What They Say:
The Gastrea virus spreads like wildfire, causing each infected host to rapidly mutate, gaining new powers and abilities with every stage of development, even while they continue to attack, kill, and infect multiple new hosts. Unable to fight a pandemic enemy that turns defenders into adversaries, the shocked remnants of the human race are forced to retreat into cities surrounded by giant monoliths made of Varanium, one of the few materials that can stop the Gastrea.
Now mankind’s last hope lies in the Cursed Children: young girls infected with the virus who have managed to retain a hold on their humanity. Paired with a partner, they alone have the strength to take on a Gastrea in one-on-one combat. But the very thing that gives them power is a ticking time bomb, so even as they protect humanity, they are also feared and shunned. Are they girls? Monsters? Or mankind’s ultimate salvation?
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the newly created English language dub. Both tracks are done up in the lossless DTS-HD MA codec and the end result is pretty solid all around. The show works a pretty good mix of action and dialogue to it so that both aspects of it are well served, though it leans more towards dialogue to work the animation budget well. These areas are fairly straightforward with little need for anything significant, though there are a few areas of decent placement due to the nature of characters set on the screen. The action component plays out strong here overall as there’s some very good sequences that play out due to the different natures of the characters abilities as well as the scale of it, bringing in some military elements along the way, the sound of the Gastrea themselves and the overall impact of the big sequences. It’s a good mix that has a really clear nature to it that it steps things up nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes are spread across two discs in a nine/four format that gives it plenty of room to work with. Animated by Kinema Citrus and Orange, the show has a very good look about it where it’s got a rich color palette to work with, some very good detail in both backgrounds and designs and a solid flow of animation that makes it feel quite fluid in the big sequences. It’s an appealing show visually and the transfer brings it to life well. There are a good number of dark scenes here, owing to the night and the Gastrea, and the result is quite solid in those areas. The pops of vibrancy stand out well with the Gastrea as well but we also get that throughout the city scenes and within aspects of some of the characters. This all holds very well with little in the way of noise to it, resulting in a very clean look. Similarly, details in the background really stand out and I thoroughly enjoyed taking in those backgrounds with how great they looked through the transfer.
The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover goes for one of the more familiar pieces of promotional artwork that has Rentaro and Enju together where it’s an illustration as opposed to a piece from the show itself. This makes it pretty distinctive and it feels like it connects well to the light novel origins with the design. The logo has a pretty good look about it, feeling like a theatrical film logo in a lot of ways, and the color scheme used definitely makes it stand out across the board. The back cover goes a little more traditional as we get a basic gray ruins landscape wall over which there’s the usual items. The premise is nicely covered and easy to read and the selection of shots from the show are small, a bit vibrant, but mostly ineffective because of their size. The artwork on the right is pretty nice though with color shaded outlines of both Enju and Rentaro. The discs features are clearly listed and we get a solid breakdown of production credits and the technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works a nice kind of color scheme to let it stand out a bit. The main layout is familiar as we get the navigation along the left with a large white block that hsa the episodes by number and title using black text and purple highlights. It looks good and is easy to read both as a top level menu and as a pop-up menu during playback. The rest of the screen is given over to the character artwork that again works an illustration design but does it in grayscale with some pops of color, the first disc using red with the character artwork and the second using purple. Everything is smooth and easy to use with no problems to be had.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Based on the original light novel series written by Shiden Kanzaki and illustrated by Saki Ukai, Black Bullet is a thirteen episode series that aired in the spring 2014 season. The original light novel series is still running, originally beginning back in 2011, and a manga spinoff ran for a couple of years as well; both of those have been licensed by Yen Press so if you enjoy this show you have the option to explore more of the original work. The series was animated by Kinema Citrus and Orange with Masayuki Kojima directing. Kojima’s an interesting choice as he’s done more varied and dramatic series over the years, such as Monster and Master Keaton, but also some oddball humor such as Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. That different background certainly helps to pain the show in a different light and type of sensibility.
The series initially takes place in 2021 where a parasitic virus has hit called Gastrea that manifests in these giant bug-like creatures. These monstrosities have devastated much of the world and within our focus in Japan we see how it’s becoming the end times. Luckily, a mineral that’s mined in the country can be used to push back on the creatures as a series of massive thirty-story tall structures called Monoliths are built around five main areas across the country. These create cities of normalcy where the Gastrea can’t reach through. Humanity isn’t able to fight back in a big way but they’ve managed a stalemate for the moment. The initial event did cause one unusual occurrence though as a number of pregnant women infected with the virus had their unborn children change, resulting in them all becoming girls and having unusual abilities. These kids aren’t considered human by most and are kept to the outskirts of the city. Some, however, work with people known as Promoters while the kids are known as Initiators when not known as Cursed Children. As Initiators, they serve in the Civilian Security department, CivSec, a loose affiliation of homegrown businesses essentially that deal with Gastrea infections and incursions.
It’s not exactly an original setup in some ways but it’s well presented here before it shifts forward ten years after introducing us to a young Rentaro, a boy who had lost everything to the Gastrea. Now as a high school senior, he works in CivSec as a pretty solid Promoter alongside Enju, one of the many ten year old girls that now exists. The two have that ever so familiar relationship of older male and young girl, but it actually manages to feel like it plays it better than most. With an almost eight year age difference, Rentaro never really comes across as seeing her in a romantic way. There’s a mix of paternal and elder sibling vibe coming from him and it helps that they never play to the fanservice angle with Enju of any note. Enju is naturally enamored of Rentaro and we get the usual young girl who wants to someday marry and kiss him, but even this comes across more as youthful idolization in that daddy-mode that a lot of kids have. When you take it a step further and look at how Enju and most of the Cursed Children are raised, either ignored, killed or mistreated, she’s had a minimal education and is latching onto whatever it is that looks out for her in life. Often these kinds of pairings are terrible and problematic, especially from cultural differences, but this one worked surprisingly well for me.
The structure of the show is one that reminded me a lot of the A Certain Magical Index/Scientific Railgun works in that across the thirteen episodes here we get a few stories and not much in the way of an overall arc. There are a few nods towards there being one, but the focus is more on Rentaro and his place in the world, exploring how CivSec works and some of the essential elements of worldbuilding that has to exist in a story like this. It doesn’t always do it well as we really don’t get a good feeling for how the rest of the world works or even the other areas in Japan, but for the most part the show works well enough for me with the structure it has. All of it is designed to paint a picture around Rentaro with how the world feels and the kind of hopelessness that exists while he tries to do the best job he can and protect Enju. The individual stories are decent and run a few episodes, from dealing with an assassin, another strangely masked CivSec pairing that seems to want something more out of him and then the collapse of a Monolith that threatens the existence of the entire area. Decent stories, but it’s the character material that’s truly the focus.
And that character material is quite good. Part of the appeal for me here is that it doesn’t go for easy answers (if it provides any answers at all) and plays more to the realities of the situation. It’s not an everyone will survive and we’ll have a bright beautiful day at the end of things. It’s surprisingly grim as it progresses and really puts this pairing through the wringer. Again, Rentaro more so simply because he’s older and can process it more. There are some great moments where he and his boss Kisara do their part to help the Cursed Children and there’s good exploration of the mood of those that live in the area with how they feel about the Cursed Children. This is pretty important since they’re infected and we see how their percentage levels increased for a number of reasons, which can cause them to turn into the larger monsters. Much like regular people can be as well, but the Cursed Children are like ticking time bombs in the view of people. Watching this play out, and seeing the fate of a good number of them, is heart-rending to watch. Not just for the viewer but for Rentaro and Enju as well, which is beautifully and tragically brought to life by the voice actors and the animation. Even if the show feels superficial at times, there are some really strong moments like this.
Black Bullet is a series that has a lot of potential and definitely ends in a way where it really demands that more be made from the original material. Which makes me glad said original material is becoming available. The show works a good format of smaller multi-episode stories and does some good world building but just doesn’t feel like it comes together in a compelling way. It’s all very well animated and put together, but something just didn’t click for me to really take it to the next level and become really engaging. Mostly this just feels like there’s so much more to it that’s likely in the book and didn’t get translated here combined with no overarching storyline or opponent, resulting in it just feeling weaker. For fans of the show, this is a very solid release that will leave you pleased across the board, so I can definitely recommend it there. With a few options to preview it online before buying, it’s worth doing to discover if this is your thing or not.
Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD MA Language, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 27th, 2015
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.