Hired as Lady Seitenshi’s bodygaurd after defeating the Stage Five Gastrea and becoming the hero of Tokyo Area, Rentaro Satomi confronts a dangerous sniper set on taking the Seitenshi’s life.
Although they’ve been heralded the saviours of Tokyo Area, life at the Tendo Security Company has been business as usual, with Rentaro Satomi, his initiator Enju Aihara and their boss Kisara Tendo working to defeat the Gastrea. However, with the ambitious leader of the Osaka area coming for a conference, the ruler of Tokyo Area Lady Seitenshi commissions Rentaro to be her new bodyguard. Begrudgingly taking this task, Rentaro finds that things are worse than expected inside the Seitenshi’s office, with her security opposing to taking orders from a brash outsider. Heading home, Rentaro saves a sleepy young girl named Tina Sprout from bullies, earning her affection. Later, Rentaro saves the Seitenshi from a brutal sniper attack, forcing him to figure out how to protect her before it is too late.
Continuing on a few months after Rentaro’s defeat of the Stage Five Gastrea at the end of the first volume, Vol .2 concerns the mildly interesting story of Rentaro’s struggle to protect the Seitenshi. I say mildly interesting in the sense that the story provides nothing particularly groundbreaking - I’m sure that most readers could pretty accurately guess just from looking at the cover what happens in this volume. This doesn’t mean that it was particularly bad, as I found the story to competently done in the sense that it more or less hit the right dramatic beats and was easy to follow. This coherence is an improvement over the first volume, which seemed weighed down by the burden of trying to throw too many story elements and contrived twists at the reader to justify attention given.
The focus on telling a more coherent story seemingly comes at the expense of Black Bullet’s world, which sadly takes a backseat in this volume. The first volume established a memorably grim world in its proceedings which lent itself well to the story, and it was to my disappointment that this focus is lost in this volume. Without the world providing an overbearing influence on the story, all that is left at its core is a superpowered bodyguard attempting to protect his Queen from a superpowered sniper, without the distinctive atmosphere that gave the first volume an interesting spin. While the volume also touches lightly on the political dealings of this world, it never makes a real impact on the story and didn’t really grab my attention at all.
While the structure of the story itself is pleasing enough, this volume notably fails at providing any of the necessary characterization for its character. The prologue turns out to be the best chapter, detailing a boy and a Gastrea infected child being chased by Enju, Kisara and later Rentaro. Portrayed through the perspective of those being chased, this turned out to be a touching scene that did more to characterize our trio than the rest of the book combined. Aside from this memorable scene, there is little to no characterization present in this volume, with all of the characters coming off as flat with little to no depth of personality, and this is a shame considering the promise the volume started off with.
Rentaro is the worst offender here especially considering his role as protagonist, as he more or less just does things without any indication of his actual personality. The problem is that we are told what he feels without any context of why he feels something, and this was a striking weakness of this volume. This is particularly unfortunate because it hurt the believablity of relationships which are supposed to be major driving forces of the plot. This most notably affects his undercooked relationship with Tina Sprout and their interactions provide one of the main catalysts for their actions in the context of the plot. Due to a glaring lack of context, their feelings seeming pop up out of nowhere with only vague reference to off-stage events to support these developments. This robs the plot of explanation that was badly needed to make these characters relatable in any sense, furthering my impression that the characters in this series just sort of do things rather than feeling like actual people.
There are noticeably fewer action scenes here as the story turns into a sort of cat and mouse battle as Rentaro tries to protect the Seitenshi. This actually works relatively well, and while the final battle at the end of the volume doesn’t do anything particularly remarkable it was straightforward to follow, providing an enjoyable capstone to the story. Again, I came away from the story having enjoyed it more than the previous volume, but I can’t say that it displayed anything that made it stick with me beyond telling a competent story because of how badly the characterization failed at propping it up.
One of the more distasteful elements of the first volume was the general creepiness in the relationship between Rentaro and the 10 year old Enju. Thankfully this is not nearly as present in this volume as Rentaro’s leering is removed and Enju’s unsettling innuendo is downplayed significantly. While there are still a few questionable moments in this volume, thankfully they are much less apparent and distracting. However, it appears that author Shiden Kanzaki just couldn’t let a good thing stick, as these moments are replaced by some silliness as Kisara and new foil Miori Shiba fight over Rentaro. It would be one thing if these scenes advanced the plot, but they are all filler of the most bland kind, neither funny nor compelling in any way.
As a final note, the dialogue in this book comes off as weirdly stilted at times. It wasn’t unreadable by any means, but it happened often enough to be an annoyance and ruined some of the prose’s flow.
This was a difficult novel to review - in one sense it was an improvement in several ways from the first novel, delivering a more coherent yet predictable story that comes together more satisfyingly than the first. However, the lack of characterization the characters receive as well as the lack of focus on the environment fail to propel the story beyond a simple level of enjoyment. I enjoyed it overall in spite of all that it did wrong, but there is a lot that this volume simply doesn’t do well enough to merit a solid recommendation.
Black Bullet Vol. 2: Against A Perfect Sniper was published by Yen Press on December 15th, 2015. Authored by Shiden Kanzaki and illustrated by Saki Ukai, the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. First published in Japan on July 10th, 2011, seven volumes have currently been released, with volume 3 scheduled to be published in English on April 19th, 2016.
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