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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The season draws to a close by avoiding the two part stories and instead simply going with the flow.

What They Say
The mysteries of his violent past have been revealed, but the future is still in question. Something big is on the horizon for those who dwell in the shadows. As the spotted sun rises over Hell's Gate, the clock ticks toward imminent destruction. The final battle in the war between humanity and the Contractors has begun. Should the Black Reaper survive, reality will be his to mold.

Contains episodes 23-26.

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 final installment brings in Amber since she’s the catalyst for everything here set against the silver foil background. Amber looks good overall and has a certain knowing innocence to her that makes her all the more dangerous. 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 various accents such as the city landscape. 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. Strangely, they used a clear keepcase for this but haven’t provided for a reverse side cover, instead leaving it white. 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 Huang. Behind him and visible through him 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 episode twenty-six. 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)
The end of the first season of Darker Than Black provides a rather engaging story across its first three episodes before it goes for the mildly silly for the final episode. The show has worked a really strong presentation style of two episode stories for its entire run but skips out on that at the end, going for “single part” titles that string together across the first three episodes for one cohesive storyline. Darker Than Black really does reach a changing point with this set of episodes where we now have the feeling that a “book” of sorts has been closed and new stories are quite open afterwards.

The bookend pieces to this set of episodes are admittedly the more interesting pieces to me in the long run. The opening episode has Kirihara dealing with the higher-ups being a problem and controlling what’s going on with the investigations and how to handle the Contractor issue overall. She’s feeling confined and unable to do what she wants to do and she’s being followed which only makes it worse for her. While out though, she comes across Li and the two spend a bit of an evening together as others around them focus on the possibility that the stars may show that evening according to a rumor. It’s really… pleasant. Watching the two of them you can see the edges of a potential pairing to be sure, but both of them handle it in a very relaxed manner without any expectations, hopes or anything else to happen. They simply enjoy each others company while thinking about all the things going on in the world around them. It’s a beautiful moment of quiet in the midst of what’s about to happen.

Within the bookends is the culmination of what Amber has set into motion with wanting to destroy the Gate, much like what was done in South America. Her plan is a little convoluted as they need to create a disturbance aboveground in order to sneak a few of them inside to destroy the ring which will lead to the destruction of everything there. Li and the others in his group have found themselves being hunted by the Syndicate now instead of being a part of it but Li can’t not try to stop Amber. Everything is being set up for him to face her and face his past. That past is given more of a nod this time around as we learn about his sister Pai, who she really was and even see both of them when they were younger – and human – in South America dealing with events there. Pai is used in a way to facilitate other parts of the story, but that human connection for Li is really welcome and seeing so much of his younger days and what motivates him gives a very human element to a story that plays out as forces build regarding the Gate.

The last episode is played for laughs really. As an epilogue, it feels a little out of place because of the supposed changes in how Li operates, but it’s a fun little piece that has him and his group searching for a PIN number that ends up in various hands along the way. With it being spring, Mao finds himself being chased by other cats in heat, Saito is close to revealing his feelings to Misaki and Mayu reveals that she’s actually a romance writer who has a bit of an online following. It’s an episode that plays up numerous little connections, has a few dashes of fun action to it an wraps it all up in a way that leaves you smiling as these characters are very familiar now. Of course, they do throw a wrench into the works towards the end that invalidates a good chunk of the episode, but you can’t mind it too much because it’s been rare to see a slightly silly episode like this.

In Summary:
With a second season due out in 2009, Darker Than Black is one of my more anticipated shows. This season really surprised me with its structure, its lack of being completely upfront about a lot of key things and the way it tantalized so much with the Gate and all that surrounds it. BONES did a fantastic job with it just in the two-episode structure alone that gave them a lot of room to tell specific stories while world building and providing the larger overall storyline for the season with Amber. At the end of it, I came away feeling completely satisfied and very happy. If there wasn’t a second season, I’d be sad, but I wouldn’t feel bad about it because what we got here is a real treasure. This is one of those kinds of anime series that makes me such a fan after all these years and keeps me coming back to find more like it. Very recommended as a whole.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 26 Commentary (Kent Williams - Mao, Zach Bolton - ADR Director, Peter Hawkinson - ADR Engineer), Production Artwork (Characters, Settings), Textless Songs

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: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 17 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