Tensions soar as Rentaro arrives at a council of CivSec officers, all in the running for a extremely profitable new job. However, when a formidable foe disrupts proceedings determined to wreak havoc on the established order, Rentatro must stand up for justice, even as the deep ingrained prejudices of society threaten to tear apart Rentaro and Enju’s happy little family at the seams.
The Cursed Children - the girls infected with the gastrea virus - are despised and reviled in the tokyo area. As Enju begins to feel the brunt of this prejudice for the first time since becoming an initiator, Rentaro faces ever more pressing threats, as his secret new assignment, and the return of the masked villain Kagetane Hiruko, conspire to set catastrophe upon the city at large.
Black Bullet volume 2 is definitely a step up from the first volume of the manga, at least in terms of cohesiveness as a volume with an overarching theme and goal. Because a lot of the set-up was already done in volume one - which had led that volume to be filled with the beginning of plot threads that went nowhere - here they are able to play with those ideas more thoroughly, integrating the prejudicial side of the world in order to contrast it with Rentaro and Enju’s sacrificial positions as protectors of humanity. This intermingling creates a nice dichotomy, and creates an emotional through-line that creates some genuinely emotional moments, and draws out some poignantly dramatic depth out of their story.
Sadly though not all of Black Bullet’s failings as a manga are fixed in this issue. Even while volume 2 doesn’t include the same amount of introductory exposition, it still manages to cram a lot of exposition into it’s pages, most of which seems forced, both in the sense of being elegantly told to us, as well as being conceptually tropey and convoluted. As an example, during the first chapter’s council meeting, we have a message relayed to the gathered officers by the current figurehead of state, whose advisor is the adoptive father of Rentaro, and the grandfather of Kisara (rentaro’s boss) who has sworn vengeance on the advisor. Besides the fact that these details as somewhat cliche, the plot point is never raised again in this entire volume, making me ask the question why it was brought up now and in this way.
Likewise the major villain, Kagetane Hiruko, is similar to the plot, in that his character seems like an amalgamation of ½ good ideas and ½ tropes. He is a crazy character, almost showman-esque in his behavior. However his personality and reasoning, outside of his basic ideal that humans need to evolve, and his backstory as an army experiment, feels inconsequential, and even sometimes bizarre and silly. Often he comes off more as a flamboyant, sinister exposition mouthpiece than an actual character with a plan and purpose, though he at least does contribute to the plot of Rentaro and Enju dealing with the discrimination of society. In this singular instance Kagetane comes off as a natural foil for our protagonists to square off against, and who actually gets to become a major player in this volume (as his small cameo in volume 1 didn’t really do him - or the previous volume- any justice).
In terms of artwork, the messy designs and characters definitely have a unique feel, and the artwork definitely has a lot of detailed work involved. However the fight scenes in particular often suffer from being initially confusing, due to the detailed artwork being coupled with extensive “motion blur” lines, shading and liberal use of katakana SFX which makes the artwork feel crowded and sometimes unintuitive to parse. This doesn’t help with the fact that a number of panels are framed in extreme close-ups whose details really need to be studied in order to make sense of. However there are a number of well made moments, specifically the ones where less details are drawn in, giving these panels some added dramatic and emotional weight.
Black Bullet volume 2 is an interesting and sometimes poignant volume for this series, and one where some of the mashing up of different genre tropes seems to actually have paid off in creating a world that could deal with these themes of prejudice, heroics, childhood and innocence. However it is still somewhat hampered by a blunt expository style, as well as being a patchwork that doesn’t always have all the seams neatly sewed in together. As a continuation of this series it is a welcome improvement over the first volume, though it may not quite be good enough that anyone who was unimpressed with volume 1 should feel the need to pick this one up right away.
Black Bullet Vol. 2 was published by Yen Press on December 15, 2015 and translated by Sheldon Drzka. The original work was created by Shiden Kanzaki with art by Morinohon, and published in Age Premium. Volume 4 releases in English on June 21, 2016 .
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