Shifting a bit away from the grander scope of things, Darker Than Black has a pair of smaller yet still intriguing tales to tell.
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.
He may not be responsible for the bombings plaguing Tokyo, but blame is tough to assign with so many clandestine agencies vying to control all that Hell's Gate could offer. The list of suspects shrinks considerably when a Contractor from the Black Reaper's past reappears. A new faction is waging war. Their motives are hidden, but their tactics are incredibly bold.
Contains episodes 15-18:
Memories of Betrayal in an Amber Smile... (Part 1)
Memories of Betrayal in an Amber Smile... (Part 2)
A Love Song Sung from a Trash Heap... (Part 1)
A Love Song Sung from a Trash Heap... (Part 2)
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.
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.
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 November with him in his ever present suit, which doesn’t look quite as good in the purple shades given to it. The cover doesn’t have quite the appeal of the previous ones for me because of that, though there’s something rather appealing about him in general and most especially with that smile. 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.
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 November. Behind her 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.
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 sixteenth 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)
With a series like Darker Than Black there’s always a chance of part of it just not appealing all that much. With its two-episode story format, if you run into a short storyline that just doesn’t click for you, it can throw off the dynamic a little bit as you feel like you’re treading water. This volume does just that for me as the opening two episode arc doesn’t feel like it gels together well and left me wondering where they were really trying to go with it. On the plus side, the second one is a good bit of fun overall as it humanizes Li a little more and enhances his surroundings in a way that he didn’t expect.
The first storyline deals with something that is admittedly interesting as we learn about the Evening Primrose organization, a group that seems to want to bring the world of Contractors out into the open with the public. When the MI6 operative April comes across one of the more well known members, a woman named Amber, it turns into a series of issues where fights break out and there’s threats of serial building bombings which start to happen. There’s a sense of urgency about stopping them as the puppet masters certainly don’t want the Contractors exposed after all the work they’ve done to try and keep their work secret. The twist that enters into things revolves around an older relationship that Li and Amber share which causes some amount of conflict emotionally for him as he gets wrapped up in it. The nice little twists come in watching how people like Kirihara deal with it and the strange and somewhat nebulous issue with the Stargazer and his thoughts on things.
But something about this story just didn’t hold my attention as a whole. The MI6 crew and the special SIS woman that shows up simply don’t feel like they connect well at times, particularly when they’re in a group. I like November’s interactions with people since he’s a bit suave, or tries to be, and he’s playing a spy game in a fun and engaging way. But the support characters feel too forced and out of character in a way since they’re younger. It’s understandable in their use since they’re basically tools to achieving an end, but with the combination of them and the doll factor, they lack enough personality to make them interesting. On the plus side, they’re not cute cloying kids that take up a lot of screen time either. The little background bits that come out here is where the real intrigue is, but I felt that a lot of it got lost under the larger storyline that failed to keep my attention.
Which is why I probably enjoyed the second storyline here a lot more since it was a bit more straightforward and it avoided a lot of the other characters for the most part. The story revolves around a yakuza group that’s about to undergo a change as one of the higher-ups has decided to split the Nakazawa Group as the old man is getting feeble in the mind and unable to really make the group effective. The focus is on one of the younger men in the group named Kenji Sakurai who is the kind of somewhat innocent and naïve type who wants to strike it big but is unable to really do it effectively. He’s not a comical character, but the kind that just falls short of having the right hardcore personality for it. Li ends up befriending the young man along the way when a small time fight goes awkwardly where Li is doing his waiter job and Kenji offers to take him for food and home afterwards to repay him.
It’s from this that Kenji sort of ingratiates himself into Li’s life a bit in a friendly and unobtrusive manner. When the two end up in Li’s apartment, the situation changes where they end up meeting the rowdy downstairs neighbors that Li really doesn’t hang around with because of his work and minimalist lifestyle there. Kenji’s presence has him interacting with them, or at least being in their presence, and this portion of Li’s life changes a little as he starts to actually learn about them and what’s going on. There is another story mixed into this with the Nakazawa Group and a doll that’s involved, but it’s really a side piece that only is used to make the characters more interesting as their relationships are slowly explored with Kenji and his reasons for being a part of the yakuza. Some of it is plain silly, especially the way Kenji suddenly takes so hard to the doll, but the larger idea of the motivations that have inspired him do make sense in a strange sort of way and it’s a story that has a certain kind of cool heart to it that keeps it engaging, fun and a bit sad as well.
After the third volume with its revelations and teases, I knew this volume wasn’t going to stack up in the same way so it was fairly well expected. There’s certainly a lot to like here overall, even if the first storyline didn’t click that strongly with me, and that’s one of the things that keeps it so enjoyable. There are so many little nuggets here and there that explore this world, the Gates and the past, that even when the main story isn’t engaging there’s plenty of good stuff. The characters continue to be the main appeal though and Li’s laid back style even with his lifestyle and job remains one of the best parts. His almost hapless smile at times is so off-putting that you can’t help but to smile when you see it. This range of episodes is usually among the weakest in any series, but there’s eight more to go with a lot of ground to cover and some hopefully engaging stories to be told. I’ll consider this a slight lull before it ramps things up.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Production Artwork, Commentary Track, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
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.