Black Bullet: Those Who Would Be Gods

By Shiden Kanzaki and Saki Ukai. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

One of the more difficult things about reading modern Japanese manga and light novels is a certain tendency to follow what’s popular and throw things in that appeal to a certain audience – even if they may not actually be appropriate for the book that’s being written. As an example, Fujino Omori wanted to call their new fantasy novel series Familia Myth, but editorial convinced them to use the ever popular ‘long long title’ in order to get readers, resulting in Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?. Which works OK, because there are other elements of that sort of genre in the books – harems, etc. But when you have a dark, brutal corpse-filled dystopian series about child soldiers, somehow populating it with lolicon jokes and tsundere grumbling seems even more jarring than it normally is.


There’s a very good dark action thriller in here as well. Rentaro spends most of the book talking about how useless he is, but this makes sense in terms of his characters and allows a genuinely surprising reveal towards the end of the book. Enju, like the other Cursed Children, is a giant bucket of adorable, and unlike most of the other cursed children she generally tends to be happy and upbeat – provided Rentaro is around. The relationship between them when she’s not going on about marrying him or trying to show off her prepubescent body is heartwarming. They’re contrasted well with Rentaro’s dark mirror and the villain of this first novel, Kagetane and his child Kohina. If Rentaro tries to be a big brother to Enju, Kohina sees Kagetane as her father, and he’s raised her, sadly, to be a sociopath. The fights between them are the high points of the volume.

I’d mention Kisara – that’s her on the cover, with a far bigger picture than Enju – except she really has a smaller part in this volume than you’d expect. Indeed, there were points, especially when she arrived in the middle of the council meeting with evidence of a conspiracy, that I really wish the book had a double narrative so that I could see what makes her tick. She seems to be driven by a white-hot anger against her grandfather, but what that is I’m guessing will have to wait till future books. As it is, so far she’s all potential. Oh yes, and Sumire is the classic eccentric weirdo scientist, complete with suggestions of necrophilia and a major role in Rentaro’s past.

If you removed all the elements that appeal to the typical Japanese otaku, this would not be out of place in Viz’s Haikasoru imprint. I know I’ve talked about this sort of thing earlier while reviewing No Game No Life, but that at least is fairly light-hearted and comedic with the occasional dramatic cliffhanger. Black Bullet is a brutal world where all that the heroes can hope for is making the world happy for the Cursed Children in the brief time they have available, and the last couple of pages show that even this rarely works, and that death is all that awaits. I really don’t need “tee hee, Rentaro is a pedophile’ jokes on top of it.

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