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Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs(TV) (2009)
The intrigue and danger continues in Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor. Hei - aka the masked killer, BK-201 - encounters Suo, a young Russian girl whose life changed the night a meteor fell to Earth. With Contractors attacking from all sides and the mysterious organization Section 3 closing in, Hei must fight to keep Suo alive.
For more about Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs and the Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs Blu-ray release, see Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 15, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jason Liebrecht, Brina Palencia
Director: Tensai Okamura
» See full cast & crew
Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs Blu-ray Review
Starlight, starbright, you're a fake star, aren't you?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 15, 2011
William Shakespeare gave Cassius in Julius Caesar one of his most iconic lines, one which seems to make a case for personal responsibility and which argues against any all-controlling fate or destiny determining the course of an individual's life:
The fault, dear Brutus, in not in our stars,
But in ourselves, for we are underlings.
Now of course, as with just about any phrase culled from Shakespeare, there are manifold levels to ferret through to fully understand (or at least try to understand) what The Bard might have meant. In this particular instance, Cassius is trying to persuade Brutus that Caesar is just an ordinary man, like other men, certainly not a God, and one whose ambitions to become a God-like Emperor must be thwarted. But if the fault is indeed not in the stars but ourselves, how are we "underlings"? That seems to imply an overarching power which may in fact determine what causes us to do certain things or act in certain ways. These are some of the questions that are at least part and parcel of the intriguing anime Darker Than Black, an intentionally dense and convoluted thriller-esque outing that combines elements of spies, science fiction and (as weird as it may sound) the dialectic between doing one's duty (and/or job) and what one may feel on a personal level might be right. The whole issue of what the stars may or may not control is a major subplot of Darker Than Black, for in the present day alternate universe Tokyo that is the setting for this anime, the real stars have disappeared due to some sort of cosmic cataclysm, replaced by false stars that seem tied on an individual basis to mutants of a sort who attain supernatural powers. These mutants are known as Contractors and they each have their own false star associated with them, with the connection being so complete that the mutant actually becomes known by the star's official Messier number.
Darker Than Black is evidently intentionally obtuse, but that makes for some pretty tricky viewing, especially for those joining this second season as newcomers. The basic plot of Darker Than Black deals with the sudden appearance of a phenomenon known as Hell's Gate, a bizarre occurrence that devastated Tokyo while replacing the real night sky with a false one, one evidently tied to the sudden appearance of the mutants known as Contractors. The series is largely focused on one of these Contractors, Hei, a young man who appears to normal humans to simply be a typical Chinese exchange student, but who possesses the power to conduct electricity. Hei is unusual in the world of Contractors in that he actually seems to still possess a modicum of human emotions and a conscience, making some of the things he ends up doing in his guise as a Contractor problematic for himself. Hei is aided by a sort of zombie-like automaton spirit known as Yin, a blind "Doll" (as her kind is referred to in the series) who is able to perceive entities through water. The second season actually begins with a brief introduction to the Pavlichenko family. Under a fake-starlit night, Dr. Mikhail Pavlichenko debunks some ancient folklore about making wishes on falling stars when he's asked about it by his daughter Suo and her twin brother Shion. A devastating explosion accompanies this idyllic family scene and we're told via Suo's narration that that was the night her brother Shion became a Contractor.
The problem with an outing like Darker Than Black is that because it's obviously geared toward a more mature audience, the creative team perhaps tries too hard to stuff too much into the series, without ever giving enough solid answers to satisfy at least some fans. (You might call it "The Lost Syndrome"). There's no denying that this is a frequently compelling series with some very intricately motivated characters, but there's also no denying that Darker Than Black is just plain confusing at times, with story arcs that don't really seem to add up to much when they're viewed in retrospect and several major questions which remain unanswered or at the very least ambivalently answered as the series draws to a close.
While the basic idea behind Darker Than Black is the attempt by various forces to figure out what's going on with Hell's Gate, what its appearance means and how it's connected to the rise of the Contractors, there are perhaps too many subplots introduced, many dealing with various subterfuges and competing agencies, as well as not enough backstory given to the major characters to help the viewer feel an emotional tether to anything that transpires. This becomes especially apparent in the denoument (such as it isŚit's never a good sign when a bunch of late arriving answers play out quickly over the closing credits) when a supposedly heartstring tugging sequence with Suo and Shion feels largely listless and flat The series is oddly reminiscent of a combination of Hanna and The Bourne Identity, and for those who love labyrinthine plots filled with lots of covert activity, there's probably more than enough in Darker Than Black to recommend it, despite the fact that many will no doubt be at least fitfully confused as to what exactly is happening at any given moment.
Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs Blu-ray, Video Quality
Darker Than Black: Season Two and OVAs is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of FUNimation with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. This is one of the more elegant looking animes to come out of Bones, which is really saying quite a bit, and it sparkles with beautiful detail in this new high definition presentation. There's a lot of care taken throughout this second season to render gorgeous backgrounds along with very nicely nuanced character designs, and those all pop really well here. There's also a consistent use of something akin to the old Disney multi- plane technique, so that a quasi-3D element is present in many shots. Colors are beautifully saturated, though the series tends to be intentionally muted in terms of palette a lot of the time. Line detail is crisp and very well delineated and the series really shines brightly on this Blu-ray set.
Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Someone somewhere just slightly missed the boat with regard to the two lossless audio options on this Blu-ray. While we're granted the original Japanese language track in a nice Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mix, the first copy I received for review purposes had a bizarre authoring error, leading me to believe they forgot to add one little elementŚnamely, English subtitles! A final retail version had no issues and subtitles were present on the Japanese mix. Both of these tracks offer excellent fidelity and the English dub is quite good with the usual assortment of FUNimation voice talent involved. Surround activity is rather consistent, especially in the action sequences, which are plentiful. Dialogue is clear and cleanly presented, and the series' rather nice score also sounds great in the 5.1 mix. While discrete channel utilization is perhaps a bit sparser than might be hoped for, there are enough decent effects included on this outing to remind listeners that they're hearing a surround mix.
Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Darker than Black: Season 2 + OVAs Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's hard not to give Darker Than Black considerable props for trying something really complex and convoluted, but it's just as hard not to take the series to task for not adequately tying up loose ends or providing a really satisfying conclusion (see above for my self-proclaimed "Lost Syndrome" analogy). The series is visually extremely impressive, certainly one of the best looking animes yet to come out of Bones, but that visual ingenuity is sometimes wasted on storylines that never really go anywhere or amount to all that much. Still, for those who like spy dramas infused with a touch of science fiction, Darker Than Black is frequently intriguing, if never completely compelling. Recommended, with the caveats noted above.
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