I think I may have been a little too harsh on the first season of Darker Than Black. Sure, the story’s structure was a bit unusual, the stories themselves weren’t always that enjoyable and there was a conflicting tone that wasn’t well balanced, but it pulled through for me because the action and characters were very well done and the themes of the story, while open for interpretation, filled me with a sense of real satisfaction at the end of the series that I don’t often feel when analyzing a show. I ended my review of season one calling it average, but after watching season two I almost want to give the first season higher praise.
If you haven’t read my season one review, check it out here…
When we get sequels to popular Anime, the results can be mixed. You either get a sequel like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig or you get a sequel like Psycho Pass 2. The former expands upon the original’s premise and delivers an altogether superior product while the latter is a mess, plagued with new additions at the cost of what made the original so enjoyable. Sadly, Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor is the latter rather than the former.
The season primarily follows Suo, a young girl living in Russia with her father, a scientist, and her twin brother Shion, who happens to be a contractor. When multiple groups close in on Suo and her family, she is forced to run along with a necklace containing a meteor core. She encounters Hei, who is now working with the CIA in order to find Yin, who disappeared after the two ran away together at the end of season one.
In the conflict that ensues between multiple organizations from multiple countries, Hei’s super powers are stolen and Suo actually becomes a contractor herself, with the ability to summon a large, bolt-action, Russian anti-tank rifle. Hei must now train Suo as the two go on a journey to find Suo’s twin brother and Yin while also preventing a catastrophe from ending all life on earth.
While season one was very episodic for most of the first half, only caring about its larger narrative until the very end, season two is a much more conjoined narrative but that isn’t necessarily an advantage over the first season. I said back in my review of season one that this show has a lot going on in its narrative. Part of effectively telling your story is doing so in the appropriate amount of time and if you ask me, season two is in a very bad position because the story is on a much larger scale but in a much smaller package.
At only twelve episodes, there wasn’t nearly enough time to tell the story in a way that properly explains everything. The fights are bigger, the bad guys are almost always trained operatives in big government agencies and the threat is decisively bigger than before.
Compare this to how Attack on Titan season two felt comfortable at only 12 episodes and Darker Than Black season two’s narrative feels like a 24 episode season cut down by half. There are a lot of characters in this season, most of them new, and the characters that return are either unnecessary or done somewhat poorly.
First off, there is Suo. We went from Hei, a dark and troubled killer who only went down that dark path so that he could defend his sister. Now I’m sure everyone who watched season one was thinking “that’s cool but I’d much rather follow a 13-year-old half Russian, half Japanese girl.” Okay, Suo isn’t a terrible character but I feel like even the creators of the show didn’t want to make her the lead character.
Almost every fight scene in the final half of the show is fought by Hei and Suo doesn’t even really do that much at the end of the series. I honestly believe that Bones wanted to make a sequel but some production committee told them to make the main lead a young female to capture a more prominent audience. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the four episode OVA taking place between the two seasons was originally supposed to be the beginning of season two.
Hell, even the opening feels like it is trying to appeal to a different audience.
… I mean I know the second opening for season two didn’t quite fit either but this is a whole new level of poor placement.
I mean, looking at the shows that came out in 2009 on MyAnimeList.net, Darker Than Black is kinda the odd one out in comparison to the other highly rated shows. We got shows like Bakemonogatari, Kimi ni Todoke and Haruhi Suzumiya just to name a few. Perhaps some executive didn’t think a show led by an edgy vigilante with electricity powers and some bitchin’ fashion sense would sell figures. Anyway, the show feels like the creators wanted to focus on Hei and it shows.
Hei spends a good amount of time training Suo to be a contractor. How to fight, to survive and a lot of it got me excited to see her kick ass by the end, but that never really happened. She got one decent fight scene and then we’d go back to Hei doing all the cool shit.
Believe me, I actually like Suo. The optimism she brings to the table and her journey is one I cared about, but I don’t think she did much at the end. Her relationship with July is especially cute. Hei’s mentorship could have paid off in spades but the final episodes take an odd turn.
Right as Hei is beginning to become his old self (somewhat), the show does the opposite of what I’d expect. I would think that Hei and Suo would work together given that their goals are probably going to align eventually anyway, but they split up a lot which means they don’t get a lot of time to spend together where it matters most: the ending. Normally I’d accept that character flaw and just appreciate the screen time that Hei got but I can’t do that because of the way he is written this time around.
Not everybody probably walked away from season one as happy with Hei as a character as I was. After all, when your character’s whole gimmick is pretending to be a happy go lucky nice guy while really being a mercenary who doesn’t show a lot of emotion, you might have formulated an opinion that he was a bland protagonist and thus welcomed Suo, but I thought the best part of season one was watching him grow and show more of his human side.
In episode six of season one, Havoc, an old friend of Hei’s, asks him if he is even a contractor at all, because he was beating and interrogating her and expressing anger, which contractors aren’t supposed to do. Like I said in my previous review, a big part of the journey was Hei proving that he wasn’t just a killing machine but a damaged man who was pretending to be one and that fucking smile during the last episode and his heartfelt goodbye to the rest of the cast proved to me that he was finally the real Hei… Season two messes that up.
To the show’s credit, they establish that Hei is still broken up about Yin’s disappearance so his drinking and hard demeanor are a bit understandable, but there is a key moment in the second half of season two where we see the true return of Hei, but he never feels like he really came back. He may flash an occasional smile (like… once) but the way he interacts with the other characters tells me that the writers didn’t fully grasp what changed about Hei at the end of season one.
[On a side note, I watched the first season entirely in its English dub but the second season in Japanese because the vocal direction and talent of season two’s dub wasn’t up to par. This could have affected my perception of Hei, but I still stand that the characterization was poor.]
To further illustrate the poor characterization, let’s talk about Kirihara. I loved her in season one. A persistent, devoted woman who cares about seeing justice done will always have my seal of approval, but her arc here only seemed to be getting close to Hei.
In a longer season, they could have interacted more and possibly teamed up in some way for the conclusion, but they only meet once and it isn’t on the best of terms. The hostility by Hei again kinda builds on my point about him regressing as a character. As for the other characters?
Mao returns and we actually see his backstory, including what he looked like when he had a human body, but instead of being in a cat’s body, which worked with the dark, noir theme of season one, now he is in the body of a flying squirrel… so not quite as striking and cool. July, the doll who worked with the British agents from season one is actually a pretty sweet character who serves the same purpose as Yin from season one. In fact, it’s even the same “see! Dolls are people too!” subtext. Also, April returns as well but she is out of the picture pretty quickly.
As for the new characters, they have cool powers, but they are usually criminally underused or not really explained. This is once again a failure of the length of the series. Villains like Mina and Genma have cool powers and even though they actively try to introduce narrative threads to deepen them, those threads tend to go nowhere. All I really know about Mina is that she is a lesbian and she can create lightsabers… oh, and Genma is a pedophile.
There is also a blonde woman who is clearly important to the story, but the show never really goes out of its way to explain who she is, why she is the way she is or why she has a god damn flying car.
While I’m at it, let me just say that the ending of Gemini of the Meteor is so laughably rushed and confusing that it makes me angry that this is the end and yet presents this narrated epilogue in such a way that I wish I could see what happens after that point. It is an absolute mess.
Let’s Take a Pause…
It is clear that I’m not going to be handing this season a lot of compliments so let me just get out of the way all the things this season did right.
I think on a technical level, Gemini of the Meteor is superior to the first season. The fight scenes are fewer in number but are better because of it. This might be the one advantage of this season only being twelve episodes. Hei’s fight against August 7th or any of his three short but sweet battles against Mina Hazuki are some action Anime eye candy at their best. If the story were simpler and the cast smaller, this show would probably have a nice story to go around these fights.
Next, the music is amazing and yet Yoko Kanno did not compose it. The first season was very much a noir influenced show and the soundtrack conveyed that perfectly. This time, the soundtrack is composed by Yasushi Ishii, the man who composed the original Hellsing series, which, quality aside, had phenomenal music.
The establishing shot of Hei alone in season two gives you a dose of the more electronic tracks this time around, mixed together with some rock for good measure. Ishii has more or less found a style that rivals Kanno’s without necessarily trampling it. A different style for a very different type of season.
I suppose I can also praise this show for having two lesbians and a transgender man (although he could just be a drag queen or cross dresser). It doesn’t add much but they play it straight and it doesn’t come off as pandering so A+ bones. Last time I saw a Bones show with gay characters was No. 6 and thankfully this show is better than that.
See at least the first season had the benefit of a solid cast of characters where it mattered most. If the character relationships were a bit tighter I’d probably be giving this show the same recommendation as the first, albeit with a word of caution regarding the story. I suppose I can also commend the second season for actually making Gai Kurusawa and his sidekick a bit less annoying and maybe a bit more meaningful to the plot. In terms of complaints further, I only have two.
The tone is even more inconsistent this time than it was in the first season, making me actually appreciate the charm of the first season’s comedy a bit more. Secondly, I think this season reiterated the same plot threads as the first without really granting anything meaningful in return.
As stated, July had his moment where he was revealed to be more than an emotionless doll, just like Yin. Oddly enough, Hei questions why Suo is more emotional despite being a contractor when he has already seen plenty of examples of contractors who go against “the rules.”
So there it is. Gemini of the Meteor is not a good show. It had a rushed, confusing story, some cool but underused/underutilized characters, only saved by good music and even better fights. Did I at least have fun? Kinda, since I do really appreciate good action choreography and because I love the aesthetic of this series, but do I recommend this show? No, I do not. It’s kind of like a cruel joke that you can still buy this season on Blu-ray for a good price, but not the first one.
Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor is an explosive disappointment that should only be watched by those who have already watched the first season and are curious to see some cool action. The only justifiable reason to buy it on Blu-ray is to see the four-part OVA that comes with it. Speaking of which…
It’s weird how you can go into a review not expecting to hate on something that much only to hate on it almost exclusively. I hope you stay tuned for the review of the OVA. Thanks for reading and as always, see you next time.