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DVD Review

DVD cover

Darker Than Black
Volumes 1 & 2


Starring (voice): Hidenobu Kiuchi, Ikuya Sawaki, Masaru Ikeda and Misato Fukuen
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 31 August 2009

Several years have passed since that fateful night when the Tokyo skyline was changed forever by the arrival of the enigmatic Hell’s Gate. As old stars, in the sky, disappeared forever new faux stars appeared in their place and amongst the human population changes were noticed. A new form of humanity was born that day, Contractors’ whose psychic abilities made them both feared and desired by their lesser cousins. One of these emergent human’s, Hei (Chinese for Black), works for an independent syndicate dedicated to stopping the worst excesses of rouge Contractors. Always keeping just one step ahead of the law Hei searches for answers to what happened and meaning to his life...

Darker than Black (2007) is a relative oddity amongst animes as it was never based on a manga, rather, following the success of the show a manga followed. The show was written and directed by Tensai Okamura. This means that the show has the strength of only having one vision permeating the narrative and the direction, unfortunately it also means that the show isn’t as taut and exciting as it could have been.

There’s nothing wrong with the ideas behind the show, in fact the opening two-parter (Eps 1 & 2) The Fallen Star of a Contract holds much promise as a science fiction show. We meet Hei, a Contractor. The Contractors are usually designated by their Messier catalogue number, as their corresponding false star oscillates whenever they use their powers. Great power comes at a price and the few humans which are aware of their existence feel that the Contractors have lost part of their humanity, their ability to feel. This makes them much sought after as killers.

Hei is the main protagonist of the show, who in the first show moves into an apartment to fulfil his mission and stays. A young Chinese man he goes under the pseudonym of Lee Shenshun, when he isn’t working and The Black Reaper when he undertakes missions for the syndicate. Hei is presented as a multi-faceted creature. As the Reaper he is a cold hearted killer able to manipulate electricity, but in his private life he is a sensitive soul in search of his sister who was lost when the South American gate was destroyed.

Where the show loses its way, in these first episodes, is that rather than expand on the back-story or the characters the initial shows settle into a kind of mission of the week. The next two parter (eps 3 & 4) A New Star Shines in the Dawn Sky, Tahara, the only survivor of a scientific expedition into the gate, holds a dark secret in the form of his daughter Mai. When she starts to exhibit powers, the ability to cause things to combust, including people, she comes to the attention of both the police and other rogue organisations. It becomes a race between Hei and the others to retrieve the girl.

The next story Red Giant Over Eastern Europe (Eps 5 & 6) and a dispute between a client and the mafia leads the man to unleash his contractor, killing them all. The Contractors are revealed to be a part of MI6 who are after another Contractor called Havoc. Hei wants havoc for his own purposes and he believes that she holds information about his missing sister. Once more there is a race against time, which is the point that the penny dropped that information outside of the current episode was going to scant and that the show’s narrative structure was likely to become repetitive.

The next story, The Scent of Gardenias in the Summer Rain (Eps 7 & 8) went some was to contradict my previous fears, with a comedy about a private investigator named Guy who is hired to find a wealthy woman’s black cat. They cross paths with Hei as he is investigating the Contractor murders of Guys Company. Obviously Hei goes off on another race against time, but here the fun is to be had following Guy, which elevates the show's quality.

The last story in the two disc set is The White Dress, Stained With The Girl’s Dreams and Blood (Eps 9 & 10) another story and another mission. This time Misaki, the police investigator who pops up in most of the preceding episodes ends up at a class reunion whilst investigating a string of deaths. Hei is also investigating the same crimes when all Hell breaks lose.

As you can see there are many laudable elements about the show, which are just not exploited enough. The animation is top notch; it’s just the narrative which lets it down a bit.

The discs does come with a few extras, including a full length commentary for episodes two and nine, the usual textless opening and closing sequences as well as character biographies and a settings gallery. Lastly you get a number of short cast auditions, nice touch, I thought. Not a bad set for an anime, especially as they sell in relatively small numbers. Audio is a rather good English 5.1 or the original Japanese 2.0; in this instance the English dub track is superior to the original.

On balance the show has more benefits than faults and hopefully it will find its stride in the second half of the season.


Charles Packer

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