Darker Than Black Vol. #3/#4 - Mania.com


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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: NA
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 15 and Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe/Japan
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: £19.99
  • Running time: 200
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Darker Than Black

Darker Than Black Vol. #3/#4

A slow start develops into something more

By Bryan Morton     September 03, 2009
Release Date: October 19, 2009

Darker Than Black Vol. #3
© FUNimation Entertainment, LTD

Hei's missions for the syndicate continue, as does his tendency to disobey orders.  He's not the first in the syndicate to be so self-minded, though, and one of the others is coming to pay him a visit – and her appearance is enough to frighten all those who know of her existence…

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. They thrive in the underworld, between rumor and reality, their loyalties always in question.

One among these operatives is more mysterious than the rest: the masked killer BK201, the Black Reaper. His true identity and intentions remain unknown, but as his path weaves through the shadows and alleys of Tokyo, blood is spilled on both sides of the law. It's a new age of confusion, and the rules of engagement have changed.

Episodes Comprise
11/12 - When One Takes Back What Was Lost Within the Wall...
13/14 - A Heart Unswaying on the Water's Surface
15/16 - Memories of Betrayal in an Amber Smile
17/18 - A Love Song Sung from a Trash Heap

The Review!
Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 surround – I listened to the Japanese track for this review.  The show is heavy on dialogue, saving the action for short, sharp scenes – during dialogue-heavy periods there's not much opportunity to get creative with the soundtrack, but the action scenes make full use of the channels available.  Occasional spot-checks of the English surround mix show it to be equally as good.  There were no apparent problems.

Video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and with this perhaps being a case of style over substance, it looks very polished, even though there seems to be a preference for darker night-time scenes.  With fluid animation and some nice background detail, it definitely looks the part.  There were no obvious problems.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.

Menus on both discs of the set are static affairs, with the main screen on Disc One showing a nighttime cityscape with a young Yin, uncharacteristically cheerful, overlaid on top.  Disc two features the same background, overlaid this time with an image of November 11.  Options are provided for Play All, Episodes, Setup and Extras, while an ominous piece of background music plays.  There are no transition animations, so it's all quick and easy to use.

There's another decent selection of extras with this set.  First up are two episode commentaries, one for episode 13 with Zac Bolton (dub ADR director), Brina Polencia (Yin) and John Swasey (Huang); the other for episode 16 with Laura Bailey (Amber) and Troy Baker (November 11).  There are also two more sets of character bios and settings artwork, spread across both discs, and creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences.

(please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
As with the first set of Darker than Black, each story here comes as a two-episode arc, but where before the arcs seemed to be essentially stand-alone, this time around there are signs that there's something rumbling under the surface that is going to have to be dealt with by the end of the season.

The opening arc sees us finally get inside Hell's Gate, as Hei infiltrates Pandora in search of the Meteor Fragment, a small artefact with great potential for causing problems – but it's the glimpse inside the Gate, and the effect that being so close to it seems to have on those who work in Pandora that provides the interest here, not to mention the way that the place has been so heavily infiltrated by the various security agencies – the CIA, MI6 and so on – that you can barely move inside it without an agent reporting your activities.  That's a problem that seems to carry on through all the stories here, actually – the secrets of the Gate and the power that some seem to hope lies behind the wall is something that everyone wants a piece of, and the syndicate is no exception, and while the agencies fight amongst themselves, Hei and Misaki get to pick through the rubble from their own viewpoints.

There's only one thing that seems to be able to divert the agencies from their constant struggle for power: Amber.  A former colleague of Hei's, the two worked together for a time while she was part of the syndicate.  When the South American Heaven's Gate disappeared, though, Amber also disappeared, and hasn't been heard from since – but now, in the final arc of this set, she's back, and her appearance in Tokyo singularly draws the attention of all the groupings we've been introduced to so far.  Quite why they're all so frightened of her isn't immediately apparent – yes, she has an unusual contractor power, but that in and of itself wouldn't be enough.  There's something else about her, touched upon in some conversations over the course of the set – something that ties her into Hei's quest to find out about his sister, and the events leading up to the disappearance of Heaven's Gate.  In a way, it's frustrating that the subject is dealt with in such a roundabout way – but being left to try and work out a mystery with just a few facts and plenty of opportunity for speculation is rewarding in its own way.

But the emerging underlying story isn't all that this set serves up – there are some good individual stories coming from the other arcs as well, with the nature of Dolls coming under examination twice – first in looking at Yin's past, as a young girl named Kirsi who was generally unhappy with her life, and later at the story of a Doll who fell in love.  Given that Dolls have been presented up to now as disposable creatures, possessed only of the memories and personalities that their controllers have seen fit to give them, learning that Yin even had a past that she could remember came as a bit of a surprise.  There's more to these quiet creatures than we'd been led to believe, and the exploration of that is fascinating.

Add in a healthy dose of humour, especially when Mao or the detective duo of Gai and Kiko make an appearance, and there's a lot to like about Darker Than Black.  While the basic idea of the series doesn't sound like anything spectacular, it scores heavily in how it's executed, making even fringe characters interesting, and wrapping its storyline in high production that values that make the whole thing a joy to watch on several levels.

In summary:
Some shows promise much but fail to deliver – Darker Than Black promised very little, but after a slow start has developed into a show with may different aspects, all of them intriguing and entertaining to watch.  All that it needs to do now is start making sense of the mysteries that are slowly being revealed – if that's done well, we could be on to a real winner here.  Definitely one to watch.

Japanese language 2.0, English language 5.1, English subtitles, audio commentaries for Episodes 13 & 16, Character Bios, Settings Galleries, Creditless Songs

Review Equipment

Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.


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