I previously reviewed the anime of Black Bullet and I found it fairly problematic but enjoyed the underlying story. I decided to try the light novel to see if it left a better impression. The answer… well I’m still on the fence.
There’s a lot to like about this light novel. The characters are interesting, the world we’re plunged into is tragic and yet feels like it could be a potential yet horrifying future. There’s action and drama and social commentary on a whole range of issues. Really it should work beautifully and be right up my ally.
For those who have never watched the anime, Black Bullet follows Rentaro and his partner Enju. They are civil security officers which essentially means they hunt down creatures that are infected with a virus called Gastrea and wipe them out. Renatro is fairly young still being in high school but Enju, like all civil security officer partners, is a child. One of the children born infected with the Gastrea virus making them not quite human enough to be given actual human rights but useful enough that they are employed to help humans. At least until they cross a certain infection threshold.
It’s a bleak kind of world we’re dropped into as it is after humans have already lost the war and the survivors live in cities surrounded by monoliths that keep the Gastrea out. Despite that they are still facing an ongoing threat and Rentaro and Enju are kept busy from start to finish in this book.
However, I feel my problem with this book is more or less the same as the problem I had with the anime. That is, we have a lot of characters and a lot going on but so much of it doesn’t feel fully utilised or necessary. Perhaps if the whole thing was expanded or if we weren’t spending so much time following Rentaro and we gave these other characters sufficient time to be fleshed out and made to feel more real the story would sit a lot better but as it is it feels like names are thrown at you, characters appear for a scene and then vanish before they suddenly return and are seemingly important.
Then there’s the nature of the story. Admittedly, the links between the different events that Rentaro and Enju get caught up in are better explained in the light novel than they were in the anime, but the overall impression while reading is that we’re jumping from event to event. The ‘and then this happened’ approach to plotting almost as though the story can’t bear to put the brakes on for even a moment to deal with some of the ideas its already thrown at its readers.
Still, there are plenty of readers out there who will love this approach. The book moves quickly through the events never getting bogged down on details for too long. The characters are given enough description and characterisation but again the story doesn’t linger. The action is fun, the escalation of tension works, and the final sequence really sticks the landing. For those who like that sort of pacing in their stories, this is a really great read.
Which is why I’m sitting on the fence. I get that this book actually works quite well and there’s a lot to like about it, and yet I couldn’t get into it. This was one I constantly put down and found other things to do rather than completing and it took me nearly two weeks to actually get to the end of the story (and in that time I devoured several other books that I picked up for a break).
I’m leaving this one to personal taste. If you like your stories to just get to the events and keep moving then you will probably have a great time with this one. The plot that you get is solid and there’s some fairly decent action sequences to be be found.
If you’re interested in reading Black Bullet Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.