ib – instant bullet – (ib －インスタントバレット－) is the first and previous work of author Akasaka Aka (赤坂アカ), author of Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To. It is very different from Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To, however. It is a supernatural/fantasy tragedy that takes place in modern day about “the end of the world”. The main character and in fact the entire cast are people who have been chewed up and spit out by society or have otherwise experienced incredible despair, thus becoming nihilists. So, it should come as no surprise that you could call this manga pretty “edgy”.
This series was axed at 5 volumes, yet the last word from Akasaka-sensei in volume 5 is that the series hasn’t ended. He considers this his life work — a story that’s been in his heart and mind since high school — and so one day he wants to either continue or remake it. Having finished it, I’d prefer the “remake” route. ib could be better than it is, but I don’t mean that badly. Actually, I think it’s pretty good as-is and that conceptually, there’s a lot of interesting things going on here. However whether it was from inexperience or rushing due to the risk, and later word, of cancellation, it’s clear to me that the manga’s potential wasn’t fully realized. Moments hit and they hit well, but they could hit harder. The message the story had to tell — or rather the answer that the series was looking for — is obviously not yet there. “Hope” and a solution to “despair” — that’s what ib is looking for, and I think given another chance and some tightening up it could find those things and become much more powerful than it already is.
So, this manga uses “surprise” a lot and I don’t want to give away those surprises, thus my summary won’t be much while my discussion of the work as a whole should be more. Sort of like I did with Spirit Circle (now that I mention it, ib is similar to the author of Spirit Circle‘s other work, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer). Anyway, the protagonist of ib is a boy named Fukase Kuro: a miserable and angsty delinquent teenager.
He makes it clear at once that he’s nonstandard, as the levels of violence he employs on others are more than the usual for “delinquent” protagonists (usually they’ll just punch and kick; he shatters the collar of someone who picked a fight with him, using a bat). Kuro lives at home alone with two girls who are obviously his delusions, regularly indulging in otaku hobbies and surprisingly still going to school. His classmates tend to avoid him since he’s got a stigma of being bad luck and also excessively violent (although he only fights people that start something with him).
The manga begins with a long prologue that starts on a Christmas when Kuro has discovered that a legendary blowup doll he bought was a fake. He trudges outside absolutely pissed, thinking everyone should explode. Along the way he briefly encounters some classmates,
and it doesn’t go well.
As he walks away and his classmates sigh with relief, Kuro becomes increasingly depressed until he witnesses something atop a nearby Christmas tree.
After this, a seemingly cliche development occurs when a mysterious girl Kuro’s age approaches him excitedly and exclaims that that creature is an enemy, the two of them are heroes, and they are destined to engage in a monster of the week scenario until they take out a final boss. By the way, she has a special ability to summon grenades.
The girl is Himeura Sera, and of course the premise she proposes is not actually how this series works out. Sera and Kuro manage to defeat the monster and go their separate ways, at which point we quickly realize that the monster is actually Kuro’s “power”.
Kuro is fairly certain that this being he controls, dubbed “Beast”, is a sign that he has the ability to destroy the world, a wish that he’s been carrying for a long time. “Beast” can consume and wreck apparently anything; that’s its ability. Before the prologue’s end, we also learn that Sera (who seems like a bubbly chuuni ditz) is actually incredibly twisted. She seems to wish for something like world peace, except to achieve that she wouldn’t mind becoming a casual instigator of genocide. All the super-powered people in this series, the titular “Instant Bullets”, are twisted. These are people who suffered so much that they awakened to supernatural and very strange abilities. The manga properly begins with our realization of that.
From hereon the series seems rather insistent on being dark and attempting to subvert the standards. It doesn’t do this completely and utterly, but I can see that it’s certainly trying to be different. The series matter-of-factly accepts that this world has a lot of terrible things in it, and the cast is made up of people who encourage or experienced those terrible things (violence, ostracizing, abandonment, rape, drug abuse, prostitution, murder, and so on). The usual way cynical series like this one go is that someone (be it the protagonist or a very important secondary/main character) encourages the miserable to be cheerful and hopeful again. The same almost applies here, but just almost (working through issues is definitely an aspect, but resolution seems a long ways away). For example Kuro, who tries to largely be apathetic, basically can’t sit down and let people he knows be killed, so long as he feels any sort of closeness to them whatsoever. He joins with two other Instant Bullets at the start of the series and even starts harboring feelings for another one that gathered them all together, but at the same time he repeats that he wants to destroy the world.
Ordinarily, something like this would stink of “telling instead of showing” in that we’re told Kuro wishes for destruction, but shown that he wants himself and others to live. However, you can actually see throughout the entire manga that both desires are shown: Kuro ends up making some friends, but the world as it stands is not something he likes. Similarly, when “villains” are introduced (Instant Bullets with different ideas from Kuro and his crew), they express a belief that as it is, the world is a mess, and something surely needs to change. It seems like Instant Bullets can basically only cause problems, however, so that’s a tall order.
Almost everyone in the series wishes, ultimately, for something good, but the fact of the matter remains that this Earth, and the human race, seems insistent on producing bad along with good. It may be in small amounts, but the bad that’s there is truly horrible, and these people who have been through such horror don’t see why things should persist. Since they all seem capable of it, and a character with the ability to see the future has witnessed it, most of them figure the best course of action is to herald the world’s end, now or in 100 years.
And that’s the series, at its core. It’s not really much of an “action” series but instead a psychology/philosophical series. Ask deep question, attempt to find answer; it’s one of the basics of interesting fiction to examine real problems in unreal ways. I really admire how it feels like a genuine struggle to find that answer (it’s not as if it’s clear as day), and seeing as the series was cancelled, I am glad Akasaka-sensei didn’t artificially bring up an answer at the end although it would have been inappropriate.
The series is also a romance, and a very interesting one at that. The female of the relationship is aggressive, and the male is actually receptive. Furthermore, it plays out rather uniquely all in all, and does something weird with a common trope that I find super intriguing (although sadly the series was gone before it could flesh that aspect out). The love interest is not Sera (the “first girl”), but is instead a witch of some kind who pops up and disappears as she pleases. She firmly believes that she and Kuro will become lovers, and the reason why is super nice. It’s just really, really sweet and heartfelt, not like the generic “I met him under the sakura tree and we made a promise” at all. I would’ve liked the series to be longer if only for more time with these two. Most of the powerfully emotional moments in this short-lived series involve Kuro and this witch.
Their relationship also has some eyebrow-raising, “makes you think” moments which really exemplifies what the series was going for. The high point of this series is Kuro-Witch involved, concerning things like absolute and practical decisions, strange and expansive use of super powers, and the basic foundation of the series: “despair is rampant, so how do we find hope?”
Speaking of, the super powers in this series are “more” than just powers, which is something I always absolutely adore and something I like to play with myself in my own writing. Things like “what your ability truly means (what seemed like a simple ability is actually a lot more as long as you give it some thought)”, “how your ability relates to your way of thinking”, and “your ability in the grand scheme among other abilities (thematically)”. As with many of this series’ aspects, subversion is attempted in order to do something genuinely creative. It’s obvious that Akasaka-sensei had a large web of ideas and twists ready to go for ib, especially in the “final” chapters wherein he seems to be doling out scads of groundwork as if to demonstrate what he really wants out of this story.
But, for all my praise, I recognize ib – instant bullet – as a series that is rough around the edges. I feel like the comedy didn’t always go so well with the rest of the atmosphere, the action present typically lacked oomph, and the overall composition of the series wasn’t as…I’m not sure, striking as it could be? Like, there are many dark and depressing flashbacks in the series or introspective moments in the present but eeehhhh, it felt like it was missing something to me — something like polish, I suppose. In Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To, although it’s a total comedy there are serious moments and a few darker things and I think Akasaka-sensei may actually have now the skill I think he might have been missing previously. For what it’s worth, the BIG moments in this series are composed EXTREMELY well. When something huge is going on, or someone’s saying something very significant, it hits right in the heart.
ib – instant bullet – is sometimes incredible, but it feels like a series that should often be incredible. The idea and ideas of this series are very good; you could say it’s like a cynic’s try at being optimistic or an optimist who has seen the dark of reality attempting to see light again. I said you could call this manga pretty edgy, but I don’t think it’s edgy in the end honestly. I’d actually love to see Akasaka-sensei’s vision fully realized because I think series such as Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, which are about “ending the world” and a curmudgeonly cast are a little too optimistic. I guess I’d say Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is kinda like if Power Rangers was rather dark and ib – instant bullet – is like if Candide was written by someone who wasn’t just mostly satirizing and really wanted to figure out what worth there was to this disgustng world in the end (side note: read Candide, it’s brilliant, hilarious, fantastic, and very short). It may be my interpretation, but I eventually felt like what Kuro was getting at by wanting to “destroy the world” was really tearing apart conventions and finding something better than status quo, but that might just be my thinking.
And that will do it for my review. I would give ib – instant bullet – my high recommendation and count it among my favorites. I think because it is dark, it has the potential to be one of the most hopeful and inspiring stories out there. I’d like to see what Akasaka-sensei’s “answer” is, for the question of why you might concern yourself with or otherwise mend a broken world. The series kind of starts out slow but really picks up once it begins to pick up, and although the “ending” is rushed, I would actually say Akasaka-sensei handled it very well. In fact, as a recommendation, I think you’d ought to try playing the following song when a certain character says
“I want to be happy”:
Trust me, it fits perfectly.
Next time we’re taking a load off this heavy atmosphere with a funny series! Look forward to it. Until then, thanks for reading.
Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To
Akasaka Aka’s twitter