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.
(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.