Ten years ago an indescribable tragedy occurred across the globe when the inexplicable twin Hell’s Gate and Heaven’s Gate phenomena appeared in Tokyo and South America respectively, decimating the surrounding landscape and changing the world as we know it in the blink of an eye. The night sky completely disappeared, replaced by a fake skyline, filled with imposter heavenly bodies that are seemingly linked to the rise of the Contractors, emotionless human beings with special abilities and the unnerving ability to think rationally and logically above all else.
These Contractors are so-called thanks the often strange contracts they are bound to in payment for their spectacular and deadly powers, the payment of which can literally take the form of almost anything. The existence of Contractors is held back from public knowledge and the majority of these super-powered beings are currently employed by various governments and government agencies, often involved in espionage and bloody disputes over information ownership.
However, with Contractors lacking any human emotions, especially aversion to killing, not all of them are working for the greater good. Where there is opportunity to seize power and money to be made, there are usually Contractors working the scene and one of the largest seemingly criminal organizations around is simply known as the Syndicate, a worldwide group whose reach seems to extend into almost every facet of daily life.
Hei (better known as The Black Reaper), a Contractor with the power to control and direct electricity, makes up one of the teams that carry out jobs for the Syndicate and together with his human supervisor and information provider, Huang, fellow contractor (though stuck in the body of a cat), Mao and a soulless spirit medium doll called Yin, carries out some of the most daring, dangerous and thankless missions out there.
Better known to the authorities by his aligned star name BK201, Hei is also one of the most wanted Contractors currently active in Tokyo and section-chief and first class detective Misaki Kirihara will stop at nothing to bring him to justice. The only problem is that there are even greater powers than the contractors out there and these powers are beginning to stir, plotting machinations whose ramifications may very well echo across the very globe.
Without knowing it, Hei and Misaki are going to be drawn ever deeper into these mysteries and in order to get to the bottom of everything, both will have to fight for their right to life and existence on opposing ends of the law.
Darker than BLACK is a 25 part series directed by Tensai Okamura (Wolf’s Rain, Project Blue Earth SOS) and produced by BONES that premiered in 2007. It turned out popular enough to even spawn a short little manga run that ran for 6 volumes and it also happens to be an anime that suffered the misfortune of having the production manager run off with the manuscript halfway through the show!
The concept for Darker than BLACK puts a nice fresh twist on the super-powered being genre with the introduction of the remuneration aspect of using one’s powers. Dropping these unique characters into a noir atmosphere with the slightest hint of future technology and research, you are left with some great material for a story and on that front the final product that is Darker than BLACK doesn’t disappoint. There is enough mystery, intrigue and unanswered questions to drive the series forward and thanks to the occasional humour and plenty of action sequences thrown into the mix, one can never truly get bored with this fantastic show.
Unfortunately, I do have a slight quibble as to the format which the story chose to follow, namely being that of strict two-episode long arcs, which I really can’t help but feel stunts the flow of the series and takes away any of the momentum that Okamura might have been trying to build. On their own the little mini-arcs are great to watch, but in a series this distorts with continuity just a little and it is only really towards the end of the series where Okamura drops this format and strings together a really intriguing, edge of your seat ending which saves the show from being a little bit of a flop.
Visually, Darker than BLACK can only be described as flawless. Although it doesn’t stand out as anything special, the artwork for the series is very nicely detailed, the characters are extremely well animated and the backgrounds nicely laid out. Because a lot of the action takes place at night, a slightly grey and darker palette than normal is used but the show’s fairly clear and flat colouring makes the visuals appear always sharp and never distorted or muddy.
There are tons of fight scenes that occur throughout this anime and it is great to see such detailed and well animated sequences that are usually more than just breathtaking to behold. The wide variety of fantastical super-powers that are on display keep the animators on their toes and it is immediately visible as to just how much effort was put into the visuals making up this show.
As for the talent used on the show, the voice actors for the show all do a superb job and it is great to see the director use such established names like Hidenobu Kiuchi, Misato Fukuen, Masaru Ikeda, Ikuya Sawaki, Nana Mizuki to voice his characters. Darker than BLACK also gets an instant credibility boost by having Yoko Kanno onboard as the series’ music director. Yoko Kanno is one of the most recognizable names when it comes to Japanese composers/musicians and is universally known for her work on games, anime, live-action movies and advertisements. Amongst her credits are the scores for Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, Vision of Escaflowne, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Wolf’s Rain and with credentials like this, it is no wonder that Darker than BLACK ends up sounding as good as it does.
In terms of the opening and closing tracks, Darker than BLACK also features some strong tracks and performances, with Howling by the Abingdon Boys School, Kakusei Heroism by An Café, Tsukiakari by Rie fu and Dreams by High and Mighty Color.
Darker than BLACK is hurt a little by the decision to break up the show into two-episode arcs right up until the final few episodes and this causes the series to lose any sort of flow it was trying to build up, which makes it a little frustrating in places to watch but luckily the director pulls it together right at the end to build up to a great finish and this saves this title from mediocrity. The clever concept, great story, beautiful art and flawless, fluid animation makes Darker than BLACK a more than decent watch and is certainly worth the effort. It is a clever anime that straddles the noir and action genres perfectly and provides some great entertainment to the more mature viewers out there and therefore makes it onto my recommended list, though not perhaps right at the top.
Note that there is quite a lot of visual and bloody violence and a few mature themes that makes this series not suitable for younger viewers.