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)