English: Darker than Black
Japanese: Darker than BLACK -黒の契約者-
Status: Finished Airing
Aired: Apr 5, 2007 to Sep 28, 2007
Duration: 24 min. per episode
Rating: R - 17+ (violence & profanity)L represents licensing company
Score: 8.391 (scored by 100555 users)
1 indicates a weighted score
2 based on the top anime page.
Popular Tagsaction drama mystery sci-fi supernatural
Nov 7, 2007
The animation and art style of Darker than Black are superb. Each character is completely unique and unlike some other shows with several similar looking characters, Darker than Black does an excellent job of giving each character an unique style and a winning personality. The fights of Darker than Black are done very well and are very fluid. Although short at times, it is after all not a shounen series, they are excellent none the less. Some fights are extended and are a real treat for the eyes. Bones, the producers, did an excellent job with the series and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
The soundtrack for Darker than Black is up there with my favourites of all time. An excellent mix of various genres of music. At one point it will be a jazz track, then later it will be an orchestra piece or a rock track. Overall the music is really well done and accurately depicts the scene. At some points I found myself with the hair on the back of my neck standing up as the music heated up in preparation of a coming battle. The voice acting is top notch. Hei has two distinct voices: one serious and the other calm or even clumsy sounding. The other main characters: Kirihara, Yin, Huang, and Mao also have top notch performances. Overall the casting and voice acting are very well done.
Each character has their own special traits and have very well written dialogue. Although it is for the most part an Action/Drama type of series, there are often Comedic undertones to help break up the suspense. When Hei is not masquerading as BK201, his codename, he is a very funny and sarcastic individual. Most every character has moments that make you want to laugh, especially Gai, the off the wall private eye, and his partner, the pink haired money hungry Kiko. All in all the characters have a very nice chemistry and it is interesting to see Hei's interactions with the people who are pursuing him. The only thing that is holding back the characters is, with the exception of Hei and Yin, there is very little back story provided for many of the main characters. This is hard to do of course though with an episodic type series.
The series seems episodic as the story is generally told in two episode mini-arcs, with the final arc being three episodes, it never really feels very episodic. Especially toward the end where the main plot runs into each new arc. Although there is a sense of conclusion after each arc, it never really feels like it is of an episodic nature (if that makes any sense at all). I immensely enjoyed Darker than Black and it had a very satisfying conclusion. read more
Apr 17, 2008
In the beginning of the series, the premise of the show is somewhat vague as little is known about where the powers of the contractors come from, or how they are related to the gates. As the series progresses more information is inevitably revealed, creating good plot exposition and allowing the story to move at a decent pace and keep each episode interesting. Where this series really shines however, is the characters.
Hei is portrayed brilliantly, having a rather comicbook superhero-like persona but adding a unique spin to it. His motives are not initially apparent, nor is his true relationship with the syndicate to which he belongs. Also, while contractors are known to be emotionless and purely rational, Hei somehow manages to retain his humanity, an anomaly which many of his acquaintances and opponents comment on. The true reason for this, as well as the origin of his powers remains hidden until the end of the series.
The other members of Hei's organization are similarly well portrayed, each being represented uniquely and interestingly. Huang, Yin, and Mao each have a well written back-story that is both engaging and important to the overall plot. The other characters in the story are outstanding as well, especially the antagonists. Despite the fact that the contractors are supposed to be unemotional, each character still manages to have a unique personality which often even enhanced by this fact.
If there is one weakness in this series, it is the ending, which is unfortunately rather inconclusive. I'm kind of hoping for a sequel, but this may be difficult for reasons that would be hard to disclose without revealing spoilers. The ending also has a "suddenly everything got weird" part to it that seems common in final episodes of supernatural anime, but at least it makes a lot more sense than many I've seen. If you like shows about people with supernatural powers, I think you should definitely watch this series. read more
Feb 10, 2009
STORY - For a series that essentially never explains anything, I'm actually extremely surprised I ended up liking it as much as I do. I'm not a fan of overt exposition, but I'm not a fan of dancing around all the obvious questions either, and Darker than BLACK does almost exclusively the latter. The majority of the series is episodic and comprised of two-episode mini-arcs; these episodes serve to explore the world and the characters, but any insight gained is limited and generally lead to more questions than answers. And yet, the world presented is a very intriguing and unique; the concept of a select few with special abilities is everywhere, sure, but I'm totally in love with the idea of having to consistently pay a price for it. The series starts off a little slow, but none of the episodes are outright boring, and it's fun cataloging all of the data you receive and formulating various hypotheses about what had happened and why things are they way they are. It's the mystery that keeps you going.
Yes, it's immensely frustrating trying to understand anything sometimes, including the overarching plot and the motivation of any of the characters, which are, you know, kind of important, but even though I say that nothing's ever explained, there's definitely enough there for you to work off of. The episode-to-episode story is easy enough to get at a basic level, and as more and more elements present and repeat themselves, it becomes more and more interesting. It's open-ended in many ways, and there's plenty of room for interpretation. For that reason, it probably isn't for everyone; if you're looking for concrete answers and explanations, you'll almost certainly be disappointed. Most characters in the series don't even know what's going on, so there isn't anyone to spell it out for you.
CHARACTER - It really doesn't seem like it at first, but Hei is quite the fascinating character. It never seems quite clear whether Li is the disguise and Hei is the real personality or if it's the other way around. Both seem so sincere in their actions and words. The duality of his character seems contradictory because he comes off like he should be very straightforward, especially considering that "contractors are logical creatures." The details of his past remain hazy and vague for a majority of the series, though it becomes obvious rather quickly what he still feels towards whatever had transpired. That in itself isn't all that interesting or original, but it's a good starting point for all the contradictions and a huge catalyst for the grand plot. I wouldn't say that Hei actually changes much throughout the course of the series, which is usually what I measure the merit of characters by, but he does learn a lot about himself, and those revelations seem to work just as well.
The rest of the characters aren't nearly as interesting, but together, they make a great supporting cast. Mao and Huang are both fun in their own way, though I do wish they had explored the former's past more. Too much about Yin was left unexplained for me to really take to her, but it didn't bug me all that much either. The detective and his assistant were pretty standard comic relief, but standard doesn't mean bad. Kirihara was also a pretty generic cop-type character, but she worked her role very well and her interaction with Li made for an interesting angle. (Or maybe I'm just a sucker for the secret identity drama thing.) The vast bureaucracy that stood over the plot was confusing to keep up with at times, but after a while, I found that it didn't really matter what the details were -- it's just bureaucracy. And it works out all right.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION - Most of the things that BONES animates tend to impress me, and Darker than BLACK is no exception. Everything is smooth, beautiful, and entertaining to watch; the action scenes were fluid and well done, and most of the character designs were slick and distinctive. It's worth noting also that one of the sponsors was obviously a car company (I don't know which though because I don't know anything about cars) -- all of the vehicles in the series are explicitly detailed, with many utilizing 3d animation. There's also a pretty epic driving scene in the second opening's animation sequence. For the most part, this works out well, but there's that occasional 3d car that looks a bit out of place.
One of the sponsors is also the notorious Pizza Hut! In contrast to Code Geass's overt product placement though, DtB is much more subtle in its ways. The logo will appear on a few buildings and storefronts, but as much as Hei does gorge himself every other episode or so, he never actually goes out for pizza. I think this fact helps keep the overall mood of the series relatively serious; there are humorous bits, certainly, but it doesn't come off as nearly as crack-filled as the aforementioned. (I guess that's the difference between BONES and Sunrise.)
MUSIC - My little blurb at the beginning of this review is from the first opening theme. Once again, I really appreciate songs that relate directly to the series and contain lyrics specifically referencing it; I've always respected Takanori Nishikawa for this. Unfortunately, I find that his music under abingdon boys school is sub par compared to his music under T.M. Revolution. "Howling" has an interesting beginning, but the rhythm and melody feel jumbled up until the end/chorus. Being a Rie fu fan, I'd heard "Tsuki Akari" long before seeing the series, but while it's a pretty song, I didn't really feel as if it fit. It was almost jarring to hear it after every episode. The second opening, "Kakusei Heroism ~The Hero Without A Name~" by An Cafe is better in that it's more energetic and not as forced feeling; the second ending, "Dreams" by HIGH and MIGHTY COLOR is similar to the first in tone and mood, but something about it fits better -- I think it was just that Rie's voice itself didn't seem to fit the series, rather than anything about the music.
The soundtrack itself mostly average, though there are a number of standout tracks -- particularly the intense tracks for high-action scenes and the horror/suspense movie-like tracks for the creepy and contemplative scenes. Still, I was surprised to find that Yoko Kanno was the composer because I don't feel as if Darker than BLACK's soundtrack is of the same caliber as the stuff Kanno is generally known for. It's not terrible by any means, but it certainly feels more subdued.
VOICE ACTING - Most of the cast is pretty average -- they're effective in their portrayals, but not particularly amazing. I did like Hidenobu Kiuchi as Hei a lot though; the differences between Hei and Li were really well done and it was great at highlighting the conflicts within his personality. I was also fond of Kirihara's voice, though it was pretty much the typecast for a strong-willed and morally infallible woman. The first two episodes are available dubbed and streaming from FUNimation's video site. Those two episodes didn't really leave that much of an impression on me, but I didn't think it was too bad?
OVERALL - To be honest, the first five episodes didn't do much for me. At six, it started to get more interesting because that was when Hei's past first started affect his present, and that was when the gate started to play a bigger role. After six, I never had a problem staying engaged, and the two-episode mini-arcs really helped keep my thoughts organized. As the overarching plot comes to reveal itself and the series climaxes near the end, you kind of forget that the episodes were ever structured that way because everything comes together so neatly. It's very smooth storytelling. And I liked the ending a lot too; it doesn't really explain much, and I'm still not completely sure what happened, but I like what I could understand and interpret. The concepts were good. It leaves me with a lot of questions, and I'd really like a sequel, but it's not the end of the world if there never is one. Few series can pull off that kind of open-endedness, but Darker than BLACK does.
Aug 2, 2007
The story is very good in my opinion, it contains many details about the history, abilities and life of the characters. It gets more and more complicated through the show. The story tells about a world, very similar to ours that had gone through a massive change. one day the starts started raining from the skies and together with them appeared a gate, Hells Gate. Some people were given special powers but not for free and they didn't really choose them. They were simply given special powers. They are called Contractors. A contractor has a special ability, as an example I can rain fire from the sky however it will cost me something. Each contractor has a different "payment" method. Some have to drink alcohol after each time they use their powers, some have to drink blood. The contractors are lacking emotions (as far as I've noticed) but aren't emotionless. Together with them appeared 2 more life forms, Dolls and Oracles. The dolls lack ANY emotions or free will, they act according to what they are told to do. They can do anything a normal human can. The oracles can... obviously predict the future. Since the "Hell's Gate" appeared many weird phenomenons started to appear near it. The city (Tokyo) was closed within walls and new skies appeared.
The art is awesome, there's always a feeling of mystery and an enemy might hide anywhere. You can never tell what's going on and it doesn't randomly switch the scenes. The show is smooth and is pretty much perfect.
The characters start with a small amount of info about them such as name and that's it. The info will grow through the story and new parts of them will reveal. The characters evolve and change quite a lot through the whole story. Some develop new sides which have never been seen even if they shouldn't.
I enjoy this show very much, to be honest with you I can't stop watching it. Almost watched the raws! The story isn't messed up, the art is great and you just can't stop watching. This show will leave you with a taste of more at the end of each and every episode.
I enjoy this show so much and that's the main reason I'm making this review. Since some of you are probably confused I am more than glad to write this review down for you. I really hope you'll enjoy this show as much as I do.
~regards -> Tsunami! <- read more
Jan 11, 2008
There's also A LOT of annoying Pizza Hut product placements in nearly every episode. This anime also has one of the most annoying anime character types in the medium: I'm talking about the character in law enforcement that is just useless and who's only purpose is to provide us with exposition.
The premise is interesting though, random mysterious 'gates' appearing in South America and Japan, the stars being replaced by fake ones, contractors enacting weird rituals every time they kill. Some story arcs are better than others, it's a mixed bag. It's episodic, but tries to provide some plot development in each episode. There's a cool British character named after my birthday: November 11.
Kanno's music is good as usual, she's sublime, but I was slightly disappointed to hear her strings aping Don Davis's Matrix style.
The main character of Hei was pretty interesting, not least for the fact that he's a Chinese main protagonist in a Japanese anime, but he looks cool in that mask too, and we watch him deceive people a lot, which is always fun.
Darker Than Black is let down by the writing. You know its at fault when you realise after 25 episodes they couldnt explain the main mystery of the tale; the reason why the world is the way it is; why the characters are the way they are; why we bothered to watch the anime in the first place. There's a difference between smart ambiguity and stretching an interesting premise so thin you cant even wrap it up at the end. read more
Mar 17, 2008
Manga, Anime: Darker than BLACKdoes have an manga adaptation (who the author/artist is, I don't know, cause the information just isn't there). It began running in Kadokawa Shoten's Monthly Asuka magazine, and is currently up to four volumes. It has yet to be licensed Stateside.
Darker than BLACK is a twenty-five episode series done by Studio Bones (famous for their work on Fullmetal Alchemist and Ouran High School Host Club), and directed by Tensai Okamura (famous for his work on Wolf's Rain). It ran from April 5th to September 28th, 2007 on Japanese TV, and has been licensed Stateside by Funimation and is due to be released at some point this year.
Story: About ten years ago, this random thing called Hell's Gate appeared in the middle of Tokyo, and basically caused the normal destruction of the city and the disappearance of the night sky. At the same time, people called Contractors started getting paranormal powers (think like the mutants from X-Men), and in exchange favor rationality over a human conscience. The Contractors are kept a secret from the general populace and are used by the government and private groups as spies, assassins, etc. The focus is on Hei, one of the most powerful Contractors, his blind Doll Yin, their handler Huang, and Mao, their wireless information Contractor talking cat.
I admit, the premise drew me in; it sounds like X-Men, but with people actually trying to use them to their own advantage instead of annhiliate them (well, I take that back; you'll see what I mean later on in the series). But there's a whole boatload of problems with this series.
You might be wondering, What exactly IS Hell's Gate? What are Dolls? How does a person become a Contractor? How can a Contractor be a wireless information talking cat?
Except for that last question, don't expect any answers. Darker than Black throws a whole shitload of information at you in the first few episodes, and then continues that pattern, but pulls a Rozen Maiden and really doesn't bother to explain exactly what the hell's going on, or anything that could actually help you make sense of what's going on here. It's confusing and irritating; there was so much they could've gone into that would've made things clearer and would've helped the series a LOT.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of. This wouldn't be such a bad thing, except for that the character development comes a bit too late in the story for most core characters. In fact, aside from the core characters I mentioned above and a passing interest in the Contractors and government agents involved in the cases, you don't really give a damn about who most of the two-episode arcs center around, which really doesn't help the series. There were only two full arcs that I actually liked, along with the second half of two other arcs, and two of the three individual episodes at the end. So, that's a total of... eight out of twenty five episodes that I actually liked. That's a pretty shitty percentage.
Another big problem with the series is the placement of the two-episode arcs. But more on that in Length.
You're going to notice a lot of product placements, only because it's done in a clumsy and annoying way, which is utterly unamusing.
Also, towards the end, Hei is revealed to have a power that, in its use and origin, is utterly Gary-Stu-ish and lacks a lot of coherent explanation, simply to try and bring an end to the story, which just pisses me off even more.
There is going to be an OVA due to be released later this year. However, it's one episode, and based on who it centers around, it's not going to add shit to or conclude the story.
The action sequences were nice, yes. And I liked the core characters. However, the fact that nothing was really explained, the fact that most of the two-episode arcs' central characters weren't that likeable, and that character development comes at the wrong point (more on this under episode placement in Length) overwhelmed all the former.
WARNING: There's a lot of blood, and a bit of nudity at some points (anything that you'd really WANT to see is creatively censored).
Art: Art is pretty well-done, here. The character designs and backgrounds are well-done and gorgeous. The cityscape is absolutely beautiful, especially at night. The CG stands out a bit, but it isn't used enough that it gets on your nerves.
Music: Yoko Kanno did the music for this series. It's got a jazz bent to it, like what we heard in Cowboy Bebop, with a few sentimental pianos and string numbers thrown in. It's good stuff, but it's not quite as good as some of her other stuff that I've heard.
There are two OPs and EDs, one for each half of the series. The OPs are all harder rock numbers, though I like the first one slightly better than the second one, and the first ED is the typical J-Pop female ballad, which wasn't half bad, and the second ED is a power ballad, which I didn't like all that much.
There are a few insert songs thrown in, and they aren't half bad. Can't remember them enough to tell you how well they fit, though.
Seiyuu: No talent that I recognize from other shows, but everyone did a pretty good job.
Length: There are some problems here, mainly with arc placement.
Most of the arcs that contain character development are tossed in towards the end, which is a bit too late for it to come in, and most of the pointless shit is tossed in at the beginning. For the most part, the arcs are standalones, which means that they could be easily be rearranged to make the series a bit more interesting. They SHOULD have done this, as it might have made the whole thing a bit more bearable. Plus, certain plot elements are picked up in one arc, dropped for a few arcs, and then come up again towards the end, which just makes things even more irritating; it would have worked far better if the arcs with those elements were placed closer together.
That said, twenty-five episodes is just right. Any more, and I probably would've dropped it, any shorter, and it would be even more incomprehensible and shitty than it already is.
Overall: A series with pretty good animation and music, and an interesting premise and characters that utterly fails to explain ANYTHING, arcs that center around characters you don't give a shit about, has shitty episode placement, and, on top of it all, gives the otherwise likable main character a Gary-Stu power towards the end. Trainwreck, please.
Overall: 38/50; 76% (C) read more
May 1, 2013
Critic's Log - Earthdate: June 17, 2012. Review #9: Darker Than BLACK
A heart of Darkness is a heart full of Hatred and Deceit, A dark heart's lust for power can never fill his avarice to the fullest, he will continuously consume power because he resents people that have it. His wrath will eventually lead to his despair and his arrogance will give him a heart that is Darker Than Black. Is it possible to have a heart that is lighter than black or darker than white? I do not know myself because I still search, and then... The trials of a journey begin.
Okay... Enough with the poetic philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Here's Darker Than BLACK!
Ten Years ago, an unknown and abnormal area known as Hell's Gate appeared in Tokyo, altering the sky and wreaking havoc on the landscape. The real stars disappeared and are replaced by fake stars. During this time, people possessing various special powers have been appearing, each capable of different supernatural feats. These people are known as "Contractors". Each fake star has a corresponding Contractor which reacts to their activities. They are also kept secret from the masses. These contractors are known to murder in cold blood. They also kill their emotion with logic and rationale. Their abilities on the other hand at the cost of their humanity, Contractors are also named because of a involuntary compulsion to pay the price each time their power is used. Various nations and organizations around the world are training these contractors as assassins and spies resulting in aggressive battles for objects of value and information. After the Heaven's War, The United States have lost their position as a superpower to a mysterious organization named The Syndicate, The story is about a Chinese contractor named Hei as he undertakes various espionage and assassination missions in Tokyo under the direction of The Syndicate.
To be technical, this is a Studio Bones production and Studio Bones still has good animation quality. Darker than Black does not disappoint in the animation department. The animation looks really good even though computers may have been used as part of The Animation. The animation isn't perfect in this show, but it looks really nice. The action scenes are nice. Kudos to Studio Bones.
Even though the animation is great, there are some big problems with Darker than Black. The story may vary your mileage and I have many reasons why I say this... The pace in this show varies on speed and that might not be so bad. The big problem with the story is that the narrative tense does feel disorienting. Let me explain this, there are times when flashbacks are shown in the prologue of some episodes and then you see the present events occur after the opening. There's also a lot of things explained as the show progresses, this is an anime you need to pay attention to so you need to wake the fuck up while watching Darker than Black. I will give Tensai Okamura some credit that his direction in this anime is a bit different than some other anime out there.
One of the major flaws of Darker than Black is that it feels like the story isn't developing where it should be, Darker Than BLACK does develop a bit at the start of the second half in the show but it does take a while before the show gets somewhat interesting. The ending is rushed and at the time I am writing this review, I am a bit skeptical about the second season of Darker than BLACK.
Another major flaw is that the Minor characters seem to have the more interesting storylines than the main characters themselves and I did find some of these minor character's intriguing. The main casts of characters do get backstories but they are not as intriguing save for Yin's Backstory and Huang's backstory. Hei's backstory was a bit interesting but I don't have much to say about what intrigued me about it. The variety of the powers that the contractors have is nice too. The character development is a mixed bag for me and I was this close of calling the character development "Shoddy". There are some characters I find boring and I found some to be quite interesting. Hei is a bit complicated for me to enjoy watching. I admire the fact that when he assumes the alias "Li Shenshung" you wouldn't suspect that he's the infamous "BK201" or "Black Reaper", but when he is the Black Reaper, he's a badass (to some degree). Yin on the other hand does develop a bit but not too much, since she is a Doll, your expectations will vary. Huang is the only main character that is 100% human. I like the two part episode about him and Shihoko. Mao is okay. Again, the minor characters seem to have the more interesting storylines than the main characters and that can be considered a big problem. It may also feel a bit unoriginal at times.
The music for Darker Than BLACK is composed by Yoko Kanno who is well known for composing the music for animes such as The Vision of Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Wolf's Rain, and Ghost in The Shell. The music is okay in Darker than BLACK, but Kanno- san has done better, Also, I found it quite nice to hear Mai Yamane in a song or two. If you don't know who she is, I'll tell you... She's the singer that is well known for her work in Cowboy Bebop, if you know the song "The Real Folk Blues", she's the one singing it. But I will say that the first opening kicks ass, and the first closing theme is pretty good too. Last but not least, the moments where you hear some jazz in the show. I think it's a nice touch... Kind of reminds you of Cowboy Bebop a bit.
When it comes to voice acting. The subtitled version is excellent, however... so is most of the dub. I will admit the subtitled version is good, The dubbed version might be the most appropriate choice because of the settings and some of the character backgrounds. Even though Funimation is notorious for re-casting the same voice actors at their disposal, I did not mind the dub too much. Hidenobu Kiuchi is great as Hei and Jason Liebrecht isn't bad as Hei either. Misato Fukuen is pretty good as Yin while Brina Palencia was okay as Yin, Masaru Ikeda and John Swasey play Huang pretty well. Ikuya Sawaki and Kent Williams are pretty good as Mao. If there is one character that had a pretty good performance on both the dubbed and the subbed version, it was the late seiyu Tomoko Kawakami and Laura Bailey as Amber. You can't really go wrong with either version so whether you want to watch this dubbed or subbed is totally up to you, they are both pretty good. Zach Bolton (who worked on Shin-Chan) was repsonsible for the ADR direction and he did pretty good on the dub on this show.
Darker than BLACK is available by Funimation, the OVA "Beneath Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom" is released with Season One and is a side story of the show. The Second season of Darker than BLACK called "Gemini of The Meteor" is also available by Funimation, there is also another OVA called "Darker than BLACK: Gaiden (Side Story)" it is also available from Funimation. A manga of Darker than BLACK is available from Yen Press and there is another Manga adaptation of Darker than BLACK but hasn't been licensed here yet at the time I am writing this review.
With that said, Darker than BLACK is a somewhat unique series that might have some unoriginal elements. You might find this show really cool if you can get past the mixed bag of character development, and the story's narrative tense. This is one of those animes that I think is not really bad but I think it's not really good either. Do I like this show? Yeah, I thought it was pretty cool. It's not really on my favorites list...
I give Darker Than BLACK a 7 out of 10. It is GOOD!
Feel free to comment below, and have a good evening read more
Sep 16, 2008
Darker Than Black tackles the manifestation of paranormal abilities to humans and while it is not masterfully presented, I have learn to enjoy it.
Ten years passed after the incident that gave birth to Contractors, people who manifested paranormal abilities. Nowadays agency's hires Contractors for their own use, seldom even use them as they see fit; giving in to darker emotions and abusing that power. But in exchange from gaining this ability, they must always fulfill their renumeration. Hei is a powerful contractor hiding under the alias of Lee, masquerading as a Chinese transfer student when not undercover, who has the ability to generate electricity and for some reason he doesnt have a renumeration. Under an unknown government, Hei along with Yin, a spirit medium who is incapable of emotions otherwise known as Dolls, and Mao a contractor whose body is stuck on a cat, together they form a team working assassination and the likes.
The show seems to be fairly deliberately paced, without being too frantic.
Each arc consists of two episodes. And each one introduces a new well written story, which sometimes can be frustrating since it was better off being a long arc rather being episodic.Dont worry, the characters are likable, in fact I very much like every character. Problem is, they're lifespan. Knowing that its only episodic, you can expect that they'll kick the bucket before you get to know them. But at least the arc does just gradually advances the story a little and it is impressive how they were able to compressed such immersing stories in only two episodes.
This is not an action-oriented anime. It focuses more on the struggle of each Contractor goes through. Sure it has some decent action every now and then but most of them ends with disappointment. Hei's power is nothing more than a taser, which makes it hard to believe that he is actually one of the most powerful Contractor. Even so, the story makes up for it, well more often than not.
The characters acting are distinctive and good enough all around. We all know how interesting people with psychedelic powers clashing can be. But Hei, in particular wasnt the highlight of the show. Yeah, he does have an interesting past, that generally forms half of the premise of this show. But clearly he is your average wanna-be angst badass protagonist, even though he does prove to be a promising character. Furthermore, there were two other unlikable characters, the detective and his otaku sidekick. They were the comic relief of the show, and quite frankly I felit it was unnecessary. Their arc was pointless and dull. Every second of their screen time, is a second wasted. They were better off giving as a better background of any of Hei's team.
DTB is designed in such a way that the anime appears dynamic. It has detailed visuals and the animation is extremely fluid. The designs of each characters are not elaborate enough to be different but it does have its own physique. The sound was fairly average and OST was nothing special to be notable.
This easily couldve been the anime version of the critically acclaimed american tv hit series, Heroes. But its deficiency of substance, plot advancement and in depth characters had it put down.
What Hei does with his power and the impact he'll have on others is the raison d'etre of the show; the moody noir tone and offbeat writing are the reasons to tune in. read more
Dec 1, 2007
The plot of Darker than BLACK is somewhat confusing as you start but after a while you’ll become accustomed to the intriguing plot, though it does take most of the show to fully understand. For the most part of the story it is arranged into 2 episode length adventures/arcs, giving it and episodic feel. Unlike other episodic adventure anime series (Cowboy Bebop), that extra episode allows the characters to be developed far better. This helps give this anime and edge because a lot of the characters are portrayed in such a way that you can’t help but feel something towards them. Even though each arc has the same sort of structure as a 4-panel manga (Intro => Development => Turning point => Conclusion) yet each one feels unique in its own way.
Apart from the episodic characters that I discussed early, there are quite a few recurring main characters in the series that have fairly complex and intriguing personalities. Hei (BK201) being the character that the story revolved around was the most interesting one of them all, because he was so difficult to comprehend. The only real negative is the annoying detective character that appears, every now and then, for comic relief.
The quality of the animation can be compared with that of the more popular series, Death Note; with its superb visuals and the seamless blending of hand drawn and CG. Nonetheless there is just a little less detail, put into it, due to action but this helps create incredibly fluid animation. The music is basically a mix of Jazz, Rock, J pop and other melodies that will go well most of the different situations and moods of the show.
Overall Darker than BLACK fulfilled its purpose of becoming, an incredibly, exciting anime that could compete, with the likes of Claymore, when it first aired. Even with the plot and premise being confusing in the beginning, it all ended up being easy to understand as the show went on however there were still some issues left unexplained, in the end. Even with some elements of its storyline, having already been done before, there was still enough original content to make up for it. Well I recommend this anime to anyone who feels like watching a good action anime, with some sci-fi and supernatural elements.
^_^ read more
Jun 22, 2010
Set in our time but in an alternate world where global warming isn’t the planets biggest threat but supernatural beings with unique powers are – these beings dubbed the name “Contractors”. They appeared the same time Hell’s Gate did; a mysterious force that covers Tokyo’s sky. Their powers come at a price and the wage is different for every Contractor. Rival organizations kill, back-stab, infiltrate, investigate and work together to uncover the mysteries of Hell Gate.
Our protagonist is Hei, one of these Contractors working as an assassin/investigator for one these organizations. Together with Yin, an emotionless doll; Mao the talking black cat and Huang, a normal middle aged guy; Hei tries to investigate the mystery that is Hell’s Gate and locate his younger sister Pai whilst carrying out the orders/missions from the Syndicate.
Oh, don’t think you’re going to get any more answers or plot revelation when watching the show. By the end of the series we’re left with the SAME standstill story and the SAME questions as the beginning: What exactly is Hell’s Gate? How did it get there? Why did it make people with supernatural abilities emerge? How did it alter the sky? Why doesn’t Hei have a payment for his power? How did he come to work for the Syndicate? Sadly, the endless line of questions we have from episode one is left unanswered.
When entering Darker than Black it can either be a hit or miss – people will either say “Oh, I’ve seen it before” and dismiss it, others will be taken in by the dark American superhero story atmosphere presented in the first two episodes. For the rest of the series it is pretty much a rinse and repeat session with the two episode mini arcs. This is what DtB does well, actually. By creating these mini arcs it doesn’t danger itself into needlessly dragging the same story out and with this manages to cover quite a lot of characters as each mini arc is dedicated to one character revealing their past etc.
But the characters themselves were quite unremarkable. Sure, a masked contractor; a blind emotionless girl and talking cat along with other Contractors; British MI6 agents and police agents sounds interesting enough - but it really isn’t. The characters do develop – as aforementioned there are mini arcs to show this, but they all lack something: REAL CHARACTER. Of course it is not a slice of life, therefore it can ignore the finer details but as they were TRYING to give the characters substance with the mini arcs it just made them fail even worse on giving an individual any spruce: they are all so dreadfully BORING. I ended up not caring about any single one of them.
Hei, on the other hand, was the exception. Forget all the other characters; this is the one who takes the entire spotlight. Probably the most entertaining one of them all – and why not! Playing the normal innocent student by day and an apathetic assassinator by night, Hei is the master of in-character acting. What’s more, with his split personality, insane skills and a mask that screams ‘badass’ he takes control of the entire show, I only wished we got to see more of that side of him. He brought a reminiscent feeling of the character L from Death Note, notably for his crouched stance when taking on the role of the clueless student.
His English voice actor captured the split personality nature of Hei; from the innocent naivety to the cold-hearted killer. It really stood out from the other voice actors, who were – at best – average. However, one of the pros of watching the dub is hearing the British accents by many of the characters. Although it is overdone, at least there is that international appeal in it that the Japanese version will not have. But if you’re not too keen on dubs in the first place then just opt to complete subs. You’ll be missing out on the accents but one of the character’s voice acting was so bad it lowered the overall quality of the sound.
Speaking of sound, one of the saving graces of the show was indefinitely the music. Though the music is most likely forgettable as there was no set soundtrack or theme songs that would be played in every episode, each unique theme that would range from jazz to classical to rock always manages to stir up excitement that would fit in perfect sync with the choreograph or scene. Like Hollywood movies there is a varied track list, so it never becomes repetitive. The OP and ED on the other hand did not live up to the excellent sound during the show – it was good but with the other music they had already set themselves a high bar so that had left their OP/ED to become rather disappointing. One point that comes to mind about the opening sequences is the jogging camera movement in the animation. I thought this was an excellent way to portray the hectic and fragmented nature of the show, and made the OPs a joy to watch. Animation is flawless, as expected of BONES (those awesome guys who brought us Ouran, Fullmetal Alchemist and Cowboy Bebop).
Fans of NGE, rejoice. Well fans of a ‘certain scene’ in NGE rejoice. For the show carries some resemblance to that famous mindfuck anime – with riddled monologues and the infamous “Congratulations” scene almost being replicated in the last episodes (yes, the show does not give us a complete ending). So, if you’re not a fan of the NGE ending, then DtB probably won’t be your cup of tea in terms of ending.
Darker than BLACK is heavily flawed. I felt like they were trying to hard; sometimes it had bad comedy and often enough it had too many loose ends. The story lacks development and the characters do not stand out. However, the series still manages to hook the audience with its dark atmosphere, the menacing Hei and the well orchestrated action scenes (my only qualm about said scenes were that there were too few and too short). The first few episodes are the critical point for the viewer – either a hit or a miss for them, some would deem it as “seen it before”, and others will be drawn into its alluring nature. Also, regarding the second season of the show: that too does not even answer the questions formed for season one, so if you’re okay for vague roundabout answers, dull characters (excluding Hei, naturally) and well choreographed action then DtB is the show for you. read more
Apr 6, 2013
Apr 6, 2009
Darker Than Black’s OST, ~Kuro no Keiyakusha~ Gekihen, is composed by none other than THE Yoko Kanno (Arjuna, Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne, Ghost in the Shell SAC, Turn A Gundam, Wolf’s Rain) who is easily the most famous and acclaimed anime composer there is. The soundtrack is all very smooth jazz and lounge music ranging from higher-tempo excitement to very relaxing, chill songs. As usual for Kanno, there is boatloads of bass and lots of unique percussion instruments.
A couple of the songs have some electronica touch and there are numerous vocal tracks. Generally, the feel of the album is to be as cool as possible. Whether it’s chase music or something more laid-back, it’s always super-cool like the whole album is wearing sunglasses. My favorite track is one called ‘Blend In,’ which fuses some smooth-as-hell guitars with a suave voice and a great low-tempo beat (though interestingly I have no idea where this song was in the show.) As expected from Yoko Kanno, there are no complaints about the OST, and as usual the album is so unique from her other works that it’s impossible to compare them against each-other.
Both of the opening songs for this show are quite nice. The first is Howling by Abingdon Boys School which has been hugely popular ever since this show began 2 years ago. I’ve listened to this song a great many times since then myself, and hilariously since I’d originally stopped watching after 10 episodes I’d been totally unaware of the second op, Kakusei Heroism ~The Hero Without A Name~ by An Cafe, which is just as nice. Both have pretty good videos as well. I didn’t care at all for either ending theme. They were both very slow and boring and didn’t reflect any part of the show’s style whatsoever.
As far as voice acting goes, Darker Than Black employs about as many big names as any production of this high budget, but I didn’t really think there were many exemplary performances. The show doesn’t have a whole lot of emotional dialog, so there aren’t a terrible amount of chances to emote, and all of the minor characters sounded just average. Thankfully, most of the cast power is in the recurring characters. My favorite voice was easily Ikuya Sawaki as Mao, a deep but wholly suaze voice given to a little cat. Misato Fukuen (Miyafuji Yoshika in Strike Witches) has to act deadpan as Yin but her voice remains very memorable and stirring. Masaru Ikeda is the perfect gruff voice for former cop turned syndicate member Huang, bringing back thoughts of the kind of acting you expect in detective dramas.
Nana Mizuki (Morinas - Simoun, Fate - Nanoha) is there as Misaki and is great, but her character needed more screentime. Tomoko Kawakami (Misuzu - Air, Athena - Aria, Sayuri - Kanon, Utena) and Kazuhiko Inoue (Kakashi - Naruto, Nyanko-san - Natsume Yuujinchou, Dusty A - Legend of Galactic Heroes) both play very cool characters (Amber and November 11, respectively) with all of the necessary cool required to make those characters stand out, especially in scenes with them together. There was one voice that really bothered me, though, which was the voice fo the main character, Hei, played by Hidenobu Kiuchi (Tenma - Monster) which just felt forced to me. When he was pretending to be a nice guy, his voice seemed overly idiotic and when he was doing his serious voice, he didn’t sound dark enough. I think the role would have been better if it was closer to something like Jun Fukuyama’s voice as Lelouche in Code Geass, but maybe less theatrical.
Animation production on Darker Than Black is done by Studio Bones (Eureka Seven, FullMetal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Ouran High School Host Club, RahXephon, Xam’d) who happen to be one of my favorite studios (all of the aforementioned shows being favorites of mine). Bones always has a very clean, high-budget production with emphasis on style and cool fight scenes. Darker than Black is certainly no exception (if not the rule) though there were one or two places where I saw some cheap corner-cutting.
Most of the staff on Bones shows seem to be employed by Bones directly since their libraries tend to consist of nothing but Bones shows as well as most Bones shows. This is true for animation director and character designer Takahiro Komori as well as art director Takashi Aoi for the most part. Most likely, this is how Bones keeps such a consistent feel across most of their shows.
All of Darker Than Black takes place in metropolitan Tokyo of the near future. As such, 95% of the scenery is buildings, houses, parks, alleyways, etc. There is pretty much an even split of night and day shown in the city which overall is probably a fairly accurate depiction of Tokyo - there are fucking buildings everywhere. I can’t make any complaints about the backgrounds, since they look as nice as they ought to, but there’s nothing terribly unique about them. They aren’t especially detailed and no particular place stands out in my mind. Other than Hei’s apartment, most of what I think about this show’s locations is just ‘well, there were buildings.’ I happen to be a big fan of urban settings, and I did like DtB’s Tokyo, but I’ve seen much more interesting and alive cities in other anime. You can consider me biased in this regard, I guess.
The character designs I felt were awesome and perfectly cultivate the show’s ‘cool’ atmosphere as well as it’s notable detective-drama characteristics. Hei exudes badassery with his combat suit, cloak, and cool mask. The villains range from badass to suave and the women range from sexy to cute (and the cute ones are usually broken, prior to or during the show.) Poeple of all kind of personalities are present in the show and look their parts without clashing with the show’s style. Probably the most notable aspect of the designs are the eyes which have a very thick, dark outline that makes everyone just look a little bit insane. I’d say the eyes more than anything else in the show attribute to it’s dark tone.
Being as this is Bones, the animation as a whole was superb, especially during action scenes. The guys at Bones have a great sense of how the body moves and always replicate it smoothly. There were some cool little techniques used here and there, like a perspective-cam in places or some scratchy outline effects here and there. However, as awesome as the animation is most of the time, it’s not totally consistent. The arc of episodes 11-12 (which I hated all around) had some pretty downplayed animation and there are some parts that would loop footage or show a couple of images a bunch of times. These moments only stand out because the rest of the show looks so great, so it’s hard to decide if they really impact the overall impression.
Darker Than Black is pretty much entirely the child of Tensai Okamura, director of the Stink Bomb segment of the classic movie Memories, as well as director, scriptwriter, and storyboarder for fellow Bones anime Wolf’s Rain. Okamura is not only the original creator of Darker Than Black, but directed it, wrote it, and did scripts and storyboards on several episodes. As such, I see the story as a whole as something Okamura really put all of his effort into and wanted to make as great as possible.
As a director, he does an excellent job. He ties all of the show’s episodic plots into each-other beautifully, paces most of the series perfectly, balances the information and action present in every episode perfectly, and uses plenty of fun directing techniques to exemplify certain scenes. That said, there were a couple of arcs where the pace and plot kind of hiccuped. Most notably the aforementioned 11-12 arc. That arc just fucking sucked, period. Everything about it completely sucked. It was boring, heavy-handed, went around in circles, introduced some elements without explaining them very well, and all-around could have been done much, much better. I feel like if this arc hadn’t sucked so bad the whole show would have flowed near perfectly.
Darker Than Black has it’s own alternate-reality setting with plenty of details which, if you’re interested, you can read about on Wikipdeia. DtB makes a point to reveal this information slowly and carefully, and more through actions than words. There are no moments of tiresome info-dumping - all of the exposition is perfectly integrated into the action so that there is never a dull moment (with the exception of 11-12.) This is one of the biggest evidences of the show’s careful construction.
Moreso still, though, is how inter-connected the parts of the show are. Dialog and scenes from early episodes gain a deeper meaning when you’ve seen later episodes, and many of the ways characters react and interact are better understood or explained later. Even small things are tossed in all over the place that you may miss the first time. A great example from the first 2 episodes is the cat character, Mao. In these episodes, he can bee seen all over the place in the backgrounds and at one point even drops in on the action in a seeming soincidence. It isn’t until the end of episode 2 that we find out he is a major characer, and all the previous cat-sitings are tied together. Darker Than Black all around promots multiple viewings from it’s recurring events to it’s easy accessibility. It’s pretty easy to go back and watch your favorite arcs as much as you want.
Aside from being extremely well constructed, the overall plot in DtB is pretty good, but I’m not sure it’s something to write home about. The show’s formula is 2-episode arcs up until the climactic final 3-episode arc. Some of the arcs focus on a story that is only somewhat related to the whole while serving to introduce important concepts to the show’s groundwork. Some of the arcs, especially in the later episodes, are focused on the overall plot progression, and finally there are arcs designed to explore the backgrounds of major characters.
For the same reasons that this show is well done, things are accomplished very slowly and only about as much really happens as you’d expect from a 13-episode anime (which some believe it should have been.) It could be said that DtB sacrifices depth of plot in the name of cinematography, and it’s hard to decide how to take that. On the one hand, the great construction of the series is what makes it so fun and interesting to watch, but leaves the plot less than memorable. I wouldn’t even consider this a flaw usually, but the show is so focused on it’s plot that it’s weakness permeates the show.
Darker Than Black’s greatest weakness is probably it’s characters. The show only does enough to make the viewer care a bit about the characters and not enough to really attach you to them. All of the cahracters are monumentally cool, many quite eccentric, and all a lot of fun, but don’t have a terribly memorable presence.
The main character, Hei, shows a multi-faceted personality and we learn some of his backstory, all of which is nice, but he doesn’t have any real grippng scenes or crowning moments of awesome. Each of the major characters gets a backstory and small introspective treatment, but I couldn’t see myself feeling sad if one of them died or getting excited for their sakes. They were simply ‘fun’.
The most notable characters are pretty much the most cool and/or cute ones. November 11 really stole the show with his badass moments and boatloads of charisma. Cute girls like Amber and Yin stake out their fandoms through cute looks and fun personalities. My favorite was actually the least developed major character, Mao, because he was an awesome cat with a deep-ass voice. Take that to mean what you want.
One thing I definitely loved about this show is it’s arcs that pay homage to classic pulp story types. The whole show is classic-style pulp, which is part of what makes it so great, and all of it could be called throwback to pulp stories (which really, all pulp is) but a few arcs really took the cake. Huang’s backstory was my favorite for being a perfect detective story deal and having some of the most well-done flashbacks I’ve seen in anime. There was also the excellent yakuza arc which involved the innocent guy whose in with the wrong crowd and the cute girl he falls in love with and tries to protect. There were gang-run corporations getting trampled by supernatural beings, demons of the city night streets, prostitutes on the run, and no shortage of ‘break the cutie’ moments. If you’re a big fan of pulp stories, you’ll find a lot to love there.
Overall - 8/10
Darker Than Black is extremely well-structured, fun, cool as hell, and more than likely will get better every time you watch it. It’s only lightly marred by some poor episodes and animation ticks that are largely overpowered by the sheer awesomeness of everything surrounding. Weak characters and a plot that’s not as good as the way it’s told keep my emotions at bay and prevent the show from a real favorite status for me, but it’s more than woth watching and rewatching for the pulp fun set to great music. read more
Oct 26, 2007
By no means is this a cheap anime, and on numerous occasions the visuals prove this with displays of technical excellence. However, I was rather dissatisfied with the show’s production due to its poor and uninspired use of aesthetics to create a sense of style or to build an atmosphere. I think the show could have been enhanced greatly with greater attention being payed not simply to the detail and framerate of the animation, but also to its overall look. The background artwork, excluding a few scenes inside the gate, is bland and disengaging, with basic design and criminally unsubtle colouring. Compare the striking, and varied cityscapes of Gits:SAC to the featureless squares that DTB passes for buildings. Walls are lazily depicted in gradients of grey or brown that seem at odds with the lighting of the scenes. Rather than bringing the settings to life, they actually detract from them. Perhaps I’m spoilt by IG’s background work, but for a series of such supposed calibre I found it to be very poor indeed. The cel animation is crisp and detailed, and holds up well in the action scenes (as expected from the professionalism of BONES). Unfortunately, the character designs it has to work with are fairly average, with a few exceptions (Misaki, Yin).
The music is by Yoko Kanno, which says a lot for itself, although not as much as I’d like in this case. The quality of the music itself is inarguably high - not Kanno’s greatest work by any stretch, but nor her worst. Her jazz pieces lack the sophistication or personality of her work on Bebop and I can’t help but feel that Mai Yamane’s vocal contributions are wasted in her songs - but this still really good music. Unfortunately, it is often misused in the series - a common occurrence in anime. The problem with anime composition in the style of Kanno is that they’re more pieces of music in their own right than they are score music. So, at times, the choice of music for a scene is jarring and some tracks are too oft repeated. I have no real qualms with the music, I was merely expecting a little more; if I hadn’t known Kanno was behind it I would have been far less sceptical.
Darker than Black presents the kind of story that only anime would have the audacity to envision. The strangeness of the story almost leads me to suggest that it exemplifies the desperation of anime writers - where originality can only be found in the most farfetched and bizarre. So, rather than revolving around a core sci-fi concept or idea, the story is merely a construct of frivolous machinations that have no thematic connection to the real world whatsoever, and which are left mostly unexplained. I find it hard to justify my reservations toward the premise of the series, but it probably amounts to the fact that it is completely ridiculous AND it takes itself seriously. Such a wedding of the ridiculous and the serious should only be undertaken at the hands of those with extreme stylistic prowess like Shinichiro’s Samurai Champloo or Cowboy Bebop - it really didn’t work out in this anime.
As part of the modern tradition of sci-fi anime, Darker then Black has hit up the viewer with a whole arsenal of strange vocabulary to learn, like “Hell’s Gate, Contractor, BK201”, in what appears to be an attempt to alienate the audience while giving the impression everything makes sense if you’ve done your homework. The anime industry seems to have come to the irreverent conclusion that the more convoluted and inaccessible a storyline is, the deeper and more worthwhile it is. I’m not sure whether to blame Hideaki Anno for this, but Darker than Black is a certainly a culprit, leaving unanswered questions and logic gaps in its determination to condense a plot worthy (or not) of a fantasy epic into its 25 episodes.
Much of my frustration stems from the fact that the core backbone of the plot isn’t divulged until far too late in the show, so that, for the majority of the series, you have an idea of what’s going on but almost no idea WHY, or why it should matter in terms of the overall plot. I’ve seen this in numerous anime before and I don’t like it. It comes off as being little more than a gimmick to impress the viewer towards the end of the series by suddenly whipping out the answers to its seemingly incomprehensible premise. I prefer a traditional, linear approach to storytelling, as knowing the context of the story always adds gravity and import to the character’s decisions and motives.
The characterisation is, nonetheless, a strength of the show, a strength that is not flaunted nearly enough. In this arc-based show, it is important that a sense of affinity or empathy with a character is swiftly established, and DTB achieves this nicely. Many of its earlier episodes are saved from their redundancy by the profoundness of the minor character’ plights. Hei, the protagonist, is certainly quite lacking; he spends so much time being mysterious that it’s very hard to really care about him until the quick burst of character development he receives towards the end of the show. Luckily, the cast is rather large, and there are plenty of characters to become attached to. I grew particularly fond of Huang’s anti-social rhetoric, and Mao’s sceptical imparts. Together with Hei and the detached Yin their portrayal as a defunct family, who ultimately came through for each other, warmed my heart.
In a fleeting grab for redemption, the series manages to pull out a surprisingly gripping and sincere finale, which very nicely brings together the many emotional themes and dramatic overtones that have been brewing. The result is a climax that will tug at the heart of cry-baby and cynic alike with a powerfully bittersweet wrap-up, even if it won’t divulge answers to some of the series’ greater mysteries. In fact, it was probably the most satisfying conclusion I’ve seen all year. But a delectable aftertaste cannot wholly excuse the lack of direction of the bulk of its earlier episodes - which almost seemed like padding before this final arc. This could almost have been a 6-part OVA series. When all’s said and done, the show was enjoyable enough through its entire run for me to recommend, but one should be prepared to be frequently underwhelmed and almost always unapprised.
Apr 28, 2013
Enormous Tokyo, a mysterious hundred story tall wall, closing off an area known as Hells gate, while superhuman people known as contractors do battle in the streets. This is not the Tokyo you know!
While no one would confuse this anime with a fast moving Shounen, it certainly has a fast enough and well-structured pace to its protagonists that is sure to keep all viewers interested.
The story sticks to protagonist/antihero Hei (the Black Reaper) aka BK-201 aka Li Shun Sheng and his search for his long lost sister Bai. As the story goes forward Hei meets his past and takes further decisions.
It's sure does show a little age, but still it’s good animation, not great.
The BG Effects were pretty good, but nothing notable. I know some people rather loved the OP and or the EDs for the series, I never really found them much to write about. What really made this anime was soft piano music. Although I play electro-guitar and love something really hard I found that piano ost amazing it’s really made anime memorable.
We have a imperturbable grey haired loli, you have a cat, you have a heavy drinking person, and a person seeking for his past. Every major character in this anime got his (or her) own arc, to develop their background, examine their motivations, and advance the plot. They made character part perfect, but the forgot 1 character, the character around which most of the last 1/3 of the anime is revolving, Amber. They told only a few things about her, but she is really important too , she is like protagonist. Because of Amber [9/10].
No ecchi, school boys, off-color humor. Only dark and tightening story.
This anime really was greater than I have expected. The anime ends at a point where you the viewer can walk away satisfied. DtB has engaging characters,dark plot, the solid animation style and the well written storyline you will like it.
Jul 14, 2012
Story - 8/10
The story of Darker Than Black is based around Hei, a super-powered agent working for a shady organization known as The Syndicate. The show takes things from here and slowly, very, very slowly, details and opens up the plot, setting, and backstories of characters. This is done in an episodic structure similar to Cowboy Bebop or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex; with some quality episodes outside of the main plot, but also a little bit of filler too.
The central concept of the universe this anime takes place in is Contractors. Years prior to the beginning of the story, a world-changing event occurs and the result was Contractors. These people, not considered human or capable of emotion, have powers that come with a "contract" price to pay every time they are used. This concept is a unique take on super-powers and it becomes something of an event every time you get to see a new Contractor.
I mentioned things open up slowly, and it wasn't a problem for me, but it definitely will be for some. You better be ready to pay attention when you're watching Darker Than Black, because all but one episode are two-parters. Lots of stuff is left unexplained for periods of time but when it comes time to get to the details, there is no shame in the time the show takes to get into it. This was something of a drawing point though. The mystery of everything that is going on and wondering about it is part of what makes watching this anime so interesting. Interesting may be the buzz word that goes off in most people's heads often during the course of most episodes.
The main complaint I could have with the plot here is that it gets so interesting that I found myself clamoring for a bit more. It was good, but felt like it could have been better at the same time. The last episode leaves lots of things inconclusive, a risky note to end a story on. There are also lots of flashbacks, and it's not always obvious what time the story is taking place.
Animation - 9/10
I'm a fan of Bones' animation. This isn't their best work and it may not be the most fitting for the serious tone of the show, but I'll be damned if it isn't high quality. Character design stands out very often, with plenty of unique people to look at and Hei's mask being something that immediately feels iconic upon seeing it. Action scenes are full of breathtaking moments and polished movement flowing through great scenery in a usually dark color palette. All the powers you see bring a nice level of variety to the stuff Bones gets to pull off with the animation and they do get quite creative at times. The only thing to knock with the animation here is the style seems a little unfitting for the tone of the show. For an anime called Darker Than Black, with such a serious tone, I think something apart from the safe standard approach could have paid off big here.
Sound - 8/10
Yoko Kanno composed the soundtrack, which is usually all there is to say. This isn't her best work either but it's above average for sure. The opening themes are great, the ending theme is pretty basic, and the bulk of the OST that plays during episodes ranges from decent to amazing. Many of the tunes get repeated like with most anime, and it's for better with some and for worse with others. Most of the main songs that you'll recognize hearing are for better though. There's also some very high quality music in the final episodes that probably should have been used more often. It's a very good soundtrack but at times it feels unfitting, with some songs that seem like Cowboy Bebop throwaways.
The voice acting overall is pretty good. There aren't any specific performances that stood out, it's more of a top to bottom solid cast than anything else.
Characters - 8/10
This is where things get odd. A common note people tend to make with Darker Than Black is that lots of characters other than the main cast seems to develop better. I'm inclined to agree. Even lots of the one-off Contractors seem to be extremely interesting in certain episodes. I think the problem here is that when it came time for backstory on the main characters, it was a good starting point, but backstory isn't always enough. Huang for example, isn't a Contractor, isn't really a main character, but turns out being very well developed with backstory episodes and changes that can't go unnoticed as the show goes on. Misaki Kirahara and Mao on the other hand, two characters with potentially the most interesting viewpoints of the show (one is a cop tracking Hei, the other is trapped in a cat's body) and more plot importance don't get nearly enough time in comparison.
This wasn't a problem with the protagonist Hei, as the entire duality of his undercover and Contractor persona was fascinating and becomes important to the resolution of the show itself. Yin however, had a fantastic arc on her backstory which remains one of my favorites of the series, but her character never really goes anywhere after this, and the episode was at the halfway point of the show. It's weird because the portrayal of Yin is that she's the second most important main character but it never really feels like that's the case.
I could go on about people like November 11, Amber, Havoc, and others, but it becomes apparent early on that while characters you can enjoy who develop are plentiful in Darker Than Black, it may not be the ones you expect. It makes scoring this category difficult, because there are plenty of interesting personalities, but the ones that feel like they should be more important aren't.
Overall - 8/10
Drawing clear inspirations from things both within anime and outside it, Darker Than Black is an admirable attempt at bringing so many ideas to the table that it would seem difficult not to enjoy it on some level. There are crazy fights, a puzzle surrounding the story, and even some humor, though the latter was something I found lacking given the business-like nature of the show. At it's core Darker Than Black finds strength in the animation of it's action scenes and the mystery of it's plot. read more
Mar 6, 2012
Opening sequence 2: 10
Ending sequence 1: 6
Ending sequence 2: 5
-Review for the first half (episodes 1 - 14)
Darker Than Black originally started as uninteresting and rather average to me. The show seemed like a repeat of Bebop in some ways, not going anywhere or doing anything.
The story itself felt as if it wasn't really imporant; simply providing a setting for a series of uninteresting fillers who weren't going anywhere. There was a syndicate the main character was working for but it didn't seem to matter that much or even be focused on it. It was like the syndicate only existed to give reasons as to why Lee was going to get involved in things that really don't concern him.
The characters weren't that great either. Lee was emotionless and as such of little interest and the other members of his team were so lacking in appearances that it was as if they were minor characters. They were Contractors and they had special powers but their powers and the prices for them were seriously uninteresting if not unoriginal. The fact that they were Contractors also seemed as just a way to spice up the plot which didn't seem to exist.
The battles were short and lacked excitement. And while Lee's uniform and mask were awesome, they were rarely shown which is a shame. Though one part of the show was actually redeemful; the detective stories. The detective and his young otaku assistant were actually rather funny and they were the only two interesting characters as well.
So if that's my appraisal then why did I rate this show 7/10, well read what I have to say on the second half of the show to find out.
-Review for the second half (episodes 15 - 25)
Now you must be wondering why I seperated the review? It's because the first and second half feel like different shows and personally I think the first half pulled down the overall enjoyment of the show, this is pretty much the anime equivelent of what Babylon 5's first season did to the rest of the series.
In this half the story starts. The Contractors are shown as more than just some crude way to spice up the plot, they're actually at the core of the story. The Syndicate is actually important in this half and their plans are slowly unravelled. Other agencies get involved and political games as well as infighting starts. A new organisation appears and starts to cause trouble. The gates become a central focus and we get to know some of the story behind them. The filler type stories (which are still present) are actually much more original and interesting. They also handled the stand alone stories in a superior way than in the first half.
The characters are much more interesting, we see more of Misaki, which is a good thing. November 11 and Amber are introduced and these two are the best characters in the entire show up to that point. The Contractors and their powers are far better than in the first half and so are the prices for the Contracts and battles between Contractors. Lee starts to show some emotions and as such he actually becomes interesting. The team of which Lee is part off is explored a little more and the characters who are part of it are finally shown properly, their relationships also moves forward.
For some reason beyond me the show actually became much better in the second half and I suggest the show to anyone who enjoys realistic (or well animated if you prefer) battles and a good but somewhat complicated plot (tends to get political and diverse. That's not a bad thing but depending on what you like it might turn you off). The only thing I'll say before ending this review is that without the first half I would have rated this show 8/10 so if you're turned off at first just be patient. read more
Jul 25, 2011
Let's start with the stuff that I really do appreciate. The songs are awesome; the animation remain high quality and consistent; the writing and pacing is solid; and the character's roles are well played and developed through the course of the series.
Here's the problem: I find it really hard to relate to any of the characters, and actually liking them. I guess the most likable guy for me would be Huang, for being more humane, thoughtful and mature than most of the other cast. I feel that most of them either too one-dimensional (the main characters, mostly) or developed too late in the series for me to care about them (the key characters late in the story).
The plot, as it turns out, it actually incredibly simple, because most if it turns out to be needlessly complicating. Why keep feeding us bit of information about the events of the Hell's gate and Heaven's gate when what we really want to know is our main character's motives, background and relation to the other main characters? I mean sure, he's pretty cool and had an awesome fighting style, but that itself doesn't make him stand out amongst other anime protagonists without the story, which comes almost too late in the series. The series is also irritating in a sense that we kept learning about the supporting characters who are half as interesting and care about even less.
I did find the series enjoyable, really. But it seems like every time I anticipated something interesting to happen, I find myself saying "oh great, what now?" because some ELSE boring happened instead. It feels like they're not really interested in selling the main storyline, and that's probably not very healthy for an anime production.
Story Style: Excellent
Value: 7 read more
Mar 19, 2011
Well, that was the idea……
The actual series definitely boasts impressive animation and cool superpowers, but that which the series tries to pass of as a story full of intriguing mysteries is nothing more than a total mess full of inconsistencies and plot contrivances. Worse yet, it wants to be seen as a dark and serious story but nevertheless shoehorns in some anime-trappings to try and hook a bigger audience.
Said story goes as follows: 10 years ago a mysterious gate (creatively titled ‘’Hell’s Gate’’) appeared in the middle of Tokyo which caused the stars to disappear and prompted changes in some people. People affected could be split up into 2 types: first there’s Contractors, who get a badass power (e.g. gravity-manipulation or teleportation) at the cost of an arbitrary payment (e.g. eating eggs or kissing someone) and then there’s Dolls, (seemingly) emotionless people who can track people through an arbitrary medium, like water or mirrors. Knowledge of these things is kept under wraps by a secret international body called ‘The Syndicate’. They hunt down Contractors and offer them an ultimatum: submit or be killed. Normal people who come in contact with Contractors have their memories erased.
It is in this backdrop that we follow a team of Syndicate agents consisting of a bland Batman-knockoff, a Rei Ayanami-clone, a grumpy old fat guy and Salem from ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’. A large part of the series consists of 2-episode story arcs detailing a random mission carried out by said team. Well that’s actually a bit misleading since it’s Batman who ends up doing all the work while Rei (being a Doll) occasionally does some surveillance. Fatso and Salem are mostly there to be grumpy and snarky, respectively.
Of course a team of secret agents needs to have a couple of real ones hunting them down for some tension. Problem is that the police officers in this series are idiots who couldn’t catch a cold if they ran outside naked while it was snowing, so that’s it for tension. Their only purpose in the narrative is that one of them often ends up listening to infodumps courtesy of that episode’s exposition vessel.
The story-arcs all end up having a pretty similar pattern. Syndicate team tackles a case related to either a Contractor or a Doll,the police officers have a storyline that ties into the secret mission, Syndicate team gets to pull of secret agent stuff that often involves fighting dudes while the officers get to listen to exposition and remain ignorant of all the mysterious things that keep happening around them. Batman meets X-files, basically. The series makes an attempt to shake things up towards the end by introducing an overarching storyline, but it’s so convoluted and filled with retcons and Deus Ex Machina that it ends up causing more damage than it fixes.
All of this is made worse by a number of plot elements and trappings that are inconsistent either within the show’s universe or in a narrative sense. Some examples:
- A big deal is made about how a Contractor has a power that has to be paid for by doing something. 1 power, 1 payment. Except that there’s Contractors whose powers can change in arbitrary ways, and there’s Contractors who don’t have to perform a payment. Worse yet, some payments aren’t really payments at all. There’s one Contractor whose payment is basically something that comes naturally with using his ability, and some payments are actually rather beneficial.
- A big deal is made about how Dolls have no emotions. Except that they do, they just appear emotionless. Why? It’s never explored, in spite of the fact that it’s a crucial part of one character’s personality seeing as she’s a doll. Guess they were fine with having a Rei Ayanami clone to attract otaku.
- The series wants to be viewed as a gritty and serious ‘noir’ type story only to introduce a pair of supporting characters who outright parody these concepts. This creates a jarring tonal dissonance. Playing a genre straight can work. Parodying a genre can also work. Not both. The introduction of a blatant comic relief character in a serious story basically destroys the tone the makers were trying to establish. It’s akin to putting Frank Drebin smack-dab in the middle of The Wire.
I could talk about how some characters act completely out-of-character just so they can get killed or how a certain character’s power goes from a basic elemental attack to being able manipulate reality but I’ll stop here for brevity’s sake.
It’s pretty clear at this point that the makers didn’t think this series’ narrative and concepts through. The whole series is deliberately ambiguous in regards to its overall plot and universe which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The problem is that the narrative is a mess. One could say that it doesn't matter seeing as the story is character-driven (ie. he J.J. Abrams Defense) but that's a rather weak defense as far as I'm concerned. Even a basic plot has to be somewhat coherent.
Darker Than Black could’ve been great. It had an intriguing setting, stellar animation, great sound direction (the actual soundtrack is forgettable despite being from Yoko Kano) and a few cool action scenes involving rather creative use of superpowers. But the storytelling is deplorable, the characters fail to be interesting or even entertaining and for every decent fight there’s 2 fights that are essentially 3-second massacres that are there to impress you with the main character’s ‘’awesomeness’’.
Just goes to show: you can have all the best ingredients but you still need to have some cooking skills to make them into a tasty dish.
Oct 12, 2009
Shadows on a Black Road
At the horizon of a bleak world stands an ominous wall, ‘Hell’s Gate’, it’s steel and cement arms spreading across the Tokyo skyline. The city itself is filled with curious characters borne with the Gate, Contractors and Dolls. Contractors are those that have gained supernatural abilities for a price, a penance they must pay for using their skills. Some have to overturn the shoes of their victims, smoke cigarettes or even drink the blood of young children. Dolls on the other hand are soulless mediums, who use various surfaces to track the ongoing of the city. Presented is a dark world painted in shadows and ambiguity, a backdrop against which Darker than Black[DtB] succeeds, a few shades short of greatness.
The premise is vague: ten years ago, Hell’s Gate emerged along with Contractors and Dolls, humans granted paranormal abilities. The smoke doesn’t really clear up much as series progresses, failing to provide answers to how or why the Gate was created in the first place. Instead, Darker than Black drags you through a tale rife with political head butting and philosophical dilemmas while attempting to pluck a few heartstrings along the way. Sometimes it feels the plot is trying to do too much, pushing character development while layering bureaucratic maneuverings atop of a monologue about the nature of the human soul. The tale is ambitious, but some of these elements just fall short. There’s also the little issue of leaps of faith across little plot holes. You won’t enjoy Darker Than Black very much if you don’t buy into the logic. Some shows abuse this, such as Code Geass R2, but DtB never exploits its own narrative to that extent.
The climax serves as a stage focusing on the main character’s personal journey instead of the large conflict that had nurtured in the final few installments. The effect was underwhelming, both could have been featured and the latter did not have to be shoved to the final few minutes to be resolved. The ending didn’t tie together all the loose ends but I expect the sequel to fulfill the unrequited promises of the first.
The characters were exceptional in Darker than Black. Hei, a polarized hero, wears an icy mask on his missions, while off duty he’s reserved, clumsy and for a lack of a better word, ‘cute’. He’s supported by the silent and morose Yin, and the level-headed Huang. The cast is given some vibrancy by Mao, the cautious if somewhat paranoid talking cat. The leads are likable but their development is allocated to specific arcs, their growth stunted outside these small windows. Hei can be seen as an exception, his past penciled in throughout. From a beer chugging secret agent, a cop with a stoic sense of justice to a sock-sniffing sociopath, the supporting cast is spectacular, filled with interesting figures. Kurosawa Gai brings relief to the tense, often brooding, atmosphere, with his perky pink-haired partner Kiko. Close to the middle of the series we see an erosion of Hei’s stony visage, seeing it completely shatter in the last few moments. The revelations make Hei endearing but somewhat forgettable. We’ve seen this type of hero, a cut and paste history pulled from many popular stories.
The art in Darker than Black is exceptional, the Bones name branded onto every frame. A dark palette is favored to fill in the vacant allies, while vibrancy bubbles in Shinjuku’s flashing lights. The style is outlined in dark strokes, as the action unfolds before your eyes. The scuffles between the Contractors highlight the fluidity of the animation, powers vibrating with force, sizzling with electricity or rippling with strength. Hei invokes the spirit of Spider-man as he zips around and about buildings with his grappling hooks for an impressive effect. A slight amount of CGI is used to animate cars, Bones opting for a more cell-shaded look to let them drive about seamlessly in the world.
Character designs work well, each unique enough to give a distinct personality. Hei’s pupils are not drawn in, creating an eerie effect, making him seem almost soulless. Facial animations are spot on, most impressively seen in Yin, her eyes betraying small fragments of feeling that she had supposedly forgotten.
The sound is decent, not up to par of the visuals. The supporting cast surprisingly delivers excellent performances, their short roles reprised excellently. It’s the main cast I felt was a bit weaker, feeling a bit forced. Huang is best when asked to treat his comrades like shit, his compassion coming off as fake. The soundtrack is varied; composed of more traditional tracks featuring bellowing pianos and whining violins, to more electro-pop influenced tracks like the opening. They interweaved the two styles well enough, rendering a pleasant soundscape fitting of Tokyo’s dreary future.
Watchability and Enjoyment
At moments I had ‘WTF’ feelings shock my system. I didn’t know exactly what was going on why certain plot points were unfolding the way they were. The story led me one way, then the plot would stretch itself thin to move in another direction. It’s a bit disorienting, but the complex forces at work in the show eventually boil down to a simple ‘us versus them’ scenario with Hei at the center of it all. The intricacy might be a turn off to some viewers, but I appreciated that the show saw the viewer as an intellect and did not spoon-feed the entire story to me.
Darker than Black is a welcome in a sea of mediocrity. It attempts to touch the horizon, to realize its own epic ambitions. There are a lot of loose strings, holes in the story that have to be reconciled in the second season for this program to reach hallowed annals of Anime prominence. The twenty-five installments created are excellent, the potential is there, but Darker than Black is an incomplete work.
Aug 24, 2012
Stories of people with superhuman abilities have been around practically since the dawn of time. Ever since DBZ set the bar for “power levels” consisting of blowing up planets however, more and more modern series have teetered on the edge of colossal scales at some point or another. Then you have Darker than Black, which can stand out among a handful of those with more reasonable (or rather comprehensible) scales in the post DBZ era.
Darker than Black starts out by introducing these things known as contractors, people with special abilities like many series out there, who must pay a “price” for using their power ranging from things like writing poetry to breaking a few fingers. Aside from contractors we have dolls, which are basically emotionless mediums with no real personality, who send out things known as “observer spirits” that work like mobile security cameras.
We quickly meet our main character Hei, a contractor with electric abilities who seemingly has no price unlike the other contractors out there. Working with a doll named Yin, a talking cat named Mao, and a man named Huang who seems like your typical 1930s mafia average joe, the group takes on missions from an organization simply referred to as “The Syndicate”. This organization is apparently vast in scope, as it easily networks Hei into a variety of odd jobs necessary to gather intelligence and work his missions, even in the midst of organizations with top notch security.
For the first half of the series, we actually don’t learn much about this group, but rather we uncover a variety of characters, their motives, and their back stories as Hei goes on various missions. Although these are well done and quite gruesome visually at times, none of these really seem to be tied together or have importance beyond just another day at the office, making the series fairly episodic in the beginning for the most part.
The arcs in Darker than Black generally tend to consist of two parts, mostly pertaining to “Hell’s Gate”, a wall around a supernatural zone that appeared some ten years ago in Tokyo as the stars in the night sky were replaced with those representing the lives of contractors. Unless you like unstable realities that laugh in the face of physics and induce mass hysteria, this probably isn’t the type of area you would like to stroll through on a Sunday afternoon.
It’s easy to see from the beginning, that there is a feeling akin to that of a mafia series. Everything from the way Huang obtains information to Hei’s execution of missions to the way the group explains their relationship with each other fits the bill for a futuristic mafia. As such, they keep their profile as low as they can manage while avoiding failures that may make them live out their usefulness to The Syndicate. Of course, this means you will also get your fair share of enjoyable action as the group carries out The Syndicate’s dirty work.
Perhaps one of Darker than Black’s most refreshing attributes though is the protagonist Hei. While not particularly rare, Hei is strong but not overpowered. Many modern series have protagonists that are simply too strong in comparison to the antagonists, leaving for boring lackluster fights as they easily beat their opponent. Hei is realistic on the other hand, and many times throughout the series the help of an ally saves him instead of his own strength. For those of you who prefer the ridiculously strong heroes, you might see this as a weakness on his part, but I quite enjoyed giving importance to what has become the oft forgotten role of “right hand man” in today’s lineup of do it yourself heroes.
Unlike most protagonists though, Hei is rather silent. When he talks, it’s usually only a brief response to another character consisting of maybe a few lines. Compared to other protagonists out there that are always shooting their mouths off and the like, it’s nice to see one speak more through actions than words for once. Sometimes though, this does leave Hei taking a backseat for supporting characters as they become the central focus. In hindsight this is primarily seen in the beginning arcs, but this may end up making it difficult for some people to form a strong enough attachment to the series to see it out to the end when there is more focus and clarity on our main character.
Despite his rather limited dialogue, Hei still clearly develops as a character. Initially seeming nothing more than the stoic murderer contractors are pegged for completed by his feared moniker “The Black Reaper”, we see that this is only to maintain appearances for his job. It’s not really until the second half of the series that we get to see this other side of Hei, notably when Yin becomes a target for their enemies. When The Syndicate deems Yin possibly harmful to their interests, they order Hei’s group to kill her, to which he defies the order and saves her instead. More difficult orders come down from above as time goes on, and Hei becomes increasingly defiant as he comes to his own realizations of the path he wants to pursue.
This arc also introduces the growing relationship between Hei and Yin, and despite that both are about as conversational as a rock, they do gradually grow fonder of each over time in their limited communications. Their relationship reminded me much of Roger and Dorothy from Big O, though definitely more realistic considering Yin is actually human unlike Dorothy. It is important to note they don’t always clearly communicate through language, as Yin simply sending out an observer spirit into the gate to check on Hei during one arc clearly meant a lot to him, and it is later noted that this is actually quite painful for a doll to do. Even by the end however, this relationship is still really only a stern fondness. Some audiences may be left unsatisfied that more development wasn’t given here while others may feel that there wasn’t enough directness in their relationship to make for a convincing enough development.
Around the same time as Yin’s arc, the main and only real plot of Darker than Black begins to emerge with the appearance of a character named Amber. Amber is a contractor codenamed “February”, who apparently betrayed Hei as a member of his group, which also happened to include his sister Pai, in a South American War over a similar zone to Hell’s Gate named “Heaven’s Gate”. Spearheading a group of contractors by the name of Evening Primrose, Amber begins bombing the town and making a nightmare of Hei’s life like a bad ex-girlfriend when she also kidnaps Yin. Don’t forget she leaves behind the courtesy “FU” letter written in that girly handwriting complete with the little hearts and all.
The story here actually bridges a lot of elements from the beginning arcs together, in a way that makes you realize that while it had the kick back feeling of an episodic series initially, they were conveniently busy weaving the main plot underneath many of these stories unbeknownst to the audience. The realization at the end in how these stories connect to one another is quite a nice touch, but not to the level of being spectacular at the same time.
By the end, Amber eventually exposes the truth of the Syndicate and the nature of contractors to Hei, and it is then we really see him as the ideal hero. Hei struggles with the hard moral choices and his limitations as an individual that are in ways reminiscent of heroes like Batman. His final decision on how to resolve the ending conflict speaks strongly towards justice, as he makes the world his enemy to do what he feels is right despite concerns from Amber.
Abandoning everything he had previously known except Yin, Hei moves forward with his choice to try and get humans and contractors to coexist. Previously having been kicked from the Syndicate, the ending is left rather open with the implication he will begin a whole new life as the Syndicate hunts him down to no end. In many senses, Hei’s journey is only beginning and this series is a prequel to setting that event in motion. While many people prefer their definitive endings, I felt it was rather fitting for the series to leave the ending open instead of attempting an abrupt halt to the nice developments the series brought forth just to manage a definitive end.
Top the series off with a fitting OST and fluid combat scenes, and Darker than Black becomes a very enjoyable action series definitely worth the watch. The characters were all explained nicely by the end with their developments, even a majority of the supporting cast. Overall this series is best summed up as a “Chinese Electric Batman”, which as it sounds, is just plain awesome.