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.
Despite its considerable strengths, Darker than Black is and oddly muddled and unfocused show. While the series’ excellent disparate elements are enough to make me (weakly) recommend it, I can’t help but wonder what the show could have been if these elements had been better tied together.
Darker Than Black, AKA Kuro no Keiyakusha is a 26 episode action sci-fi anime featuring unique superpowers, wielded by beings known as ‘contractors’. It reminded me a lot of western comic-book fiction, like Batman and X-Men. But it still remains unique and has a plot with mystery in addition to a varied cast of characters to make it stand out. A friend recommended this anime to me and told me I’d enjoy it when he saw it in my collection and it seems other folks also seem to think the same way too. But does this anime live up to its hype.
Animation quality is excellent for a 2007 anime, I watched it in blu-ray 720p quality. The CGI is a bit questionable at times, but luckily there isn’t much of it. The animation style feels generic, the character designs seem familiar, especially the likes of PC Kirihara and Yin. However on closer inspection, the character design of Hei seems a bit unique, the eyes especially. Though honestly he reminds me of Mitobe from Kuroko’s Basketball, my favourite character in that anime. Some of the designs look cheesy, but I can gather they were done that way on purpose, like Huang, Guy Kurasawa and Kiko. There is lot of action, explosions and the like and they seem to be done reasonably well. Nothing really stood out as being terrible. There are a few big boobed chicks in low cut tops, but nothing to be regarded as fan service or ecchi. Scenes of a sexual nature are depicted in a surprisingly artistic and modest fashion. Technically there is nudity, as characters can be wearing nothing, but it is appropriately censored with good positioning and camera angles. And it made sense given the context (superpowers!).
The intro first plays and I get hit by familiar music, a band that I’ve heard much of before. Abingdon Boys School does the first intro and I’ve known for a long time how awesome it is. The first outro is a bit different, a mellow chilled out song instead. Of course this good music continues throughout the anime to the point where I downloaded the soundtrack. It was difficult by there being two soundtracks, the latter extended version of which didn’t have a couple of the songs in the original. The sound design is awesome, not just some cool rock and a lot of smooth jazz. There’s even a beautiful piano segment (one is played in the anime) and light-hearted comedic tunes when Kurasawa and Kiko are around.
This anime is in both English and Japanese. I’m not really a connoisseur of dub vs sub, but I watched the dub and enjoyed it. There are even characters who have English voices as they are British as part of the plot. Jason Liebricht voices Hei, having also voiced characters like Syaoran from Tsubasa Chronicle, Natsu Tanimoto from History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi and Kouhei Morioka from Tsukuyomi -Moon Phase-. Yin is voiced by Brina Palencia, the voice of the Kinoshita twins from Baka to Test, Priscilla from Claymore, Rei Ayanami from the Evangelion remake, Nina Tucker from FMA, Holo from Spice and Wolf and a lot more. Mao voiced by Kent Williams, also as Sid from Soul Eater, Akisame from History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi and more (running out of space). Kate Oxley does the voice of Misaki Kirihara, the voice of Renka from History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi, the frog girl from Soul Eater and more. Other voices you might know include Laura Bailey as Amber, Cherami Leigh as July, Brittney Karbowski as Kiko, Troy Baker as November, Chris R. Sabat as Yusuke Saito and Todd Haberkorn as Yutaka Kouno. Honourable mentions for Vic Mignogna and Monica Rial voicing side characters.
The main character is a black-haired man named Hei AKA ‘The Black Reaper’ AKA Lee Shunsheng. Hei is contractor BK-201, his powers of ‘electokinesis’ or the ability to generate and discharge electricity along with his natural skill and peak condition make him a force to be reckoned with. He often likes to use a knife on a metal wire, as a ranged weapon and as a grappling hook. Due to the conducting material, he can discharge electricity along it too. A moody and mysterious man, he wears a black cloak and phantom mask into battle and is very similar to the Batman, even down to his shouting of ‘Where is she?’ But Batman never had superpowers like Hei, nor did Batman kill people. His nickname ‘The Black Reaper’ arose from his ruthlessness and the many kills under his belt. Similar to Batman, he keeps his identity as a contractor hidden and is also two-faced. When appearing as Lee Shenshun he appears to be a gentle kind guy, the opposite of his true personality. He is smart, making mostly logical decisions, which is a hallmark of a contractor and can be considered a tactician. All contractors have a payment (Obeisance) for their powers, but Hei doesn’t appear to have a payment involved. He does eat a lot though (big eater trope) and living on his own, he is quite skilled in the culinary arts. His past, like many others is shrouded in mystery and he seeks to find his lost sister while working for the group known as ‘the Syndicate.’ I will also add that he belongs to the trope ‘lady’s man’ as many women seem to like him and think him attractive, though Hei himself doesn’t care for such things.
Hei’s partner is a doll, in the form of a girl known as Yin, once known as Kirsi. Yin has powers of a medium, using an observation ghost via the medium of water for scouting and reconnaissance. Yin is a very stoic and emotionless character (stoic girl trope), she does not look directly at people, which may have a lot to do with her past. Dolls, human mimics, are unable to have emotions or feelings and it is unknown how the doll known as Yin came about. Yin is often found touching water, usually by standing in it or dipping her toes in order to do her job as a medium. On the side, she is undercover as a clerk at a cigarette shop, which comes in handy for discreet contact with her team in public. The biggest mystery about Yin, is how she ever became a doll in the first place.
Police commissioner Misaki Kirihara, a serious, smart woman who heads the local police force on cases where contractors are involved. Her father is the superintendent of the national police agency and ever since she was young, she wanted to be a policewoman to help the weak, thus having a strong sense of justice. She is very capable and skilled, though that doesn’t help the occasional stroke of bad luck. Of course, she shrugs that off when asked now. She likes to eat unhealthy food and when told it’ll make her fat, she gives the excuse that running around doing her job helps burn off the calories. She hates smokers as they smell bad and she also appears to own and drive a sports car, which appears to be a blue Porsche. One case that she is always working on in the background, is that of the contractor BK-201. By coincidence or otherwise, she comes to know a man by the name of Lee Shunsheng.
The third member of Hei’s team is the cat Mao (funny huh), once known as Ricardo. He is another contractor HM-432 and has the powers of possessing the bodies of animals. He resides inside a cat as his original human body was lost, but he can still talk. He is pretty smart, has hacking skills and also thinks very logically, his feline body allows him to easily infiltrate and observe as he doesn’t have much combat skills as a cat. Maybe his claws and the ability to bite, but that doesn’t compare to the likes of Hei. He enjoys the laziness and carefree attitude of being a cat, even claiming his reason for choosing a cat include the ease of taking naps almost anywhere. Due to the loss of his original body, he doesn’t have any Obeisance, making his life even easier. He wears a bell and collar around his neck and a barely visible ear-clip at all times for communication and often appears to go into a trance state. This is due to the fact that he must interface with a server to make up for what a cat brain lacks or he will loses consciousness to the cat whose body he has taken over.
The final member of Hei’s team is a human man, Huang. Huang is a gruff old man, who smokes, has infinite alcohol tolerance and often makes clear about his hate for the contractors and dolls like his team members. Huang has no powers or abilities of any sort, he is good with firearms and ranged weapons and throw punches as far as combat goes. But other than that, he’s that member of the team who doesn’t seem important until critical moments where he shows his worth. And what’s more, he has a rather interesting backstory.
The British man November 11 AKA Jack Simon is a top MI6 agent, who also happens to be a contractor. Like Hei, he is smart agile and physically capable. His power is cryokinesis or the ability to form ice, but he can only do it when there is water present. Thus, he works well with his team which includes the contractor April AKA Bella, who controls the weather. She’s pretty much Storm from the X-Men and her payment is drinking beer, which she enjoys. By sheer coincidence, November’s payment is smoking, a habit which he doesn’t enjoy and often he preaches how unhealthy it is. Like most contractors, he is cold, calm and logical and will do anything to find out the truth and stick to what he feels is right. As such, he isn’t always trustworthy, but his position allows him to often work with Misaki and the police. A pretty cool guy. Also the third member of his team is July, a doll who looks like a Victorian boy and uses glass as a medium to project his observer spirit.
One recurring duo of secondary characters are the comedy duo of Guy Kurasawa and Kiko Kayanuma. Guy Kurasawa is a private eye, an ex-cop who thinks of himself like a stereotypical cheesy detective hero. Which is why he named himself Guy Kurasawa. He has a high sense of pride and wants to take proper cases, not things like finding lost cats even if they pay well. Unfortunately he doesn’t get much business, thus he is broke. He smokes, doesn’t really take care of himself too well and has a thing for big boobs. His pervyness doesn’t affect his flat-chested assistant Kiko, who has ridiculous purple hair and looks like a teenager. She is an otaku, hence her strange appearance and love watching anime, doing cosplay and all the rest. She’s also a major slacker and often announces her time off work whenever she feels like it, just to do whatever she wants like hang out with friends. She is whiny and annoying and threatens to sue her boss for sexual harassment for making fun of her flat chest. She seems to like beer and in typical anime fashion, gets knocked out cold on her binges. This dumb comedy duo pushes the boundaries in this anime, but end up lightening things up a bit.
The police officer Yusuke Saito works under Misaki Kirihara’s team and is often out and about working with her to solve their cases. He can be a bit of a klutz at times and very much reminds me of Detective Gumshoe of the Pheonix Wright series. Also on the team is the young and confident rookie Yutaka Kouno, who has less appearances than Officer Saito.
Several years ago, the stars faded from the sky and were replaced by fake stars, each representing beings called contractors. The occurrence led to the rise in numbers of these beings, humans who are given supernatural powers in return for a price, obeisance (payment) and arguably their humanity. 2 mysterious gates (large areas of influence on land) appeared and within these gates, anomalous events take place and physics and the laws of nature are completely broken down. 5 years ago, the gate at South America, ‘Heaven’s Gate’ exploded and caused a great catastrophe, wiping out large number of people and making a large area inaccessible. The story of Darker than Black depict the events 5 years afterwards, in Japan in a town nearby the other gate, Hell’s gate.
Hei and his team work for the Syndicate, doing odd jobs here and there related to contractors and the mysterious Hell’s gate. They often bump into the other groups of characters, the cops with Misaki Kirihara, MI5 agents with November 11 and even the comedy duo of Guy Kurasawa’s detective agency. Initially the story seems episodic, tackling one problem at a time and seeming like it’s just about the day-to-day life of these people. But the events start to pull together and the appearance of certain characters and Hei’s past come into question. There is a big mystery here, what the hell is going on and why did certain things happen? Seeing how most things are relevant, only the earlier episodes can be considered filler and the ball starts rolling with interesting developments in the plot. I found it to be unique and interesting setting, which combined with the characters, really helped this anime excel.
There are various themes that come into play here, including mature things such as those related to mobs, the Yakuza and criminal underworld. The big contention here is about the contractors and how the world treats them. The government works hard to only disclose their existence on a need-to-know basis, the world at large is unaware of them. And for good reason, the humans who do know of their existence treat them differently, as if they are really human at all. They are treated as tools to be used. Especially dolls, who don’t have much in the way of their own feelings or will. Though some humans do know about dolls. Another interesting topic that arises is big question of killing and murder… is it right? Especially considering that the contractors are seemingly remorseless when they kill. It begs to ask the question then, can sold cold and logical beings be considered human?
Though there is the unnecessary scene(s), where a character talks about ‘making love’ going into detail about things I didn’t want to know. Due to the situation described, this was an unpleasant experience for me and very off-putting. The worst part of the story in my opinion, it didn’t need unnecessary detail (though not in the way you might think) about sex, especially given the context. Eugh.
Overall I enjoyed Darker than Black and have few complaints about it. I’d recommend it to most people, even those who don’t watch many anime or those who are picky. Yes, there are some rather off-putting things and pretty serious themes and events. But overall, it’s like comic book sci-fi story, much like X-Men and is just as interesting and enjoyable. The story is satisfying and the characters are great, even if a few of them are silly. Give this a go and don’t make up your mind until you get to the bit where Hei shouts “Where is she?!?” Batman style. It’s so good. But there’s just a little something… it feels like it could be even better. With that I look forward to watching the sequel which SPOILERS< wasn’t baited (foreshadowed?) >SPOILERS in any way.
Family-friendliness Rating: 4/5 Strong themes including adult and suggestive nature (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 10/10 (higher is better)
I'm going to give a shot at reviewing my first anime on this site, and see how it goes.
Darker Than Black
Story - 9.0
Overwhelming Tokyo is a mysterious hundred story tall wall, closing off an area known as Hells gate, while superhuman people known as contractors do battle in the streets. This is not the Tokyo you know!
Darker than Black weaves an intricate and methodical story which builds upon itself masterfully. While no one would confuse this anime with a fast moving Shounen, it certainly has a fast enough and well structured pace to its narrative that is sure to keep all but the most ADD anime viewers interested. The anime starts with two 2 episode "world introduction" arcs, followed by a chain of 2 episode character introduction arcs, interrupted at points with several "narrative" arcs, and 2 "comedy/change of pace" arcs, which oddly still advance the story, so they fall short of the classification of filler.
The thread tying all these arcs together and simultaneously driving the narrative forward is the protagonist/antihero Hei (the Black Reaper) aka BK-201 aka Li Shun Sheng and his search for his long lost sister Bai. Strangely though he's close to the center of all of the arcs, he remains the biggest enigma in the anime for the majority of its length. One of the most fascinating games the writers play is their hints at his past which is never fully explained while we are slowly exposed to his past we start to see as an audience just how it ties in with what is happening now, and how all of the story has been woven together.
Animation - 7.5
The animations style is fluid and the colors muted, however nothing about this anime will leap off the screen at you. The trick is, I saw this quality of animation in 2003, and while it remained good in 2007, its grown rather dated since. The combat flows smoothly and the characters remain largely well proportioned, some of the combat physics bugged me to no end. In short, this was good animation, and remains good animation, but it's already starting to show a little age. It’s good, not great. When compared against one of it's contemporaries like Black Lagoon, it really doesn't impress.
Sound - 7.5
The music was alright. Nothing notable. I know some people rather loved the OP and or the EDs for the series, I never really found them much to write home about. What really carried the anime was the soft piano ambient music which seemed to set the proper tone throughout. Throw in a solid voice cast (Kirihara Misaki's VA, Mizuki Nana deserves special recognition) and you have a solid, if not inspired auditory experience.
Characters - 9.0
The characters were a mixed bag, and I really struggled to rate this. On one hand you have the mix of the cliché. You have a deadpan grey haired loli, you have a snarky sidekick (granted it's a cat, so that's a little weird), you have a heavy drinking foul mouth authority figure. What sets these characters apart is the depth granted them. Every major character in this anime got his (or her) own arc, to develop their background, examine their motivations, and advance the plot. Even sometimes antagonist Section Chief Kirihara is well developed to the point she's nearly a lead character in her own right. The lone blemish in this excellent cast is the horrifically bad character "Amber." For a character around which most of the last 1/3 of the anime is revolving, she remained not only a stunningly shallow character, but an annoying "Mary Sue" as well. Granted she had some "explanations" for her inhuman competence and almost god like prescience, but in the end she simply fell flat as either sympathetic love interest, or devious antagonist. In an anime which revolved around a gritty and dark magical realism, she simply never quite fit.
Overall - 9.0
This anime really was greater then the sum of its parts. As a rare well executed Film Noir style anime it stands out. It contains a number of overlapping themes, such as the definition of humanity, friendships, and a person's place in the world. Its short 2 episode arcs make for easy watching. Its deliberate and complex plot lays a number of clues about a number of mysteries, some which are answered (as number of which are left unanswered) at the end. Finally, the anime ends at a point where you the viewer can walk away satisfied. When you consider the engaging characters, the gritty and dark plot, the solid animation style and the well written storyline you're left with a memorable and enjoyable Seinin anime.
Absolutely loved it. :D The flow of the animation is total eye candy - seriously, it's remarkably pretty, the soundtrack is beautiful, and the characters mysterious and interesting. The only thing keeping it from a full score is that the story, although intriguing and clever, left quite a few questions unanswered. I hoped these would be further explored in the second season, but so far (I'm a couple of episodes into season 2) I'm disappointed by the lackluster animation (Hei in particular doesn't quite look like himself anymore) and blatant fanservice (panty shots and boob-focus? Really? Ugh.). :/
But that's a story for a different review. Darker than Black really is gorgeously done, an anime that anyone with a penchant for sci-fi/mystery/dystopian themes would enjoy. I certainly did. :>
For someone like me who likes complicating storylines and on-going plots, I was instantly turned off by Darker than Black (DTB). For many others who only want to see action scenes and badasses, it became one of their favorites. I mean, why wouldn’t it? Said badasses also happen to be amoral killers with tragic backdrops, who wear hoods, masks, and have superpowers. It’s the ideal escapism fantasy for angsty teenagers.
It has a false sense of maturity and it’s easy to trick the casuals into considering it serious and deep. The characters are not teenage hyperactive idealists, dressed in bright colored clothes, fighting an evil government. They are adult amoral mercenaries, dressed in dark colored clothes, working for a cynical government. There are no clearly obvious good guys or bad guys, you can’t defeat the conflict by beating the crap out of the big boss and nobody is afraid to kill his enemies or spares their lives in order to give them a second chance. That’s way closer to what happens in real life and why many who were fed up with too-goody protagonists consider this anime to be mature.
Despite the short stand-alone stories, there was also a mystery regarding Hell’s Gate and the origin of the powers, which was giving you the impression it will eventually bring everything together. There was something to remain engaged, and many love this approach since they can theorycraft all they want about it, even if it didn’t lead up to something satisfying. There was no solid ending in the first season, and the sequel which attempted to offer an explanation, did it in a very confusing manner and expected you to read a wiki in order to make sense of what they were unable to explain in-series.
Which was to be expected, just like with most of what was animated by studio Bones. It’s always about amazing production values, good atmosphere, a catchy premise, and no decent storyboard or proper plot. Beyond that, there are issues with having short stand-alone arcs, such as knowing none of the main characters is ever going to die or be crippled, because they all need to be present in all the stories. Thus whatever variety there can be comes in the form of the side characters of each arc, and the weird powers the enemy assassins will be using. Even then, you know you will never see them again after the arc is over, so you don’t really care if a two episode character lives or dies.
As for the main characters, they don’t have emotions, and despite the theme of racism you don’t feel any sympathy towards them, since they are uncaring assassins who don’t give a damn about the treatment they receive from the normies. This ain’t X-Men where they have emotions and fight for coexistence. They are just being paid to do their job, which is irrelevant from the theme of racism. At least it’s not Elfen Lied where they try to make you feel sorry for a bunch of psychotic lolis who were genetically programmed to kill humanity regardless of how you treat them.
Although the second half tries to have a more dense plot, and the sequel attempts to give emotions to the assassins, as well as explaining what the hell is going on, down to it, it’s good only superficially. The characters are distant, the themes are not explored much, and there are always the X-Men as a much, much, much better alternative.