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"Darker Than Black" Volumes 4-6: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

by on April 20, 2010

It’s endgame for Darker than Black. Old players fall and new ones appear; old allies resurface as new enemies; and the series culminates in a final battle for the Meteor piece that might hold answers to the mystery of the Contractors and Hell’s Gate. Nothing is as it seems for the Contractor Hei as he tries to save not only his team but his people.

ImageOver the course of these final three volumes a third organization, the Evening Prim Rose (EPR), enters the fray. Unlike the Syndicate or the various government agencies, which use Contractors as field agents but are run by normal humans, the EPR is made up and led completely by Contractors. Its leader, Amber, is a young girl who was once one of Hei’s teammates.

Series Director Tensai Okamura takes skillful advantage of Hei’s position as protagonist, advancing the plot and leading us to take Hei’s point of view as our own. It’s a neat trick, for it keeps us from ever doubting the truth of what we see—until an eleventh hour reveal that replaces Hei’s black-and-white view of things with something much more textured. It also brings Hei closer to the plot’s center than he has been before. He drops his usual role as mysterious intervener, and by the climax he is suddenly thrust into a role that makes him the key to the survival of millions.

Hei’s character has seen a steady evolution. Darker Than Black‘s plotting style has had each two-episode arc focus on a “character of the week” in its A-plot, while the overall plot has advanced in the B-plot. This format is dropped in the final three episodes, turning the spotlight onto Hei and his character arc. The dual plotline formula certainly painted a picture of a large world and filled two twenty-minute episodes with enough meat for a ninety-minute film. But the shift to the core cast is appropriate.

Producer Aniplex delivers a solid vision here at the conclusion. While action scenes aren’t always the highlight of Darker than Black, these final episodes deliver a satisfying fluidity in their action pieces, particularly with the blockbuster-level action pieces. Additionally, the vivid color work remains uncompromised as the beautiful red blood begins to layer the landscape and models.

ImageWith the first of these final episodes we get a new opening and ending theme. Both fit the series’ shifting tone, particularly “Kakusei Heroism: The Hero Without a Name,” which showcases Aniplex’s skill at depicting the sort of acrobatic action Darker Than Black displays. Legendary for her work on Cowboy Bebop, Yoko Kanno delivers a strong and emotion-grabbing arrangement that easily enhances the series, whether giving action scenes a jazzy flare or scenes of silence a quiet but eerie undertone.

FUNimation establishes quite a few new voices in these final episodes, none more important the Amber, Hei’s former teammate/love interest. Laura Bailey brings her to life, and whether it is as a child or as an adult Bailey consistently delivers a strong, underlying, bittersweet sense of what is to come. Troy Baker wraps up his work as November 11 with sheer brilliance. Scriptwriter Spencer Brokaw says that writing November 11 would be the closest he’d ever come to writing James Bond dialogue, and Baker delivers the lines with care and wit. Jason Liebrecht matches Hei’s determination, and finally gets to show his stuff as an actor, giving sides to the character that appropriately come out only during the culmination of his character arc.

Once again, FUNimation scorns this reviewer! Volume 6’s case introduces ‘teeth’ to the opening bind of the DVD case. I quiver. Otherwise, content remains consistent, offering audio commentaries, character notes as DVD menus, and the usual clean opening and closing animations, topped off with the latest batch of trailers. There is one slight oddity: the audio commentary on the final disc is for ‘episode 26’, which is actually an OVA that was released after the series finished in Japan. No doubt some will share my disappointment that the ‘true’ final episode, episode 25, did not receive the commentary for the final disc, as that is where the plot actually ends.

ImageThe OVA, titled Beneath Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom… itself really serves no other purpose than to advance minor character Mayu Otsuka (one of Kirihara’s coworkers) and Kiko—the former a romantic yaoi/furry fanfic writer and the latter the series’ resident über-Otaku. The ‘OVA’ even goes so far as to rely on the old “reveal a secret affection and then dose everyone involved with memory-erasing gas” trope, which makes one wonder if the staff had an extra joke script lying around written by the studio’s resident Otaku/outsider and decided to produce it for some laughs. Taking place much earlier in the series, rather than after the finale, it’s a pretty weak way to end the series by calling it a twenty-sixth episode, as FUNimation has.

Darker Than Black concludes, effectively tying up each of its important plotlines while leaving a little room for a future continuation. Despite FUNimation’s treating of the OVA as the ‘final episode’, Darker Than Black ends on a solid note leaving fans with one last hurrah after the emotional and game-changing ending of episode 25. Fans who have bought this far into the series should undoubtedly cap off their collection with these final few volumes, and those who haven’t won’t be disappointed if they do.

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