It has been 10 years since Heaven's Gate appeared in South America and Hell's Gate appeared in Japan, veiling the once familiar night sky with an oppressive skyscape. Their purposes unknown, these Gates are spaces in which the very laws of physics are ignored. With the appearance of the Gates emerged Contractors, who, in exchange for their humanity, are granted supernatural abilities.
In the Japanese city surrounding Hell’s Gate, Section 4 Chief Misaki Kirihara finds herself at odds with an infamous Contractor codenamed Hei. Called "Black Reaper" in the underground world, Hei, like his associates, undertakes missions for the mysterious and ruthless Syndicate while slowly peeling back the dark layers covering a nefarious plot that threatens the very existence of Contractors.
From the mind of Tensai Okamura comes a sci-fi thriller taking the form of a subtle exposé on a war in which political positions and justice have no sway—a war waged exclusively in the shadows.
Darker than Black was awarded Best Original Anime of The Year by GoGoplex, a popular magazine for teens. In the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival, it was one of the jury's recommendations from the category "Animation Division/Long Animation."
On January 21, 2016, it was announced that Funimation Entertainment, the North American distributor for the anime, no longer holds the license for this season.
Darker than Black, what an adventure it has been. Darker than Black takes place in a near future world where two gates appeared, Heaven's Gate and Hell's Gate. The mysterious appearance of these gates brought with them the Contractors. Contractors are people who have entered into a contract with an unknown force and gained a unique power in return. The nature of the contract however requires them to give back each time they use their power. Payment is anything from smoking a cigarette to writing a poem. The main story is told through an omnipotent point of view with the "camera man" being at the
scene and generally following a certain group of characters, but can focus on other characters as the protagonists for an entire arc. It is a very unique telling of the story and hard to put into words, but that isn't a bad thing.
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.
Ah, the age old question; what to do when certain people suddenly begin manifesting mysterious superpowers. Darker than BLACK responds with a classic solution found in series ranging from Witch Hunter Robin to X-Men: Form secret organizations to monitor and control these people. However, despite the similar theme, this show is anything but derivative.
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.
•Cool ass Chinese Batman protagonist in a Gotham-esque neo-noir setting?
•A city overrun with nifty characters that have x-men like powers?
•Nice mysterious lore with strange in-world concepts?
•A clear-cut answer to ANY of these "mysterious" concepts and a sense of finality to our protagonist's existence?
Don't hold your breath.
Darker and Black felt like a show that was onto something worthwhile but ultimately never got around to proving it. The ingredients to make something great was clearly there but by the end, all we got was a show with ambitious ideas that did nothing but let it dwindle away into nothingness. Does that mean it isn't worth the
investment? Well, yes and no. If all you wanted was a cool ass electric Batman beating the mercy of God into x-men characters, then DTB certainly delivers. However, if you wanted more than the beat-em-up action happening on the surface and actually cared about the complete package hinted at in the background, then you'll walk away empty-handed.
Long story short, Darker and Black had the goods, just not the means necessary to deliver them.
**THIS REVIEW WAS BROUGHT TO YOU BY PIZZA HUT**
Instead of reciting the synopsis, I'll get straight to what the meat of the show consists of.
The story follows a series of mini-arcs with each addressing a new conflict. In each of these conflicts, the main group that contains our characters are assigned a task to fulfill by a crime syndicate, with our protagonist, Hei, being the foot soldier to carry out the missions. The syndicate, for a majority of the show, remained a faceless organization, and in the confines of the kind of show being presented, that isn't really a bad thing. They were omnipresent and ominous, guiding their pawns across the chess board, with Hei simply being another piece in the game. This syndicate was in constant conflict with other underground organizations, which lead both sides to dispatch "contractors" (superhumans) to do their bidding.
These clashes play out like a feud war being carried out in secrecy, due to the governing bodies of the city covering up the existence of "contractors" and "dolls" in fear of civil unrest. Since law enforcing authorities from the CIA to the local police are constantly trying to apprehend, gather, and suppress information about these occurrences, every episode hits you with a blitz of energy and nonstop action. That, of course, results in a narrative that's constantly on the move, which is a good thing for action junkies and those seeking out easy-to-consume entertainment. Also, while all of this is going on, we are also given clues as to how the world operates in regards to the contractors, dolls, and a phenomenon that's simply dubbed "Hells Gate." While it's a gradual occurrence, after some time, these mini-arcs eventually converge to create an overarching one. Its story structure is similar to that of other shows like Ghost in the Shell: SAC and Psycho-Pass.
Seems pretty straightforward right, so where do the problems start?
Well, despite the consistent pace, since everything is told in a semi-episodic mini-arc format, there isn't really any true progression to talk about. Sure, we get to see the backstories of our main characters unfold and find out more about the show's lore, but as far as a sense of direction, DTB was scatterbrained. It aimlessly meandered about with no sense of purpose or clear destination, even after one seemed to present itself in the last handful of episodes. It ended up escalating the conflict instead of addressing it. Which brings us to the biggest issue plaguing the show: its inability to provide answers.
DTB has a bad habit of telling us everything BUT what's actually important. It will go out of its way to deliver unnecessary expository dialogue to things we clearly see happening, while simultaneously using ambiguity as a crutch to avoid explaining the concepts it depends so heavily on. This, of course, results in a lot of moments where individuals would start acting out of character just so they can directly inform the audience of situations or explain how certain things work (like a contractor's given ability for example). I'm not saying a brief explanation isn't warranted but after something is established like the payment concept contractors have to make for using their powers, we don't need to get that information regurgitated every single time it happens — and trust me, it happens a lot. It feels as if the writers viewership as being too dimwitted to figure it out for themselves.
As for the information that they don't give us, a definitive answer to any of the anomalies that occurred in the story remained one of them. The show kept on insinuating that there're answers to come, by dropping little nuggets of information throughout the narrative but that simply never exfoliated into anything in the end. It felt like they completely abandoned the idea of trying to explain the reason for any of the "mystery" concepts, only to opt out by following a hollow aspect of the overall setting established in the beginning. None of the supernatural elements are ever justified or explained despite the fact "mystery" part of its genre:
Why did the Hell's Gate appear? What purpose does it serve? How does it correlate with humans evolving into contractors? Why do the stars correlate with contractors lives? What is the end goal of the syndicate's operation? Are the contractors and dolls suppose to parallel the man vs man parable? Why is anything not making any proper sense outside of superficial techno-babble?
For a show that tried so much to build a mystery, it sure failed on upholding its end of the bargain.
And how do you end a show that didn't bother to provide answers to anything? Well apparently, you simply reveal a poorly planned plot twist that turns the final episode into an existential fever dream that hasn't been seen since the likes of Evangelion. And since no one has the balls to say it, I will. For a show to chalk up all its supernatural elements to nothing more than made up allegorical fluff, while throwing in an improper Eva-esque conclusion, when up to that point, it was a simple rule-of-cool beat-em-up; why that's just borderline pretentious. And yes, I know, many of you are probably rolling your eyes in disgust by the mere mention of that "p" word, but really, in this situation, there's no other word to properly describe just how over-bloated the show got towards its climax.
There's nothing wrong with creators trying to be overly-ambitious but when the foundation is built on poorly realized concepts and unexplained in-world mechanics, the end result will inevitably suffer as a result. A perfectly serviceable action-romp was thrown away for the sake of ambiguity and pseudo-concepts. And if you're expecting the 2nd season to fill in the gaps, all you'll get there is a super loli, a raging alcoholic and talking squirrel, so don't hold your breath.
**You know what goes well with this review? A nice hot box of PIZZA HUT!**
The stylistic direction of DTB was very western influenced. I wasn't kidding when I made the Gotham/x-men hybrid comparison. From the murky hues to character designs akin to that of DC Comics' cartoon installments, DTB's universe could easily crossover with a Justice League spin-off with very little problem. Like many other animated works, during the show's downtime, there wasn't much to credit the show for presentation-wise, but when the action sequences happen, it truly becomes blood pumping roller-coaster ride. And when placed side by side with other shows made in the same year, it truly was a cut above the rest. The only major hindrance that reared its ugly head was the occasional usage of CGI... also Pizza Hut ads, lots, and lots of Pizza Hut ads. I've counted no less than 17 ads while viewing the show (Code Geass has nothing on this). So take that for what you will.
The soundtrack was a mixture of new-school jazz, funk, and blues, along the lines of other western influenced anime such as Baccano! and Cowboy Bebop. This nice blend help contributed to the show's overall atmosphere, giving it character. Of course, it has its somber tracks as well but the ones that stood out were the aforementioned. The songs never outplay the corresponding scenes on screen but work in unison with them. There's a chemistry there that couples the visuals with the audio wonderfully. All the voice actors performed their roles with no noticeable hiccups, with this being one of the premier examples of an English dubbed cast trumping its Japanese counterpart. It's not going to be the "best dub ever" but it certainly gets the job done.
Now, what barely got the job done, however, was the characters themselves.
You know you have a problem when the show's cat has more of a personality than the people in it.
The cast was crippled by the show's premise. Since contractors and dolls alike are devoid of irrational feelings and have no moral compass outside of calculated thought, it doesn't leave room for any kind of development or growth (or personality, for that matter). The most DTB can do was to flesh them out with a backstory but other than that, they remained one-note from beginning to end. Despite this flaw, one redeeming quality was that most of the adult characters were handled with some semblance of maturity. Of course, that doesn't negate the lack of characterization but it certainly helps to make them feel more grounded.. well... for the most part anyway, as they do occasionally toss in a bit of misplaced comedic moments in a similar fashion to how shows like Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood attempted something similar.
To add more life to these emotionally stilted characters, the show resorted to victimizing them, with either the inclusion of a sad backstory or having them be discriminated against because of their abnormal abilities (similar to the way x-men approached the subject matter). It's passable drama but only to a certain extent and can be seen as forceful by seasoned viewers.
Due to the semi-episodic structure, there's a lot of characters introduced. I'll only go over the three main ones we follow.
Our main protagonist is a man of little words and little personality as well, given his position as a "contractor." in the show's canon. When remnants of his past and personal life are conjured up by others, it quickly becomes apparent that there's more to him beyond his stoic demeanor. But despite that, these brief glimpses of humanity in him are still lacking, thanks in no small part to the short emotional leash the anime forces him to wear. When in public, he masquerades as a bashful mild-mannered person, playing off the "nice guy" gimmick similar to other characters like Himura from Rurouni Kenshin and Vash from Trigun. It's only when he's tasked with a mission that his electric Batman persona reveals itself. His sole purpose is to be that of the iconic badass that kicks ass and takes names. And with little else expected from him, it's always fun to see him do just that. But of course, like the plot that went from a simple action-romp to a contrived metaphysical mess, the show's ending brought with it an unneeded plot twist that negated all the fun that Hei brought to the table.
On a side-note, it seems like lacking emotion leaves more room for an appetite since Hei can guzzle down a crap ton of food with as much proficiency as a battle shounen protagonist. But enough about Hei, time to discuss my personal favorite from the bunch, Huang.
Huang, to put it simply, is your hard-ass. The kind of guy you'll come across with the gravely voice and no bullshit attitude that borders on pigheadedness. He doesn't take shit from anyone. It's made quite clear that he's discriminatory towards Contractors and Dolls. This, of course, was later explained with his stand-alone backstory. Although he's simply a human and not tied to the "no irrational emotion" crutch of the show's premise, he too lacks any further growth. He's your archetypal mobster type and given his disdain for Contractors, you often see him butting heads with Hei. Despite that, he's the most maturely handled character in the group and perhaps the only one with actual characterization. He's the closest thing to a character with actual depth in the show; a man hardened by his line of work and unfortunate past. This was shown through his business decorum, as he approaches every situation with a veteran-like decorum. And as he stood, Huang was the backbone of this anime's success. Constantly working in the background to get shit done.
And now that we've covered the show's cool mobster, time to talk about the Great Value knock-off brand of Rei Ayanami, Yin.
Yin was essentially the bootleg version of the "Rei Ayanami" archetype and with that said, there isn't much of a personality to speak of. She was appropriately classified as a doll (as she has the personality of one) and the only information needed to be known about her is that she's the eyes and ears of Hei, as her power allows her to see anywhere around the city where a pool of water is collected. Of course, she was eventually given a proper backstory episode dedicated towards her later on, but even that didn't do much to flesh her out as an individual and eventually became null and void after her moment in the limelight was over. But since this series is known for saying "fuck a plot," even her involvement became more convoluted in later installments. But until you venture that far in, just enjoy her for her simplicity.
There are a few other recurring characters in the show, like a private detective named Gai Kurasawa, a man who shares a striking resemblance, job, and characteristic to Kuruma Jo, from 1975's Hurricane Polymar. But seeing that no one even knows of that anime's existence, I digress.
Another recurring side character worth addressing includes Misaki, who was your level-headed detective, and unlike most of the other side characters, she actually received a few episodes dedicated to fleshing her out. Not anything too compelling but enough to properly define her. She plays a bigger role by being a proxy for the viewers to see both sides of the growing conflict in the show. For all intents and purposes, she's basically a fleshed out plot-device.
Despite a lack of any true development or proper characterization, as a collective, the cast was a lot of fun to watch. A case where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Just don't expect anything profound out of them. And in a way, that's the best way to describe this show, in a nutshell: fun but nothing beyond that.
Darker than Black is like a smorgasbord, you simply pick whatever suits your fancy and discard anything that doesn't. As for me, I took away the cool ass fights and audiovisual treats. Your appetite as a viewer may allow for more, so depending on your taste and tolerance for certain things, this might be a buffet that you find yourself fully indulging in.
Despite my issues with the plot and contrive narrative threads brought up later on, I can't deny how much I enjoyed watching electric Batman kick the crap out of baddies in the dark alleyways of the city. Call it mindless violence if you will, but it was done with so much style and ease that I found myself taking in every moment of it. DTB was a bitter pill to swallow at times but when it came to the action, it delivered on a silver platter.
Throughout the years, DTB has garnered a sizable fan-base, staying relevant in many anime-centric discussion circles and to a certain extent, I can understand why. As far as rule-of-cool shows goes, DTB excels, but due to the issues I discussed, I can only recommend it to those who simply want a nice action flick. With that said, the lower you set your expectations, the greater your enjoyment of this title would be. It's not a show I'll ever advocate for but at the same time, I'll still give it the greenlight for others curious enough to want to check it out.
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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.
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