In the year 2021, the Gastrea Virus overwhelmed humanity and turned the majority of the human race into ravenous beasts. The rest were forced to retreat, unable to stand against the incredible power of the infected victims. Ten years later, humans live inside areas protected by the Monoliths, enormous walls that repel the Gastrea, while the remaining land has been ceded to the monsters.
However, the Monoliths aren’t perfect, and humanity has only one recourse against the Gastrea incursion: the Cursed Children. Now ten years old, these children developed Gastrea Virus inhibitors in the womb and were born with super-human abilities. Yet their abilities come with a price: eventually they will transform into Gastrea themselves.
Many of the Cursed Children chose to isolate themselves from humanity and live beyond the Monoliths, but some have chosen to remain and work with the Civil Security Corporation to defeat the Gastrea. To keep them in check, they are forced to endure a daily injection of Gastrea inhibitor, and they are each assigned a handler. The handler, or Promoter, works with the child, the Initiator, to eliminate the Gastrea that find their way past the Monoliths to spread infection. Our protagonist, Rentaro, and his young partner Enju, are one such pair. Working for the Tendo CivSec Agency, they use Enju’s abilities to hunt and destroy Gastrea within the walled city of Tokyo.
Black Bullet makes use of a familiar and currently beloved post-apocalyptic premise that will draw in readers craving intense action. However, Black Bullet stumbles in the adaption from light novel to manga, and its promising premise ultimately falls flat. As the volume opens, the reader is dropped into a bizarre combination of action and infodump that is disjointed and difficult to follow, and the story never quite manages to recover its footing. The rest of the narrative is similarly perplexing: characters, including one that seems to be the primary antagonist, are introduced and then never seen or mentioned again. Similarly, plot threads are introduced and then dropped almost immediately. This is doubtless the result of trying to cram all the background in the light novel into the first volume of the manga, but readers may not be willing to wait for possible improvements to future volumes.
Unfortunately, though the artwork is enjoyable, it only adds to the confusion. Although Morinohon has created several doujinshi, or fan comics, this is his debut work with a large publisher, and it shows. While he has clearly mastered the fundamentals of manga art, and he does a fantastic job translating Ukai’s distinctive character designs into his cute and quirky style, he hasn’t yet mastered the technique that allows action to flow effortlessly from one panel to the next. Instead, each panel seems more like stand-alone artwork, and he illustrates rather than implies every action. There is so much information (both visual and textual) in every panel that it becomes difficult to discern what’s actually happening in some sequences.
Yen Press rates Black Bullet T (13+), but there is one major content note that selectors need to be aware of before purchasing this title. The idea that teenage handlers must partner with terrifying super-human children to save the world is intriguing, and Enju’s and Rentaro’s unique relationship as Initiator and Promoter could have made for a compelling read. However, 10-year-old Enju’s interactions with 16-year-old Rentaro are off-putting to the point that it spoils an otherwise enjoyable story. Shortly after Enju is introduced, she proclaims that Rentaro is her fiancé, and while the initial impression is that of a cute, child-like misunderstanding, almost every scene in which she is present after that involves blatant sexual innuendo, “loli” (underage girl) fanservice, or alludes to the fact that Rentaro doesn’t find Enju’s attention completely unwelcome. Needless to say, the tone of their interactions is decidedly creepy, ruining what might have been a heartwarming relationship. Kanzaki’s author’s note praising Morinohon’s “lolicon” (suggestive art featuring underage girls) only makes the read more uncomfortable.
If your patrons are craving the dark, modern take on the monster vs. man trope that Black Bullet promises but fails to deliver, check out Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida (rated Older Teen) instead. Another excellent read-alike to recommend to fantasy fans is Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan (rated 16+), which also follows young heroes who hunt gigantic beasts despite impossible odds. Younger readers who are craving a similar action-packed sci-fi narrative without graphic violence should try World Trigger by Daisuke Ashihara (rated Teen).
Black Bullet, vol. 1
by Shiden Kanzaki
Art by Morinohon
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)