Descendants of Darkness

Alt title: Yami no Matsuei

TV (13 eps)
Fall 2000
3.393 out of 5 from 4,780 votes
Rank #8,346

Tsuzuki Asato is a shinigami: a guardian of death. Acting as an investigator in Juuouchou, the bureau in charge of ensuring that each soul passes through the cycle of life naturally, his job often involves dealing with those who would disrupt this cycle. His life after death is about to change, however, as he is assigned a new partner, Kurosaki Hisoka, for a case in Nagasaki - a case seeming to involve some sort of vampire. But the two shinigami soon find that something deeper lies behind this blood-sucking menace...

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StoryDemon detectives! In the heavenly agency of Enma-Cho, certain people live out their afterlives as spectral agents possessing magical powers. Their job is to manage the forces of evil in the living world that Earthly agencies can’t deal with and to keep the powers of darkness from exploiting humans. So we’ve got two such detectives: an easygoing 20-something named Tsuzuki and a grumpy yet caring teen named Hisoka, and a whole bunch of mysteries for them to solve! Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is a shounen-ai show. For those unaware, ‘shounen-ai’ literally TLs to ‘man-love’ and, true to the name, refers to shows that contain homoerotic elements. And while this show is not ABOUT homosexual romances, that is certainly an ever-present element, with the none-too-subtle romantic overtones of the two main characters’ partnership, to the ‘bad guy’ talking in no uncertain terms about how he wants to possess and ravish the main character’s body. There is never an actual homosexual sex act portrayed (except for a kiss or two), but the innuendo is everywhere. So all in all, it’s safe to say that if you are repulsed by the idea of homosexuality, this show is not for you. I have no particular problem with it, and I came into this show knowing full well what to expect, so the presence of such elements had no impact one way or the other on my evaluation of it. If anything, I found the homosexual elements to be quite humorous and to often function as effective comic relief. It’s the rest of the story that’s the problem. The 13-episode show is divided into three 3-episode ‘arcs’ and one final 4-episode arc. The first arc is promising enough. It’s nothing original at all, just a standard ‘mysterious killer who might be supernatural’ story you’ve seen a few dozen times on the X-Files, but it does a decent enough job of introducing characters, setting up future conflicts, bringing in clues from the past and setting up nice big magical fights. However, after that arc, the show goes downhill fast. The next arc, about a devil-cursed violinist, is filled with so many plot holes, revelations that make little if any sense and twists that are obviously just excuses for either a homosexual innuendo scene or an action scene that it boggles the mind. I won’t go into spoilers, but in one such moment, for example, we’re told that a man made a pact with a demon to gain superior violin-playing skills in order to make money and make his daughter happy... with the condition that when he dies, the demon will gain possession of the very same daughter. So in order to provide for his daughter financially for a while, he sold her soul to the devil. Riiight... Another time, a demon takes control of the main character’s body and is going to use it to kill his partner... but decides to stop and molest him first. I guess even evil demons can’t resist the appeal of an angsty teen... I don’t mind suspending my disbelief a bit for a show of this type, but this show stretches those limits way past any reasonable credibility. This trend unfortunately continues through the two remaining arcs. Their stories are presented like a mystery, but the identity of the ‘bad guy’ is completely obvious from the beginning. And the main motivation of that bad guy, once it’s revealed, makes so little sense that the only positive thing I can say about it is that it would be a credible goal for a completely insane person to have. I could never shake the feeling that the writers are trying way too hard to fit every possible horror/mystery type plot point into each arc, so they end up feeling jumbled and needlessly cluttered, and the interesting ideas some of the plots have are lost in a deluge of cliché plot twists. AnimationThe visuals of this show are really its strong point. The character designs are good, but what really stands out is the overall artistic style of the scenes. Some individual images presented in this show are downright captivating, such as the blindfolded and bloodied corpse of a kimono-clad woman found inside a box during the third arc. Describing it in words makes it sound gruesome, but the show was able to present the image in a rather beautiful way without sacrificing its macabre nature. There are two or three other such moments in the show as well—scenes that made me raise and eyebrow and think "Wow. That’s flat out beautiful." The action scenes are also quite well animated. The effects are creative and fluid, and the fights have nary a single still frame shot like is often seen in animes trying to save money on otherwise high-budget fight scenes. Oh how I wish this show had more fight scenes... The first two arcs contain a good amount of fighting but it disappears almost entirely in arc 3 and comes back only towards the very end of arc 4. It’s a real shame too, as the battles involve huge summoned creatures from Chinese mythology and tend to be very pleasing to the eye. This show definitely could have used more magic battles and less time spent on the horror semi-plots. SoundOverall, I found the voice acting and BGM to be quite decent. A bit overwrought at times but nothing that stood out as particularly bad. The ED is quirky an odd, and I enjoyed it. The OP is a real problem though... A show such as this one, which relies almost entirely on style points to entertain, simply screams for an effective OP to set the mood, and this OP fails and fails spectacularly. It sounded a lot more like agonized wailing by a guy than any kind of song at all and after sitting through it once (which took no small amount of effort) I made sure to skip it every single time after. It’s really, really bad. Likely up there with the worst anime OPs I’ve ever heard.CharactersMuch like the story, the character angle in this show starts out on a good note. The two main characters have a cute little homosexual chemistry going and little hints from their past pop in to shed light on their motivations and personalities. The light-hearted Tsuzuki makes an effective foil to the dour and tortured yet vulnerable Hisoka, and the addition of the pleasantly maniacal Muraki seems to promise a perfect opportunity for the two of them to resolve their differences and develop into more rounded characters... Unfortunately, this show goes in the opposite direction. As the show goes on further and further, Hisoka stops receiving development, and Tsuzuki’s continually makes him more and more like Hisoka was at the start of the show. We find out that he too has a tragic past, he too is wrestling with inner demons, he too is in need of someone to love him, and so on. By the time the show approaches the end, it becomes completely obvious that the writers fully intend to milk the shounen-ai fanservice angle by replacing any actual character development with angsty melodrama. Even the exact nature of Tsuzuki’s past, once revealed, feels like it has little to do with the direction the show’s gone. I will give the writers of this show credit for clearly attempting a fair bit of character development, but can’t say I enjoyed the direction in which it went. Fans of angsty, tormented, bishounen will likely eat this stuff up, but other anime fans are likely to be annoyed, or worse, bored by it.OverallIn many ways, the test of a show of this nature is not whether it will win over its target audience but whether it is strong enough to entertain the average anime fan, and while the high quality animation makes a strong starting point for just that, the weak plots and fanservicey character development doomed its chances with me. Shounen-ai fans will likely be in heaven with the character designs, melodrama, and unrelenting innuendo, but I would only recommend this to other anime watchers if pretty visuals are more important to you than a cohesive story and if you like your character development REALLY melodramatic.

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