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Darker Than Black: Complete Season One Blu-ray Review

darker-than-black-s1-bluray-coverU.S. Release (Region A Locked)

The Series

[Rating:4/5]

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An anime series originally conceived for television in 2007, Darker Than Black (黒の契約者) is a psychological paranormal thriller set in a futuristic Tokyo some 10-years after a mysterious spatial anomaly known as “Heaven’s Gate” appeared over South America, wiping out a portion of that entire continent and replacing all of the real stars in the sky all over the world with fake ones. Now, people special supernatural abilities have appeared. Known as “Contractors” because of the compulsions they have to complete certain tasks after they use their abilities, such as eating certain foods, injuring themselves, or even physically transforming, they are now being employed by government agencies around the world as spies and assassins in a battle for world dominance. The series follows one such Contractor, Hei, who works for a clandestine organization known as The Syndicate, as he carries out his various tasks that seem to involve mostly battling other deadly Contractors.

Darker than Black is a little slow to get going, which may be its biggest weakness as a series, it takes up a full quarter of the series to really explain itself, its mythology, and all of the various characters surrounding our anti-hero Hei. Once we realize that the “Gate” is the anomaly that has replaced all of the stars, and that all of the Contractors are connected to one of the fake stars in the sky, things start to become interesting. There’s a Metropolitan police section chief, Kirihara Misaki, who’s hunting Hei down, but she also seems to have feelings for Hei, or for his normal world alias anyway, Li-san. As the series progresses, it becomes clearer why she was after him all along, but earlier on, it is not so obvious why she was so fixated on capturing this Contractor in particular.

This is a beautifully animated series that, even when it falls down slightly on its storytelling is always rescued by its stunning artwork. The animation is at once edgy and beautiful. Hei’s “Black Reaper” outfit is a masterwork of intimidating character design with its demented comedy mask and black trench coat. Other characters run the gamut of the usual anime archetypes, such as Hei’s partner Yin, a sort of emotionless medium between a human and a Contractor known as a “Doll.” She’s a done up in a gorgeous loli-goth outfit that is a perfectly dark purplish color to compliment Hei. Even the background CG work looks gorgeous, just check out the eventual scenes with the Stargazer to see just how eye-catching this series can get.

Video Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

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Darker Than Black comes to Blu-ray Disc in an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement from FUNimation. Generally, the transfer looks pleasing with rich colors and a good presentation of the line art. That said, there are issues that present themselves, like some occasional stairstepping, a bit of motion artifacts during pans, and color banding. Some viewers not as discerning, watching on smaller displays or from farther distances may not find any problems at all.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3/5]

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Darker Than Black comes with the original Japanese-language track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 stereo and an English dub in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. I stayed mainly with the superior Japanese voice cast for my viewing, but periodically sampled the English 5.1 mix as well.

All I can say is, as far as the overall quality of the sound goes, this is another disappointing release from FUNimation. I don’t really know what is going on at the mastering stage with FUNimation releases, but theirs are the only titles that consistently cause me heartache with lip sync issues and also seem to have no dynamic range whatsoever. The mastering level is so low on both the stereo and 5.1 tracks, I was listening between 8 and 12 db higher than my normal listening levels to get a decent volume. As for the actual mixes, they would be great, especially the 5.1 here, which was one of their better ones, placing lots of solid effects and atmospherics in the surround channels.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

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The OVA “Beneath the Fully Bloomed Cherry Blossoms” is included as well as a set of select episode commentaries, English cast auditions, artwork, and more.

  • OVA: Beneath the Fully Bloomed Cherry Blossoms
  • EP-002 Commentary
  • EP-009 Commentary
  • EP-013 Commentary
  • EP-016 Commentary
  • EP-022 Commentary
  • EP-026 Commentary
  • Cast Auditions:
    • Hei – Jason Liebrecht
    • Kirihara – Kate Oxley
    • Mao – Kent Williams
    • Yin – Brina Palencia
    • Huang – John Swasey
    • Chiaki – Colleen Clinkenbeard
    • Mai – Cherami Leigh
    • Tahara – Mark Stoddard
    • Havoc – Luci Christian
    • November 11 – Tory Baker
    • Misuzi – Julie Mayfield
  • Production Artwork – Characters
  • Production Artwork –Settings
  • U.S. Trailer
  • FUNimation Trailers
  • Textless Songs:
  • Opening “Howling”
  • Opening “Kakusei Heroism”
  • Closing “Tsukiakari”
  • Closing “Dreams”


The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

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One of the classic series to come out of the 2000’s, this is an enjoyable, addictive watch that really heats up in its second half. The animation is top notch and should please fans of multiple genres.

Additional Screen Captures

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1 COMMENT

  1. “I stayed mainly with the superior Japanese voice cast for my viewing, but periodically sampled the English 5.1 mix as well.”

    Again, what makes the dub inferior? Nothing you can actually say in your review, apparently, because the answer DOESN’T EXIST.

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