Title: Darker Than Black
Genre: action, sci-fi, supernatural
Released date: April 5, 2007 – September 28, 2007
Director: Tensai Okamura
Animated by: Studio BONES
Comment: Ten years ago, two mysterious objects appeared on earth. They were called Hell’s Gate and Heaven’s Gate. After the incident, a new race of human was born; The Contractors who were gifted with superhuman powers but lacked emotions and the Dolls who could create surveillance specters but had no souls. The story follows Li Shengshun, aka Hei, who is a Contractor with an ability to manipulate electricity. He works for the Syndicate in various missions. His team consists of other three people; Yin, the Doll who uses water as medium; Mao, the Contractor trapped in a black cat’s body and Huang the former police officer.
Darker than Black series is arranged into separate story arcs. Each arc consists of two consecutive episodes about different mission that Li has to complete. Compared to other animes which end the story within single 25 minute episode, Darker Than Black is able to put in much greater detail, build up the tension and create an impressive ending to each arc. I definitely had a good time watching it. Every single episode is fun, engaging with spectacular animation. But there was also another feeling that kept nagging me and it became clearer as the series progressed. I didn’t realize it at first until I was already half way into the series. It’s the feeling of emptiness. In the first 14 episodes, the only hint of main plot is Li’s quest to find his sister but this story is mentioned only rarely. Most of the time, Li is on missions which are not really related to each other and he seems to be apathy, just following orders from the syndicate. Maybe I set my expectation too high for this anime. Maybe I should just enjoy each episode separately. I can’t help feeling that beneath the dazzling visuals, the intriguing stories in each episode and many interesting things introduced in the story such as The Hell’s Gate, The Contractor, The Dolls etc., there is nothing for the viewers to hold on to. There seems to be no main idea in this series. What is it trying to say? What is the meaning of all the odd things and these super humans? Where is this anime leading me to? The anime provides no answer for these questions. The viewers are lost in the dark, darker than black, at least during the first half of the series.
Fortunately, as the series enter the second half, it is clear that my frustration is premature. Once Amber enters into the picture, things start to move forward and all the fragments begins to fall into places. Looking back, I realize that the anime not only spends most of its first half in individual stories but it also subtly introduces the viewers to the alternate universe of Darker Than Black including all the important players, involving secret organizations, numerous terminologies and hints of what happened in the past. Despite its dark, action-packed, spy feature tone, the main theme of Darker Than Black is ultimately about racial discrimination, nothing fancy. Where the Gates come from or what they are is not as important as the effects of The Contractors and the Dolls’s existence to the society. The new race of humanity who possesses super human power stirs fear among the common people and the war begins. Li, whose true nature will be revealed in the final episode, is both human and Contractors. He stands between both groups and his decision will change the world forever.
The ending is quite conclusive but, to my delight, there are obviously plenty of rooms for a sequel. Although the series seem to wander aimlessly for a long while, Darker Than Black still excels in almost every way both as the whole series and in individual episode. The visuals and the sound including the music by Yoko Kanno are excellent. The script and the characters are masterfully crafted with style and subtle development. The main idea is universal and finally, and most importantly, the level of tension and entertainment never drops during the entire series.