"Darker Than Black": A Pale But Entertaining Copy of Stuff We've Seen Before
Darker Than Black is set in a time ten years after an object dubbed the “Hell’s Gate” appears in Tokyo. This object, mysteriously, has the effect of replacing the sky’s usual constellations with a new set of stars, each of which corresponds to a “Contractor”—a human being who is granted paranormal abilities by the Gate. (The appearance of a new star signals the awakening of a new Contractor, while a disappearance indicates the death of one.) A fearful Japanese government has built a large wall around the Gate so as to prevent anyone from entering it. The series’ meticulously evolving plot revolves around various world governments vying to gain knowledge of both Contractors and the Gate.
The series isn’t particularly unique—there must be about a billion other titles about paranormal objects and events—but it does manage to entertain. The protagonist is Hei, a mild-mannered Chinese exchange student by day and assassin by night. His signature, Gate-granted power is the ability to generate and discharge electricity, which talent he augments with a knife attached to a metal wire. Not much is revealed about Hei until literally the final line of the fifth episode, so it will be quite interesting to see where this character goes. As far as we see him here, he is not a particularly endearing character—in fact, he’s a bit of an emotionless ass; but the Contractors are all a pretty emotionless lot (what a twist!)—but Jason Liebrecht manages to make what little character there is work in these first five episodes.
The rest of the characters don’t get much exploration either, possibly because the first four episodes mostly center on one-shots. There is also a chief of police, Misaki Kirihara, and two police partners, Saitô and Kôno, the latter of whom completely steals the fourth episode when he utters the single most hilarious line on the entire DVD. Otherwise, the only really enticing character is November 11. (Yes, that is what he is called).
The dub’s director has shown a lot of gumption with the casting choices, especially with Misaki’s Kate Oxley. It’s a role outside her usual range, and while my ear hears a borderline “tweenager” twang in her delivery, my heart feels that her acting results in a performance that transcends any gripes about an “age appropriate” sound. Christopher R. Sabat and Todd Haberkorn do well as the other two policemen, and the oddly named November 11 gets a superb performance from Troy Baker.
Bones provides a solid animated vision that doesn’t stint on fluidity when fluidity is required; but, except for some good facial expressions from Hei and the tasteful use of non-Asian characters, it is hampered somewhat by some sorely uncreative design work. Being a more recent title—it originally hit Animax in April of 2007—the series sports a very “modern” look.
Yoko Kanno delivers a haunting score, which she subtly uses to enhance scenes that are by themselves already disturbing. Speaking of which, viewers should be cautioned about buying or watching this title, as it includes violence of a kind (decapitation, the burning alive of characters, and the amputation of hands with a supernatural whip of death) that justifies its TV-MA rating.
This single DVD release comes with the industry standards, those being a superb English audio track, the original Japanese audio track, and, to my delight, an audio commentary by the lead himself, Jason Liebrecht and his episode one and two costar, Colleen Clinkenbeard, who plays Hei’s neighbor, Chiaki. In addition FUNimation provides cast auditions, which always bring a welcome insight into the English adaptation process. The usual textless opening and ending themes are also available, along with character artwork, biographies and the latest batch of FUNimation trailers. The case itself features the ever sardonic Hei in his trademark bulletproof trench coat on a silver background.
Darker Than Black opens with and appears to be building an interesting story arc, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the story as it progresses down what is sure to be an even darker-than-black road.