Darker Than Black Review

There goes our hero.

Darker Than Black is a short 25 episode series (with a little OVA episode at the end, rounding it out to 26) about a mostly modern world with a very strange twist: due to an event 10 years ago, there is this enormous gate around Japan called Hell’s Gate. A matching gate called Heaven’s Gate resides in South America, where a terrible tragedy took place five years ago. That tragedy is believed to have killed many, taking a chunk of the world with it–but they really just don’t know what the hell is going on in there. In this world, people began to change. There are still normal human beings who make up the majority of the world, and these people have no idea what’s going on around them. Oh, they know about the Gates, and they’ve heard rumors, but that’s about it.

The warped people come in a few different classes. First off, there are the Contractors. These guys possess very rational minds and are said to be nothing but killing machines. They all have supernatural abilities, like teleportation, gravity nullification, and blowing shit up. But, in order to use these oh-so-awesome abilities, they have to pay a price! Now, some of these prices aren’t so bad. You’ve got this one chick who just has to kiss people. There’s another guy who has to eat hard boiled eggs, and yet another who must leave shoes standing upside down. But some of these people are stuck with really cruel prices; drinking children’s blood, breaking one’s own fingers, even eating something and having to regurgitate it back up. These prices are really very random and have very little to do with the skill; one character’s ability is ice-based but he has to smoke a cigarette as his price.

Darker Than Black starts out with some weird guy throwing people around with his mind. He’s being chased by this mysterious dude in a mask who happens to always be carrying wire with him and wears a bulletproof trenchcoat. So basically, he’s stylish and practical at the same time. Bad ass. Anyway, once the masked man catches up with Mr. Contractor, he spews some exposition stuff–“Where’s the girl and the stuff, man?“–and then kills the Contractor by placing his hand over his face and electrocuting him: telling us that he, too, is a Contractor. Whoa, a Contractor hunting Contractors?! WHAT? The scene transitions to a loser that we already know is Masked Man, as he moves into a crappy apartment building run by a cranky old woman. As he’s entering his apartment for the first time, the girl next door comes out and the old lady tries very obviously to push them together. However, it doesn’t really work, since the girl is totally apathetic and the guy, going by the name Lee, is acting like a bashful loser.

Well, we skip on over to our other main character, the Chief of Police, Kirihara. She’s got two hapless idiots on her team, and they’re hanging out a strip club called Club Pinky. There, they’re spending quality time with the lady next door to Lee! Dun dun dun! She’s all smiles and flirts, but when she gets up, she whispers something to the club owners. The owners come over, threatening to call the police since they’re allegedly harassing their girl, but one of them whips out his badge shouting, “We are the police!” Off they go to chase the girl down. She ends up running into our boy “Lee,” who is star-gazing. Here we learn the stars in the sky are “fake.” They actually represent the Contractors–every time a star falls, it signifies that a Contractor has died. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee come looking for the girl, but Lee acts fast and starts making out with her and the cops move on. Then the girl runs off, too, because she’s a total idiot.

After a series of Lee bumping into the girl “coincidentally,” we find out that he’s with an organization himself, and he’s looking for the same thing the cops and a group of Contractors are looking for. The girl has it: information. Lee gets duped, the girl turns out to be a fake, and Lee gets a tongue thrashing from his boss, of sorts, an old warty-faced man named Huang.

Most of the episodes deal with “Lee”–who is known as Hei amongst his group–taking odd jobs so he can watch a target, then move in and retrieve some item or piece of information. There’s a couple of episodes where he goes into the Pandorum research program and works as a janitor, hiding his own Contractor-like abilities for most of his stay. The spy aspect, with several organizations vying for the same objects or information, was seriously interesting and the characters were all entertaining. I especially loved the black kitty with the communicator/radio masking as a bell around his collar. And yep, he’s a Contractor, too.

I personally found the ability system to be quite intriguing. I loved learning the prices people had to pay for their abilities, and I loved the way the abilities worked. There’s one character whose price is to cut himself. It actually does tie in with his ability, too. In order to use his ability, he must splash blood on the surface of his choice, and then he snaps his finger and BOOM, that shit is gone. So yes, if you have a bit of his blood on your face, say goodbye to your face. One of my favorites was this kid who needed to touch the surface of the objects he wanted to blow up; it’s sort of the same as the blood guy, but a little different–and holy crap! This kid’s ability was much more destructive. Where blood guy’s ability only effected the area where the blood touched, the kid’s handprints only acted as a detonator. He could blow up entire buildings just by wiping his hand on a wall!

All in all, I’d say that Darker Than Black is definitely worth a watch. If you like spies, infiltration, various organizations, a dash of mystery, and the supernatural, it’s the anime for you. It’s a little gory, and pretty much half the cast goes missing or dead, but that’s what I liked about it; I’m getting tired of watching the heroes die and then come back to life through the salty, sentimental tears of children. I watched the English dub by Funimation and was quite impressed with the voice work. The old men sounded old, the young men sounded young, the girls like girls, the women like women, and the children like children (with the exception of one–I’m not a huge fan of women playing little boys). Although there was one old man on the police force who constantly sounded as if he was choking on baloney.

If you have the time and haven’t already watched it, I definitely recommend Darker Than Black.

Modern Language In A Fantasy Setting

Sometimes I think critiques can be more detrimental than helpful. I appreciate the time people put into my work and I appreciate their aid. Every single critique I’ve ever received is helpful in its own way. I’m not here to get angry at that. What gets to me is that I constantly get the same complaint/comment and it’s really starting to wear thin on me.

What’s that complaint? Modern language in a fantasy setting.

Where in the fantasy molding does it say that I’m not allowed to use language we use today in my own fantasy worlds? Maybe I don’t want to be another boring, stuffy, hard to understand fantasy. I could, arguably, write more modern fantasy but what if I want to play around in a new setting or world? Apparently, you can’t have the best of both worlds, because I get the feeling that very few fantasy fans would pick up my work based on the modern language I tend to use. It’s not hard to come to that conclusion when practically every reader of my work has to point out to me that my modern language is jarring.

A good rule of thumb in writing: when you get the same comments, you’re obviously doing it wrong, but this is something that I really don’t want to budge on. I don’t want to write fantasy the way everybody else does. I love fantasy settings, I love new and alien worlds with different concepts and characters. What I don’t love is all the archaic lingo.

I try to compare my work to a video game. When you play Tales of the Abyss, clearly a fantasy, in a fantasy setting with fantastical characters, you don’t get all up in arms about their language not being right, that it sounds too modern, do you? This is why I market myself as “light fantasy” because it’s not Medieval and it’s not meant to be heavy and hard to follow. It’s supposed to be a fun romp through a new world, like a fantasy style video game is.

But I can’t seem to get people to see it the way I see it.

Dusty Old Writing Rules

When I wrote my first Nano story, one of the girls harped on me because she had this huge pet peeve against people who started sentences with conjunctions. But (har har) it wasn’t conjunctions, namely it was starting a sentence with the words “And” or “But” — which she said was the mark of a bad writer. Why? Because it’s bad grammar. If you look around, many best selling authors are selling books that make use of conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence. Personally, I think it packs more of a punch sometimes.

Now, I can see why one might not want to use “And” or “But” at the beginning of a sentence in an official document. I do believe it’s actually accepted to use conjunctions on non-formal writing. I also believe novels, short stories, and roleplay posts would count as non formal. Especially the latter. I mean, come on. It’s a roleplay post. What are you going to do, grade me on it?

It’s all about personal preference. Some writers genuinely don’t like it. I have my own personal preferences. While reading, if there is too much telling, it reads like a book aimed at the very young. I don’t like my writing to be overly simplistic. At the same time, I despise purple prose and I think if you’re abusing a thesaurus just to sound smart, all you really end up doing is looking pretentious. It comes across as if you want everybody to think “Wow, what an extensive vocabulary!” There’s a time and a place for those five dollar words and I can tell you that it’s not in every single sentence you write.

I don’t believe in a lot of dusty old writing rules. Adverbs are brilliant when used correctly and one of my favorite authors in the world, Diana Wynne Jones, uses them. A sentence in one of her novels that had me rolling happened to make good use of an adverb. To be quite honest, I don’t even think that sentence would have read as humorously if it hadn’t used an adverb. I’ll agree that too many of them tend to make a story or passage look lazy; there are times where you can get the same feeling across without using an adverb. But not to use them at all? Pfft.

Some of my favorite authors (Stephen King, for one) have even cited these rules as rubbish in their non fiction books on writing. Should I take the advice of these best-selling authors, or some no-name girl at a Nano event? Hm… <–That right there is another thing. Ellipses. My English teacher in college berated me mercilessly for its usage. I’ll tell you right now; I love ellipses. Love ’em, love ’em, love ’em — and I’ll continue to use them.

I think when you’re writing, you need to write organically. Write using your character’s voice. Don’t be afraid to think outside those old rules.

If you don’t believe me, then check these links out for more information!

Grammar Rules to Break

Conjunctions

Coordinating Conjunctions

Getting The Mojo To Write

Sometimes, I think the most difficult part of being a writer is getting the mojo–the get up and go, the inspiration–to actually sit down and write. I don’t know how many times I’ve poured myself a soda, positioned myself nice and comfy, turned on the “mood” music for the next chapter or post, and then found myself simply staring at the screen. Don’t we all have that problem? The worst part is, you then forget what it was that you were doing! You see all the pretty bookmarks you’ve managed to collect over the years and think “Ooh, maybe I’ll just check on so-and-so place, my facebook, my email, this forum…” and before you know it, a couple of hours have passed and you still haven’t written a damn thing.

I still haven’t found that magic bullet to cure writer’s block. Many writers say you need to power through it, write through the block. While that does work, what makes you write the first word on the page? And the second? The third? Admittedly, once I begin, it doesn’t seem so daunting a task. I’ve surprised myself by what I can accomplish within a scant hour or two of writing. That doesn’t stop the blocks from coming.

So, other than powering through, what else do you do? I find taking a step back also helps. (I know, conflicting advice FTW, right? Power through, take a step back.) It helps to move away from the computer and go watch a movie that inspires, listen to music that tells a story, or just plain take a long car drive. I don’t know how many brilliant ideas have popped into my head while driving out to Bakersfield. The drive combined with music is the best inspiration for me. Gives me time to actually listen to the music, rather than use it as mere background filler while I’m writing.

I also find that it helps to keep a notebook near the bed. My ideas love to strike when I’m drifting into sleep–or sometimes my dreams give me ideas that get my mojo running again!

There’s no getting around the fact that there are just days when nothing wants to be written, but don’t waste the time you’re not using to write. Observe what happens around you, ask questions while watching movies or television like “What would have happened if she wasn’t saved at the last second?” Ask yourself what the story might have been like told from a different perspective. Alter the ending of the movie!

So power through, take a step back, get inspired. There are so many stories waiting to be told; you have only to look for them. Decide how you want to tell the story, choose your protagonist carefully. Nobody said a story written in the perspective of the murderer’s cat would be boring.