There are many "mature" anime out there. There are many dark anime. There are many depressing anime. With some of them, the name makes them seem innocent (case in point: "Comedy"). "Darker than Black" sounds like a dark anime... seriously, what IS darker than black? As with most anime I watch, I saw this in an AMV and it looked cool, so I decided to watch it.
Story: A dome encases the world of "Darker than Black," so the sky is completely fabricated. A young astronomy enthusiast, Li Shengshun (there is a very good chance I misspelled that), knows that the stars he sees do not exist, yet he still stares up at them through his telescope. Also, a police officer by the name of Kirihara Misaki is investigating a strange phenomenon which creates Contractors. Contractors are people who have made, well, contracts--in exchange for supernatural powers, they must do the thing they hate the most. This can be as simple as smoking a cigarette, or it can be breaking one's fingers. Kirihara is especially fascinated with the odd Contractor BK201. This contractor disregards his contract and uses his powers without carrying out the consequential other half of the contract. He is shrouded in mystery--he wears a mask and long black coat, and he fights with electricity and his knife, but who is he really? And is he somehow related to the quirky new guy from China, Li Shengshun?
This is not the whole plot; it's not a spoiler to say that BK201 (better known as Hei) is Li's other identity, but it's the basic premise. Oh, and don't worry--this show isn't ALL darkness (but is did make me almost cry and is, at times, rather disturbing); it has some comedy, but that isn't the focus at all.
Animation: The color palate is dark and moody (if you couldn't guess). The artwork is polished and slick, and character designs range from lackluster to pretty damn good. As far as animation goes, it's great--the fight scenes are awesome and well done, and the powers (especially Hei's awesome electricity) are nice, but a little generic-looking. The only problem is, and I'll paraphrase other reviewers here, is that the art is almost a little TOO polished. It looks too sexy. (Wait. That makes no sense...) It should be a little more fuzzy... but only a little. Too much and it will lose its slick, sci-fi edge. So I don't totally agree with the other reviewers.
Sound: The first opening song, Howling, is badass. It tends to be a mainstay on people's list of favorite anime OP. All the other OP and ED? Cool and all, but not as great as the first OP. The insert music, save for a few moments (Yin's backstory in particular), is okay-but-not-great. Voice acting in Japanese is quite good. Hei's seiyuu, Kuichi Hidenobu, portrays both sides of the assassin quite well. The other voice actors do fitting jobs, too. (Oh, and before I forget... take a wild guess who voices Kirihara Misaki. None other than Mizuki Nana.) The English dub sounds fine, but inferior.
Characters: Note: There is a second season, and apparently it effs up Hei's character. I have never seen it (well, yeah), and this covers season one only. Another thing is that there is very little development and backstory-ness. That will not be mentioned unless necessary.
Dammit, it was difficult to find a picture with all the main characters... Characters: Black-haired man holding mask: Hei; cat: Mao; woman with ponytail: Kirihara Misaki; girl with silver hair: Yin; old man with hat: Huang.
Hei/Li Shengshun: He seems like a really schizophrenic person; one minute he is a kind-hearted young man, and the next minute he is murdering people without hesitation. The creators played his character well--Hei never mentions Li and Li never mentions Hei--namely, he either forgets about his other half or doesn't care to mention it. The former is highly unlikely due to some instances, though. He is incredibly badass and shrouded in mystery (read: don't expect a backstory), but that just heightens the feel about his character. And one other thing--it's not original to have a skinny anime character who eats about five times his weight every day (Heartnet Train of "Black Cat," for example). Even American cartoons do it (Shaggy and Scooby-Doo, anyone?). Li is often shown eating dozens of bowls of ramen noodles, and the other characters mention it. (One particular pink-haired otaku [who is obsessed with Li] asks how he can eat so much and stay so thin... while she lovingly points out how effing sexy he is. Needless to say, she and her partner provide 99% of the comic relief in the show.)
Mao: Contractors get varied powers. Mao's power is that he is able to possess the body of an animal. He usually takes the shape of the black cat shown in the picture (this provides 0.99% of the comic relief). He is a very good friend of Hei and public enemy no. 1 to Li, and they are often seen together. Sadly, he has no backstory and no development; heck, we don't even know what his contract makes him do!
Kirihara Misaki: I want to find a Forever Alone meme to stick here, but I shall practice restraint. Seriously. She's kind, she's pretty, she's hardworking... but something just went wrong. She believes in her job and truly wants to find BK201, but she never seems to recognize him as the kind man she occasionally meets. (Another point: Hei/Li could go out with her, but he spends too much time with girls around ten years old.) She's a dull character, which sucks, because she has potential to be so much more. Ah well. You can't win 'em all.
Yin: She rarely says a word. I know it's rude to make this the first sentence, but she is just so damn silent. She is a kind of confusing character, since, in the beginning, she is just as shrouded in mystery as Hei. However, and I won't spoil this, her backstory makes for one of the most touching moments in the show. I can't decide if I like her as a character or if she bores me. Huh.
Huang: He's somewhat of Hei's mentor, and I can't decide if he serves a purpose or not. Maybe this show is just TOO mysterious for its own good.
Everyone else: Aforementioned otaku girl and her partner. They're the comic relief, and never fail to show up at the exact same restaurant in which Li is. Occasionally, they're annoying, but most of the time they're likable. The other contractors range from one dimensional cookie-cutter cutouts to sympathetic human beings. The tragic ones are the good ones, just saying.
Overall: I think "Darker than Black" is an enjoyable series--slick, stylized, sexy and badass. Would I recommend it? Probably. It is dark, but it could be worse. It is a more mature anime and I like it. And, no, a certain reviewer, I do not see the "Cowboy Bebop" in this show. Just because two shows are stylish does not mean they are similar.
(Oh, yeah, and the rest of the comic relief--"CHINESE ELECTRIC BATMAN.")
(Gigguk, will you marry me? XD)