Darker Than Black Vol. #5/#6 - Mania.com



DVD Review

Mania Grade: A

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: NA
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A
  • 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. #5/#6

Darker Than Black Vol. #5/#6 DVD Review

By Bryan Morton     January 12, 2010
Release Date: December 28, 2009

We've always know that Hei's bosses, the shadowy syndicate, have never been the good guys - but now the extent of their badness (is that a word) is about to be revealed - and it seems that Amber is counting on Hei to be the one to stand in their way.  The pair have a history together, though, and after events in South America, Hei's not exactly inclined to be co-operative...

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. The rogue finds himself mired in a clash between many factions, on a battleground where faith and love can bring out the worst in a soul. The fate of his kind hangs in the balance, and the final act of war is being prepared. The Black Reaper will have to face the fact that his most hated rival could be his only hope.

Episodes Comprise
19/20 - Dream Shallow, Uninebriated...
21/22 - City Under Crackdown, Moist With Tears
23 - God is In His Heaven...
24 - Meteor Shower...
25 - Does the Reaper Dream of Darkness Darker Than Black?
26 - Beneath Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom

The Review
Audio:
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:
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.
 
Packaging:
No packaging was provided with our review copy.

Menu:
Disc One in the set features a worried-looking Huang, against a cityscape background; Disc Two features Hei, his facemask cracked and an angry eye on show.  In both cases, the menu is accompanied by some atmospheric background music from the show, while options are provided along the bottom of the screen for Play All, Episodes, Setup and Extras.  There are no transition animations when selecting options, so it's all pleasingly quick and easy to use.

Extras:
First up with this set is a commentary track for episode 22, with the dub director, dub writer & ADR script writer for the episode; and another commentary for episode 26 with dub director Zac Bolton, recording engineer Pete Hawkinson and Kent Williams, who voices Mao.  There's also another set of bios for characters featured in this set, a settings gallery with production artwork and background information for a number of locations and objects from the show, and the usual creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Two discs, three story arcs, eight episodes - that's what we get from the final volume of Darker Than Black - at least, until or unless the second season makes its way to UK shores. Starting at the beginning, as you should, the first two arcs are of the 2-episode style that the series has been using for all of its run until now.  The first sees Huang forced to confront his past in a mission that brings him face-to-face with a woman he once loved - a love that was doomed for several reasons, beginning with the age-gap between them - and who he may now have to kill for failing the syndicate.  Given that Huang has for most of the series just been this grumpy old man who relays instructions from the syndicate and makes no secret of his loathing for Contractors, this arc marks a real turning point in terms of how likeable and sympathetic the character is.  We get to see enough of his past to learn why he came to be the man he is now, and to realise that we should more be feeling pity for him (especially now) than annoyance at his permanent foul mood.  It's also quite rare for the series to have scenes that pull quite so much on the heartstrings as some scenes we have here - a rather blatant play to get you emotionally involved, perhaps, but one that plays well to the arc's story and works well.

The second arc sets the scene for the finale yet to come, with loyalties being tested and revelations made that begin to make it clear exactly what's going on here.  Misaki plays a key role in this, but she's reacting to events and unable to influence them, something that annoys her immensely as it's not a situation she enjoys being in.  A lot of the arc is given over to exposition, as Amber explains to Mao and November just what's going on, clearly drawing the dividing line between her faction and what she's trying to achieve, and what those opposed to her will try to do.  That certain people are so open about what they're up to is a surprise (in particular Amber's captive, Schroeder, who's surprisingly talkative in the presence of the Contractors that he'd very much like to kill), but it's necessary to clear the decks ahead of the final three-episode arc.

And it's a good 'un.  As you'd expect, the lives of thousands or millions are on the line, depending on which side wins, with Hei put in the position of deciding which side will be given victory - and with most of Hei's scenes set inside Hell's Gate, we finally get to see in some detail why the area has been walled off from the populace and what the gate has done to the area inside of it.  What you don't get from this is any sort of epic, climactic final battle, as the battle Hei faces is rather more mental than physical, in keeping with the nature of Hell's Gate.  Along the way to him reaching his decision, events at Heaven's Gate in South America are finally detailed and we learn what happened to his sister, Pai - although her ultimate fate is perhaps the one thread that's left hanging for the second season to deal with.

These three episodes were nothing short of engrossing - I couldn't tear myself away from the screen for their duration, taking in all the details as most of the show's mysteries were neatly wrapped up.  That the situation couldn't be resolved with violence or a suitably large explosion might put some people off, but for me that just added to the appeal and confirmed that Darker Than Black is about more than the 'secret agent' side of things.  The only criticism would be Misaki's role as a passive observer for most of it, unable to do anything to intervene - a real shame given the lead role she played for most of the series.

The series is rounded out with a comic-relief episode, featuring Kiko and closet otaku Otskua.  It's a decent enough story, but a bit of a come-down after the previous arc and at times I was wondering why they bothered.  That's one disappointment out of eight, though, that doesn't meet expectations and wasn't enough to really bother me.

In Bummary:
Darker Than Black closes out with a set that's damn near perfect, tying up essentially all of the series' mysteries while leaving just enough hanging to give the sequel series a hook to work with.  It's not an all-action finale, but that's part of the appeal for me and one of many ways in which the series stands above the crowd.  Highly recommended.

Features
Japanese language 2.0, English language 5.1, English subtitles, Episode 22 Commentary, Character Bios, Settings Gallery, Textless Opening and Closing

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.
 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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