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.

Rachel Aseltine

R.A. Aseltine is an author and roleplayer living in California with her husband, guinea pig, and five cats.

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