Darker Than Black Vol. 1 & 2 Review

There are strange figures loose on the streets of Tokyo and wreaking havoc on the city – humanoid killing machines with supernatural powers known as Contractors and passive mediums known as Dolls – creatures that appeared 10 years ago around the time that the city suffered a terrible disaster, now blocked off and hidden by a structure known as Hell’s Gate.

It’s the duty of Foreign Affairs Section 4 of the Public Safety Division, headed by Superintendent Kirihara Misaki, to deal with the sighting of any new Contractors, their presence indicated by a new star in the artificial firmament above the city, but the emergence of the Contractors is not a localised phenomenon – much of the world has experienced their powers in vast conflicts that still have repercussions, and government agents around the world are interested in their activities. One such Chinese unit, directed by the Syndicate, is now operating and chasing down Contractors for their own mysterious reasons. They are headed up by Hei, a young man posing as a foreign exchange student, but in reality a Contractor himself with special powers.

The debt owed to Akira is fairly evident, as it becomes apparent that the Contractors, and presumably the incident that destroyed half the city, were a mistake by the government who were trying to develop new living weaponry by tapping into and enhancing the latent powers in special individuals. The existence of Moratoriums – Contractors with excess uncontrollable special powers, the earliest case here being a young girl – make the Akira comparison even more obvious, as does the potential for a forthcoming disaster of apocalyptic proportions. Although the series loses focus slightly with a couple of diversions in episodes 7 to 10, there is the promise of further revelations, conspiracies and spy-thriller activity when the government espionage element comes back to the fore. With Hei’s mysterious background and his mission as the Black Reaper also still to be explored, Darker Than Black still has the potential to take some other surprising, explosive and original turns.

The Disc: Darker Than Black Vol. 1 & 2 collects the first 10 episodes of the 26 episode series on a two-disc set. The transfer has undoubtedly been standards converted from an NTSC source, but it doesn’t cause any significant issues other than the occasional interlaced frame that you’ll only detect in freeze-frame, rarely causing any noticeable motion issues. Lines remain solid and colouration seems fine, if possibly lacking a little in the finer detail and vibrancy that might be expected. On the whole however, the image is excellent, smooth and stable, showing no significant issues whatsoever.

The audio choices are between a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 and an English 5.1 track. The English track is much more dynamic, but the English voice-acting doesn’t seem to fit with the characters or fully integrate into the action. The Japanese track seems to be the better option, although it means that you have to put up with unsightly bright yellow subtitles and a rather stiff translation. The audio quality of the Japanese track dips however on Vol.2, being poorly mixed, booming with bass, with the dialogue dull and muffled. The subtitles are literal rather than dubtitles.

Extras consist of the standard filler, the Cast Auditions and Commentaries involving the American voice actors and the standard Textless Opening and Closing Sequences. Character bios however are useful and the Settings Gallery provides some small but interesting production sketches and designs.

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