ANIME MINOR JEWELS SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Animated by Bones, the studio which always has amazing production values and very good premises, but rarely pays a decent story-boarder to write down a proper plot. Directed by Okamura Tensai, who has done some pretty interesting work in the past. Most will know him for the directing of the highly acclaimed Wolf’s Rain, which has almost feel the same style. But that does not mean he is consistant with his wok as he has been part of many mediocrities, such as Kikaider and Blue Exorcist; So don’t lose your mind over him.
So from these facts you can expect a great premise with good production values, very moody atmosphere, as well as a lousy plot. And indeed, Darker than Black (DTB) is a fine example of a series where you can see how different viewers have different tastes and focus on different aspects of a show. To make a very long story short, if you like complicating stories with on-going plots, good action scenes and an amazing finale where everything now makes sense and the world is shaken by these events, well prepare to hate it. On the other hand, if you like mystery that always keeps you in the dark, tragic characters, short stand-alone stories around the same thematics, and don’t mind the non-existing ending, then you will most likely love it.
Starting with the story, it has a great premise but plot-wise it is nothing much. Imagine a supernatural event that some years ago gave people superpowers (Contractors they call them) and at the same time took away their sense of morality or compassion (cynical bastards I call them). Imagine so many years later how this phenomenon was never explained and that the affected people are now a thing of fear, forced into hiding or having to survive by becoming agents for shady organizations, mostly as assassins and thieves. And imagine there is this great secret force that somewhere is somehow responsible for all this mess.
Yeah, sounds great but this is all you are given. There is not much exposition to how or what or where all that are and the series pretty much ends without giving any answers to major questions. So it is basically a carrot in front of you, nice and juicy, dragging you to keep watching and peaking your interest with what is going on and yet you are never allowed to have a bite. Your hunger and curiosity is all you are left with. Some may like this approach, since most mysteries are interesting as long as you don’t know what is going on and the revelation most of the times just disappoints you or makes you lose interest right away. I mean, seriously, would anime like Monster be so famous if you knew how Yohan keeps doing all those improbable plans yet kills or turns people to serial killers or escapes all the time without ever showing you how? Or would Bleach be so famous if you were given a clear picture of what the hell is going on with Aizen’s plan? No they wouldn’t; the mystery is what makes them appear so good even if in practice even a 10 year old could figure out all that (generally speaking; not specifically referring to these two).
So practically what we have here is a collection of short stories or missions, where the same team takes part in all of them. It is not a really bad thing as many anime are considered great even if they have no overall plot; Cowboy Bebop and Mushishi being two famous examples. As long as the atmosphere is right and the characters are interesting, and the end to each short story is good, then one could very well not be annoyed at all.
The thing is, DTB actually HAD an overall plot; that of the mystery of Hell’s Gate. It is there all the time and it’s just not looked into at all. Also, as much as this type of storytelling works, down to it you just know that none of the main characters is ever going to die or be crippled, because all need to be present in all the stories. Plus, this is not a comedy or slice-of-life where such a thing would be simple; we are talking about a setting where super powerful assassins keep killing each other, all the time. If excitement is supposed to be part of the package, then you sure won’t be clipping your nails thinking the main characters may get killed. Which kind of sucks.
Speaking of characters, the cast in DTB is quite numerous. Yet since we are talking about short stories, most won’t be present for more than a few episodes, usually because they are killed. Effectively, you are not given enough time to like all secondary characters, even if they are interesting. As for the main characters, their distinctive feature is the fact they have super powers and are cynical creeps. And again, this is another case of a series where you can see how different viewers have different tastes and focus on different aspects of a show. If you like bold personalities with lots of development and questioning of one’s being, this is going to suck bad. But if you like tragic stories about uncaring freaks and how they try to live in a world full of morality they don’t give a rat’s ass about, then you will love it.
So the thing is that YES the characters are interesting if you compare them with the majority of anime casts. They have no high ideals or great expectations to rule the world or anything. They are cynical people with superpowers, hired to do the laundry for sinister organizations, thus they are not really responsible for their actions. You could view them as cold-hearted professionals who are just doing their job without emotions getting in the way, which is cool in theory. It is quite lame to see a hero holding back from defeating the arch-demon because a puppy is in the way. Or it is stupid to have a protagonist having taken an oath of not killing again, which practically allows the bad guys to keep hurting innocents. So yeah, if you are fed up with too-goody protagonists in series like Rurouni Kenshin or Trigun, you will like these bastards.
Plus, each one of them has his own special power which is quite cool to use and being the uncaring bastards they are, they don’t hold back at using it all the time, even on innocent stand-byers. And it’s true that the death toll in every battle is high, both Contractors and innocents die by the dozens and very few are spared or manage to escape. If you got fed up on series where the heroes allow the villain to escape, just to return the next day with another masterplan, then this is good stuff.
Enough with the good stuff, now let me deal with the negatives. First of all, although there is a sub-story of racism present in the anime, it goes mostly untouched. Yes, people are afraid of these superhumans and sometimes are shown killing them or arresting them or running away in fear. This could give a tragic element to them but in reality it is just a dud. THEY DON’T CARE! No, really, they have no feelings at all so even if you speak bad language about their mothers, at best they will blow you to pieces because they are in a hurry to go buy milk and you are standing in the way. Another thing I said earlier about them being professionals, who don’t let emotions get in the way, is in fact NOT a plus in their case. If we had people who originally HAD emotions and found a way to control them, then we could find this to be a feat. I mean, they managed to control their anger after years and thus are very good in their work; good for them… Which is NOT true in their case. They never had emotions to begin with so they never lost or controlled them. They are born cynical bastards with no regard to what you feel about them.
This aspect is not even new to anime as some years back, Elfen Lied pulled up the same thing and the stupid masses goggled it without even thinking. Oh, those poor naked horned lolis, how bad do people treat them! Well guess what you idiots; just like the Contractors the Dicloni also had no remorse in killing all of humanity. It was in their DNA for Pete’s sake! Lucy and Nana were just ass pulled to show off as good; the manga clearly shows that no matter how much you want to protect them, THEY WILL STILL KILL YOU. But enough with that travesty, DTB has the exact same thing going on. The Contractors may not have encoded the annihilation of humanity as their prime directive but if their employer orders them to kill their best friend, they will do it without lifting an eyebrow. Heck, even Spock lifts his eyebrow; these don’t even do that.
One the other hand, think of the X-Men. They have superpowers and retain their emotions and they are also persecuted all the time. You have all the reason in the world to like those guys, as they CARE to build cooperation between mutants and humans or just CARE to wipe all normality from the face of the planet. Contractors don’t give a rat’s ass, even when in this story there also are similar organizations who want to create havens for Contractors (called Amber; think of Magneto) or wipe them out (called Saturn; think of the army). They both eventually fail to have something permanent going on, so it may be seen as just another useless addition to the already frail plot. Plus, unlike the mutants who escape or survive all the time and return again and again in more X-Men adventures, these dudes die almost immediately; thus you get no time to like them. Also, their superpowers are not even so super, as even the most powerful amongst them can still be killed by the simplest backstab. Bottom line, they are good on a superficial level but in-depth analysis easily shows they are empty shells.
Going to the production values, if you expect good action and amazing use of lighting and allegories to some weird mental state, you will hate it. If you like well drawn characters talking for 20 minutes and fighting for 3 minutes before dying anti-climatically, you will love it. Because that is what we see in practice; people going to places and talking about their lives in detail; and as soon as their exposure to us is over, they usually die. There is choreography in battles and the sceneries are very good, characters retain their proportions all the time and slice-of-life moments are excellent. The dialogues are good and the music pieces nice. It is not bad in this regard but the battles will be always too short or too simple and the constant talking may tire you. Plus, no songs are great to remember; at least for me.
I never understood the hype around this show (but then again I am smart and a snob to mediocrity). I mean it looks nice and it sounds nice but it’s not like it’s the most beautiful anime even made, with original artwork or amazing soundtrack. The characters are really distant and hard to identify or remember in the long run, the story is just not there, the drama wears off fast … and there is always the X-Men as a much, much, much better alternative. Or Heroes before it turned to shit. I guess the audience was REALLY fed up with goody protagonists and Bones meant to auto-like all their shows. But nah, I never saw anything in it and so I call it just a nice time killer at best.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks nice)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 2/4 (nothing much)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (loose)
Complexity 1/2 (seems complicating but has a very simple line of thought)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 6/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 2/4 (it ain’t bad but it’s not something worth talking or recommending to others)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Not bad but the X-Men did it much better.
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