The Black Reaper has the power to kill.
He can also save us all.
This could easily be the shortest review I’ve written yet. Darker Than Black is amazing. Go watch it. Seriously. Go now. It’s freakin’ awesome. GO!
Okay, you might need a little more to go on than that. So here’s a little nibblet of what this awesome show is about: a strange area with supernatural occurrences has appeared in Tokyo known as Hell’s Gate. Once the Gate appeared, the real stars vanished and fake stars now shine in the sky. These fake stars are tied to beings with various powers known as Contractors. All sorts of different governments from all over the world are studying the Gate as well as hiring Contractors to go on missions, retrieve artifacts, and kill in cold blood. Contractors are known for being rational above all else and never letting their emotions rule them. They’re called Contractors because every time they use their powers, they have to pay a price. What that price is depends on the Contractor.
This series follows a particular masked Contractor named Hei (code name Lee) and his team who work for an entity known as the Syndicate. Hei fought in a battle at another supernatural site called Heaven’s Gate in South America several years before where he earned the nickname “The Black Reaper.” However, besides having skills that are above and beyond those of a normal Contractor, Hei struggles with his emotions when making decisions. He also pays no price for using his powers, which is unheard of in the Contractor world. This anime follows Hei and his team as they carry out jobs for the Syndicate, and as the series continues you discover more about Hei’s mysterious past and the reason he is so different from all of the other Contractors.
I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll leave it at that, but I could easily go on and on as to why this anime is so darn good. Firstly, the format is excellent. The series breaks down into two-episode story arcs which gives ample time to explore each new story properly without dragging out any boring details. However, the overall story is hinted at in each arc, and the pieces stack up just slowly enough to fill the viewer with a delicious sense of anticipation. Secondly, the characters are just flat-out great. I was really drawn in by Hei (who just might have moved up in the ranks to be my number two anime crush now) because of his compassionate depths wrapped in an overall package of pure badass. He looks super cool with his Matrix-style coat, sexy black hair, and better-than-Spiderman fight moves. And of course I was dying to find out more and more about his mysterious past. His team is the perfect complement to him: Yin, the Lolita-looking “doll” (aka medium) who grows more endearing with each story arc; Huang, the salt-of-the-earth human field operator who never misses an opportunity to voice his dislike of Contractors or of anything else; and Mao, the Contractor who resides in the body of a cute black cat.
But the excellent characters aren’t limited to Hei and his team. The Tokyo Foreign Affairs Division (led by Misaki Kirihara) are always on the trail of the mysterious BK-201 (the catalogue number of Hei’s star) but they manage to avoid becoming annoying cop clichés. Then there’s the half-assed private detective Gai Kurasawa and his anime/manga/cosplay-obsessed assistant Kiko Kayanuma (the latter of which reminded me a bit of myself) who both bring comedic moments to otherwise serious episodes. (I was always excited to see the two of them pop up in a story arc.) There’s also a whole host of interesting Contractors introduced throughout the series, and out of all of them my favourite team (besides Hei’s) had to be the British Secret Intelligence Service, especially a very “cool” Contractor named November 11 (who is one of the best “Is he good? Is he bad? Just whose side is he on?” characters yet).
Darker Than Black is interesting and in-depth, but it tells the story in such a clear and concise way that you never get lost in the details. It’s serious, with moments of real heart-wrenching drama, but it’s also sweet and funny, but it’s also super kick-ass, and it all blends together and works out marvelously well. I should also note that this show is thoroughly adult-oriented without delving into blatantly cheesy fan service, which is a huge plus in my book. The characters are interesting and easy to get invested in, and the story truly kept me guessing up until the very end. And the opening theme song for the first half of season one is the most badass anime song I’ve ever heard. There’s something for everyone in this series: mystery, action, intrigue, laughter, drama, beautiful anime boys, beautiful anime girls, interesting back stories, etc., etc. I honestly can’t imagine anyone not liking it. After a stagnant wave of so-so anime over the past month, I was thoroughly delighted to find such a well-crafted tale brought to the screen as Darker Than Black, and I certainly can’t wait to add it to my anime collection so that I can watch it again and again.
Rating: ★★★★★ Sci-fi noir at its finest. Everyone should watch (and own) this series.