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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Darker Than Black, Vol. 2
Darker Than Black, Vol. 2
FUNimation // Unrated // January 20, 2009
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Todd Douglass Jr. | posted February 9, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Show:

With the state of the anime industry such as it is, new releases just aren't quite as frequent as they used to be. The American licensors have consolidated and for the most part sales just aren't where they were a few years back. I suppose that can be said for just about any industry, but it's safe to say that over the years the anime market has had more volatility. That's why when I heard about Darker than Black, the new license by FUNimation, I was pretty excited. I figured it had to be good if they were releasing it. Unfortunately after the first volume I have to admit that I was disappointed.

Don't get me wrong, Darker than Black is a cool little show. It has some fantastic designs, a mysterious premise, some hardcore action, and an interesting atmosphere. All of that aside, the first volume just felt like it was more style than substance. The five episodes just didn't grab me and by the end of it all I was left scratching my head. Very little was explained about the plot, the characters were too mysterious, and something about the formula of each episode just didn't gel as well as it could have. In the end I was more intrigued than entertained, and that's just not necessarily a good thing.

Now, what's it all about? Well, the show takes place at some undisclosed point in the future. Ten years prior to the start of the show something known as Hell's Gate appeared and blanketed with darkness and false stars. In the first installment there was absolutely no explanation to this, and unfortunately the second volume offers sparse information in this regard, but I digress. These "stars" are tied to beings known as Contractors, who are basically super-powered individuals. There are some that are utilized by governments, but of course there are a few bad apples as well. Whatever the case a Contractor has to pay a price each time they use their powers, which leads to some bizarre stuff I assure you.

With this loose premise in place Darker than Black throws us alongside of a guy named Hei. Hei is working with a group of equally mysterious individuals toward some unknown goal. Each episode of the show features them finding a mark of some kind, getting involved somehow, and inevitably being pursued by the cops. It's a bizarre game of cat and mouse, and due to how it's all presented you don't necessarily know who to root for. Making matters worse is the fact that Hei doesn't display much of any personality at all. He's kind of an automaton and not really a hero to root for, at least not yet.

The second volume picks up where the first left off with the second half of a plot involving a woman named Havoc. Though she used to be a Contractor, Havoc no longer possesses any powers. Despite that she still holds valuable information that Hei wants regarding the location of his sister and this storyline wraps up after he kidnaps her from MI6. Some fascinating things happen as she attempts to reconstruct her memories, but to say that things end happily for everyone would be something of a misnomer.

After the opening episode, the rest of this disc contains yet another pair of two-part story arcs. It's kind of nice because each story is given a chance to grow as you learn about each character and see how Hei interacts with them, however, there's still not much in the way of a hook to draw you into the show. The first two-parter involves the black cat that hangs around Hei most of the time. As it turns out he's a contractor who lost his body a while ago and is now trapped taking the forms of animals. Mao's involvement with a murder investigation gets kind of dangerous here and it's up to Hei to save him. The final storyline here sees Hei and Misaki, the cop who is after him, involved in a situation together. There's a crazy Contractor on the loose and he's gunning for them.

All in all the second volume of Darker than Black wasn't bad. Much like the first installment it featured a lot of intrigue, some fascinating ideas, and well written two-part stories. While it has most all of the strengths displayed by the first volume, it also has some of the weaknesses as well. We learn a little more about some of the main characters, but there's just not enough to go on in order to really hook the viewer. It's really hard to tell what direction the show is going to take and what its focus really is. I do feel that the amount of development this time around was enough, when combined with the quality of the episodes, to push the show to recommended territory. It's just not firmly there quite yet.

The DVD:

Video:

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. Though there are five episodes packed onto the disc, FUNimation kept the quality much smoother than we've seen from them in the past with like shows.

Audio:

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.

Extras:

Darker than Black's second volume receives some textless songs, trailers, and production artwork for bonus features. There is also an audio commentary for the ninth episode, "The White Dress, Stained with the Girl's Dreams and Blood (Part 1)". This doesn't serve up a whole lot of information, but it does offer a little glimpse at the people behind the show and what their experience working on it is like.

Final Thoughts:

Darker than Black has a high level of intrigue with a dark, moody atmosphere. It all comes together with some slick designs to make for one sexy looking show. Each episode is handled quite nicely and the show is obviously heading in a particular direction. Unfortunately what that direction is, I have no idea. The series gives very little with regards to details about the plot or characters and you'll feel like you're being kept at bay while watching it. It is entertaining, but I'm just not feeling the draw or appeal to it quite yet. I will recommend the show because it seems like it's starting to go places, though we'll see if that keeps up with future installments.


Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!

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