Darker Than Black Movie Review
Darker Than Black is perhaps the most pleasant surprise I’ve come across in a long time. I had never heard anything about it, before Netflix did me the favor of recommending it. The series, by Tensai Okamura (who worked on one of my favorite anime, Cowboy Bebop), is an incredible, supernatural sci-fi neo-noir. I know it’s a mouthful, but it’s as great as it sounds. Let me just put it this way: I was originally going to watch all 25 episodes (as well as the 26th OVA) over the course of a week, but instead, I hit them all in two days.
The series takes place in an alternate universe in which a bizarre anomaly appeared in Tokyo. At the exact same time, all of the stars in the sky and the moon disappeared from sight, only to be replaced by false stars which correlate to people with bizarre powers, who started appearing in society. These people are known as contractors, because of the price they have to pay for their abilities. Their compulsive habits range from self mutilation to completing meaningless tasks. To top it off, contractors are sociopaths who lack emotions and often use their abilities as spies or assassins. This anime follows the story of Hei (voiced by Jason Liebrecht), a mercenary who earned the alias the Black Reaper in a war in South America around a similar abnormality, all before he became a contractor. Now, he works in Tokyo as an agent for a powerful syndicate alongside his comrades, Mao (Kent Williams), another contractor trapped in the body of a black cat; Yin (Brina Palencia), an emotionless girl with the ability to track and spy on people; and Huang (John Swasey), a hard-nosed human in charge of the merry team.
I have to say, the character Hei might top my list as one of the coolest characters I’ve ever seen in an anime. His character design as the Black Reaper is streamlined and intimidating without being over-the-top. There’s also a great deal of creativity that went into his design as far as combining his use of weapons with his ability as a contractor. What makes him even more interesting is that his power isn’t even the most incredible in the series. It really gives his character a chance to show off the fact that he is more about his skills than his powers, and that makes for a much more interesting character. It’s like this with all of the characters in the series: They’re all remarkably well done and are effectively understated. Plus, the series makes creative use of all the contractors’ powers, making the fights more like games of cat-and-mouse than all-out brawls.
Darker Than Black is also interesting because almost all of its storylines take up two episodes. This gives the chance for the series to paces itself, instead of rushing through each episode. However, it also keeps a subtle overall story arc that almost seems to sneak up on you. Little things that don’t seem to matter that much in earlier episodes come back to bite you in the closing ones. What I like most about this method is that it doesn’t make you feel like you have to keep tuning watching episode after episode because of constant cliffhangers. This doesn’t mean that you don’t want to keep tuning in, though: The series becomes ridiculously addicting. Bones studio has managed to make another great series, and they are quickly becoming one of my favorite animation studios (they’ve done series like both Full Metal Alchemist series and Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heavens Door).
I can’t stress enough how enjoyable I found this series. It’s philosophical without being too heavy-handed, and the voice acting is top-notch. Sure, it has some ridiculous side stories about a private eye and his anime-obsessed partner, but it’s nothing that can’t be overlooked. Still, I thought that these two characters really took something away from the episodes they showed up in. While I’ve still got a lot of anime to catch up on, this might be my favorite anime from the last decade. If you’re a fan of anime, you have to check this series out. However, make sure you don’t have any plans for the next day or two. In the meantime, I can’t wait for the sequel series Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor to make it’s way to our shores.