Dec 23, 2012
Araconan (All reviews)
We live in a deterministic world. From the moment we were born, there lay a set of rules waiting for us that outlined the clear distinction between right, and wrong. We have thus grown accustomed to justifying our actions through these predetermined “guidelines”. But what happens when the world one day begins to forget these rules? What becomes of our morals? What becomes right...and what becomes wrong? And more importantly, will there even a distinction between the two?

Darker than Black is the end product of a seed that has grown to envelop the entire plot, a seed of which all actions and consequences branch from, and therefore as a result, a seed of which all characters are ultimately intertwined with.

That seed, is rationality. More precisely, Darker than Black ponders on the question "is rationality merely an excuse to justify one's actions?" And to answer that question, it had to effectively dance in the flames, while holding a double edged sword.

This is because the series takes a very clever, and unique approach when addressing the above question. It begins, by tossing the viewer into a world of confusion, of which behind each character's actions and consequences, there lies no explanation, no motive, no purpose, no emotion. Or so it seems. Rather, certain pieces of information have been purposely left out in order to engage the viewer's own curiosity and imagination. You'll notice that the rationality of much of the opening portions of the series is really up to your own interpretation, and that you’re challenged with the task of determining which rationality from which character is “correct”. This lack of distinction between the “good” and the “bad”, and instead in its presence, the viewer’s interpretation of “rational” and “irrational” is characteristic of Darker than Black, and is also prevalent throughout the plot.

So in other words, we can say that Darker than Black withholds certain information key to character development (motives, purpose, background, etc), that otherwise is normally given in other animes, in hopes of engaging us to view the characters and the environment in a much more different perspective. Does it work? Yes, and for two different reasons.

First, it’s because as the series progresses, though only slightly as if the creators wish to only offer you a taste of the truth, small details are indeed revealed regarding each character's past and purpose. And what this does, is that it allows the viewer to quickly immerse themselves within a plot of hide and seek, looking for and piecing together the bits of information given one by one. Ultimately, we’re able to better understand the rationality and ideals that each character abide by, and a comparison with the viewer's own interpretation formed during the earlier portions of the series is made. Hence you will find your position behind each character change as the series progresses, and as you begin to understand them better, what may have seemed to be a mindless killer may slowly begin to appear as a soulful figure. This slow journey of “realization” of each character’s true colors is one of the defining factors that makes Darker than Black not only so grasping of one’s attention, but also so memorable. In fact it's quite analogous to how one would eat at a luxurious 3 Michelin Star restaurant. By eating small cuts of a stake slowly rather than eating it whole in one bite, it allows one to better savor the "flavors.”

However, the second and more important reason, is that by putting a lesser and slower emphasis on each character in terms of character development, it allows for the series to put a much larger emphasis on the environment. Therefore the characters become only the tools of which a melancholic, sentimental and believable setting is built upon. Consequentially this also gives the series the flexibility to focus on themes such as discrimination, betrayal and self-worth in a much more dark and realistic manner than otherwise would be the case. As opposed to the traditional upbeat, justice oriented mindset often incorporated in comics and some animes, Darker than Black portrays the gloomier truth of how a world actually responds to the introduction of a set of unique individuals with inhuman superpowers. And how aside from chance, there would’ve been nothing that set those individuals apart from you and I. There is no sense of justice, righteousness, or respect. Rather, corruption begins to run high as countries begin the new “arms race.” The individuals themselves slowly become nothing more than the tools of others, given either the option to work for unnamed organizations in hopes of obtaining the slightest essence of purpose, or to wander an aimless life shunned by society as a result of their uniqueness. Many choose the former, and as time goes by, they begin to lose their “human” aspects, degrading emotionally until only their core principles are left. These principles range from honor to love to negligence, and the story progresses through us observing how they contribute to either the downfalls of some, or the triumphs of others. Notice how the story therefore turns into one told through the environment and the interactions of a large base of characters, rather than the personal development of a set few. Plot progression occurs more through us understanding more about the world of Darker than Black and the personalities of its inhabitants, and less through the personal emotional development of the main characters. An unique plot requires an unique story telling method.

Now recall earlier of my analogy of the “double edged sword.” That wasn’t meant to simply be an attempt to hide a metaphorical meaning behind a linguistic decoration like the title of the series. Rather quite literally, the anime’s story telling method works both to its benefit as well as to its detriment. After all, there’s a reason why the category “character development” exists in a review. It’s because it brings meaning to the plot. To the climax, the final realizations, the ending itself. By straying away from the traditional method of prioritizing character development, the series failed to state the “reason behind it all”, the “message of the plot” if you will. I felt no magnitude of importance from the final scenes of the series because lack of character development had led to an absence of a feeling of accomplishment for the changes the characters had undergone. Yes, I was shown an unimaginably believable world filled with characters of all personalities. But what am I supposed to conclude and learn from this? That the world is a dark place? That lack of purpose leads to the degradation of oneself? And if so, that’s hardly a worthwhile achievement after a 25 episode series.

In the end, Darker than Black was a series who’s compelling story grasped me from the start, but at the same time distanced me with its hollow characters both main and supporting. It felt as of the creators took the goal of creating “mysteriousness” just slightly too far, and ended up with characters that simply lacked substance. Coupled with the lack of character development overall, it ended with an “empty feeling” rather than a satisfied one. Nevertheless however, its creative portrayal led to a game of imagination with my mind, and its dark atmosphere secured its place as an anime that questioned and depicted a world that was both emotionally stimulating and unforgettable.