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"Darker Than Black" Vols. 2 and 3: A Lighter Shade of Black

With the appearance of Hell’s Gate in Tokyo, humanity glimpses a sky full of previously unknown stars. As each one appears or dies, a Contractor comes into the light or falls into the darkness. The Tokyo Police, armed with an astrological unit, hunt down these covert supernatural assassins. These are their stories …

The second volume of Darker Than Black picks up with Havoc, formerly a coldblooded killer feared as a powerful Contractor, joining Hei in his pursuit of knowledge about his sister’s disappearance. However, it soon becomes apparent that the closer a Contractor gets to Hell’s Gate, the less control they have over their powers. With Havoc’s powers and merciless nature returning, will Hei have to kill his best lead, or will his lead be the one to kill him? Meanwhile, Kirihara is offered a promotion, but after an encounter with an old friend who just happens to be a Chinese mob boss’s daughter, will she live to accept it?

Volume 3 once more throws us into two-part episodes. In the first half of the set, Hei infiltrates Pandora Research to recover a meteor fragment, but gets some competition from a CIA plant Contractor. In the second half, Yin, a ‘Doll’ on Hei’s team of spies, runs away as her memories of life before she worked for ‘the Syndicate’ (the organization that employs Hei) begin to affect her performance. As a figure from her past hunts her down, it becomes a race against the clock to retrieve Yin before her teammates are forced to take her out.

I hardly gave Darker Than Black a standing ovation when I reviewed Volume 1, but the more I learn about it, the more invested I’ve become. The first volume introduced us to many concepts and many characters, but these two new volumes give the characters bigger Sippy-cups. There’s more to Hei than his detached demeanor and facial expressions would suggest, and I was probably too harsh on him in my previous review, as there is typically more to such characters in series with this kind of mood. While he is obviously a caring older brother, it is nice to also see the lengths he will go to for his teammates, the undetermined status of their sentience be damned.

Also of note is the expansion of Misaki Kirihara’s character. Aside from the almost obligatory ‘daddy issues’ she seems to have, it’s nice to see a competent female figure in a leadership role who shows dedication to both the badge and her team. And Kirihara—as no-nonsense a gal as she is—often finds herself in the most grin-inducing of situations in these installments, which works as a nice breather from the series’ often dark and morose tone.

Speaking of comic relief, volumes 2 and 3 introduce detective Gai Kurasawa and his assistant Kiko Kayanuma, both spheres in a box of triangular prisms. Kurasawa, a former police officer, may be both financially incompetent and utterly unable to pull off the hard-boiled detective shtick, but he is a competent if unorthodox detective, and his presence is woven both humorously and cleverly throughout the episodes he appears in. His assistant, Kiko, on the other hand, is that frighteningly ‘crazy Otaku’ every sane and reasonable Otaku wishes not to get stuck in a long elevator ride with. But the pink-haired Kiko does act as a perfect racquet ball in bantering scenes sure to smack the audience in the funny bone.

FUNimation’s dubs continue to be a main draw for some of the lesser known titles they pick up for North American distribution, and the Darker than Black cast draws the audience in. While the series doesn’t typically call for dramatic and demanding crying from its actors, the cast brings it a real and human sound, and when the more comedic characters of Kurasawa and Kiko are called for, Brandon Potter and Brittney Karbowski spice things up nicely.

FUNimation’s handling of volumes 2 and 3 differs slightly—and most vexingly so—from volume one. The DVD cases themselves are now black, as opposed to the first volume’s clear see-through presentation, and it provides for a most un-uniform look. Luckily, the cover art of both the front and back covers remain consistent between the first three volumes, but nonetheless it is a disappointment.

Both installments carry the typical FUNimation staples: trailers, clean opening and endings, and character artwork. Those aside, both DVDs come with an audio commentary. Volume 2 feature Kate Oxley and Chris Sabat (Kirihara and Saito respectively) on episode 9, while volume 3 contains a commentary on episode 13 with ADR director Zach Bolton, voice of Yin Brina Palencia, and Huang’s actor, John Swasey. Both are fun and informative, as per usual with FUNimation audio commentaries, making them a nice extra incentive to buy the single release instead of waiting for a box set collection that might drop them.

Darker than Black is rated TV-MA for some pretty gruesome violence, and it is certainly not a title for the kiddies. If one is looking for a more mature and engaging title I’d definitely recommend it, and if you enjoyed the first volume you should absolutely check out these two.

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