Anime: Darker than Black V01
While I still maintain my position as ‘not an Anime guy’, I am slowly starting to discover some really good stuff, which just so happens to be considered anime. DARKER THAN BLACK is one of those titles that walks the fine line for me, as far as being able to distinguish it as Anime (and not just Animated), and not falling too far into what I’ve already come to see as cliché or overt traits of this genre.
One storytelling element that I find fairly typical is that we are told a story, which is set some time after an event, which has changed the fundamental properties of the world. Be it the intervention of an alien race, or an explicit evolution in technology (and how it’s used), an extreme political shift, or something altogether inexplicable… in which case, making the occurrence of that event ‘plicable’ is often at the core of the plot. Such is the case for Darker Than Black. However unlike many other titles — which attempt to be enigmatic, but just come off as confusing for the viewer — the characters themselves are none the wiser when it comes to understanding the phenomena which changed their world. As such, the viewer doesn’t end up feeling like they’re being kept out of the loop.
Ten years earlier an area in Tokyo was physically changed by an unknown force. The landscape and sky were both affected, the latter of which was replaced with a facade. Each new faux star representing the existence of a super-powered being, known as a Contractor. Contractors appear human but they are devoid of emotions. As such many are employed by various governments and used as assassins and spies; their special abilities and emotional detachment mean that they are able to perform reprehensible acts, without remorse.
Whenever a contractor uses their powers, their corresponding faux star is seen to exhibit activity. When they die, their star falls. This gives government agencies the ability to track contractors, by assigning Messier Catalogue numbers to Contractor’s stars, whose identities are unknown.
There are other anomalies too (Dolls, Moratoriums, etc) but the first five episodes of Darker Then Black, on the Volume 1 release DVD, focus mostly on the actions of a group of Contractors and a team of Foreign Affairs (Division 4) investigators who track their activities.
There’s some pretty good character development in these first five episodes, and I love the fact that they manage to pull a few surprises out of their hat, by killing off characters that you’re invested in, and revealing others to have hidden agendas. There’s also some funky super-powers on show and a sense that there’s going to be a heavier helping of espionage/double-cross/shenanigans as the series continues.
Having watched this both with the English dub and again with the English subtitles, I’m of the opinion that the latter yields the better viewing experience. The differences are few, and subtle, but the narrative of the subtitled translation is much more robust than that of the English dub. And I say that with no intention of taking away from the English performers.
Is this show a must watch? I’m not sure, but I certainly found myself frustrated when the last episode of this release ended… which I guess suggests that I’m fairly hooked into the series. If you’re interested there’s a full episode of Darker Than Black available to watch on the Madman site here. [source]