero in this episode.
I talked last week about how the remote battlefield-setting helps the plot and story to focus on what’s important and it clearly shows this week when the series delivers its best-paced episode yet. By streamlining the plot, the story can become action-driven. Instead of letting Rentaro navigate some sort of melodrama, Black Bullet has its best moments when Rentaro gets to face an obvious, big, looming threat. The finale of the first arc already did this very well but the plot was also quite straightforward in that case.
What this arc is currently doing better is that it introduced a big threat with the Gastrea-attack that needs to be dealt with. And it’s quite clear how Rentaro slowly but surely gets closer to that moment when he will save the day but the story is continuously throwing other smaller challenges at him that force the plot to deviate from its normal straight-forward course. And by streamlining the story and plot, the series is able to take control of when what problems arise that Rentaro has to deal with. Furthermore, this episode does a very good job of keeping up a forward-momentum while Rentaro has to deal with smaller problems. None of the twists and turns in the plot of this episode are complicated or powerful enough to force Rentaro to stop and ponder these events. While this episode may have not been the most effective in portraying the urgency of Rentaro’s actions regarding the Gastrea, it always kept the scenes short enough to come back to the necessary preparations for the battle with the Gastrea.
Considering how fascinated this series is with power it feels strange, though, how long it has took the series to put Rentaro into an actual position of power. The streamlined action-plot only works because Rentaro is the one who’s now responsible for making the decisions. Actually it would’ve been easier if an older character, who’s already in a powerful position, had taken the role of Rentaro. Rentaro is the focus of a story that wants to talk about power and what you should do with it. So why would you choose a character that actually needs some story-driven, contrived reason that explains why he’s now at the centre of such a story? Like many other elements of this series, Rentaro’s appearance is clearly another sign of anime-stereotypes distracting from the actual story.
Another thing plagues this episode and that’s a clear lack of time that pushes some scenes to forego logic in favor of introducing some weird coincidence or making the characters appear more dumb than they should be. The worst scene of the episode is when after Rentaro has killed Pleiades, he calls Kisara. Seriously, that was the kind of scene that would make me quit a series if stuff like that were happen too often.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Why does Rentaro even HAVE a working phone? He fell into a river! Maybe future tech would prevent phones from being immune to the whole water-thingy but that’s one of those strange things you need to establish beforehand. Just some offhand-slice-of-life-scene would’ve done it. You know, something like after a particular gruesome killing of a Gastrea Rentaro nonchalantly cleaning his phone with water and soap. There doesn’t even need to be dialogue concerning that. Good worldbuilding is all about subtle details like that. And you can really immerse the audience in the world, if you do subtle worldbuilding in such a way. But instead you immediately start with the weird moment of him using a phone he shouldn’t have supposedly.
I bet she says that about every woman with a perspiration-problem.
Then there’s immediately another question that needs to be addressed: Why doesn’t he call anybody earlier? I mean, that issue of being connected to the outside-world no matter where you are was a big issue in the nineties for stories using suspense. Take the X-Files for example and ask yourself if its earlier seasons would’ve worked if mobile phones had been a thing. There’s a reason why there’s a specific sci-fi-sub-genre for actually paying attention to technology-stuff like that, called Hard Sci-Fi. It’s a bit sad to see how often sci-fi-technology becomes a set of gimmicks and futuristic wish-fulfillment. There’s a whole lot more to technology and how it can influence society and philosophy. Instead, most sci-fi-settings in animes try to connect with viewers via traditional values or try to build relations to present technologies. Just ask yourself how many sci-fi-animes address the question of why the mechas are human-shaped. But that sort of immersion and weirdness is only something for genre-fans (although nowadays there are more people who are ready to buy into genre-stuff like that). You do have to cross a threshold where you’re ready to believe in a futuristic world that is very different from our current one. Naturally you have the same issue with historical series. Those series have the same need to somehow change the setting to make it somewhat relatable for the present. But in the end, what all these compromises lead to is this: You judge something by the rules of the present. It doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy, sci-fi or historical: If the worldbuilding isn’t there to provide answers, then you use the standards of the present. And if by those standards something seems unlogical, you stop suspending your disbelief.
The bigger problem is the lack of time here. And that issue comes up in multiple scenes in this episode. There’s an abruptness to how scenes develop where storyelements are brought up which interact with other storyelements via dialogue or otherwise, but then something else happens. But the previous storyelement are just dropped all of a sudden. That doesn’t mean more time is all that would’ve been needed. The plot is overall quite good in how tightly-scripted its events are. More than just more time, you would need people who’re up to the job of writing those events which would drive the plot forward while still keeping the story entertaining. So, the form it is in right now may be the lesser of two evils. Personally, I’d rather have a fast-paced, eventful episode with occasional plotholes instead of a pondering slow episode that doesn’t get off its ass just so that the last idiot in the audience can make sense of the shit that’s happening.
And so Rentaro calls in an air-strike with the expectation that him (and evil-guy) killing Pleiades will have made a difference. Turns out, of course, that Aldebranna controls all the Gastrea and there are flying Gastrea. Of course she sends those against the planes summoned by Rentaro. And here’s the other issue with some scenes of this episode: Rentaro sometimes acts more ignorant than he should be. For example, he should know what the deal with Aldebranna is and still he okays an airstrike although that would be a suicidal attack with that big-ass Gastrea present. He SHOULD know better and there’s no reasonable explanation offered by the series for why he didn’t in that moment. But the even bigger problem is how this whole thing gets immediately dropped by the series as the plot moves forward. There are no consequences for Rentaro calling in an airstrike that ends in a disaster. A similar problem is tied to the scene where Gado’s Initiator is (rightfully) accusing Rentaro of being a real dick (read: dictator) but Shoma interrupts the talk when he asks that Initiator to partner up with him. She agrees after some thinking but the whole previous discussion about Rentaro gets just dropped for no reason.
At the end when Rentaro lists the members of his adjuvant squad it becomes clear how fruitful the plot-developments of this arc have been. Especially with Kagetane and Kohina present the group of characters at the centre of the plot gets far more dramatic weight than they have individually. Because of how diverse these characters are morality-wise, there’s an inherent conflict-potential within that group. And it’s that conflict-potential that can lead to interesting characterizing exchanges between them. With that you don’t even need to have some lengthy exposition to make a characters seem deep, the conflict-laden interactions are the perfect carrier for good characterization and elevate every character present (if the interactions are handled well).
Adapting a faster pace that foregoes any sort of slice-of-life or melodrama this episode becomes one of the most focused episodes of the season. While the episode is littered with small flaws it overall offers rather entertaining story-developments and due to the inclusion of Kagetane, an evil character, the dramatic potential of the cast is improved. But Rentaro’s characterization improves also as he changes due to external influences and becomes a more interesting character because of it.
- Okay, I hate it when there’s this thing happening like in this episode’s last scene where Kagetane opens with the first bit of a metaphor and Rentaro continues that metaphor as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Sometimes it feels like every character has a telepathic connection in animes when it comes to metaphors. It’s SO corny…
- Still, though… Great decision to keep Kagetane around. He certainly is one of the more interesting characters, especially in company with all the other goody-two-shoes in the group.
- It’s fairly rarely for me to feel that way about voice-acting in an anime… but Shin-ichiro Miki’s voice-acting when his character Shoma discovered Midoki’s body was WAY more passionate than the animation of his character gave him credit for.
- Also… Holy fucking shit…! This episode depicted a little girl offing herself! The first time they showed one of those Cursed Children being violated she somehow survived, the second time the death was somewhat heroic but this time it was just a plain suicide! If the aftermath of this arc doesn’t respectfully deal with this, I’ll be really pissed off. For now, though, fine, it’s all about the action, the plot-twist and whatever… but this things can’t be just dropped on the audience without being properly dealt with by the story!
- And there’s the cranky guy from the cranky guy from the Tina-arc making a comeback… that asshole is somehow still around. And he has sabotaged Rentaro’s efforts to defend Tokyo. I mean, of course it doesn’t make sense. Nobody living in that haven would be THAT stupid to sabotage this vital defence. *sigh* I guess, it just means that it’s a VERY stupid story-element to heighten the tension.