Black Bullet – 11

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The first part of this episode is a perfect example of the adage “this is going to get worse before it gets better.” The conventional military predictably folds like a house of cards before a far larger and very organized Gastrea army led not only by their “king” Aldebaran, but their equally-dangerous “queen”, Pleiades, which possesses “The Spear of Light”, a mercury-based beam weapon that makes quick work of the humans.

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Rentaro’s adjuvant is able to do some damage, but at the end of the first night, half of Tokyo’s forces are gone, converted to Gastrea and added to the enemy’s ranks. I’m a little fuzzy on why the Gastrea didn’t press on and finish the job—they certainly were winning—but they withdraw, and Rentaro & Co. have at least one more night to live. But then He’s summoned by Commander Gado, who cites him for dereliction of duty.

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That’s right: even though the actions of Rentaro’s adjuvant keep the Gastrea from flanking the rest of their forces, and play a role in at least a temporary withdrawal, the fact remains he disobeyed orders to hold his position. I actually found it refreshing that, for once, the hero doesn’t just get a slap on the wrist for acting independently, though it’s clear Gado has ulterior motives for doing so. Instead, he’s sent on a suicide mission to destroy Pleiades.

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Kisara suggests they run away. They’re strong, after all. But there’s nowhere to run where they won’t be under constant attack but Tokyo. They’ll run out of varanium bullets; his bionic parts will be trashed and need repair; Kisara needs dialysis, for crying out loud. Still, even if the lives they led were short and violent, at least they’d be lived protecting each other, not a city full of racist ingrates.

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Truth be told, the battle that ultimately led to Rentaro’s “court martial” was a bit…meh, perhaps a factor of things escalating a bit too quickly and the tactics of the adjuvant seeming a bit disjointed, as if the producers had a really big battle in mind but didn’t really plan it out when it was time to present it. It felt a bit rushed and half-assed, and when it suddenly ended and returned to a place of safety, it was jarring.

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What actually redeemed the episode, besides the fact Rentaro actually got punished for disobeying orders, was that his one-man anti-Pleiades expedition leads to him running into Hiruko Kagetane and his huge-eyed daughter Kohina. And here I thought he was dead and she was in custody! Their appearance, and not as straight-up foes, gives Rentaro more of a chance against Plei-chan, but it’s oddly nice to see them again, as they’re as kooky as they are lethal.

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Black Bullet – 10

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Since the beginning of their careers as a civil officer/promoter and initiator, Rentaro and Enju have struggled to reconcile their duties with the feelings of bitterness and futility that come from protecting a population that not only outwardly hates and oppresses the cursed children. After the horrifying events of this week’s episode, they’ve never been in a stronger position to dust their palms and walk the fuck away; letting rabble to be damned.

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This week, the Gastrea remain entirely, forebodingly off-camera, despite the fact they’re only days from breaching Tokyo’s defensive perimeter, but Rentaro and Kisara continue their classes with the cursed orphans. They’ve little else to do, and the kids could use the human contact. Notably, they’re portrayed just as the innocent, normal little girls they are; including developing puppy love for the strapping young teacher.

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When they’re told to write about their dreams for the future, none of them write “I don’t have one,” but it was one of several bad signs that whether the Gastrea are fought off or not, and no matter how much spare time Rentaro and Kisara put into it, nothing good was going to become of the poor wretched girls. I just didn’t expect their fate to arrive so soon, or so brutally.

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Two nights before that awful event, Rentaro joins Kisara on a walk on a beautiful starlit night, and they even lie beside each other staring up at it. Kisara professes her happiness with the lives they’re living and the family they’ve built, and she’s terrified of losing it. Rentaro assures her he’ll protect her and everyone else. It’s a truly lovely moment when their awkward hand-hold transitions to tightly but tenderly linking fingers. Neither recoils in embarrassment; they simply enjoy that moment.

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Things get uglier and uglier from then on. The next day, Rentaro is just in time to save the blind urchin from a lynching. The day after that, Rentaro and Enju arrive at the site of school, only to find a smoldering crater. His students, all eighteen of them, were killed by a varanium-laced bomb. To recall all those smiling girls full of life and hope for the future, and then to see their shrouded corpses neatly arranged on the floor of the morgue…it’s just a rough moment.

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It’s more than enough to open a bottomless well of despair for Rentaro and most definitely in Enju, who once again has has seen far too much hatred and death in her short life. And like I said, they’d be well within their rights to refuse to lift one finger to help the people who did this, or did nothing to stop it. It takes a call from Kisara, Rentaro’s rock, to try to explain to him why they need to do their duty as civil officers.

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She says that if they’re successful in saving the city from the Gastrea, some of the people they saved may actually be grateful, and let go of their hatred of the cursed children who saved them. Kisara isn’t naive enough to say all of them will be, or even a large number. But she realizes that exacting revenge or letting the city burn won’t be any more just than what happened to their ill-fated students. Even if they only enact a little change, that could make a significant difference in the lives of the cursed.

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Or, if Rentaro and Enju can’t fight for the people who hate her and hurt her sight unseen, then they should just fight for themselves; for each other; for the people they hold dear. There’s little time to grieve, as Monolith 32 collapses a day ahead of schedule, possibly aided by the haunting lament sung by the blind girl…the one who makes Enju and Tina look very, very lucky. With the life she’s led, I really can’t fault her for wanting to speed the city’s demise (again, if that’s what she did), along with her own.

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Stray Observations:

  • Some may say this episode verged on the gratuitous, exploitative, manipulative, or even maudlin. I’d have to disagree. No matter what awful situation is going down in which part of the world, the children are always the first to suffer, and the ones to suffer the most. This episode portrayed that perfectly, and its emotional weight felt earned.
  • Kisara finds out her father had something to do with Monolith 32’s construction. The fact none of the other monoliths are deteriorating suggests shortcuts may have been taken in erecting 32. It may even have been meant to fail.
  • No Shiba Miori flirting this week. Yeah, I didn’t really miss her; her comedic antics would’ve been a bit inapproprate this week.

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Murphy’s Law is in full force as a crustacean-like elder bairn kills Saya’s entire class, getting cheap shots in as she battles it. When it takes Yuuka, her last close friend, she goes into red-eye mode and viciously slays the beast. Only the class chairman survives, along with Tokizane, who skipped school. After her teacher asks her if she killed everyone, Saya wakes up, numb with loss, but also lost herself; beset by images in her head whenever she tries to remember anything.

So, after establishing a very pleasant, chummy atmosphere at Saya’s high school – a safe haven of sorts – the last few episodes have methodically, mercilessly, and effortlessly torn to gory shreds any sense of security and virtually all solace. All is lost. Saya proves yet again that while she excels at slaying elder bairns, her everyone-protecting skills leave much to be desired. Of course one can hardly blame her; circumstances couldn’t be worse, as the venue is rife with defenseless, horrorstruck students. It doesn’t take much for them to all become corpses or simply piles of miscellaneous pieces in pools of blood. It’s sickeningly visceral, horrible stuff.

It’s also obvious that if we ever get straight answers about who exactly Saya Kisaragi is, what her true role is, who she promised, and why she keeps eating grimauve, it may not be till the bitter end. The series continues to keep its cards close, and despite all the hints the dog is throwing her way, Saya remains extremely confused about her raison d’être. If she is the town’s protector, well, she’s failed. Dozens of people are dead and she couldn’t stop it. At this point, I’d be questioning whether what I’m doing is right or even beneficial too.


Rating: 3.5

Sket Dance 14

Click here to read more reviews of Sket Dance, including the first thirteen episodes.

It’s poll time in Class C, and students will vote for the most popular, smartest, strongest, biggest otaku, sexiest, et cetera. One quiet, shy, nervous-looking kid named Uchida approaches the Sket-dan with a challenge: to make him popular. What follows is a series of ridiculous attempts to make him only appear strong (a rigged kendo match with Shinzou) or knowledgeable in anime (a radio show where Usui and a third guest don’t let him get a word in edgewise).

These failures only lead to more self-loathing on Uchida’s part. Meanwhile, the real reason for wanting an award is revealed: he has a mom in the hospital and doesn’t want her to worry. So he lies; tells her he has gobs of friends. But it turns out, he wins an award without any of the play-acting: most of the class voted him the most kind, due to all the little things he does to make life better for others. They may have been quiet about it, but they did notice his kindness, and he gets acknowledgement. This was a nice resolution, true to his character and not manufactured.

This is another episode that makes me glad Sket Dance doesn’t star a kid like Uchida (or Teppei from the first episode, who has a cameo here). Guys like Uchida are fine for one episode, two tops. Sket Dance’s primary strength is the chemistry between the members of Sket-dan (and the diverse array of colorful supporting characters); it isn’t anchored by a single character. The episode is conscious of this, as Bossun fails to win any awards, while Switch and Himeko both win (with Usui winning two, including most popular). You can’t win ’em all. Rating: 3