Ok, so let's start from that that the "Cynd" in my nickname is a shortcut from Cyndaquil and I am actually a pokemon. Just like Team Rocket's Meowth I managed to learn human speech and now I'm sitting beside my pc and writing this review.
What? You don't believe me? You think I'm joking? You say pokemon don't exist?
Of course they do. You think the Game Freak games were based on pure fiction? Even armies worldwide hire pokemon trainers to fight as mercenaries against foreign trainers.
You say it's not possible? That PETA wouldn't approve of having pokemon fight? That conventional weapons are way more effective than semi-magical creatures?
But hey, we, pokemon can be easily healed after the battles. Also, don't you think that a world where people only fight using these semi-magical creatures, where no one dies during the wars, a world where everything can be solved that easily is a much better place to live?
But it is still not real? Too good to be real? But 'real' world isn't worse on its own. It's worse, because people made it like that. People without imagination, who accepted its bad side without thinking of any better one. Why would you want to be one of these people?
So, if you managed to read this prolonged introduction you probably get the idea what this manga is about. Let's proceed to the actual review then, shall we?
First things first, as you can read in the description, we have a heavy-grounded person, who ends up in the same time and place with girl whose words and actions are completely illogical and seems to be living in her own world created by her quirky imagination. "Oh, come on, just how many times did we see that?" Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai, Aura: Maryuuinkouga Saigo no Tatakai, Arakawa under the Bridge, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko and, to a lesser extent, True Tears as well as many more. But hey, even though this is already becoming an another cliched scheme among many, if you think about it, the aforementioned titles are neither bad nor unoriginal. Indeed, achieving perfect originality is quite impossible feat nowadays and it is better not to expect it. It is way better to think about 'unoriginal' series as a new approach to an existent topic. And, of course, don't let yourself judge book by the cover.
Alright, but I should explain why exactly A Lollipop or a Bullet isn't like others. Let's start with the story. The pacing is slow, almost slice-of-life-ish, but with quite a lot of huge, sudden plot twists. Much more than one would expect from 2 volume long psychological manga. Oh, and I used the key word - "psychological" is one of best ways to describe this title. It goes very deep into the problems of character, their worldviews and philosophies. Speaking of philosophy, it contains a lot of unusual and allegoric reflections made by main character who is also the narrator of the story.
Unlike most (all?) of the titles I mentioned two paragraphs before A Lollipop or a Bullet doesn't focus mainly on romance, what actually turns out to be good as far as characterization and psychological part of storyline is concerned.
And finally, probably best thing about the plot in this manga: every single thing happens for a reason. It may not seem like this, but there is no scene or even a fragment of dialogue, which doesn't matter to the story. Everything not important at the moment turns out to be a Chekhov's gun later. This makes you want to read the manga again just to find out how everything is actually a part of a whole.
The same principle applies to characters as well, but let's talk about this a little bit later.
The characters are basically the best side of this manga. As I said before, the plot is mainly focused on their psychologies, beliefs, opinions. They are both original and well-developed. Even Umino, who seems like an another cliched daydreamer at first turns out to be quite deep, multilayered, original and to some extent really likeable in the end.
However, if I were to choose the best-made character it would be the protagonist, Nagisa. No matter how less original than Umino may she seem, she the one most of viewers can identify with. She has distance to her friend's (?) delusions, she is the one who sees the world as it is. Or rather I should say that she does not accept the imaginary, better world that will never come to existence however much Umino would like it to. It may sound as if I was saying she is an exaggerating realist, but it is actually Umino whose every word lack every little bit of credibility it could have. If you met a person like her in real world you wouldn't even give her imaginary world a chance. But back to the point - when I was writing about readers identifying themselves with Nagisa I hardy meant her attitude towards Umino. For the most of manga Nagisa plays the role of an actual observer - the situations may affect her personally a lot, but until very end of the manga she hardly takes any actual part in what is happening around her. Her point of view actually feels similar to the reader's. And her being the narrator only strengthens this feeling.
Moving to side characters, as stated before, everyone having as many as two lines of their own will appear or at least be mentioned later in the manga. Moreover, since the protagonist is quite passive (and is like that for a reason as well!) they seem to be moving the story forward the most. Usually they also tend to have more knowledge that Nagisa, from whose point we see the story. This way A Lollipop or a Bullet not only makes us see how useless Nagisa feels, but also how she feels when she is discovering the truth (?) behind Umino's words.
As far as art is concerned, this manga is not in the top tier, but still far from weak. Character designs are pretty normal. Backgrounds, while really well-drawn aren't that good among other slice of life manga, which overall tend to have better backgrounds than in other genres. The only thing that seems to be really well is the amount of details. Plain looking backgrounds, items or characters do look much better when the amount of details, such as checked pattern on skirt being hand-drawn and thus following the folding instead being just filled with raster, is quite extraordinary. This may not show artist's talent, but does imply their hard work, which should be appreciated.
Oh, and the animals look really realistic.
A Lollipop or a Bullet is that kind of manga you read in one go. Or maybe even twice in one go. Despite being slow-paced there is quite a lot going on all the time, what keeps you from getting bored. The story is quite short but gives that feeling of satisfaction - it covers everything it could and completes every part of the plot. Nothing feels missing or needless.
If anything would make this not enjoyable for you it would have been either Umino, if you consider her more annoying than you should, or the ending, which well... makes all the dreams painfully collide with the harsh reality?
Finally, it'd would be nice to add that amount of non-manga references and overall trivia in this manga is pretty high.
To sum everything up, A Lollipop or a Bullet is a well-thought story, Chekhov would be proud of. Characters are realistic and quite likeable. Overall, it is more addicting than it would seem at the first sight.
In the end, you are just left with the question: Should imaginary perfect world in one's mind, a vision of a better place to live really be thrown away, just because it is not 'real'? Just because the sugar bullets you can dream of can't pierce anything unlike the real ones?