Anime series tend to have a dedication to an inherent mythology that Western shows – with the exception of outings such as Lost – cannot measure up to. They also tend to be steadily paced, with answers coming on a progressive basis, rather than all of the exposition crammed up front. Darker Than Black is one such example.

Ten years ago, Tokyo found itself next to a massive, impenetrable field that encapsulated the sky. Referred to as Hell’s Gate, this mysterious force was accompanied by the emergence of Contractors, seemingly-human beings with superpowers. The existence of Contractors and personality-less psychics called Dolls remains hidden from the general populace, but international authorities are bent on determining their origin…and their goals.

Hei, also known as The Black Reaper is a young Contractor, part of a team operating inside Tokyo. His goals remain an enigma, while the authorities – and other Contractors – hunt and fear him.

Darker Than Black is a 25-episode series, divided into two-part stories. Each story is primarily standalone, but also serves to steadily extend the overal series arc. This structure is well-balanced in this first collection (episode 1-5), allowing for immediate satisfaction yet with a constant feeling of overall progress. And it is this overall arc that is the strength of the series.

Each episode pieces a little more of the world together. We discover that Contractors are called that because they have to ‘pay’ for each use of their powers. The manner of payment is particular to a Contractor and ranges from having to break a finger to having to smoke a cigarette. Why? We don’t know. Well, not in the first five episodes, at least.

This general opacity does have its drawbacks. Most notably, the most sympathetic characters so far are female side characters whose arc is restricted to the two-parter they are in. The ostensible lead, Hei, remains a blank page. Apparently a sensitive student, he is brutal once masked in his ‘Reaper’ guise. His team, including a Contractor in the body of a cat and a blind Doll, get even less development.

The driving force behind Darker Than Black is curiosity. What is going on? What is the ‘Gate’? The imagination and originality of the supernatural setting means this is more than sufficient to drive the audience on. Very, very promising stuff.

Extras:

  • Second episode commentary
  • Art Gallery
  • Cast auditions
  • Textless opening and closing

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment

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