An anime DVD boxed set.
I'll be honest, stills and screen captures of a mysterious masked man carrying a pair of blades from Darker than Black has always reminded me of V for Vendetta. Trailers and reviews didn't do much to break the association either. So aside from a similar style resemblance to a franchise I'm quite fond of, I really didn't know what to expect going into Darker than Black Volume 4.
The latest release from Funimation comes in the form of a single disc packaged up in an attractive (silver foil finish) standard-size DVD case. The disc contains four episodes, which in fact are actually a pair of two-parters (episodes 15-16-17 & 18). As has been the trend of late with Aniplex properties, there is a full audio track (English actors) over Episode 16, production artwork, textless songs, and a nice batch of Funimation trailers included. The total runtime comes in at 100 minutes even and is rated TV MA due to it's abundance of gritty explosions and wicked cool fight sequences. Language, surprisingly, wasn't near as fowl as expected and there were no nudity or graphic sexual scenarios to report. Language options include original Japanese dialog (with English subtitles if so desired) and a solid English dub.
After concluding the four-episode run, I've established the simple reality that this is a show based on the idea of super-humans; essentially what we Americans would classify as comic book superheroes only without the over-the-top costumes or kid-friendliness. The Darker than Black recipe would look something like this: Take the Bourne Identity series, X-Men, and The Matrix, blend until chunky, and serve cold.
A majority of the show is advanced through the crisp political struggles of massive groups but that isn't to suggest there aren't dozens of subplots building and ending in fiery explosions along the way. I apologize for the endless metaphors, but in all honesty it took me a few viewings and a fair share of internet research to put together enough of a back story to force coherence into the episodes collected here.
Evidentially a decade back witnessed the appearance of an impenetrable field known as "Hell's Gate" in Tokyo, and in its wake people across the world began to manifest powerful psychic abilities. Don't call them mutants, however, because, as far as I can tell, "Contractors" sounds a lot more official. Each has his or her own unique power or ability only unlike say, The Fantastic Four; they must pay a penalty for the power's usage. Cool concept on the surface; good technique to keep these freaks from simply running around blowing everything up but the trouble is that these "penances" are a bit wacky to say the least. Some have to simply eat flowers while others have to break their own bones, while others still have to go around folding every single page in an encyclopedia sized book.
Sound strange? Oh it is- and that's not the worst of it. Talking cats, old wrinkly "star psychics", and several really cool driving sequences make up the rest of the formula. While I won't pretend to have gone through the 14 episodes preceding this set, I can state with certainty that doing so isn't a requisite to figuring out what's going on. With a little general knowledge of the whole mythos, the 4th volume plays like two self-contained tales. It's a good thing too because nonlinear editing or tie-ins to first volume occurrences could turn this series into a mess real quick!
Much of the story arc throughout the four episodes centers on the "flushing out" of the group responsible for a series of bombings plaguing Tokyo. Rather than a series of person-to-person conflicts, the scope of the program tends to play out more like several simultaneous gang wars.
The soundtrack is very appropriate with its varied musical numbers including jazzy loops, guitar riffs, and everything in between. Vocal work for the English dub is above average and lends to the gritty, almost realistic feel the art tends to inspire. My only complaint is that when viewing through a 5.1 Surround set, the soundtrack tends to prove itself quite unbalanced in its mix- as in turn it up because you can't hear the dialog only to fall out of your chair when there's an explosion or gunshot.
In all Darker than Black has its charms even if the show doesn't come close to delivering on the potential for action contained within its prose. I'll admit that my initial V for Vendetta comparisons were really quite off the mark but then, like most anime worth watching, there isn't much in the United States that serves as direct competition. Maybe that's a good thing in the end. After all, I'm not sure that neon tights and flowing capes would look quite right on a Contractor.
What did you think of this review?