Sunday, June 5, 2011

Darker Than Black

Darker Than Black is an anime from 2007 with a second season and an OAV that I haven't seen but very much want to. It takes place ten years after two reality twisting anomalies appeared on earth, one in Brasil and the other in Tokyo. They are known as "Heavan's Gate" and "Hell's Gate," respectively. When this happened the sky was changed so that the moon was no longer visible and the stars were replaced with new ones. What the general public doesn't know is that these new stars correspond to people now known as "contractors" who have lost all of their emotions but gained supernatural powers, turning them into the perfect killers. Whenever one of these contractors dies, their corresponding star falls. Every major government (and some other non-political entities) use these contractors as assassins and agents to collect information. This in and of itself isn't very new, all sorts of shows (such as S-Cry-Ed, Heroes, X-Men) have similar ideas with people gaining unique powers, but Darker Than Black does add a new dimension, though. While contractors each have unique abilities, (ranging from teleportation, to pyrokenesis, to freezing stuff, to blowing stuff up) they also have to pay a price (called a "remuneration" in the sub) these can range from obsessive/compulsive actions (setting stones into a grid, putting people's shoes upside-down, kissing people) to the uncontrollable (falling asleep, aging more quickly, aging backwards).

The story follows Hei (Chinese for "black"), a contractor with electrical powers, who was also known as "The Black Reaper," and was a feared killer before he ever gained his powers. He works for a group known as "The Syndicate" (original, I know) in Tokyo, doing dirty work such as killing rival contractors and stealing information and technology relating to Hell's Gate. Though there is something strange about Hei, and at times it seems he doesn't always have the Syndicate's best interests at hand.
That's the gist of the story, but it's kind of like saying that Cowboy Bebop is about Bounty Hunters in Space. Technically it's true, but there's so much more going on, you really need to watch the show.
Darker than Black is the brainchild of Tensai Okamura, a veteran of the industry who has worked on such important animes as Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Ghost in the Shell, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. He has definitely learned a lot while working under some of anime's greatest directors. The animation is polished, the fights scenes are incredible, and characters are 3-dimensional. Seriously, you really come to care about the characters, even the ones you hate or should hate. Point in case, there's a minor character introduced early in the series who is explicitly stated to have been one of the most feared contractors in the world, having killed literally thousands of people, whose remuneration was drinking the blood of children. Yet despite knowing this, you come to feel sorry for her and care about her. Not many people could make you do that.
That's not to say that Okamura is the best director ever. While I certainly think that he's very talented, he lacks a certain je ne sais quoi that other directors, such as Shinichiro Watanabe, have. I suppose that's rather unfair of me to say, since talent like Watanabe's comes along once in a generation. It's just that there are times where I can't help but compare Darker Than Black to Cowboy Bebop. It's probably because Okamura worked on Cowboy Bebop and brought a lot of what he learned to Darker Than Black.
Perhaps the smartest thing that Okamura did was get Yoko Kanno to do the music. As is typical of Kanno, the music is simply amazing. It's real jazzy with a bit of of a noir-ish/70's detective show flair to it. Simply amazing.

Bottom line: This show is amazing, and you should definitely watch it, if you don't mind the violence. It's certainly one of the best shows to come out in the past few years, though I doubt that it will ever be recognized as part of the "canon" of anime.

1 comment:

  1. I rather enjoyed Darker than Black, particularly the two-episode story arcs. The characters were all handled well, including those who were only there for a couple episodes.
    I never really understood anything going on regarding the general plot in the background, though. =/ The show really enjoyed being mysterious and vague at times. (Which was unfortunately kicked into overdrive in the second season...)
    Overall a pretty cool series, though. Hei was rather awesome.