Darker than Black has become one of the more prominent titles in FUNimation's latest lineup. The show grew in popularity thanks to the hype machine prior to its release in the States, and since then each volume has shown steady improvement. This wasn't a show that hit the ground running, but over the course of the second and third installments it definitely improved upon itself.
One of the biggest reservations I had regarding Darker than Black was the fact that the show didn't give us any indication what it was building towards. The plot, the characters, and the world all seemed to be shrouded in mystery at the outset of the series. Thankfully as things have progressed we have learned more with each episode and there have been several plotlines in between that have provided enough information to begin piecing things together. While I won't break down all of the details for you, I will summarize what's going on in case you're coming to this volume with no knowledge of the prior installments.
Darker than Black takes place in the future where something known as Hell's Gate appeared and created a false sky. With the arrival of this event people started showing up with special powers and became known as Contractors. These mysterious people have become a powerful force in the world and have been utilized by secret groups and governments to conduct all kinds of acts in the world. Generally speaking these Contractors are assigned to a star in the sky and various policing agencies use this to follow their actions. One star in particular, Messier Code BK-201, follows the show's protagonist, Hei, as he works with a group of others known as the Syndicate. The group's goal is something of a mystery, but it's clear that Hei is searching for a piece of his past, and at least for the time being his goals are in line with the Syndicate's.
The fourth installment of Darker than Black continues the trend of offering four episodes, which is broken down into two separate storylines. This has been a trend for a while now, and in all honesty the dual-episode plots allow for some nice developments and more robust stories. The only problem with this structure is the fact that the show tends to be a little more episodic than one would hope for. Little snippets of a much larger plot are thrown around and bits are carried over from one episode to the next, but ultimately each tale is more or less self-contained. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it does tend to get a tad bothersome.
The two storylines on this volume are "Memories of Betrayal in an Amber Smile" and "A Love Song Sung from a Trash Heap". The "Memories" episode has much larger implications as there is still a very strong focus on the meteor fragment that was recovered a few episodes back. Other organizations have come out of the woodwork to reclaim it, and basically everyone has their own particular uses in mind for it. In this particular episode Evening Primrose has worked up a masterful plan to get the fragment and soon enough it turns into a big chase as the various groups converge upon each other. There's quite a bit of action in this storyline, as you'd expect, and some of the main players even kick the bucket. You can't say this series doesn't have guts. It tends to off people frequently and it certainly doesn't play it safe. The second story on this disc revolves around a character falling in love with a Doll. This one wasn't quite as compelling as the first, but it provided some nice character development and helped to flesh out the world even more.
I must admit that I wasn't really a fan of Darker than Black after watching the first volume. I was bewildered and just didn't know what to expect. Thankfully my opinion has done a complete 180 as the show has progressed. With the time for development that the show has had the large cast of characters has come into their own and the world has been fleshed out quite nicely. This fourth installment is no different and it offers two more storylines that accomplish the same feat. Recommended
Presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer Darker than Black is a sharp looking slice of anime. The animation is fantastic, the colors are bold and utilized well, and all around the video quality of the production is quite sharp. Some blocking and grain crop up ever-so slightly now and again, but all around this is a solid looking picture with some fine details that will please the eyes. Overall this is a good looking show with many moments that pop from the screen.
As you'd expect the included audio here comes in the form of Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1 selections. As far as dubbing quality is concerned I felt that both tracks performed reasonably well, with the original Japanese taking a slight nod in terms of superiority. On the technical side of things, the 5.1 English mix is much more robust and the action gets some nice display as the show promotes a better than average sense of immersion. Otherwise you can expect dialogue and such to come through the front channels with decent quality.
FUNimation keeps the extra features rolling with more production artwork, clean animations, trailers, and an episode commentary. This track is for the second episode on this disc and it's very comparable to the other commentaries for this show. The commentators provide some decent information about the show, as well as their personal feelings on it, but ultimately it's more of an entertaining watch than an educational one.
Darker than Black has a unique, dark premise that has finally received some fleshing out over the past few of volumes. This is one of the more interesting and moody shows you're going to find on the market today. It definitely sets itself apart from all the others and each volume continues to pack quite a punch. Bring on the fifth volume! Until then consider Darker than Black a solidly recommended series.
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