Black Bullet is a series that combines a number of firsts. The original light novel series was author Shiden Kanzaki’s first publication. The manga adaptation is Hon Morino’s first foray out of the world of doujinshi fan comics. Finally, under Yen Press’s publication, the English adaptation is one of translator Nita Lieu’s first works in the realm of manga from her previous work in anime and movies.
Our story opens with a grim reminder of humanity’s crushing defeat at the hands of a new virus called Gastera which has forced those who survived to reside in restricted locals protected by monolithic barriers. Yet every so often a gastera slips past these defenses, which is where our heroes come into play. Rentarou Satomi is a 17 year old Promoter at the Tendo Civil Security agency, one of many agencies established to protect humanity from the lingering Gastera threat. Partnered with Enju Aihara, a 10 year old Initiator, the story opens as the two of them are thrown into action hunting down a recent Gastera attack.
Although they’re able to eliminate one of the Gastera’s victims, a man who turned into a Gastera-infected monster, the originator of the Gastera attack and the identity of a mysterious masked man who taunted Rentarou at the scene of the crime remain at large. From there, Rentarou begins to hunt down the location of the lost Gastera at the behest of Tendo Civil Security president, Kisara Tendo, but getting to the bottom of this mystery might not prove to be an easy task…
Within a single volume, Black Bullet manages to cover a truly impressive amount of ground, but the story and art suffer quite a bit just from the sheer volume of content packed into the pages. While Morino’s art provides a unique style that’s full of character and a strong sense of design, the paneling and layout of the manga squeezes in a dizzying amount of details that makes it difficult to follow the action on the page.
This isn’t helped by the fact that Kanzaki’s story seems to jump unpredictably from one point to the next. While we’re introduced to what we can only assume will be the Big Bad of the series within the first 20 pages, the masked man’s appearance is hardly even mentioned through the remainder of the volume. Instead, the story jumps from investigating the Gastera attack, to day in the life high school, to some sort of government inquisition without much pause to breathe and catch our breath in between. As a result, the characters themselves wind up feeling cliched and two-dimensional. Within a single page we’re told of Rentarou’s desire to find his parents only to have him outright deny it for no discernable reason, followed by a completely disjointed episode where Kisara swears revenge on her own family.
Lieu demonstrates her skill in a translator despite the disjointed and busy art on the page. Particularly, she excels in capturing the nuance of the characters on the page, from rendering Enju’s speaking pattern in a lively and understandable way and pulling in all the story’s other playful cultural references. However, this is also somewhat marred by the English adaptation. Morino’s art leaves sound effects scattered all over the page, and the choice to translate each particular sound only once per panel means they fall somewhat flat in having the same effect in English.
Overall, the inexperience of its creators seems to be Black Bullet’s primary stumbling block. In a world where post-apocalyptic stories can sometimes feel like a dime a dozen, it remains to be seen whether or not Morino and Kanzaki will rise above the rest.