Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Running Time: 120 minutes
Genre: Sci-fi Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: November 25, 2008
Black is really beginning to be my favorite color.
The Ghost in the Shell series is one of the many reasons I began truly loving all things anime and I must admit that at the time it wasn’t the easiest sci-fi series to follow but in the end I found myself drawn in by the great animation and sharp-as-a-tack writing. FUNimation, with the good folks at Aniplex, bring us a new breed of dark hero and sci-fi action with Darker than Black and I must say that this one has the makings of a true sci-fi classic.
Darker than Black, Volume 1, contains five episodes that barely scratch the surface of the events that changed all of Japan. You see, ten years ago a strange anomaly appeared, ripping the skies and landscape in such a way that it has quickly come to be known as Hell’s Gate. Strange heavenly bodies began to appear, replacing our own stars and constellations with fake ones. At the same time, people with unique abilities were discovered and kept a secret by the various governments around the globe. These individuals are connected with a fake star above and is compelled to kill in the name of the government that knows of their existence. These people are called Contractors.
In the first episode, a Contractor is being pursued by government agent when the Contractor is hunted down by yet another Contractor that has been assigned the designation number BK201. This slender, masked killer in black goes by another name and it is the Black Reaper. We are also introduced to a special task force called Division 4 that is tasked with handling all things Contractor and anything pertaining to the Hell’s Gate. Let by an all-business Section-Chief named Misaki Kirihara, the special division gets wind that the Black Reaper is starting to sound less like a myth and more like a reality.
We also meet Hei who has moves about under the guise of a young Chinese student named Li. The truth is – and I’m not giving anything away by revealing this – is that Hei is really the Black Reaper. As a member of a mysterious group called the Syndicate, Hei’s cover as a student makes it easier for him to move throughout the city looking for other Contractors but also Dolls – beings observe as well as take mimic a human form to act as a sort of free agent to do their bidding. In the first and second episode of the disc, Hei targets his lovely next door neighbor who works at a host club. The problem is that Division 4 is also looking for this woman that may or may not be a Doll. Oh, but there’s another group looking for this young woman as well and it’s Hei who helps her evade both groups.
In the third episode, we are introduced to a school girl named Mai who suddenly blanks out and ignites fires. After the first two episodes, we come to discover that as the Reaper, Hei is fed Intel via his fellow Syndicate members that include a young girl who works at a newsstand and a black cat that talks like BLEACH’s Mr. Yorouichi. The episode also shows what a proficient killer he is as Hei wields the power of electricity he injects into his fiber wire. We also come to see that Hei might be a heartless killer but he did try to help out his last target. The same can be said about the third and fourth episode as Hei tries to keep Mai safe from herself and those that wish to get to her physician father.
I won’t get into too much detail about how this two-part story arc ends but its clear that there are no happy endings in Darker than Black’s first four episodes and we come to see how detached and heartless Contractors are but also how mysterious they can be as well. In the fifth episode, we are introduces to three Contractors who claim to be sent on a mission by the United Kingdom’s MI6. One has the power to freeze his enemies while the other has the power to control weather while the boy is like a medium. The three are sent on a mission to escort a redheaded woman who is wanted by every government agency including the CIA. The mystery behind this woman has Division 4 interested and suspicious of the MI6 agents and as they escort the mystery woman to a safe house, the Section-Chief gets her first look at the Reaper who takes on the MI6 agents.
The storytelling in the series is intelligent and often not very easy to follow if you’re not accustomed to this type of sci-fi. If you are then you’ll know that no mystery is ever really revealed and the characters – although interesting – are not easy to read. It’s also refreshing to find great animation with a solid English dub voice cast and even better Japanese voice cast. The music, by the always amazing composer Yoko Kano, simply comes together to make this a great production.
Darker than Black’s first volume brings us five very intriguing and utterly watch worthy episodes that reveal a smart and fun series sci-fi and action anime fans can really sink their teeth into from Episode 1 down to the last episode on the disc. While the five episodes don’t explain a lot, half the fun of watching a show like this is watching the mystery unravel along the way. This is definitely a DVD I’m recommending very highly.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
This is a great introduction to what looks to be yet another great sci-fi action series with plenty of depth and interesting characters. If you were slightly baffled by Ghost in the Shell‘s premise, Darker than Black will seem a tad confusing to the uninitiated. Still, there’s plenty of excitement and great moments in the first five episodes.
VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Sharp, crisp and fluid animation is just what you would expect from BONES and a studio that has a strong track record of releasing quality visuals. Darker than Black is a wonderfully visceral treat, indeed.
AUDIO QUALITY: A+
Aside from looking good, the sound quality is also excellent so this one really sounds good if you have a good sound system. Rare is the anime series where I’m comfortable with the English dub but this one handles the dialogue perfectly. Oh, and the music is beyond lovely.
There’s a fun commentary track for Episode 2 from two English dub voice actors and the Cast Auditions section is interesting if you’re wondering what an audition is like for voice actors. Then there’s the usual assortment of trailers and the opening and closing songs sans the text.
Darker than Black doesn’t raise the bar for the genre but it is one seriously enjoyable and exciting series that promises to be one of those fan favorite sci-fi shows worth watching. Nothing giving a lot away even in its five episodes, it’s great when solid writing and gorgeous animation come together this nicely. We’re definitely keeping a close eye on this series.