Genres: action, drama, mystery, psychological, science fiction, supernatural
Story – 4.7
Darker Than Black is a fabulous series that fits just under the brilliance of the Code Geass series, and like the latter it is not based on any Manga. While it’s sin is basically being a bit underdeveloped, ultimately DTB is one great ride.
The Moral Category: Darker than Black does have the usual suspects for language speckled throughout, however, it won’t be a huge issue here. What is should be the few lewd elements that went too far. There are these dolls (humans with little or no self-will), being what they are, who are often treated with indignity, deprived of even the clothes on their back (but not ever sexualized). You might see a bit of the rear, but honestly this is limited in its scope and usually the dolls are given clothes of some sort quickly. More in line with the term lewd occurs in two ways: One scene shows an odd couple making love with only the silhouette of them shown in the brief scene. The point being made is very good, but the silhouette was too much info… Like why? The other one involves a contractor who can teleport herself and others… But the clothes aren’t included. Generally the show gives proper respect towards the woman, but towards the end, we are “treated” to a very up-close and personal view of her nice behind that covers half the screen… Thanks to that voluptuous scene, the show properly will be notched in the rating for that offense.
I must admit, I’ve always wanted to see the series. I’ve always heard good things about the show, so finally getting to see DTB was exciting. Even better, Darker Than Black did not disappoint in how it delivered. From the very beginning it felt suspenseful as we follow an apparent evil man named Louis who is able to levitate from his pursuers! After levitating to a nearby roof of a building he is confronted by our hero, known only as the masked man known as the “Reaper” to his admirers and feared alike. Hei, as we learn later is his name, demands where the “package” went. Even from this vantage point, we are treated to a strange sight as the man Louis breaks his finger as sort of a “payment” for his strange power. A tab bit disgusting? Yeah, and incidentally Hei is different in that he is able to use the power called a Contract without any payment. Those that have this ability are then referred to as Contractors.
Looking at all this, if we weren’t told of Hei being a Contractor, we might think the man is just a cold jerk. Well, he is cold, but more so because of his limited ability to feel emotions than regular people. I liked the idea of the “Gate” that appeared in South America and how this phenomenon created Contractors all around the world. Contractors to be more specific always choose the most rational decision and do not factor in things like feelings and emotions in their everyday decisions. Add the superhero abilities and you can readily see why every country would want one as an agent and why everyone who knows about Contractors would shun them.
This topic of what makes a Contractor actually becomes a very solid discussion for the show. Darker Than Black spends a lot of quality time discussing what it means to be human from the perspective of the Contractor Hei and the discussions he has with his group Huang, Mao, and Yin. All three offer their own different insights, Huang being the only human there, Mao being a Contractor, and Yin as a Doll. I think the discussion on emotions, for example, really highlights the human soul, and in a way is a very strong argument for those who are truly limited today, like Autistic people. It’s not that they are less than human, it’s just they filter information differently than others. It’s also a good discussion about how people who are lost just need a bit of encouragement to come out of their shells, if they will have it. If there is anything to note here, it is that this multi-faceted discussion of Contractors continues beyond the first series, and felt very well put together.
From the very beginning of the show, Hei is being tracked by Misaki Kirihara, a police officer who also has a crush on the man. She’s usually always in the background in terms of the story, but her story is just as compelling as the rest of the cast. This is something I’ll mention in the next section, but every side character has their own unique story that feels well-thought through. Misaki is a noble girl who isn’t afraid to do the right thing, and her thirst for justice ultimately is proven useful for the salvation of Hei and his kind…. But that is getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Just don’t blame me if she happens to be one of your favorite side characters.
Now Hei at first is doing jobs for the Syndicate, a strange organization that Hei sees only for its benefit. Each mission we follow deals with a slightly different form of a Contractor, or directly deals with Hei’s slowly evolving emotions. I really liked the early arc with that Moratorium. Moratorium’s are the worst kind of contractors because they do not readily control their powers. This particular Moratorium named Mai Kashiwagi was a Contractor whose father attempted to stop the effects by using a strange plant from the “Gate” South America. And I personally think this is where Hei becomes your new friend in how he is able to decide something not in line with the rational, heartless Contractors before him. Allowing the girl to live, despite the horror and tragedy we see her uncontrollable power destroy the very people she loved in front of her eyes was powerful, and this ability to help someone lost find her path was very noble of the cold Hero. It certainly earned my respect.
Hei, as i mentioned, is not a normal Contractor, and the mystery behind his past which he is unable to remember proved to be very compelling and well designed I thought. Hei’s looking for his sister Pai, and on his travel to find her, he runs into other poor souls like Havoc who bare some of the anger Hei is feeling, but ultimately help Hei to grow a little more as a Contractor. I really don’t want to spoil anything in this series, but you can bet that Hei’s past and future is as intriguing as the topic of Contractors is left unfinished. I liked the progression the show took with this issue, and while it won’t finish in this series, it’s a riveting draw to continue watching the show.
Along with Pai, Hei’s sister gone missing, is a woman named Amber. She is a richly green-haired girl always with a smile on her face. At first Hei thinks she’s just some lunatic after the distraction of the world with her organization called the Evening Primrose, but as time passes more questions than answers come across. Is Amber crazy? And what does she know of his sister Pai? I really was impressed by the depth that this tale crosses in getting to these answers, and the unpredictability of the series.
Take Yin for example: Yin is a doll, no? And yet after the show spends some quality time with her limited memories of her supposed family, she is thrown into a problem where the Syndicate thinks she needs to be bumped off due to being unpredictable. Yet, it is this unpredictability that makes her that much more to the team, especially when Yin cries her first tears with that solemn face. It really is some great stuff, what DTB did.
Back to the main story, Hei after this event with Yin has come much closer to discovering what the Evening Primrose is up to as well as what Amber is up to. Really now, if you’re a bit confused by some of the flash-back’s we are treated to, don’t get lost…It all has a very good…. And a very sad reason for it. Amber is able to manipulate the future, and has trying many different methods to get to the final one we see. The result is Amber is successful in capturing Mao and “inviting” November 11, a MI6 Agent from Britain, to discussing joining her group of Contractors. It’s here that we learn in horror what is actually being planned on… And what the first Gate was really all about. Apparently Amber was involved with the first gate crisis because she is trying to thwart the Syndicate’s desire to destroy all Contractors!!!
I can’t tell you how much I liked this point in the show. All the themes about the Contractors blend so well, and Amber’s strangely younger looking self and her story compelling. (It is worth mentioning her outfit here is a bit tight… And the seat of her body was a bit too liberal._.) Add the growing mystery of Hei’s latent power and the story is thick with anticipation of what will happen next.
Apparently in all of this, a previous scientist that was captured by the Evening Primrose is able to “escape” and in all of the chaos Hei is forced to decide with the Evening Primrose when he learns he is kicked out of the Syndicate. Worse, the supposed leader of The Syndicate has been developing a weapon to wipe out Contractors for good. If you thought the show couldn’t impress you more, wait till you watch the finishing episodes!!!
Ultimately the ending smashes so well, it just never lets down. Although we do run into that stupid scene with the woman who can teleport, the way that the Evening Primrose, Hei and his gang are able to defeat The Syndicate soundly was outstanding. I can’t tell you how much the shock of Amber’s sacrifice is, and I would be completely amiss if I told you what her payment was. That was part of the awesome WOW factor of Darker Than Black, and set the show on fire in my ratings. Just some well done writing.
The final episode naturally included the final goodbye to Amber, and we find out Hei is somewhat related to the first Gate in the first place! Well, not the beginning of Contractors per se, but more of the disaster of the first Gate in South America. After meeting with Amber at the Gate, Hei learns that against common knowledge Contractors can become more human than was thought to be possible. Realizing his own position between the world of Contractors and humans, something I felt a tad bit undersold, Hei has to make the decisive choice for both. It is with much fan fare that Hei is able to make the best choice.
While it’s not quite what Amber wished for, yet this ending is something she can fall behind fast and fills the circle when Hei repeats the similar incident of the first Gate. With final farewells to his past comrades inside the Gate, and their support behind his back, Hei’s decision brings forth a new future for the world. AND WHAT A DECISION!!! You want to talk about amazing endings for stories still in progress, Darker Than Black is able to wade through its own mess to emerge victorious.
I think that’s why I really liked the show: Its unpredictability mixed with well-crafted dialogue and realistic (for the most part) happenings keep the show very memorable. Darker Than Black may not be the ending for the show, but the potential the show hinted at, especially regarding Yin was very powerful and I think ultimately shoves the series into my all-time favorites.
Emotional Draw – 5.0
Humor in the show will definitely be seen speckled throughout. A lot of it resides in the funny duo we see half-way. That pair, the man being a detective and somewhat bewildered by beautiful women with decent… Umm… Yeah… and the woman who is a funny cosplay fan, was great. Some of the jokes are definitely for the older people to appreciate, but overall the gang leaves you with a lot of gags which are genuinely funny. My personal favorite episode of the pair is with Mao when he gets lost. At the same time the Detective duo is hired by a rich woman to find her missing cat, and since the Detective hates all things Cats, the incident with Mao and the detective was sure genius. Of course, it was just like the show to have some heavy elements at the end when we find out the ulterior motive of the rich woman, and that further added to the brilliance of the refreshing break from the deadness of the Contractor’s life.
Ah, yes. Darker than Black brings back a lot of good memories. Despite many of the character’s not having much emotions, I found the show masterfully was able to manipulate emotions to wherever the director wanted the viewer to focus on. From the very beginning, there was something tragic about the story. Literally, I would watch the show excited, and even though I was definitely impressed, I also had this strange feeling of depression. Not the overly politicized version you hear in the news everyday, but a genuine sadness that would envelope me. It took me a long time to figure out what the feeling was, and I even stopped in a middle of an episode before I reached the epiphany.
It was the Contractor’s and Doll’s horrid state of being unable to express themselves. Truly, coldness is the worst emotion to feel, it is death and vanity. This thought about being separated with what splendidly makes us human… what makes us made in His image, the ability to fully weep or cheer for joy, to show love to others and know why your doing so beyond what a dog might feel. It was this void which was giving me that feeling… And it is this convoluted emotion that made me into a fan of the show.
The look of the Contractor’s eyes, emotionless in their normal state, devoid of being able to be scared or angry or happy, these things are a tragedy, and even more impressionable by the Doll’s lifeless state of being. Just looking at those characters, episode to episode, was something of a challenge, but a challenge nonetheless excellently answered by the author. If I can say one thing that makes Darker Than Black a must to own, it is this idea behind those from the Gate.
There are way too many things I liked about this first season to properly comment on. So I’ll limit it to some notable episodes. Let’s start with an early episode regarding the schoolgirl Mai Kashiwagi. How epic and deep were those notes flying when you see her turn into that Moratorium which she is. Especially when her best friend and her father try to have her come with them during a crisis. The horror in which they perish by Mai’s own unwilling hands (or eyes as her power comes from), was heart-wrenching. Seeing Hei use an emotional feeling to guide his decision to not only save the poor wretch from death, but also allow her the closure she needed with her father to help make sense of things was impeccably well done. It still brings a slew of emotions to my throat thinking about that arc, which is always a good sign for any show.
The next arc is Yin’s. While not quite like the OVAs, which spend a lot of time with her, this arc is the one where Yin is starting to act a bit different than other Dolls typically do. So much so, that Yin herself runs away!!! While no one else really knows for sure, a man named Eelis Kastinen picks her up. Eelis was her former piano teacher and wants to bring her back home to her mother, although Yin is having an emotional thought in her head as she insists she doesn’t want to go. The history revealed was definitely a strong one, and when you add the problem of Huang being ordered to kill Yin, it gets a bit hectic. How does Yin escape this fate? A tear from her eyes. Since Dolls don’t show emotions, it shocks both Huang and the viewer, as well as makes for a fantastic scene. I just loved the emotions that pour out as Yin decides she wants to stay with Hei.
Darker Than Black of course has it’s own flair of romances. Hei has to deal with the fact that he and Amber were once very close, and it’s a tragic reality that ultimately poor Amber sacrifices herself for the good of all. What the show did very well, is always keeping things in Hei’s perspective, so that at first you genuinely think Amber is a raving madgirl, but as time goes on your confused how to interpret her constant happy face. Once the realization of her meddling into the futures of everyone, and you instantly turn to sympathy for the girl, who went over the same things over and over in order to find the solution…and yet tragically enough for her own self, she is slowly losing herself. Just seeing her as a young child made sense of the different voices used and instantly sends a shock down your spine as you realize this journey is costing her life. I was especially touched by that ending, when Hei does the right thing as he’s learned where Contractors fit in this world…. And it’s not to annihilate normal people. This redemptive part of the story is very well done as much as the reasoning behind the first Gate incident.
Characters – 4.88
Hei – 5.0
Jason Liebrecht showcases his talent in this series casting the masked Reaper. One of the tricky aspects of the cast role is the lack of emotions that Hei must show. There are some moments of emotions whenever Hei is undercover, but it does take a bit of talent to feel as cold and calculating as the series demands. Hei is an unusual Contractor, in that he wasn’t made one by the usual method after the first Gate showed up. He’s cold, cruel, and yet an unwavering hero when it comes to doing the right thing. He’s a character who is slowly opening himself up to who he is, and the potential that he has. This slow evolution is easy to fall in love with, and undoubtedly the coolest opposite of a Bond Agent you’ll meet.
Yin – 4.9
Another great performance for Brina Palencia. Her ability to sound apathetic and yet still maintain that sympathy for her character is very good. I felt that most of her scenes were very solid. Yin is a Doll. Doll’s in general have access to the surveillance network, although they are unable to show emotions. At least, this was thought that. Yin herself is a complicated Doll as she is wrestling with her feelings which she normally does not feel. While this season does not go into detail here, it does setup a nice premise for the OVAs afterward.
Amber – 5.0
Amber is the leader of the Evening Primrose, and is played by Laura Bailey, who is best known for her role as Lust in the FMA series. I loved her ability to change her voice from the older sounding Amber to as young as the show called her to be. I honestly can’t think of a reason not give her the excellent grade and there was nothing one could say Amber should be disliked. Amber is trying to stop the annihilation of her kind, and has something to do with the last Gate instance in Japan. Amber herself is known as the oldest friend of Hei’s, and apparently there used to be something of a growing romance between them, which honestly makes the whole affair that much sadder. If Amber’s demise doesn’t bring a tear to your face, then maybe your related to Contractors. He he, just kidding.
Huang – 4.5
The leader of Hei’s team with the Syndicate, Huang is played by John Swasey. John does a very well rounded job on the man, and I felt that his story arc presented mid-show was well done. Huang himself is a rough character, although he fancies himself much different than the team he’s paired with. Between Mao, Hei, and Yin, Huang feels his world is being turned over a bit, and I think it helps his character overall. Without a doubt this short man becomes a loved-character, so it’s a shame we have to part ways towards the ending.
Mao – 5.0
The Cat in the group, Mao is played by Kent Williams. I love his rendition of the Cat, and felt that he nailed every scene he partakes in. Without a doubt, the show gives a lot of props to him by the pause pictures, but Mao’s a lovable Contractor. While his evolution is quite like Hei’s, Mao is definitely a Contractor who is getting rubbed off by Hei’s heroic character. Given to naps and eating Catfood Bits, this masculine feline will undoubtedly purr his way into your heart.
Creativity – 4.6
DTB is a dark show properly set in a dark setting. It’s kinda like your spy show, except the Hero is a gifted human who is as cold as ice when need be. There are some majestic scenes of the Wall which blocks the city from the site of the Gate in Japan, and I felt overall the scheme was successful in dictating some of the emotions of the show. The equipment used throughout the series felt realistic and I think this attention to detail helped the overall impressive performance of the series’ first season. Oh, and lets not forget the fixation on Cats in the series. Maybe it’s because of Mao (it is), but I found the different pictures to be very cute and funny. For such a serious show, having cute and fresh pictures of Cats was a bit funny in itself.
The idea of the Contractors and the Gates is fresh, and how those payments worked wonderful. Sure, some of the payments would make anyone gag, but I found it interesting how the powers themselves usually fit the person’s characteristics. There is of course one silly thing the show fails on: November 11 personally thinks that second-hand smoke is worse than smoking itself… Ironically, that factoid is complete garbage as second-hand smoke has been shown emphatically by some huge 30-year studies (anyone say 250,000 people?) to be no worse than any other air aggravate.
When it comes to the eyes of the Contractors, DTB does an excellent job of showing off their artists’ ability to catch the emotions (or lack thereof), and further helped the series. As for fight scenes, Choreography was fairly well done, with Hei being the coolest Bond you’ve ever met. Except of course, he’s not a ladies man. I love his little grappling gun he’s use in a blink of the eye, and the way he outwits his opponents was sheer genius.
Music in Darker Than Black is also very well done. There is something to say about some unmemorable moments in music in the first season, but overall a lot of the music just hits the right notes. Especially the more emotional scenes, the music there is fantastic and properly functions in the overall scheme. “HOWLING” by abingdon boys school is the beginning OP piece. It’s not the most memorable song, but that intro was made for a show like DTB. The other opening song is “Kakusei Heroism” by An Cafe. Personally, it’s just not that great of a song as it gets a tad bit repetitive both in terms of the singing notes and the harmony used.
For the Ending songs (ED), first we have Rie Fu‘s “Tsukiakari“. I’ve actually always been a fan of her work, and I think you can see why here. The song is soft in its interpretation, and successfully hits the tragic notes you the viewer are already contemplating. “Dreams” by HIGH and MIGHTY COLOR. The duo song is a fantastic song for the series. There is a bit of happiness and yet serenity delivered in the song, and it has a great melody that’s easy to pick up.
Grade Overall – 4.81
(Darker Than Black’s first season is a great piece of art. It’s definitely worth a watch and arguably should be in your Anime favorites.)