Darker Than Black
Anime DVD Review
Darker Than Black feels like Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, as seen from the other side, and in this case, the criminals are always one step ahead of the police. Mix in some Supernatural Beast City, and sprinkle on some Spiral Zone, and that's what comes out of the oven after baking.
Darker than Black is set in a rather bleak future Earth (although it looks much like modern day Tokyo), in which abnormal/supernatural territories have appeared (10 years before the start of the series) in both Tokyo and in South America, called "Hell's Gate" and "Heaven's Gate."
When the gates appeared, so did "Contractors," emotionless killing machines with unique abilities who must pay for their powers by various "remunerations," such as smoking, self-mutilation, singing, or drinking (think of it as the X-Men, but every time Wolverine uses his claws, he's then got to break two of his fingers... Ouch!)
Hei is one such contractor, with the ability to discharge electricity. However, he is a strange contractor: he occasionally acts on emotions, and it's unclear whether he even has a "remuneration." He is the muscle of the operation in a group of four who seem to be performing secret missions. But who's side are these guys on? They are pursued by police, and pursued by criminal forces taking advantage of the presence of contractors.
Like many recent series, there's a lot of new terminology to learn, and the learning curve for this series is very steep. We strongly suggest you read the Wikipedia page to brush up on all that fancy dialog that's going to be whizzing over your head if you're not prepared.
Had we known that Darker than Black would require cliff notes in order to even watch it, we would have passed. However, this series has a lot going for it. For starters; Darker than Black was animated by BONES, the studio which produced, among other things, Fullmetal Alchemist, Wolf's Rain, and Blood+. It was directed by Tensai Okamura, who directed the Cowboy Bebop movie and also worked on the TV series, as well as directing the Wolf's Rain OVA.
And perhaps greater than all of these is the music, created by none other than Yoko Kanno, the master who composed music for Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, various Macross series, and a dozen or so others. Here, Kanno delivers a fresh jazz inspired soundtrack reminiscent of Bebop, which wonderfully plays against the doom and gloom.
Below: Scenes from Darker Than Black.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, January 2009