Black Bullet – 13

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It looked like Satomi-leader had a steep hill to climb in order to defeat Aldebaran and end the Gastrea threat, but we were surprised to find that the final Gastrea battle only occupied the first half of the episode; the rest was for character stuff of a very specific and also surprising nature. That said, the first half battle didn’t feel rushed at all; it felt focused and efficient, yet epic and cinematic. The lanterns were a nice touch, too.

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The battle could have been even quicker still, but for a little hiccup with the Miori-supplied bomb that fails to detonate, a nice little “uh-oh” moment that even had us questioning whether Miori meant for it to not go off. Rentaro decides to knock out Enju and detonate the bomb at point-blank range, which he knows will kill him but he goes anyway, because giving his life to protect others is the very thing he’s lived for.

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Destiny wasn’t ready to let Rentaro bow out of the mortal coil just yet though, as Aldebaran hits him Varanium-corroding fog that destroys his leg. The necessary sacrifice falls to his mentor Shouma, whom he’d just reunited with, but who also wants to bury the dark powers he’s learned along with Aldebaran. As he sees it, his life is a small price to pay to eliminate both evils. So, who will be Asaka’s promoter now? Yeah…the show forgot about her.

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That’s okay though, because for much of the balance of the episode casts a laser focus on Tendo Kisara, Rentaro’s boss would-be girlfriend. Specifically, she wastes no time taking her brother Kazumitsu to task for building Monolith 32 with substandard materials and pocketing the savings. By “taking to task” we mean “challenging him to a duel he has no business accepting. She takes one of his legs, and he gives her information about whom to target next.

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Everyone thinks Kisara is sparing his life, but her second strike was on a delay, and he literally explodes in a gory, horrific mess. Kisara giddily embraces Rentaro afterwards, pleased with what she’s done. When he recoils at the crazy, she admits he’ll never be able to truly “touch evil”, and that his justice was never any match for the evil he’s up against. No, to her, only a greater evil can defeat evil, and if that means she has to cast away her soul and happiness—and that Rentaro becomes her enemy—so be it.

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I’ll be honest; Kisara’s fall is quite extreme and a lot to take in, especially so close to the end of the show, but I liked the shocking suddenness of it, especially since we’ve seen how much suffering and death was caused by the people who Kisara wants to kill. This darkness was always growing in her, and she finally let it out. Still, since there’s no time to explore it further, it’s more like a preface to an arc that never was, ending in an ellipsis.

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The final scene of the show has Rentaro and Enju alone on a train, headed to a ceremony where they’ll be patted on the back for their service. With the city safe from Gastrea—once more, thanks to Enju’s kind—things seem to be looking up, but Kisara’s new path is certainly unsettling. And even though Enju pledges they’ll be together forever, both Rentaro and we know she’s already on borrowed time. Neither entirely happy or sad, this ending was…cautiously optimistic.

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Final Cumulative Score: 7.85
MAL Score: 7.77

Stray Observations:

  • Kagetane’s role in this episode is limited to a couple one-liners. Shame.
  • Yasuwaki does not reappear. GOOD. Fuck that guy.
  • Building 300m (984 feet) of monolith in two days? Yeah, I’m no engineer, but even with slave labor, that’s just not happening.
  • Kisara walking barefoot through her brother’s blood…yikes!
  • Well, if there’s ever a Black Bullet 2, you can expect Kisara to be an enemy and for Enju to either turn into a Gastrea, die, or be saved but lose her powers, which is probably the most preferable choice for her well-being.
  • This is the final RABUJOI review of Spring 2014. Thanks for watching and reading, everybody.

 

 

Black Bullet – 12

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While I wouldn’t exactly say Gado was unfit for command, one can’t deny that his decisions he made led to costly defeats. But even if there was no way he could have predicted the events that would follow it, one of his last acts as commander may have been his best: sending Rentaro off to defeat Pleiades rather than executing him.

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Rentaro’s unusual sentence leads to him running into Kagetane and Kohina, and they collectively have the strength to take out a weakened Pleiades all by themselves, opening Aldeberan open to airstrikes that force him back for at least another few hours. Rentaro returns to camp to learn Gado is dead, and as the next-highest ranked promoter (due to all his past victories in this show), he is the new commander.

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Before that sinks in, Rentaro visits Shouma’s injured partner Midori, whose corruption level is reaching critical. He has a chance to take her out while she’s still human, but he can’t do it, but she manages to sneak away and do it herself. Midori was only a wisp of character, but her scene with Rentaro has a quiet, sad weight to it. Having Gado’s initiator Asaka pair up with Shouma was also a neat development, even if, again, Asaka is barely a character.

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After that, Rentaro takes the reins of the remaining forces and yanks tight, suffering no objections. When someone suggests they cut and run, Rentaro cuts him with his sword; he explains his ruthlessness as an effort to make his men fear him more than they fear the Gastrea. It helps when Miori arrives with some primo Shiba Brand weaponry and a plan to take out Aldebaran so he won’t come back.

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In another moving scene, Enju asks Rentaro why so many people hate the cursed children so much, and whether being in the civil service is just a means of thinning their ranks. Assuring her like the big brother he is, Rentaro says he became a civil officer to risk his life to save people. The people they’re saving can’t be judged if they’re devoured by the Gastrea, so he’ll keep fighting to save them now, and worry about whether they were worthy of saving later.

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Stray Observations:

  • Pleiades and Aldebaran bellow like whales, but they’re also not that fearsome…like whales. The CGI-to-regular animation transitions were pretty jarring, too.
  • “Papa, can I cut them?”…”You may kill half of them.” What a great dad! I really missed these two.
  • Midori also mentions a “darkness” that could consume Kisara unless Rentaro keeps her close. Sure enough, she promises him she’ll always be by his side, no matter how ruthless he gets.
  • Thankfully the Kisara-Midori rivalry doesn’t rear its annoying head; too much shit to do!
  • Midori’s demise reinforced something that’s been hanging over the show’s head for some time: Enju’s also perilously close to crossing the red line of corruption. Will that come into play in the finale? That would be rather sadistic of the show…
  • Oh God, that insuffrable lickspittle Yasuwaki is back and has something planned for Rentaro. Can’t this punk go die a horrible death already?

 

 

 

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.

Black Bullet – 09

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As knowledge of the deteriorating monolith becomes public (and the brunt of that public’s apprehension falls upon the slender shoulders of Seitenshi), Rentaro continues to build his “adjuvant.” Turns out that’s a real word, though we never came across it during SATs. It’s a medical term for a substance that enhances the body’s immune response to an antigen.

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That’s an apt term for a team of civil officers charged with preventing Tokyo from being infected by the Gastrea. But at the outset, Rentaro’s team sits at just two pairs; one shy of qualifying for their own JASDF tent. The identity of the third pair he scores is foreshadowed while he and Tina are visiting Muroto: it turns out to be Nagisawa Shouma, his estranged senior practitioner in the Tendo Style of martial arts—a connection I’m shortening to “mentor.”

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Shouma and his shy and adorable initiator Fuse Midori (a gin-u-wine nekomimi) are more than happy to join Rentaro’s merry band, having heard of and been impressed by his protege’s exploits. The fourth pair is made up of Tina, whose initiator rank had been revoked, and Kisara, who went to Seitenshi to have her reinstated. Rentaro isn’t happy about Kisara running into the jaws of danger, but she makes sure he knows she feels the same way about him.

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Rentaro even moves to confess to her after a briefing from the civil officers’ commander (who gives a nice speech that doesn’t change the fact they’re the rear guard), but he’s unfortunately interrupted by the rest of the now-whole adjuvant. After introductions, Enju leads a cheer, and the air around that campfire is suffused with hope, optimism, and love. But this could be the last time they’re all together and happy like this. The night will grow darker from this point on.

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Black Bullet – 04

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Rentarou reveals his Vanadium arm, leg, and eye, uses them to defeat Kagetane and Kohina once and for all, then obliterates the legendary, Sin-like Stage Five Gastrea that suddenly emerges near Tokyo with a railgun capable of firing projectiles at near-light speed—the projectile in question being his own Vanadium arm, since there’s nothing else.

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As flashy and intense as all that action sounds (and looked), none of it would have been of any consequence had I not been emotionally invested. Because Black Bullet did the necessary legwork in the previous three episodes, I cared about all the stuff that went down, the people it involved, and the life-defining challenge that faces Rentarou in the aftermath.

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In previous reviews I spoke about how Rentarou and Enju are the people they are today because of each other, and neither can function without the other. That was demonstrated when the remote firing protocols for the railgun failed, putting Rentarou in the hot seat, charged with shooting a ridiculously powerful gun at a target fifty kilometers away. He wouldn’t have been able to do it had Enju not been there to calm him down and offer him her support and optimism. Without their bond, Tokyo would have been toast.

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The sudden loss of Senju Kayo really got to me, especially with the manner in which it happened, with Rentarou being forced to kill her before she turned into a Gastrea. Her story was hastily told last week, but it was enough to make an impact. All cursed children are just a few percentage points away from becoming the demons Kisara’s dad believes them to be, and she was an example of someone who had just crossed the 50% threshold.

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Turns out Kisara’s dad may have been the one to summon the Stage Five, so he could blame Kagetane and his cursed child daughter (who’s still alive but distraught), and continue and intensify anti-cursed sentiment. But Rentarou is now on dual crusades: to rise to the ranks of civil officers so he can gain the proper clearance to learn about what’s going on and what he really is, but also to save the cursed children, Enju in particular, who is far closer to turning than he lets on to her.

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Black Bullet – 03

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Just as I’d hoped, Satomi and Enju reunite quickly, when she goes to school again, trying in vain to fit back in. But the truth is, none of the kids at that school are her friends anymore; they’re too blinded by hatred of anything to do with the Gastrea. She’d refuse to give in, but it’s no use, and and Satomi knows it, which is why he suggests they change schools; start over where the kids don’t know what she is, because frankly, it shouldn’t matter.

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Still when Satomi and Enju are helicoptered to the location of the Gastrea with the case, Enju exhibits superhuman powers that are always going to turn off or frighten “normal” humans. Little girls aren’t supposed to be able to leap out of helicopters and kick giant spiders into a fine paste. Indeed, the bitterness of having her normal school life sabotaged seems to fuel her attacks. It looks like Mission Accomplished…until Kagetane and Kohina show up.

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Satomi is roughed up badly, run through by katanas, and launched off a cliff into a river to die. Had he been a normal human like I thought, he would have died. But we learn the creepy sensei who eats terrifying-looking food did…something to Satomi years ago, and as a result, he’s…something more than human, much like Enju, which explains why they get along so well. They’re bound not just by the promoter-initiator contract, but by the fact they learned to become human together. They’re family.

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The same can’t be said of some other pairs; notably Ikuma Shougan and Senju Kayo, with the former treating the latter as nothing but a tool, and Kayo following orders, even those to murder other Civil Officers so Shougan can get to Kagetane first. When Satomi and Enju find her wounded in the woods, she admits to feeling like there’s “something wrong with her” if she’s okay with such killing, and that she envys Satomi and Enju’s bond.

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Of course, with that cushy bond comes great responsibility: it’s entirely possible they didn’t meet by accident, and despite not ranking high on the official scale, it’s hinted that the two of them are the only ones who can stop Kagetane from summoning a city-destroying Stage Five Gastrea. despite how briefly they lasted in their last battle. Also adding texture to the proceedings is the mention of zealots who consider the Gastrea God’s punishment for the sins of mankind; and the cursed children as messengers between the two; Angels, in other words.

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Black Bullet – 02

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Would so many of Tokyo’s elite promoter-initiator pairs really stand around like idiots and wait for the obviously telekinetic bag guy to fire their bullets right back at them? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely a big power move that establishes to everyone that the half-man, half-machine Hiruko Kagetane and his adorable daughter/initiator Kohina are not to be trifled with. Kagetane challenges all the other pairs to find the case before he does, or forfeit their lives, and while he may have caught them with their pants down, there’s still no reason to think he won’t follow through on that threat.

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The case he seeks contains something that the wrong hands could use to bring down the barriers that protect Tokyo from the Gastrea. But as casually murderous and destructive as Kagetane is, he’s not the only evil dwelling here. In its second episode Black Bullet establishes that “cursed children” are pariahs of society, forced to the rough outskirts of the city, and even rounded up and shot in dark corners when they dare to venture in. For every citizen who actively hates, harms, and subjugates them, there seem to be three more who will do nothing to stop it.

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Even Satomi falls into the pit of inaction when faced with an injustice, though he avoids a bad situation out of fear of exposing or involving Enju through escalation. The show plays a neat trick before the incident where Satomi “proves” the bracelets Enju bought for them don’t work by declaring he loves her. At the same time, he bristles when the other promoter refers to his initiator as a mere tool or asset to exploit to optimum effect. Enju is far more than that to him, and we learn he’s gone beyond what many other promotors would have to raise and protect her. The flashback really nicely drove that point home.

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Whatever part of Kagetane is still human is much like Satomi, protecting his daughter just as fiercely—moreso, since he’s far more powerful than Satomi. But while Satomi has striven to give Enju a normal, happy human life, Kohina and her dad are the opposite. They won’t fit into the current system has provided for them. They’re a common product of sustained prejudice and injustice; they are the pot boiling over. Enju flees to her old home, perhaps afraid of being a burden or even danger to Satomi, her self-worth likely having been thoroughly eroded by the barbs of her classmates (its implied Kagetane started the rumor at her school).

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But what she must have come to realize (while hiding in the sewer while he spoke up for her) is that Satomi needs her. He’s the man he is today because of her, and no other initiator will do. I really hope she lets Satomi find her soon. The two of them must keep their footing in the narrow middle ground between the corruption and in society and the rage of the man in the mask. Tokyo may not deserve to be utterly destroyed, but nor can things remain the way they are with regard to the cursed children. But nothing can happen if Satomi and Enju are apart.

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Black Bullet – 01

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I was pleased with how polished and efficient this first episode of Black Bullet was. It offered a little bit of everything: a glimpse of the hellish past that was to the fragile peace of the present, some nice world-building, a hint of comedy, some romantic undertones, and last but not least, a decent helping of action; though not enough to break the budget in the first week. If I were to pick two words to describe it, it would be “competent” and “enticing”—two words with which I’d also describe myself.

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While I noted some exchanges of dialogue were a little transparently expository, at least the information itself was clearly and confidently laid out. One episode in and I had no trouble understanding the core conflict and the systems and weapons in place to fight the enemy, Gastrea. In this regard, I was reminded of the opening episode of Bleach, a similarly self-assured outing that quickly established its house rules and offered up an enticing mélange of action, drama, comedy, and creepy monsters (mind you, one that had no business being sustained for 366 episodes).

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Let’s talk characters: Satomi Rentarou (Kaji Yuki), orphaned by the war a decade ago and apparently adopted by the wealthy Tendo family, fights the Gastrea. Tendo Kisara (Horie Yui) is his adoptive sister not related by blood that Rentarou has feelings for (and runs the agency he works for), while his partner is the pint-sized, pink-haired Aihara Enju (Hidaka Rina), an obligatory human-Gastrea hybrid who represent humanity’s last best hope, along with Varanium, a black metal the Gastrea dislike. While Enju calls Rentarou her “fiancee” and is always messing with him, they’re more of a big-bro-lil-sis pair.

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There’s also a villain in a funny suit with a funny mask who is immune to Rentarou’s attacks and says he’ll destroy the world. That made me wonder if he was some kind of human-Gastrea hybrid before I learned the “cursed children” are only girls. Still, he’s bad news, as is the Gastrea presently at large. Between the overarching conflict with the Gastrea, Rentarou’s potential romantic ventures, his seemingly-abandoned goals to find his family, and the fate of “cursed children” like Enju toeing the line between human and monster, there’s a lot of material to work with. I like what I’ve seen, and definitely look forward to what’s in store.

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