Black Bullet: The Destruction of the World by Fire

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

When an author is writing a grim dystopia of a series, they have to be very careful sometimes. Because let me tell you, as a writer, the temptation to have horrible things happen to your characters can be unbearable. And I imagine this is particularly true in Black Bullet, where the only levity of the entire series of books is provided by wacky lolicon jokes. (We do get more of those here, and they’re worse than ever.) It’s entirely possible that the events of this book, and the ending in particular, are part of a long-term plan to advance the growth of Rentaro as a character and stop having him try to take on everyone’s problems. But I can’t help but hear the author, in a Beavis and Butthead sort of voice, telling me no, killing off 20 or so innocent young children in a horrific way is really brutal, and therefore cooler.

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(As a side note, that cover has so much stuffed into it that it verges on the incoherent. As long as I’m complaining.)

This book, which starts the popular light-novel schtick of a two-volume arc, begins with a bunch of killings as well, but those at last are plot-relevant and not there to make you gape at the page in a stunned silence. One of the monuments that protects the Tokyo area is breaking down, and once it collapses the Gastrea from outside will enter and basically kill/convert everyone in the city. As a result everyone has to band together to head off the monsters until a replacement can be built. This includes our heroes, who are asked to put together a strike force in order to be part of the maneuver. Of course, there’s a problem with this – Rentaro is a high school aged kid who’s moved up 10000 ranks in the last two books, and no one likes or trusts him.

This does lead to the best parts of the book, as we see him and Enju slowly trying to get anyone to work with them. The pairs he ends up with are not the most original in the world, but they bounce well off of a miserable stoic like our hero. We also get some lovely scenes between him and Kisara, who gets slightly more to do here than in the previous two books. I suspect her burning desire for revenge is going to come back and nite her in the ass one of these days, but as long as we get scenes of her and Rentaro staring at the stars and almost but not quite confessing, I’ll deal with it.

The volume ends with the beginning of a protracted battle that I suspect will take up all of Book 4. It’s a battle to save the citizens of this city, including the Cursed Children. So ending the book the wey it does sort of kicks the feet out from under the reader, making them, if not Rentaro, think “is it really worth saving a world like this?” More importantly, is it really worth slogging through so much death and hopelessness? Black Bullet continues to be well-written, and has good introspection, but if I wanted grimdark, I’d be reading American mainstream comics.

Dorohedoro, Vol. 18

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Viz.

Well, I said last time that I thought Dorohedoro might get a little more gory in the next volume, and I was not wrong. Dorohedoro is something of a horror-fantasy-comedy, and frequently the horror elements take precedence, as they do in this volume big time. It mostly plays out with the fates of Shin and Noi. Noi’s love for Shin has seemed a bit one-sided at times, but we no know that he does want to protect her, even if it means slicing her brain open and inserting Sho’s ‘thingy’ into her head. (I’m sure the sexual implications are intentional.) Of course, he should maybe think about protecting himself, as somehow (as always, it can be difficult to follow chains of events without a reread) Shim ends up in a corpse factory, and seemingly killed and turned into a murderous zombie. Whoops.

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Not that things are any better with the other groups. Fujita’s invisibility has worn off, and he’s forced to make an uneasy peace with the cross-eyed guy, though we hear both of them ;planning to double cross each other later. (Fujita is good at being idealistic and self-sacrificing, less good at scheming.) Of course, given they run into zombie Shin, neither plan is really going to come off. Noi, once she recovers from Shin’s lobotomy, ends up finding a trail of body parts, Hansel-and-Gretel style. And Nikaido’s group is torn up as well, as the department store is going to hell – possibly literally – and Risu and Asu both end up getting taken out over the course of the volume. This may not, admittedly, matter much to Nikaido, who is getting more like a Devil than ever, and spends most of the volume with a giant :D expression on her face.

In between all this gore, there is still something of a plot, most of it taking place with Kasukabe, who through a wacky set of circumstances ends up inside his wife Haru’s devil body, as the devils attempt to figure out what the hell is going on with Ai. Your guess is as good as mine, but we do see that Ai and company apparently have a revolving set of heads, although some are already dead. Whatever it is, it leads to a cliffhanger that I wasn’t expecting, as Nikaido discovers Caiman – with his lizard head, and seemingly with his regular old gyoza-lovin’ memories. The reunion will have to wait for next time, though. Oh yes, as an added bonus, we see what’s happening with En in hell, and it’s not pretty, though it is pretty funny.

I’ve often said Dorohedoro is not for the squeamish, and this volume proves that more than ever. But if you don’t mind blood, gore and dismemberment in graphic detail, it’s hard to think of a title out there with more style than this one. Which, as anyone will tell you, is far more important than pesky things like a coherent plot.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof

By Liar Soft. Released in Japan as “Okujou no Yurirei-san”. Released in North America by Mangagamer, also available on the Steam app.

In general I don’t review visual novels on this site, but I’d heard a lot about this one. First of all, it was hyped as being “uncensored” on Steam’s site, as if it was supposed to have a ton of porn in it. (Spoilers: there’s not much here TO censor.) Secondly, it was hyped as being a ‘yuri’ game that wasn’t marketed to the male otaku market – indeed, it reads a lot of the time as if it’s meant for female readers. But most importantly, it has strong plot and character development, is amusing and as realistic as you can get for a game starring two ghosts, and you just like it a lot.

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The premise is that our heroine, Yuna, spends much of her time on the roof avoiding socialization due to a trauma from her past. While on the roof, though, she finds who ghosts (only she can see them), who are able to convince her through a mixture of politely asking and being excited about the whole thing (as well as a few veiled threats) to help the two of them hook up various female couples at the school. The goal is that when they hook up, they’ll get it on in the school itself. Since the ghosts can’t leave the campus, this is the only way they can really see how girls “do it”.

After typing that out, I realize that those who read me talking about a realistic, well-developed game are pointing and laughing by now. But it actually does a good job. Most of the cast get backstories that help make sense of their character and show why they have their various personality quirks. Two of the girls are already a couple before the series begins, and two of the girls, against all odds, don’t hook up with anyone. (It’s a very linear visual novel – you can’t make choices that really influence the game). As for the couples themselves, they’re not all the same types.

While the word ‘lesbian’ is not explicitly used, it’s made clear throughout that these are meant to be real relationships that last beyond high school. Some of the girls are thinking about their future plans as a couple, or how to explain things to their parents. One even explicitly says that she’s always been attracted to women, which helpfully avoids the “what is this strange feeling in my chest?” cliche, though we get that as well.

We get three types of ‘scenes’ we can read. The main one has a bear icon, and is Yuna going through her school life and attempting to make vague efforts to help the ghosts hook people up (though, by her own admission, her role is very passive) while also moving past her middle school trauma, embracing the fact that she’s really a take-charge leader sort, and finding her own love she was totally unaware of (it was under her nose all along! – the game is still filled with cliches, fear not). As the plot moves along, you get ‘cherry’ scenes, which are from the POV of the various other girls, showing us scenes that happens when Yuna isn’t there.

Speaking of which, several of those scenes involve sex. That said, though there is mild nudity (a few breasts) and some explicit terminology, anyone who buys this for the “good bits” will regret it immensely. As for the sex writing, it’s not horrible, but also not great – the post-coital pillow talk is usually more important.

After you complete the game’s main “plot”, you unlock various ‘apple’ marked scenes, and can unlock more by going back to the game and making the pointless choice you didn’t make before. (As I said, nothing affects the main plot, so you mostly just get briefly different dialogue). The ‘apple’ scenes are basically the same as the ‘cherry’ scenes, only they tend to involve spoilers – i.e., the characters reflect on things the reader was unaware of at the time. This can occasionally be harmful to the game itself – Hina gets most of her development in these apple scenes, as the game wanted her to be the stoic girl whose thoughts were a mystery to us. Which is fine, and she’s one of my favorites, but this led to her being undercharacterized for most of the game itself.

There are elements that don’t work. I mentioned Hina’s development already. Another character, Ano, has two conflicting sides that don’t always mesh very well together in the writing. There is also a teacher/student relationship, which is handled as well as can be expected, but I’d still rather have done without, especially as the teacher is the standard ‘looks like a little kid’ type. And of course, being a visual novel, you’d better be prepared for reading a whole lot of text, with repetitive music. The game is partially voiced, piping up for important scenes.

Overall, I’m pleased that I got this game, which ended up being better than I expected. The girls are all fairly intelligent, or at least idiotic in a fun, amusing way. The pairings all make sense. There’s a lot of content to justify its somewhat expensive price. And it treats its sexuality seriously, and has the girls thinking seriously about it. (Indeed, one of the two ‘unpaired’ girls, Nena, could easily be asexual and aromantic judging from the text.) If you’re curious about this sort of thing, it’s definitely recommended.