Black Bullet

In the year 2021, humanity is ravaged by a pandemic known as the Gastrea virus. Once infected, the virus rewrites its host’s DNA, transforming them into a monstrous predatory creature that either kills other people or else infects them with the virus, triggering a new round of transformations. Humanity is only saved from extinction by the discovery of Varanium, a dark volcanic metal that emits a magnetic field which the transformed Gastrea creatures are unable to tolerate; the surviving human population establish safe haven enclaves ringed by monoliths constructed of Varanium. On the edge of these enclaves live the so-called “Cursed Children”, kids of varying ages who were infected in vitro and yet remain resistant to the transformative properties of the virus. Abandoned by their parents and reviled by the rest of society, the “Cursed Children” are possessed of superhuman abilities that make them effective weapons against the Gastrea; despite this, they are treated as sub-human and lack civil, political, and legal rights. Ten years after the disaster, Rentarō Satomi is a 16 year old high schooler whose parents died in the pandemic. He is also a registered Civil Security Officer, partnered with a “Cursed Child” named Enju, and tasked with the job of eliminating any Gastrea outbreaks in the Tokyo enclave. For this task, he is equipped with special firearms that utilise Varanium bullets; but he is also the product of an abandoned experimental project, in which humans near death were given Varanium prosthetics in order to convert them into anti-Gastrea weapons. Together with his “boss”, fellow high schooler and martial arts expert Kisara Tendō, Rentarō and Enju are instructed by Seitenshi, the enigmatic ruler of the Tokyo enclave, to disrupt a plot to not only destroy the enclave, but also bring about the advent of a new species of human being. But beyond this plot and its resolution lie dark truths about Rentarō and Kisara’s pasts, and the choices which both foiling the plot and discovering the truth about themselves entail…

Based on a series of illustrated novels by Shiden Kanzaki and Saki Ukai, “Black Bullet” was co-produced by anime studios Orange and Kinema Citrus, and aired on Japanese television between April and July 2014. Animated in a conventional combination of hand drawn 2D and 3D CGI techniques, “Black Bullet” at first seems confused about whether it wants to be an anarchic comedy or a more serious drama; however, it quickly resolves this question in favour of the latter, while retaining moments of the former. Containing elements and tropes that will be familiar to the viewers of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, “Blood-C”, and “Freezing”, “Black Bullet” uses its post-apocalyptic setting to explore such deep questions as the nature of humanity, the origins of discrimination and bigotry, and the relationship between justice and revenge. In doing so, it builds to a powerful and emotionally affecting climax that depicts both the precarious nature of reality and the impact which our choices can have on our relationships. The various un- or half-explained threads and loose ends strongly hint at a second series that was ultimately never made – “Black Bullet” suffered from poor critical reviews – which is a pity, because without resolution to these elements, the series as it exists feels somewhat half-baked and inconclusive. Nonetheless, this should not detract from the power of the story and the compelling ambiguity with which it approaches profound questions of human personhood. Like “Btoom!”, “Black Bullet” is surely a prime candidate for a reboot, a series whose present incomplete status doesn’t prevent it from ringing true in a world beset by the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent social and existential questions it raises.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.