Darker than Black wants to be Cowboy Bebop so badly, it hurts. There is such a noticeable similarity between the two series that comparing them is virtually unavoidable. The problem, of course, is that Darker than Black is not Cowboy Bebop.
To be sure, Black isn't a total carbon copy. The series' plot is, at least superficially, very different. Also, Darker than Black, true to its title, starts out somewhat moodier than Cowboy Bebop's beginning. However, the same hodgepodge of genres and episodic story structure is here, as well as some other familiar themes and motifs (The Girl who Haunts the Hero's Past, the ephemeral nature of life, etc).
Sadly, Cowboy Bebop’s story might just have been one of a kind. There was a giddy, off-beat, almost poetic flow to the series, which was a major part of what made Cowboy Bebop such an entertaining work. This feeling is all but missing in Darker than Black, and in its place is an uneven, somnambulant narrative that lurches and groans under its own weight, even as it delivers clever premises and interesting twists.
Still, Black’s plot isn’t without its strengths. In particular, I loved the various superpowers that each of the characters had. While not particularly original, the cleverness with which the abilities are revealed and used never ceased to impress me.
Nonetheless, in spite of some extremely entertaining isolated moments, there was always something missing. In Cowboy Bebop, I eagerly pressed on to the next story arc, curious to see what the writers could possibly come up with next. In Black, I progressed more in the reluctant hope that the series might finally find its feet.
It never did.
Instead, the story continues to waddle at its own uniquely awkward pace. The show tries almost everything – action, romance, comedy, tragedy, mystery and even some philosophy – but never seems to find the right combination to make things work. This is a shame, because in each of these half-hearted attempts, there are occasional moments of brilliance. One gets the feeling that if Black had concentrated on something, anything, it would have done it impressively well.
Unfortunately, this never happens, and what we’re left with is a plot that is easy to admire but difficult to actually like. Cowboy Bebop felt joyously eclectic; Darker than Black is tragically so.
This is one of the better animated series this year. The character designs are appealing and memorable, and the action scenes are top-notch. Of particular note are the backgrounds of the city that Darker than Black takes place. The eerie, futuristic setting is detailed and frames the action nicely.
If I have one complaint, it is with the general style of the studio. Bones has always had a distinct style, but in this case I feel it works against a show that is trying to be melancholic and “Darker than Black.” While the studio’s signature look (particularly the colorful palette and crisp borders) is fantastic in a vacuum, I feel a more muted, fuzzy visual style along the lines of Ergo Proxy might have fit better.
If the soundtrack had been made by anyone else it would have been a nice surprise, but coming from Yoko Kanno it is a mild disappointment. Here she goes for a jazzy sound that evokes memories of her work in Cowboy Bebop, but the end result just isn’t as captivating as it was 10 years ago. The music, while not terrible by any means, is the first Yoko Kanno OST that I can remember not bothering to download.
Still, her work remains well above par, and the two OP’s also help keep things fresh. Furthermore, while the tracks aren’t much to listen to by themselves, they tend to do a fine job of setting the mood.
Most series tend to do a decent job of developing their protagonists, but neglect their villains and supporting characters. Darker than Black has the opposite problem; in some cases, the single-episode characters feel more developed than the main character.
The problem with Darker than Black’s hero is that his motives and feelings are largely kept secret until almost the end of the series. As a result, it’s very difficult to feel for this character; I could watch what he did in passive interest, but was ultimately unable to form any sort of empathetic bond.
On the other hand, the villains are some of the nicest I’ve seen this year. As well as having nifty and creative super-powers, they tended to be surprisingly developed. The exception, again, is the “main” villain, who remains a completely uninteresting enigma until the final episode.
Darker than Black, with character designs from Iwahara Yuji, is a seinen series and you better keep it in mind when you watch it. If you're looking for light moe scenes, you won't find it here. It is a serious serious with a deep tone but that's the series highlight and what the series does best.
The story is researched. Highly creative ( if you can forget it has the same super humans premise than the american series The Heroes). Rarely anime has as deep researched work and themes than this ones from the cast of characters to the story behind them. It is a good point, I enjoyed it. The major flaw on the story point it that it is hard to understand and takes a lot of time to develop. Sometimes I just felt startled with the plot because hell that was uninunderstandable. It was just pure chinese if I can use the expression. It would have been a lot better if the creators tried to make their story a bit simpler for common humans to understand ( we're not contractors dammit!). The story is separated in arks of two episodes that completely differs from one to another. It is good considering how the story is complex. We, viewers, can take a break while watching it. Even if those arks seem dispatched at first, they all contribute to the construction of the major story. I enjoyed them all, but I still think some were weaker.
The animation is neat. It a studio Bones work and I can't praise them enough. I just love their sense of artistry. Simple and neat but highly well done and effective, I appreciated. It is not a dazing beauty but it is beautiful in it's own way. I especially loved the darkness touch. Where alomost everything is purple and dark like velours. Effective, luscious and well thinked. The characters design by Iwahara Yuji was sublime, nothing more to say about it. Il feels mature like the series. A perfect fit.
The sound is ok. Excepted Mizuki Nana, the show doesn't feature a high stars cast. They did a good job though. I especially loved Hei's voice. the soundtrack is briliiant. It feels modern and highly inspired. Kanno Yoko did a tremendously astonishing job here. I was amazed by the quality of the soundtrack. It fitted the series atmosphere brilliantly.
Opening section: A ok song by Abingdon Boys school with ok visuals. I like Abingdon but I wish they could have done better seriously. The song Howling is definitely NOT among my favorites from Abingdon Boys School. Opening 2: a song by An Cafe, The Hero without a name. An ok song with ok visuals. Not bad but far from exceptional too.
Ending section: 2 calm song that contract with the actionny side of the openings. Not particulary good visuals but relaxing nonetheless.
The series shine in one point: it's characters. They are truly fascinating. I never saw a show with such an atypic cast than Darker than Black. The cast features originality and I highly liked it. Well a bishonen with a lolita, a cat and a gramps you say? You may not like it, but in my opinion I found utterly gorgeous. I like shows that can actually surpise me and here I was. Their chemistry was brilliant. I loved Hei particularly. He acts like some cute-minded sympathic clutz but in reality he is deadly serious. I like it. Like totally two different characters. Kirihara was nice and I just purred on Mao ( isn'he adorable?).
I bought the official release in the classics collection from Funimation. For relatively a cheap price I got a complete box set. It is great because I always wanted to get that series but I thought the previous release was too expensive. So for 40 bucks I was satisfied.
The DVD boxset ( if you can call it a boxset) comes on four DVD's. All the first season episodes are featured in it along with the first special. The english dub is featured as well. The package is rather simple but is highly appreciated for people who do not have loads of place on their shelves.
Anyway, for a cheap price you get a relatively good product.
Overall, this series was good. It lacks on certain points but it is still highly enjoyable. I won't say it was a blast but it was good enough to keep me hooked beginning to end.
Score: 4 / 5. Not bad, not bad at all.
Note: The second season is now officially licensed for an american release. I will wait for the DVD release ( in hope of a single not too expensive DVD boxset). If I want to watch it? Simply yes, just for the Hei goodness.
Next! Darker than Black Special and I My Me Starwberry Eggs
I have seen the OVA, the first season and the second season. The whole anime is great with intruiging characters, a good soundtrack and a not so predictable story.
The first season evolves around Hei (Li/BK-201) and his friends (or "friends" since he is a contractor). Really interesting characters, some with a personal agenda, which at least I got to feel for. The anime is considered to be very brooding, deep and dark but I think it's much of the contrary. I think it is, occasionally, dark and brooding but there's also a more bright side of it if you wish to see it.
The anime also contains some comedy characters which can be considered to be "ice-breakers" and who aren't too much involved in the story. These are quite nice to have since they tend to ease up the mood.
There is also almost always two or three "factions" which have their own objective and even if the story tend to be focusing on Hei's story, some focus is given to the other factions aswell which is great. I didn't think so much of one faction to be "good" nor "evil" since they gave focus to them both (even if there is three factions "active" they tend to only give focus to two). Ofcourse I felt more for Hei and his party but there are some characters in the other factions that are interesting aswell.
I hope I didn't spoil anything and that the anime seems interesting. It's really worth watching. I don't remember much of the OST from the first season but the OST in the second season is really great.
Darker than Black: 8.8/10
TV Series; 25 Episodes
Jul 10/2006 – Dec 18/2006
Genre: Action, Mystery, Drama, Sci-Fi
Director and Original Creator: Tensai Okamura
Production Studio: BONES, Aniplex, FUNimation Entertainment
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.
Darker than Black is by all respects a good anime. Characters are likeable and strong, although there seems to be quite a few of them, which seems to make it a little confusing. However, the important ones are always around, so they become deeper and more interesting as time goes on. The story is deep, but the story arcs go in two-episode bursts and they can feel a little typical. However, it does seem to have more twists in it than many of the other stories that are similar. Animation is pretty, and they have added ina little bit of 3D animation. It makes it look pretty. Sound is not bad. Voice acting is great, but sometimes the effects feel like they are lacking. The saving grace for the sound is the music. The opening/closing songs are good, and the soundtrack adds a lot to the overall dark feeling of the show.
The biggest downfall of this anime for me is the increase in the fan-service as the show went on. The intense violence earlier on was tolerable, and there was very little language throughout, but as certain characters popped up, the partial nudity increased. You are not able to see a whole lot. You can see both male and female nudity from the back, and the woman's hair artfully conceals her top. Camera angles cover the rest. That being said, even though nothing but butts were shown, it was almost enough to make me stop watching.