Details begin to reveal themselves both in the characters and the larger storyline as Darker Than Black continues on.
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.
Contains episodes 19-22.
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 fifth installment brings in another member of the core group with Huang taking center stage against the silver foil background. Huang is a character that hasn’t been dealt with too much until this volume so it’s appropriate that he gets the cover here with a serious look and a rifle slung over his shoulder. 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 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.
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-two. 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)
Darker Than Black works closer to finishing out its season and brings out another pair of double episode stories that really do fascinate and engage. What’s been so wonderful about the show is that it is weaving a larger narrative throughout each storyline, sometimes just a little and sometimes more overtly, but still making each of those stories stand on its own. And those stories flesh out the characters and the world they leave in more and more each time. Of course, a show can only fully realize the setting it creates so much, but Darker Than Black has made such a captivating show with what it has revealed and done it with gorgeous animation that you really want to live in it and experience what that world is like. Unless, of course, you’re on the receiving end of the violence.
The opening two part storyline focuses heavily on Huang as we get to learn his past, which comes at just about the right time in the series. Hei is being sent into a cult in order to take down the woman that leads it because she’s actually a contractor and the cult is getting dangerous as Amber is using them for her own goals. Hei’s involvement is fairly simple as he and Mao go in to deal with this and figure out what’s going on, but a lot of it plays back to Huang’s past. Seeing him just after the Gate incident when the walls were being built in the city is intriguing as we learn of his time as a police detective and the incidents that occurred which change the course of his life. Huang has always had that craggy kind of detective look to him and his ruminations on his appearance and how it affects his life bring a new angle to him, especially in conjunction with the woman he gets involved with. Shihoko has an angle to play to be certain, as she’s involved in events of the present as well, but understanding the ties between the two of them adds so much to the situation.
This storyline shifts very easily between past and present and there are enough visible differences that you don’t have any uncomfortable moments in trying to figure out which is which. Though Hei is relatively minor here all things told, he does get to have some solid action scenes and there are a number of good underlying moments that paint the bigger picture. With the cult organizing dolls for Amber’s plans, her agents are involved in what’s going on and that’s more than enough for Hei to be concerned and wanting to figure out what she’s up to. So much of what she’s doing now goes against what he believes she’s like that he’s having a hard time coming to grips with it. At the same time, Huang is conflicted by what he learns about Shihoko and their past together and what he’s believed about it all this time. The two men are conflicted in different ways but there are no easy answers here, nor any true resolution to it all which adds a very welcome element of uncertainty.
As events start to progress quickly, the second storyline here takes pieces from the first and builds nicely upon it. Amber is ever closer to realizing her goals of exposing everything in her own way now that she has more of her dolls, but there are more things she needs to take care of first. The main focus of this storyline involves a Pandora scientist who has found a way to eliminate all the contractors worldwide, providing his research can be finished. This brings in a really amusing contractor that Amber employs named Brita whose specialty is teleportation. Of course, it’s got a hook in that it only teleports living matter, so when people are brought along with her they lose all their clothes. The kidnapping of the scientist has Misaki in pursuit mode as she tries to find out what’s going on and gets involved once again with November from MI6. The political intrigue is touched upon again and that shows more of the layers of what’s involved in everything as you can sense events moving towards some sort of conflict.
These two episodes complement each other quite well as the series is dealing more and more with Amber and her plans. There’s more nods to the post, particularly with the South American Gate this time around, and the mystery of everything is becoming all the more engaging. What fascinates me about stories like this is that if you can imagine living in this world, think about what parts of it would be considered conspiracy theories and glimmers you’d find through various online networks. While memory wipes would be used often, the truth invariably gets out there in some way. We haven’t seen much of that with the series since it focuses on the characters in the know, but it’s what makes characters like Misaki all the more interesting because she’s got an idea of the basics and has to keep it secret but there’s so much more that even she doesn’t know. Layer upon layer makes each new revelation click with something else and that has the replay value rise.
Every now and then there is a serious show that plays it just right when it comes to the action, intrigue and overall design. Darker Than Black hits up just about everything I could want from a show like this and they do it in a way that’s not standard by working through double episode stories that interconnect. The layout of the series is a huge factor in how it works because you know you’re getting a contained story idea that has threads woven from the past and to the future. Each story brings in something new and enhances what has come before. This volume gives us a great deal of information on Huang which only makes him all the more fun to watch before we start digging into more about what Amber is up to for the season finale in the next volume. This is excellent anime and a solid series that you can imagine being easily adapted into other media without a hitch. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 22 Commentary, Production Artwork, Textless Songs
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.