Story: Shiden Kanzaki
Illustrations: Saki Ukai
Translation: Nita Lieu
What They Say
One of the giant Monoliths that protects Tokyo Area from the virally superpowered Gastrea creatures has been destroyed. And right on schedule, the Stage Four Gastrea Aldebaran leads an invading army of the monsters into the city. The elite self-defense forces are sent to face them, and the terrible sounds of war echo across a newly christened battlefield–but soon a tense silence falls.
What is it that appears before the eyes of Rentaro and his friends? The near-future thriller of post-apocalyptic survival continues in Black Bullet volume 4!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
This volume picks up right where the last one left off, with the sudden collapse of the Monolith. In fact, this is such a continuation that the chapter numbers don’t even reset, instead carrying over from last time! And despite Rentaro rushing to the scene… it honestly feels a little less desperate than you’d expect, with the SDF instead tackling the Gastrea first, rather than some sudden flood of enemies. But of course they inevitably fall, and our heroes are thrust into battle, along with the rest of the civil officers. And fortunately, this section absolutely nails the feel of a hectic mess of a war zone, along with the panic brought by the Gastrea using legitimate tactics, much to the surprise of everyone fighting them. You can just absolutely feel the desperation coming off the page, and it’s certainly a powerful scene. Anyway, there are two important developments in this section, the first being the Gastrea using what seems to be a freaking long range laser, and the other being Rentaro’s team disobeying orders. For the later, they realize the Gastrea are launching a detached force aerially in order to force a pincer attack, and Rentaro can’t get permission to leave the front line to stop it. But even so he knows that it will kill off his allies if he doesn’t stop it, so he disobeys and does what needs to be done. Even so, things remain hopeless… until the enemy unexpectedly retreats.
Following on from here, our heroes lick their wounds, and they determine the identity of the so called “Spear of Light” laser. And honestly, the way this works out is pretty damn stupid, as it turns out to be a stream of compressed mercury, which they discover… because the victims have symptoms that match with those brought on by increased mercury intake. That’s fair enough in that it makes some sense to discuss the ability of a liquid stream to be shot in a way to act as a pretty insane cutting tool… but if it straight up sliced through their bodies, it’s not like they were really taking it into their bodies. Maaaaaybe you could argue that as it rapidly sliced by it got into the open wounds and somehow had the same effect as eating a ton of it from seafood, but it really does sound like a stretch. I’m also not sure why it needed to be mercury instead of just plain water, which I believe could’ve had the same results without needing the weirdness of a creature filling itself with freaking liquid metal, but I guess it is what it is.
Anyway, with all that out of the way, Rentaro is called before his superior, Gado, and at first they end up sharing their findings. And for the main point of interest here, Rentaro speculates that Aldebaran has a bee at its base to allow it to give it the ability to order the other Gastrea, while Gado informs our hero that Aldebaran is straight up immortal. Like, he mortally wounded the monster, which is what caused the retreat, but it managed to bafflingly live through those wounds. And this is honestly the most frustrating part of the book for me, because it COMPLETELY misses the mark on what to explain. Like, sure, fair enough to detail how it can give orders, but that was probably the least confusing ability it had. Which is then called into question immediately by bringing up its immortality. I thought for sure we would end up with a later explanation of how it used some sort of creature’s skills to move around or disguise its weakpoints, but nope, it’s just immortal for no discernible reason whatsoever. On top of that, it shows straight up human level intelligence in its tactics, but that also apparently didn’t warrant explanation. And hell, it already had the anti-Varanium drool which has no explanation and obviously doesn’t match up to any real life creatures. But thank god we were told that it was using pheromones to order around the other Gastrea, as otherwise it would’ve just seemed unrealistic!
The more important part of this meeting, though, was to tell Rentaro that he’s to be put to death for his disobedience. But he’s offered a plea deal to instead hunt down the mercury sniper, Pleiades, all on his own. He of course accepts, and… this section is easily the weakest point in the book by far. For the most part, he’s just hassled by some random wolf Gastrea, and in turn looks completely pathetic as he gets the crap beaten out of him while trying to flee. Also, he meets up with Kagetano Hiruko and Kohina, who end up helping him out extensively throughout the book because they want to fight strong enemies or some other underdeveloped reason. To be perfectly honest, they just seem to be here because the author liked them and wanted to use them again to have them do cool stuff, as their presence here really does feel flimsy. Oh, and then they casually sneak up on the Gastrea camp and kill Pleiades in one big hit. And to be fair this is the one part of this section that I do like, as it turns out Pleiades is a massive, obese creature specialized solely for one purpose, which makes a LOT more sense than the mish mash of super abilities that is Aldebaran. They then run away, which is MUCH less tense than it should be considering the situation, instead largely just being them hiding in a little cave.
And from there, the rest of the volume goes to one final desperate struggle to take down Aldebaran and thus take down their foes, with Rentaro forced into the role of leader. Luckily, it once again captures that desperation quite well, as well as offering a ton of flash up until the point everything is resolved. Oh, and we even get a particularly insane epilogue to top things off, so the book certainly does get to go out on a high note.
This book is a real odd entry in the series, as it’s a mix of some absolutely fantastic bits at the start and close, but also sadly a poorly handled middle section. To knock out the bad, in the middle we get a section with some great set-up and ideas… but instead it’s just our hero kind of bumbling around and looking pathetic until he takes care of things in an entirely unsatisfying manner. The danger just isn’t captured at all, which is a real shame. Oh, and that’s also the part where we’re reintroduced to some older characters, which also could’ve been neat, but instead feels rather shoehorned in just to let cool stuff happen. And the real frustration on top of all this is that the book seemingly goes out of its way to make sense of some of the crazy Gastrea abilities displayed, offering real world parallels… but then it just leaves other, more important ones completely and utterly unexplained! It’s just plain awkward, as the writing almost shoves this issue in your face by tackling some but not all of the powers, and it just all feels like a terribly amateurish way of writing.
With all that out of the way, though, the rest of the book is actually done brilliantly. It really does capture the terror of the battle and feels straight up palpable, and on top of that even fits in some truly brilliant action. It’s downright odd to see these two parts exist in the same volume, as the successes of the best parts line up hilariously neatly with the downfalls of the weaker sections, leading me to wonder just what the hell happened in the writing of the middle. Still, much as I’ve talked of the bad, I really do think the good more than makes up for it, and taken as a whole this is easily a great entry into the series that’s absolutely worth a read. Just be warned that you’ll need to get over a bit of a hump in the middle to experience all the greatness contained within these pages.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: N/A
Packaging Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: August 23rd, 2016