Left to Right - Huang, Yin, Hei, Mao
Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha is a 2007 Sci-fi/Fantasy adventure following Hei (Black in Mandarin Chinese), a keiyakusha, or a contractor. It's a great watch, especially if you have a sudden craving for emotionless protagonists and pseudo-philosophical debates.
It's set in Japan, after two Gates have appeared, the Heaven's Gate, and the Hell's Gate. These mysterious gates brought with them the contractors, meta-humans with a seemingly endless range of abilities, from teleportation, to water manipulation, and everything in between. There are also Dolls, who serve as long-range scouts, dependant on mediums, including glass, and electricity lines. But all those abilities come at a cost: those with abilities have their emotions impaired, and Contractors also have to do something called 'Remuneration', after usage of their abilities, and they also vary wildly, from smoking, to arranging pebbles.
Yin for best girl, forever :3
Hei, a contractor, is part of a special Ops unit working for an unknown Syndicate, and works with Huang, a normal human and the ops leader, Yin, a Doll, and Mao, a contractor who switched bodies with a cat, but whose body has perished, leaving him stuck in the cat's form. These characters appear dry and 2D at first, but are soon fleshed out, fully realized as living, breathing humans, even though they aren't, making the viewer empathize with their stories. All of the other characters are given enough screen time, that allow you to fully realize their sides of the stories, and boy are there stories. The characters are rarely predictable, and nearly never do what you expect. Unless you've learned how to think that way.
He loves his ramen. All 20 bowls of it. Everyday.
Hei, as BK-201, the Contractor and as Li, the Chinese Exchange Student, are vastly different characters, nearly leading to disbelief on the viewer's part. As BK-201, Hei is a cold-blooded hitman who does everything in his power to get the job done, but as Li, he shows a funny and sarcastic side of himself, and also becomes an extreme glutton, able to finish off 20 bowls of ramen in a single sitting.
Over the course of the 2-cour anime, we are introduced to different aspects of the gang, and their growth as humans, split into single or double episode arcs. Although it may feel disjointed, they really allow a sense of life to the anime, showing the different characters proceed in various directions, each a piece of the puzzle, which also advances the overall story. And most characters only appear once or twice, but they're given enough screen-time and backstory to provide depth for each one of them. Dialogue between characters isn't brilliant, but whenever an encounter between Li and Misaki occurs, there is palpable tension, from the sarcastic remarks to the gentle exchanges, a hint of romance, but I prefer exchanges between Yin and Li, each an entity without emotions, each trying their hardest to figure out their part in the world, each trying to get away from their pasts. It's beautiful.
Visuals, Audio, Quality
Be afraid, very afraid.
Art and animation in DtB is top notch, it's simplicity subtly shifting the focus to the story, while providing a clear cut image of the action. Character designs aren't particularly special, though Hei as BK-201 is one of the coolest characters I've ever seen, just clad in a dark cloak, wearing a white mask, and equipped with twin corded daggers. His solid black irises distinguish him from the rabble, unlike other anime which rely on hair(lol). The Action scenes flow very fluidly, partly in thanks to the simple art direction, and is fully animated, without usage of CGI.
The seiyuus all performed superbly, particularly Hidenobu Kiuchi (Hei) and Misato Fukuen (Yin), who manage to tone down the emotion in their voices, which is quite difficult to maintain, producing a perfectly downplayed performance. Music wise, DtB is relatively average, with nothing to write home about, but quality is still good. Same for OP/ED.
The entire show oozes quality, able to focus on the important scenes since it has less cost on facial emotions *straight face*.
The show, which promises an epic ending, fails to provide that, leaving an inconclusive ending that was left there for 3 years.
The Gaiden and Ryuusei no Gemini Arcs does close the gaping hole, yet I still feel it could've been better, in terms of explanation and ending.
Darker than Black is definitely an anime that would appeal to many, and I've even managed to hook some of my friends on to anime with it! It's definitely an anime that shows how the medium is a perfect way to provide entertainment, and also a quick dash of philosophy.
Review by Ascendant - Izanagi, newb to Ani-TAY.