Understanding Appeal: Shingeki no Kyojin, Black Bullet & Owari no Seraph

So a few months ago I did a post explaining the core difference between the three shows mentioned in the title using episode 1 as a basis.  Now that discussion had very little to say about Black Bullet in particular, but more to the point it doesn’t really point out the appeal of each show.  So with Owari no Seraph season 2 over, I thought it was time to dig into these shows a bit further.  There will be major spoilers for all three shows, you have been warned.

Ok lets get this out of the way first and foremost, Shingeki no Kyojin is by far the highest quality show among these three so I’m not to talk about it too much.  There are a lot of reasons why of course, some of which are explained in the linked post above.  But the point of this post is not about comparing the shows with regards to animation quality, characters and so on.  The point of this post is to look into the minute differences between each show, which feature many similar traits, and what elements they have that are good.  You see one of the biggest issues with Black Bullet and Owari no Seraph, is that as they are dismissed out of hand for being “AoT clones” is that most people don’t seriously consider their positive aspects.  This is understandable of course, neither Black Bullet nor Owari no Seraph is remotely near the top of my favorite list, or even shows I consider good, but they do incorporate certain elements of storytelling that would be worthwhile if used in a series with better direction and characters.  And it is these elements I want to focus on today, if for no other reason than to bring them out in the open.

Let’s start with Shingeki no Kyojin since it is the most popular.  I already explained the show’s emphasis on psychological terror, though that mainly is true of the first 1/3 of the show and rapidly drops off later, and how that made it engaging.  The other thing that made it engaging, besides the action and animation which was good but was more a of a bonus than a real selling point to me,  were the mysteries.  There is a lot of information we don’t know and while that is often a flaw, Shingeki no Kyojin places a strong emphasis on unraveling the mysteries towards the end, and even as early as episode 3 or 4 the show lets us know that the people of this world are indeed learning about the titans and keeping record of their knowledge.  Now I will admit the final battle is awesome and I would count that as a selling point of the show, but during the excruciatingly slow middle chunk of the show the thing that really convinced me to keep going were the mystery aspects.  What are the titans exactly?  Where do the come from?  Why do they eat people if they don’t have a digestive system and don’t even need to eat?  How come there are humans who can turn into special titans and why do these special titans have totally different abilities and attributes?  All of these questions are things I very much want to see answered, but in a way that intrigues rather than frustrates, that sparks interest to see more rather than to bore while waiting for answers.  This more so than the action or characters is what kept me invested in the later part of the series and looking forward to a sequel.  So how do the other two measure up?

Let’s do Black Bullet first since it aired first.  For those who don’t know the idea with Black Bullet is that this weird virus called the Gastrea Virus has mutated the animals of the world into huge monsters creatively called Gastrea.  This virus is contagious can can turn people into monsters as well.  Now there are two weapons with which humanity fights the Gastrea, Varanium and Cursed Children.  Vanarium is a black metal that repels Gastrea and shuts down the unnaturally high healing capabilities of Gastrea, so people can kill them.  Cursed Children are what happens when pregnant women get infected with the Gastrea virus, instead of becoming monsters they give birth to special humans, all of whom are girls for no particular reason.  The Cursed children have heightened physical abilities and powerful healing much like the Gastrea.  Curse Children are then paired with Inspectors who are both Gastrea hunters and handlers for the Cursed Children.  Anyway what scuppers Black Bullet is twofold, how the Gastrea are shitty CG monsters that look terrible and uninteresting, and the overall direction the story takes and missed opportunities with the characters.

The odd part about the story is that the characters aren’t that bad.  Sure most of the side characters are one note and uninteresting but the main ones are ok.  Hell, Kagetane the masked guy who appears as villain in the first arc, was actually pretty interesting.  The thing that really gets me as far as the characters are concerned is Kisara and Rentarou.  At the end of the show Kisara flips from a champion of law and justice to murdering one of her elder siblings while laughing about how justice accomplishes nothing.  Mind you that change in mindsets is not necessarily bad nor unwlecome and of itself, but the implementation of it was shit.  Also it makes more sense for Rentarou to be the one who gives up on justice.  He faces far more trauma than Kisara, and there is a point where he was about to lose faith in justice.  Just before the last arc really kicked off Rentarou was teaching a bunch of Cursed Children in an informal school and some asshole essentially left a Varanium claymore in the school one morning, killing all of Rentarou’s students.  And ironically it was Kisara who convinced Rentarou to have faith and remain true to his sense of justice.  Why the fuck would they do this?  If you’re like me the question you’re asking is why did they bother with Aldebaran arc  at all?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Kagetane, who consistently shows contempt for civilization as it currently exists and an interest in Rentarou as a fellow mechanized human, to leak the identity of the bomber/bombers to Rentarou, let him make the choice to kill or spare them for himself and build an arc based around the violence within the city that is slowly killing this society instead of the external CG threats?  That would’ve made a much more interesting dynamic than having Kisara convince Rentarou to keep being the good guy before she herself gives up on law and justice.  But anyway what really is the appeal of the show?

Well I count Kagetane as an appeal in and of himself because he has a creepy mask, a snappy red suit and is voiced  by one of my favorite voice actors.  He’s also the person my personal views on the society of the Black Bullet align with.  Because frankly this society deserves to die.  Even if we ignore that one former royal guard who actively sabotages Rentarou’s battle strategy against a giant monster that has broken through the Varanium barrier and is in the city, these people still need to die.  The thing is this society has a lot of people who hate the Cursed Children because they were born of the same Gastrea virus that fucked the world up.  This is understandable, however the amount of Cursed Children who get killed by average Joes is not.  Keep in mind that the Cursed Children are the most effective fighting force the humans have, even if they were discriminated against you’d think the government would try and protect their supply of Cursed Children and prosecute anyone who killed them, because even if they personally hate the Cursed Children, those little girls are vital to humanity’s survival.  None of that happens though, instead authority figures from street cops to prime ministers seem to be content to attack Cursed Children out of hate for all things Gastrea related.  And it gets even worse when the overwhelming majority of people either fall into this camp of violent, hateful people or just let it happen.  There is no mass movement of any kind that tries to stop this unabated violence even though the Cursed Children are the primary means of protection when monsters invade, as happens from time to time.  This is a world that can well and truly hate, and by God is it cathartic.  It also helps that I prioritize individuals over society as a whole, so seeing a society where the individuals were so right and the society was so fucked was somewhat gratifying.  If you want feel anger at people or want to feel angry at people, this series does provide.  This is reinforced by some of the flashes of realism found in Black Bullet.  There isn’t much but when it shows up it does wonders.  For example I really liked how Kisara’s older sibling, whom she killed in the final episode, made one of the Varanium barriers on the cheap, which is why the Gastrea could destroy it during the final arc, and then pocketed the extra money from the budget used to build it so he could advance his own position.  This in turn justifies Kisara’s hatred for her own family, this doesn’t save the terribly abrupt transition in her character but it does at least serve as a backdrop for said transition.  To sum this up, Black Bullet is a show that has a number of good pieces that were put together badly, resulting in a story which doesn’t live up to full potential of all it’s elements. Which brings me to Owari no Seraph.

Owari no Seraph has the almost the opposite problem of Black Bullet, surprising as it may sound the overall direction the story has taken is actually really good.  In fact were I to rate the three shows in this discussion solely based on their narrative progression, Owari no Seraph would be in first.  This is not to say Owari no Seraph is a good show, because it isn’t, but taken on it’s own the narrative it’s trying to tell is quite engaging.  I know, if some random stranger on the internet told me what I just told anyone who reads this, I’d call bullshit too.  And in all honesty even I have a hard time reconciling the gap between all the creative elements that form the interesting story and the bland, uninspired characters who drive said story into the fucking ground.  The single biggest problem with Owari no Seraph is the characters, I mean the whole humans vs vampires in a manner similar to Shingeki no Kyojin premise doesn’t help, but it doesn’t kill the show either.  The characters are so one note and cliche it hurts.  Not to mention the voice acting is thoroughly mediocre and the dialogue is cringeworthy, which really puts the final nail in coffin labeled characters.  I have a hard time putting into words exactly how bad the characters are, because it’s not just one thing that’s wrong with them, instead there’s something wrong with them on almost every level.  Most of the character designs alone will tell you exactly what kind of person the character is, all the characters stick closely to pre-established archetypes and have very little in the way of uniqueness to them, and they all put on disappointing performances thanks to the lackluster voice acting and horrific script.  This would almost be funny as a parody, a satire about how not to do characters, save for the fact that they occupy a story and world that are interesting.  I like the variety of monsters and/or sources of power that inhabit the world, from vampires, to demons to angels.  I like the use of Biblical lore, especially towards the end of season 2 with the appearance of Abbadon and the King of Salt.  But most importantly I like this because it is a story where both the humans and the vampires are the bad guys.  I was able to predict that humanity fumbling with powers it should leave alone was what caused the world to collapse with ease, but unlike most stories that use that particular premise, in Owari no Seraph it’s not suggested that the vampires are any better.  Usually when humanity, or really anyone we typically expect to be the good guys, either fuck or end up being the bad guys, the story will then cast the opposite force as the good guys.  Not so with Owari no Seraph, life under conniving, arrogant and pettily cruel vampires is no better than life under the tyrannical, ruthless and power-hungry upper echelons of the Imperial Demon Army.  This is a rare approach, and while it was predictable as fuck in the broad strokes, the minute details of the situation shows an unexpected level of care in craft in their construction.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that, Owari no Seraph is a good story, set in an interesting world, and even if it’s characters had just been average, it could’ve been a good show.  But the characters are just thoroughly shit that they turn a show that by rights should have been at bare minimum a decent show into something terrible.  Taken on their own the world and narrative of Owari no Seraph have serious merit, and deserve some scrutiny so that people who want to write a similar story can see how it works.  It’s just a shame that the full package that is the show is spoiled by it’s rotten characters.

Thank you for reading, this was a long post by my standards, and while I’m certain there is more to talk about on this subject, I think this is good enough for now.  Hopefully I will see you in the next one.

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