Black Bullet: Vengeance Is Mine

By Shiden Kanzaki and Saki Ukai. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nita Lieu.

I’ve talked before about Black Bullet’s flaws – from its shoehorning of “lolicon’ style humor into the text to its simple unrelenting grimness – so let’s try to take this review to talk about what it does well. Because it does do some things very well. Black Bullet has a plan, and that plan is to let you know about the horrors of war. And over the course of this book’s 220-odd pages, you learn over and over again that the noble soldier fighting an unwinnable fight against an unkillable enemy is something that is going to result in hundreds, indeed thousands of casualties. Sometimes, I will admit, Black Bullet overdoes its message – there’s a scene with a cute 8-year-old getting her head cut off that was just so grand guignol it actually turned silly – but for the most part it’s just a sea of horror that hammers its point home nicely.


The other excellent thing in the book, though again it’s hard to enjoy, is Kisara. I had been ready to gripe about her being underused in the volume again, particularly as there were many times when we were told that she was the most dangerous and deadly of them all – including by the resident insane tykebomb – but we still don’t actually see her doing anything, given that for the most part Rentaro is the hero of this series and it follows his POV. And then we get the Epilogue, and boy howdy. Kisara discovers that one of her brothers is, in fact, responsible for the decay of the monument that led to the events of books 3 and 4 in the first place, and duels him. It’s interesting, because the brother is presented to the reader as being a Grade-A snake, horrible and loathsome, and you are totally not wrong to want to see her take him out.

No, the issue is that she takes joy in doing so, and, in her chosen method, drives a (semi) innocent bystander insane. Her glee and delight as she discusses her revenge being started reminds you what the subtitle of this volume was, and you realize that it was about her all along. Rentaro is, of course, shocked, as this is not the Kisara she normally shows to him. In fact, he realizes that one day he may in fact have to be the one to kill her if she keeps going on like this. I’m not sure when that will play out – final book in the series, I’m guessing – but certainly his utilitarian views are at odds with her “only evil can combat evil” revenge fantasy. It’s a stunning final 30 pages or so.

Of course, my own personal tastes remain an issue here too. This is well-written, the lolicon was at a minimum, and I enjoyed its themes and what it’s trying to say. I just hated reading it as a book for pleasure. It’s very good, bordering on excellent, but I felt the opposite of enjoyment. It was a slog. As such, Black Bullet remains a series that’s hard to recommend, though fans of the anime and of ‘grimdark’ style series will get a lot out of it.

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.


(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.

Black Bullet: Against A Perfect Sniper

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

Tempting as it may be, I can’t simply point to my review of the first volume of Black Bullet and say “Exactly what I said before, only with an added loli.” And it is tempting. Black Bullet’s strengths – its action scenes and politics – are still very strong, and its weaknesses – all of its anime cliches – are still there and pandering. There were mercifully a few less pedophilia jokes this time around, but that was made up for by added harem and boob jokes. But its strengths are quite strong, and given that this is a text medium and the illustrations aren’t too bad, it’s easier for me to ignore the service and focus on the grim dystopia of this world and the shiny, shiny young woman attempting to change things despite everything.


We get far more of what makes Seitenshi tick in this volume, and like Rentaro, I can appreciate what she’s doing while worrying about her good sense. People like her tend to have low survival rates in crapsack worlds like this one, and when she’s up against a stronger politician like the leader of Osaka, she doesn’t give in but does seem to be working from a weaker position. It’s very telling that Rentaro tells her to her face that her main force of bodyguards are basically goons, and by the end of the book… they’re still her bodyguards, they just got yelled at for trying to kill a who had, admittedly, tried to kill Seitenshi numerous times.) As I did with Kisara in the first novel, I wish we could get more from Seitenshi’s POV, but I know better than to expect something like that.

The other new character is Tina Sprout, a Cursed Child whose character arc, while heartwarming, is almost entirely predictable. She befriends Rentaro without either of them knowing who the other one is, and he becomes the one person who doesn’t treat her horribly. She’s also very broken, as all the Children are, and tries to avoid killing when she doesn’t have to (though she manages to take out Enju enough that she’s absent from the 2nd half of the book – which allows her and Rentaro to have a one on one battle). And naturally, he is able to see the good inside of her and decides to save her. As I said, there’s nothing particularly bad about her story as it’s written, it’s just that if I described the character and asked a reader to tell me what happens to her, most could do so without even looking.

This is still a grim book series, and the humor that it has tends to revolve around a) people thinking Rentaro is a lolicon, or b) Kisara and her rival, the student council president girl introduced here, getting furious with each other and attempting to seduce a deliberately oblivious Rentaro. That said, I did laugh out loud at one passage, possibly my favorite in the book, where Seitenshi and Rentaro are preparing to meet with the leader of the Osaka area. Rentaro has met him before when he was a child and being trained to rule the world (or at least that’s what his training seems like from flashbacks). Seitenshi asks him nicely not to get angry or say rude things. He then walks in and is even ruder than I expected him to be, gets even angrier, and never even bothers to apologize. It’s possibly the most emotion he shows all book, and I hope we get more of this sort of thing next time around.