Darker Than Black Vol. #3 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, April 09, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The past and the present is explored as the mysteries only deepen and become more fascinating in Darker Than Black.

What They Say
A new and deadly breed of covert agent walks the streets. Known as Contractors, these assassins and spies wield bizarre supernatural powers to carry out the dirty work of others. One among these operatives is more mysterious than the rest: the masked killer BK201, the Black Reaper.

But he doesn't work alone. As one part of a motley crew controlled by a clandestine syndicate, the Black Reaper goes where he's told - that is, until he chooses not to. Alliances are always shaky at best in this new world of espionage, and loyalty is never guaranteed in the madness unleashed by Hell's Gate. Pain, however, is a promise.

Contains episodes 11-14.

The Review!
Audio:
FUNimation has worked through a rather good audio mix for this release as it has an English 5.1 mix at 448kbps as well as the original Japanese stereo mix at 192kbps. Both tracks offer up a good sounding piece overall, though obviously the 5.1 mix comes across stronger with its clearer sound and better placement. The show tends to be rather quiet and subdued for the most part, but when the action hits or the music take on a more prominent role, it’s far more active and appealing. The opening and closing sequences is where the music shines the most but the action sequences along the way rise up pretty well also. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.

Video:
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series has a very polished and fluid look to it that really comes across beautifully here, though not without a few minor problems here and there. The transfer does a solid job of capturing the beauty of the source material with its rich color palette, deep blacks and the many shadows that these characters move throughout. There’s nary a hint of cross coloration nor any seriously noticeable blocking and only a bit of minor aliasing during some panning sequences. The area that’s problematic at times is that there’s a good bit of background noise in various scenes because of the colors that are used, such as the deep greens for streets cast in hazy lights at night. It’s certainly not distracting or truly problematic, but it’s noticeable depending on the size of your viewing screen.

Packaging:
The cover design for this volume is rather understated in a way, but also quite catchy because of the use of the silver foil for the background. The single image here is of Yin with the cat cradled in her arms as she looks upward with that sort of sad look on her face that has been there since her introduction. The purples used here are surprisingly striking when used against the silver background and it’s far more appealing than I would have thought. With a very simple and small logo in the center done up in white, it’s almost like it’s calling attention to itself by not calling attention to itself. The back cover is a bit more engaging as it uses the silver foil to highlight the interior of the tobacco shop that Yin runs. There’s a good deal of black space used to provide the summary of the premise of the series without giving much away. The episode numbers and titles are listed, as well as which part of the story arc they belong to, along with a clean listing of the discs extras. Add in the basic small hard to read production information and the technical grid and you’ve got a decent looking cover here. No show related inserts were included either.

Menu:
The anamorphic menu for this release is really nicely done with its layout and design. With a dark grey concrete feeling to the borders, which also has a pair of weapons on each side, it lets the central piece work through a couple of specific images moving very slowly. The looming one on top is that of Pai with a very serious look to her face. Behind her is a still of the cold city itself, lights shining but still filled with darkness. The combination of the two visuals with the very atmospheric music really sets the stage perfectly and creates a sense of foreboding. The navigation strip along the bottom is easy to navigate and submenus load quickly. The discs unfortunate didn’t read our players’ language presets and defaulted to English language.

Extras:
The opening volume has some good extras to it and some real effort put forth. The big one for dub fans is the inclusion of a commentary track for the thirteenth episode. The production artwork section is really nice as it runs through a character bios section with a bit more text than usual, but also a settings section that provides a good amount of text alongside each of the images. Add in the clean opening and closing sequences and you’ve got a nice bit of material to work through.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
At the halfway mark of the series, Darker Than Black is starting to worry me. The four episodes here provide a good deal of new information and a lot of teases about the overall world that these characters inhabit, but I’m really starting to wonder how much will be revealed by the end of the series and how much mystery will remain. There are some really intriguing elements here wrapped up in a beautifully animated production and the fear of too much left unresolved is already starting to nag at me in the back of my mind. While some mysteries left as such are good, this is a series where I want to know everything I can about why this world is the way it is. Especially after what’s going on during this set of episodes.

The two storylines on this volume are very different but they’re both highly engaging for those differences. The opening two part storyline, “When One Takes Back What Was Lost Within the Wall…” takes us to a place we’ve not been to a bit in that it gets us close to the Gate again. Li is sent in to the organization known as Pandora by the Syndicate in order to retrieve a piece of Meteor Fragment that is being analyzed in there. Someone is operating on the inside by providing a small amount of information and they know that there’s a chance to acquire it. Being so close to the Gate – you can look inside it in fact from some of the locations of the place – there’s a lot of mystery to be had. Stories about how it will drive some crazy as well as rumors that Contractors can be easily discovered as they become unhinged the closer they get to it.

What occurs during all of this is fascinating as it touches upon Li’s past a fair bit as there’s a supernatural air about the place that touches him from time to time. The mystery of what’s beyond the Gate has been there from the start and getting to see more of it and seeing people going into that area for certain reasons only adds to it. What Li sees in there is equally interesting as it touches upon his past. His relationship with Nick, one of the researchers there, gives way to some good material about the stars and life before the Gate and that goes back to his sister as well, which helps to humanize him just a little bit more. With his contact coming into play and his Pandora boss getting involved as well, there are a lot of little connections that come up here that keep the story flowing as it delves into the Meteor Fragment but ends up revealing more about the people themselves than anything else.

Similar can be said of the second storyline which goes in a very different direction. Yin is suddenly called out by the Syndicate to be eliminated and Li has been given the job of doing so. This is obviously conflicting for him since he doesn’t know why and Huang simply forcefully tells him that he has to do it because the Syndicate can be so damn scary. At the same time, a man from Europe has come in search of Yin as he knows who she really is from the time before she became the doll that she is now. The exploration of what makes these mediums what they are is one of the focal points of the two part storyline as we see the other mediums in the official employ of the government as well as Yin. When they bring in a Contractor that’s also out to take out Yin and he’s able to collect and subdue the spirit watchers that the mediums use, it’s intriguing to see how it affects all of them and pushes a very different idea about what can be done to the mediums.

While there’s a lot of fun to be had in the back and forth in trying to get Yin, especially since the other two Contractors make an amusing pair, there are a couple of things that makes this storyline even better. First is that Gai makes a return appearance as the investigator hired to find Yin. I like him and his assistant since they’re “normal” enough in a series that deals mostly with the supernatural. The other part is that we get a fair bit of back story on Yin and learn more about who she was prior to becoming the doll that she is now. When we see who she was as a younger girl and what tragedy happened to her, you wonder all the more how she ended up becoming what she is now. And all of this is wrapped up around the story of having to kill her because the Syndicate has ordered it so. But there’s a neat little twist near the end that hints at something bigger for her in the future, and possibly for the series overall as well. Like in the Pandora storyline, it’s these little moments when added up end up really making this such an engaging series to watch.

In Summary:
The structure for Darker Than Black is still surprising as it works out the two episode storylines very well. Each piece gets enough time for a good story to be told with the slow moments and the big moments. A lot of shows when the work a two episode storyline they end up stretching things out too much and it feels like there’s a lot of filler. Here, we’re getting a series of vignettes that takes us from one neat idea to the next with all sorts of little connections along the way. Moving just past the halfway mark, Darker Than Black is quickly rising to one of the more engaging yet quiet series we’ve seen in some time as it teases, tantalizes and reveals itself. This is good stuff and the kind of show I want to see coming from BONES more regularly. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Commentary Track, Production Sketches

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Darker Than Black