Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Darker Than Black

Anime shows not based off of a manga are a bit of a rarity. Not saying that they don't happen because that would negate my previous sentence. They do happen, but the results are often hit and miss. More misses, really. Shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop are legends in the anime world and they were not based off manga. The same can be said of Mobile Suit Gundam and a few of its sequel shows. But shows like Blue Gender or Big O are not quite as good. Not entirely misses, but not mega hits, either. Big O has a childhood nostalgia for me so that helps me overlook its faults, but there's just no comparison between that show and the likes of Cowboy Bebop

Darker Than Black is a show that felt like an original anime not based on a manga. That's what the show is, but the reason I say it felt that way is because the style of the storytelling is very frustrating at times. It almost seemed very gimmicky and I don't like saying that at all. 

This show consists of 25 episodes and one original video animation (or OVA - It's an episode not shown on television and is essentially created for the purposes of adding to a box set). I'll get to the OVA later, but for now I want to talk about the style of the storytelling. 

The first twenty-two episodes are all two-parters. That means that the show essentially has eleven different subplots that are more or less resolved in only two episodes. Episode two concludes the storyline of episode one. Episode four concludes the storyline of episode three. And so on and so forth until we reach episode 22, the last of the two-parters. These twenty-two episodes should be watched in order because there is an over-arching storyline that gradually builds and is ultimately concluded (more or less) in the final three episodes of the series. But the frustrating thing is the lack on flow. There's a real "start-stop" flow for most of the series and the complexity of the story's plot makes one wonder if the story could possibly have been told in a better and clearer way. With all the sub-plots there are that essentially introduce the story and the characters there are others sub-plots left unexplored to the extent that they should have been. Inevitably, all of the main characters cross paths at some point, but there's often just a stilted exchange that really makes me wish that these stories had been planned out and expanded just a bit more. The two-parter style the show has for most of the series really disallows for much growth beyond the set of sub-plots. And by the time the final three episodes roll around there's almost no room to venture into areas unexplored. The action simply happens and then it ends and so many questions are left unanswered. 

Of course, there's a twelve episode sequel series called Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, but I haven't seen that yet so I can't say for sure if any of my questions will be answered. I just hope that two-parter crap isn't present. I like two-parters as much as the next guy, but I just watched eleven of them. I've had my fill. 

Now onto the actual story. It's a complicated one. We are more or less introduced to the main character of the series from the get-go and he goes by the name of Hei. He also goes by the name of BK201, Li Shengshun, and the Black Reaper. He is what is known as a Contractor and he has special powers only befitting of a Contractor. But each Contractor has a payment they must make as a result of having these special powers, but it is unclear just what Hei's payment is. 

There is a special force of the Japanese police force that are after Hei and other Contractors in general for reasons that are not entirely made clear at first. Since Contractors are not entirely human and are often more dangerous than most humans, one can assume that fear of the unknown is the main reason the Contractors are so hunted. Of course, many Contractors are cold and ruthless and entirely without honor. They believe in being wholly rational and things like dreams and ideals are pointless. A Contractor would gladly deceive, steal, kill, and sell itself to an enemy in order to maintain self-preservation. It is precisely these traits that the people that chase them fear and is a logical reason they do chase them after all... but the true reason is a bit more malevolent. 

And the Contractors are just what the infamous Syndicate want to utilize as tools. Since the war in South America (dubbed "Heaven's War") where an entire city was leveled off the map, Hei has become just one of those tools. 

But Hei is somehow different from other Contractors. He even seems to be emotional at times. Why does he serve the Syndicate? And how is he connected with the strange wall named "Hell's Gate" that surrounds an infected area of Tokyo where only chaos seems to dwell? 

This is a very intriguing series and I wish it would have lasted a bit longer. Again, I know there is a second season, but I have my doubts about just what will be revealed. 

P.S. - As promised I said that I'd go over the OVA. It is listed as the 26th episode and even is the last episode on the DVD collection but it is not the last episode of the first season! It takes place somewhere in the final third part of the series. It doesn't add much to the series except for one moment where Hei's true identity as the Black Reaper is found out by Misaki Kirihara, the section chief in charge of investigating all things Contractors as well as BK201. The significance of this discovery in terms of the series as a whole is almost nothing because... well, her memory of the moment is completely erased by a bit of inadvertent deux ex machina. But it is a neat moment anyway.

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